toronto apartment tour 2020: part 3 – the renter-friendly kitchen “reno”

Looking back at all the previous rental tour posts I’ve put together, I have come to realize that I have never lived somewhere with a dope kitchen. It’s also not like our past kitchens have been terrible, just not…amazing. Some have been better than others, but each have had their faults — which is pretty par for the course when it comes to rentals. Let’s take a trip down kitchen-memory-lane:

  • 2016: This is the only photo that I can find of this kitchen because it was clearly a tragic student apartment, but it seems like we had a decent amount of counter and cupboard space if nothing else. Of course we also had a teeny mouse problem and promptly moved out after our 4 month lease was up – 6/10

  • 2017 – 2018: We were only here for 8 months so there was not enough will to make significant changes. It had meh drawer space, almost no counter space, we had to fill the empty half with our own rack and cart to make it usable, and was tucked away in a corner of the apartment. The only thing it had going for it was the fact that it was newly reno’d with brand new appliances (we got to take the plastic off!) – 6.5/10

  • 2018 – 2020: While we were in this house for two years, we also went into it thinking it was only going to be one year and we knew at the end of our time the kitchen (along with the rest of the house) was going to be demolished. Not looking to make any big changes here either. It did have great natural lighting, lots of cupboard/storage space, but almost no counter space or drawers and the microwave lived on a stool which was 10 ft from the rest of the other appliances – 7.5/10

Which brings us to the kitchen that Mike and I will call ours for at least two years (because that is how long I think I’ll need to recover from the back to back moves of 2020). Finally! The will and future-planning needed to make a boring rental kitchen into something a little more functional and homey.

Here is what we started with:

+ I like that the kitchen is open and looks out at the rest of the living space instead of being closed off by a wall.
+ There is a decent amount of cupboard/storage space.
+ Double sink!
+ Dishwasher!
– It is…quite small.
– The only drawers are between the fridge and the stove and they are extremely narrow.
– The “longer” counter along the wall is less than a foot deep (11″ to be precise) which makes it hard to prep on especially since we need some of that space for storage.
– Almost no useful counter space other than next to the sink/above the dishwasher.

Thus, almost all our problems to solve in the kitchen are variations of “where do we put [thing]???”. Time to go see how we solved them!

Where do we put the microwave?

Prior to moving in, we already knew that the microwave was going to be the most annoying appliance to place. The longest counter is too shallow for the spare microwave from my parents, and as you’ve seen from the pictures, there aren’t really any options for us to choose from. We had grand plans of building a custom microwave shelf to sit on both the breakfast bar and the actual counter so we could still use the counters underneath the shelf, but ultimately I plonked it down and we decided there was enough space next to the sink.

Now the problem was that the power cord was chunky and pushed the whole microwave out too close to the sink for comfort. We solved this by going to Home Hardware and giving way too much information about our kitchen setup to the very friendly and helpful employees who recommended we get this cube wall tap to reduce the amount of space taken up by those annoying power cords.

KITCHEN DETAIL #1 | Wooden tray (gift from my mom but from Homesense, here is something similar from Bouclair)

KITCHEN DETAIL #2 | Cube wall tap from Home Hardware which turns a single outlet into three outlets! Very handy if you need to plug in a few more things but don’t need or want a whole power bar. There’s also a swivel version if that would suit your space better.

Where do we put the small everyday appliances?

We recouped the counter space needed for the microwave by stacking our kettle and toaster on top of it. Now it’s like the microwave is its own small appliance shelf! Luckily this hefty wooden tray is pretty much the dimensions of the microwave so this area looks a little more intentional than just stacking the appliances on top.

How do we create storage without installing shelves?

We knew that we wanted to make use of the vertical space along this counter but we weren’t quite sure how to achieve that. I looked at baskets that could hang off the bottom cabinet but I’ve found that these always get in the way of the cabinet doors closing fully. Realistically, the things we needed to store were also not things that typically went into baskets.

Luckily, I found these SUNNERSTA no-drill adjustable racks from IKEA which fit perfectly in this space. They can even be extended vertically up to 25 5/8 ” (65 cm) and I was sold by the fact that they don’t need to be drilled into the walls! I got some containers for our cutlery and extra hooks for hanging things we wanted easy access to like measuring cups, rubber bands, and the lids for our Nutribullet cups.

KITCHEN DETAIL #3 | The popular OSTBIT bamboo plate organizer from IKEA holds our cutting boards (there are actually 4 of them).

KITCHEN DETAIL #4 | The SUNNERSTA series is perfect if you want hanging racks in your kitchen without having to install anything into the walls.

How do we make the kitchen look a little more cozy without spending a ton?

This is where people on the Internet love to suggest things like “simply redo all the cabinets with your landlord’s permission to make it look better!” which is nice for them, but completely useless for me.

