• Jill

Quarantine Rental Kitchen Transformation

The world is a changed place, and nothing is (or will ever be) the same as it was before COVID-19 swept across the globe. This we know; the message is pounded into our very being by everything we hear and read...all the time. It's exhausting, yes, and I just said it again.

Well, in the spirit of things, our kitchen is also a changed place, though this transformation went in a much more positive direction!

Since moving into an apartment----which, unfortunately, is not at all a boat like we'd been originally planning----Andrew and I have been oscillating wildly between the apathetic feelings most people can relate to and the manic-productive-optimistic ones, sometimes in sync, and sometimes opposite each other. The last week and a half or so has been on the more productive end (though I have regressed to eating a lot of Cheez-Its and Trader Joe's "oreos" like I did in college..). Okay, so we aren't liveaboards this year. We aren't returning to Paris in June or seeing Portugal and Morocco for the first time. We aren't even filling our weekends with dinner parties where we feed our friends more elaborate meals than is necessary and show off all of our specialized barware. So, since we'd told ourselves we'd put up a fresh coat of paint in the kitchen when we signed the lease in April, and there's no better time than quarantine to face home projects we'd too easily avoid during normal life, we rolled up our sleeves and got to it.

And in typical Blob fashion, we went a little over-the-top.

First, I'll take you on a quick tour of what we were working with.

This photo is from the day we toured the place. The most glaring issue, of course, was above the stove. It's a lovely gas range, but there was no ventilation of any kind, and you could see evidence of this (plus wall damage) from a previous tenant. The property manager told us she anticipated them putting a shelf or something up before we moved in, but unsurprisingly, that didn't happen.

There were also a LOT of holes in the walls and scuff marks. Most strangely, an unframed mirror hung above the sink. But ultimately, we knew the room had potential! Look at that tile! The appliances all worked. The windows can't be beat, and we were delighted to have a little bar.


First things first, before we'd even moved a load of furniture into the place, we took the doors off of the upper cabinets that flanked the stove. The landlords said they wouldn't mind us painting the walls, but we had a feeling they may resist a total cabinet overhaul, and it was going to take a lot to make me like those dated, smooth wood doors. It's not perfect, but the open-shelf design adds some personality thanks to our visually-appealing glassware and dishes.

The next challenge surprised us: obtaining bar stools. Preliminary searches of major retail sites convinced us to avoid buying new. We were not prepared to spend $70-$150 per stool, but we also didn't want to settle for super plain and cheaply made. This is where our insatiable addiction to Offer Up (and other similar platforms) got started. We started browsing the app, and found that a decent portion of the population is going through a "purge" mode during quarantine. There's just TONS of stuff for sale. Intoxicating, discounted items...

But as we messaged sellers who were offering extra tall chairs for our consideration, we discovered we were not alone in frantically updating our living space. Bar stools were flying off the metaphorical shelves. Listings would be up for only half a day and have been picked up already. Sellers were getting away with charging $50 per stool and not budging on price. They didn't have to be responsive to messages, because it was a seller's market out there; if they left one buyer hanging (read: us), it didn't matter, because there was another on the line.

Our heads were spinning. We just wanted to sit in our dirty, chipped, new breakfast nook!

Finally, a lady all the way in Lacey accepted our offer of $40 for two, 26 inch, blue metal stools, and we made the drive. The Venmo app chimed, we wiped the metal down with knockoff brand cleaner, and tossed them in the back of the trusty Prius.

But, as it turned out, 26 inches was not the ideal height for our bar. (We didn't have a tape measure yet, as we'd been borrowing John's and had recently reluctantly given it back.)

Back to the drawing board/marketplace apps. A few days later, while scrolling to take a break from admin duties for my mom's yoga studio, I spotted them: a set of four, cream leather, retro, adjustable bar stools. Four. For $100. Posted 30 minutes ago. I didn't even hesitate to ask Andrew what he thought (because we're totally on the same page these days) and sent the seller a message. We'd pick them up today and not even bother negotiating the price.

It was a done deal! Chris in Lakewood accepted our offer and we became the proud new owners of very cool bar stools that were in great condition. The best part: we didn't need four. We could only feasibly use two. So we opened the Offer Up app again, with a different goal in mind. Within 24 hours, we'd sold two of our retro stools for $70, and the original blue metal ones for $50. #capitalism

Moving along. We'd been given permission to paint, and the words of the property manager had been, "We kinda prefer if you don't put more holes in the walls, but..." followed by a shrug. So we took that to mean, "do whatever you want." We spackled up the old holes in preparation for painting, turning the walls into fresh clean slates, and decided to make our new holes really count. Andrew ordered a used metal pots and pans rack online, and a new recirculating fume hood to go over the range. From Offer Up, we picked up an acacia wood floating shelf ($30) and a Crate and Barrel wine rack that is identical to the one John and Melina have at their house ($25). Our landlords reimbursed us for the paint.

We knew we were going to do the kitchen yellow again, but a bit of a brighter shade. During our debates over the color, however, a new idea developed: an accent wall. Only, we weren't totally sold on any of the whole walls actually being accented...until Andrew proposed an accent corner. Pinterest didn't really have any examples of that, but we knew it could be a thing. So we picked out a brilliant orange and a $5 piece of molding to help break up the spaces.

In just one day, we primed and painted the whole kitchen.

(We ended up painting over the Bergamot Orange with a less orange, but equally intense coral/red a week later. It's still very bright and very orange.)

Once the walls were fresh, the kitchen felt like a whole new space! It took a few more days for the pots and pans rack and fume hood to arrive, but they've since been installed. We bought a print of one of the Byrrh advertisement posters we loved; Byrrh is a wine apéritif from Thuir, France, a town where we had a Workaway last summer. We also took a risk and put up some cafe string lights in the accent corner, which is now the "wine bar."

Riding the high from our kitchen re-do, we've moved on to the bedroom...but I'm not ready to share photos of that yet! It's not done! The living room didn't really need updating, just accessorizing. We're quite pleased with how that space turned out, too.

Facing the loss of many of our plans this year, we're taking a closer look at what our desires and motivations are. "Budget travel." It's about making incredible experiences accessible and attainable, and being open to trying new things; staying unattached to picture-perfect situations and being open to creative problem-solving and risk-taking. The heart of budget travel, though, is also a little frivolity. We don't need to travel to survive, we just want it to enrich our lives and teach us about ourselves. The "budget" part is about conserving resources and prioritizing needs.

I think that's what we're using this quarantine time to do in our home space, too. Indulge in the little things that make home-life a bit more enriching (functional yet beautiful cooking accessories, art we like, comfortable furniture) while remaining true to our budget-mindset by being thoughtful and strategic (looking at you, Offer Up). It's fun, it's creative, and it's a distraction from the world that's falling apart outside. If we're going to be spending so much time here, we might as well really like it.

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