Rent Like You Mean It

In This 450-Square-Foot Apartment, the Kitchen Is Three Rooms in One

Multifunctional furniture, ingenious storage, and renter-friendly upgrades abound.

June 25, 2021
Photo by Carly Fuller

Rent Like You Mean It is a series all about giving our rental spaces a new lease. We’ve rounded up a whole host of refreshing spruce-ups (and cover-ups), impactful DIYs (plus how to get them back to square one when you leave), and peeks at real-life rental transformations. Because a lease should never stop you from having a space that feels like yours—even if it’s only for a year.

Carly Fuller’s 450-square-foot NYC apartment is a testament to all the big, small, and medium upgrades you can make to a rental space. In the home she shares with her fiancé, Martin (in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan), she’s done at least 50 different upgrades to make it feel completely personalized—and quite frankly, look nothing like the original space.

Carly is a professional home stager by day, and is the chronic apartment redecorator behind MyCityApartment at all other times, so the ingenious upgrades and storage hacks she’s employed in her own space should come as no surprise. Her apartment has gone through many iterations over the seven years she’s lived there, from a classically cramped Manhattan two-bedroom (yes, you read that right—a 450-square-foot two-bedroom!), to now, being used as a one-bedroom, with the other "bedroom" functioning as a living-room-slash-den area.

While the bedroom, bathroom, and living room have more than their fair share of makeover magic (board and batten walls, peel and stick tile, faux built-in storage, to name a few), the kitchen is definitely the smartest use of space in the apartment. Since the front door opens up right into the kitchen (and all the other rooms are connected to it), it’s forced to function as an entryway, sitting area, and dining room—on top of being the place where all the cooking happens—despite it not being built to serve this many purposes.

It helps, of course, that Carly has a great working relationship with her landlord, who she describes as “a young, really nice and easy going guy.” He’s trusted her to lightly plaster over brick, paint wood trim, and makeover virtually every dated fixture the apartment has to offer. She attributes his leniency to the apartment not having been renovated in 10+ years (it hasn’t been vacant in that long!), and the fact that her updates definitely increase the value of the place. Over the course of her time there, she’s rendered the kitchen almost unrecognizable from its original state—with paint, lots of multifunctional furniture, DIYed second hand items, resourceful storage solutions, and plenty of renter-friendly upgrades. Read on for all the insight into her process.

The Entryway

Pictured: a perfectly functional entryway with wall hooks, shoe storage, and a place to toss keys. Photo by Carly Fuller

The first thing you see when entering the apartment is, in fact, the kitchen, which means it needs to operate as a practical entryway and a peek into an expertly designed home. In order to avoid clutter, Carly added a black shoe cabinet from Wayfair that stores the couple’s footwear, and serves as a table to hold keys, wallets, glasses, and anything else they drop when coming in the door. In the hallway leading to the bathroom and living room, wall-mounted hooks hold totes and coats, and a perfectly-placed gold mirror hides the electrical box.

In addition, the window behind the seating area —believe it or not—didn’t always have the beautiful industrial panes. This look is all thanks to a $5 hack involving electrical tape, a tape measure, and a wee bit of patience.

A 3-Way Kitchen Island

An expertly-disguised light fixture and a peek into original brick. Photo by Carly Fuller
The multifunctional island and lots of smart storage. Photo by Carly Fuller

Choosing between a dining table, breakfast table, or kitchen island is often the primary decision to make in a small kitchen. Instead of pigeon-holing herself into just one of these options, Carly ended up going with a folding kitchen island, a popular Wayfair find that she luckily scored on OfferUp. “We had to wheel it up 10th avenue and up five flights of stairs,” she recalls, “it might have been the hardest thing we ever had to do,” but it was worth it in the end, since it provides additional dining, prep, and entertaining space. Oh, and in order to make it blend seamlessly with the rest of the room, she contact-papered the island to match the counters.

And what does one do about unsightly rental lighting? Well, of course you can handyman your way to a new fixture, but Carly opted to update the existing fixture. In an earlier version, the dated chandelier was covered by black tassels, but recently, it got a springy update with trailing faux florals, adding even more life to the space.

The Sitting Area

Pictured: the shelf above the radiator, afternoon disco ball light, and the first version of a disguised light fixture. Photo by Carly Fuller

Since they only use the living room for movie and TV watching, and spend much of their downtime in the kitchen, Carly added a small seating area beneath the only window in the room. Adding a cowhide rug under the cushy caned chair helps ground the corner into a real seating area, which Carly finds herself lounging in on slow mornings, and where Martin hangs while Carly makes dinner. There’s a radiator next to the chair that would otherwise be dead space, but Carly smartly mounted a shelf right above it to serve as a side table for books, drinks, and of course, a decorative item here and there.

Where the Cooking (& Storage) Happens

Cutting boards hang from the fridge and tea supplies live on wall-mounted shelves,. Photo by Carly Fuller
Utensils get hidden away with hooks inside the cabinet doors. Photo by Carly Fuller

In order to create storage where it didn’t exist before, Carly has had to get creative. While the entryway space holds lots of their wearables, the kitchen still needs to house all of their cooking supplies, food, and accessories—despite how low on counter space it is. Instead of taking up precious countertop real estate, utensils hang on hooks inside the cabinet doors, the microwave lives on top of the fridge, cutting boards hang from the side of the fridge with magnets, and all her tea-making supplies are displayed on wall-mounted shelves. To make the white shelves look less utilitarian, Carly used a bit of Rub 'n Buff for an aged gold patina on the brackets, and around the main door's hardware, too.

For lots more photos of the space, and a real-time look into all the updates Carly makes, head over to MyCityApartment on Instagram.

Which of these storage solutions or decor hacks would you try in your own home? Tell us what you loved below!

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When I'm not writing & editing for Home52, I'm likely to be found DIY-ing a new piece of furniture (or restoring an old one), hanging things on the wall in my apartment, or watching hours of vintage RHONY.

1 Comment

jax July 22, 2021
Every home tour should come with a floor plan. Would that be possible?