I’m not the first person to suggest contact paper and I certainly won’t be the last. But seriously, have you considered putting contact paper on your boring white counters to make them a little less boring and white? My original plan included putting the contact paper on the counter with the sink as well but Mike was unconvinced that they would hold up with time due to the water from the sink. Our compromise was that I could do all the non-sink counters instead.

KITCHEN DETAIL #5 | This wood grain contact paper? It’s from Dollarama! Honestly I was surprised to find something this nice there but I’m certainly not complaining. Our counters are pretty small so I only needed 3 rolls (40″ X 18″) and they were only $1.50 each.

I had actually done a test run with a less nice pattern also from Dollarama to show Mike my vision for the kitchen but it was good practice for putting on contact paper. I would recommend doing that if you have the time and energy!

If this is something you’re considering for the kitchen/bathroom and want to know how it holds up, here is a blogger who applied contact paper to a bathroom counter including caulk to seal it by the sink and polyurethane as a top coat with a bonus update of what it looks like a year after the application.

KITCHEN DETAIL #6 | I think I bought these corner shelves from Amazon many years ago. Here are links to similar products from Loblaws and Kitchen Stuff Plus, but you can also just search “2 or 3 tier corner shelf”.

KITCHEN DETAIL #7 | I was honestly surprised by how much stuff I could find for the apartment at Dollarama. Want to protect your shelves and drawers? Not sure if the marks from the previous tenants are water damage or something else? You want drawer liner! It’s not an adhesive like contact paper so it’s a breeze to remove/reposition/redo. I bought it in the wood grain pattern because the alternative was a beige that I wasn’t into.

KITCHEN DETAIL #8 | These shelves are great for making the most use of your cabinets, especially if you can’t reposition the height of the shelves like us. Places like Bed Bath & Beyond also have them but they can get pricey ($10+ even for the small ones) so I would suggest taking measurements for what you need and checking to see if the Dollarama ones will fit first.

Where else can you store things in a small kitchen?

We originally wanted to get one of those double magnetic knife strips to put along the side of the fridge so that we didn’t have to sacrifice any precious counter space to a big ol’ knife block. Unfortunately we were defeated by this large cubby that blocks access to the majority of the fridge side.

KITCHEN DETAIL #9 | Instead we found this free-standing magnetic knife block from Bed Bath & Beyond that’s a little sleeker and matches with the rest of our kitchen.

KITCHEN DETAIL #10 | I really wanted to use the small sliver of space on the side of the fridge that we could access and we still needed a spice rack so I bought these magnetic jars from Canadian Tire for the spices we use most often. The rest of the spices live in the cupboard in regular spice containers but if we wanted to we could fit more magnetic jars on the range hood. You can see that’s where salt lives now – it’s surprisingly convenient!

KITCHEN DETAIL #11 | Ask any renter/home improvement person how to ‘install’ something without putting holes in the walls and the answer will almost always be Command Strips. Our splatter guard and mesh strainer were too tall to fit on the SUNNERSTA rack, and there isn’t enough clearance on the insides of any cupboard doors to hang them. Thus, a (off-brand Dollarama) Command Hook and now they’re out of my way but also within reach when I need them.

What do you do when you have an ugly light?

The worst part of our kitchen is the terrible florescent overhead light that came with the unit. You can even see the greenish/yellow tinge from the light in the blank slate photo of the similar unit. It makes the whole place feel sterile so we never actually use it. This leaves us with the stove light which actually does a pretty good job as an area light since the kitchen is so compact.

KITCHEN DETAIL #12 | Our finishing touch was this LED light strip that I ran along the top of the cabinets to replace the overhead light. It has a 3M adhesive backing which allows it to sit flush on a surface. I wanted to have easy access to the switch so I started by mounting the switch on the side of the cabinet with a velcro Command strip and then running the light along the top of the cabinets so the light is facing up. It would’ve been easier to apply the lights so that they are on the back wall facing outwards but then you can see all the individual bulbs. Facing them up helps bounce the light off the top of the jutting out wall for a cleaner look. The whole strip is 16 ft long and I just cut off the excess once I reached the end of the cabinets.

The light we got is warm white (3000K), dimmable, and plugs in to the wall but there are tons of options for other colours, Wi-Fi enabled, battery operated, etc., and you can find them at Best Buy or Lowes.

There are still a couple more areas I’d like to improve but at this point it’s mostly aesthetic so I can take my time and try to source secondhand if I can.

So that’s our lil kitchen! For such a small space there were so many projects/updates to make, but we spend a lot of time in it these days so it was worth putting in the effort to make it both functional and aesthetic.

Thanks for tuning in and I hope it gave you some inspiration for your own kitchens, rental or otherwise!

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