By Katelyn Chef

Published on March 18, 2018

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Photography by Sam Ushiro

Newly engaged colorful couple Sam Ushiro and Kyle Larsen are expanding beyond their bright pastel Instagram theme and the Aww Sam blog, as together, they’re undertaking the complete remodel of their rented 1,000-square-foot Brooklyn, New York apartment—and the first room to undergo a vibrant transformation is the kitchen. A 500-square-foot space, which also consists of their living room and dining room, the final results are a true Instagrammer’s delight—no detail, no knob, and no accent went untouched.

However, making any place feel like home while renting is tricky: Sam and Kyle take their readers and followers along their home decorating journey, one design choice at a time. Ushiro’s first tip is a good one: Seek the landlord’s approval before starting any renovations.

“We found that most rentals allow walls to be painted so long as they are repainted to the original white when you leave. Our kitchen had been through many other owners before, and was getting super rundown. Since it was time for a redo, I asked our landlord if we could paint the cabinets and the countertop, as opposed to overhauling the whole kitchen.”

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Photography by Sam Ushiro

Renewing a space you already own is one thing, but a space you’re renting is another hurdle when attempting to be cost-effective. “Even though we were approved to change up the space, I didn’t want to pour money into a place that we’re eventually going to move out of. We found a complete kit for both the cabinets and countertop that were super easy to use, and we were able to finish the whole painting process in a total of three days!”

The kitchen white cabinets are offset by a beautiful baby blue backsplash. This design hack may come as a shock, but it’s a peel and stick pattern—yes, it’s temporary. “For the wall in the kitchen, we put up a peel and stick backsplash that looks like tile, but can be easily removed when we move out,” Ushiro continues. “It only took 10 minutes to install, and is now probably my favorite part of the whole kitchen! It adds so much color and texture that was missing from just the plain, white wall before.”

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Photography by Sam Ushiro

The couple’s other kitchen fixtures (which may appear permanent) are indeed also very renter friendly. They carried their “temporary yet colorful” theme to their choice of flooring as well: “The floor is basically a giant vinyl sticker made up of a bunch of different light maple boards; think in terms of a puzzle! It’s all completely removable as well, with nothing sticking to the floor, so the wood underneath won’t get damaged.”

Aside from the cool flooring factor, there’s another tenant secret to be learned. Ushiro continues, “Added bonus: We can save it and use it in our next apartment! Not including the appliances, of course (cough Smeg fridge cough), we only spent $400 total on materials or tools needed to redo our whole kitchen!”

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Photography by Sam Ushiro

At every turn, there’s something to marvel at, whether it be the handmade macramé plant hangers, pastel pots and pans, or the bubblegum pink Smeg appliances. However, other decor details, such as the granite counter top and color block walls, are worth admiring, too. 

The pair used a granite counter top kit to revamp their cooking space. “The granite countertop kit is basically a kit that allows you to paint a new countertop and imitate the effects of having real granite. After putting a black base coat down, you put on three layers of mineral paints, and then finish with a clear top coat to give it the look you want.”

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Photography by Sam Ushiro
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Photography by Sam Ushiro

Ushiro had the original idea to use marble contact paper, but decided to forgo that choice, as the two do their fair share of cooking and baking. (Who hasn’t seen their Insta Story cooking segment, Getting Spicy with Kyle?)

The abundance of white walls inside the Brooklyn apartment was another design conundrum. However, color (as it normally does) offered a perfect solution. “We have so much white wall space that I knew I wanted to paint one out of four of our walls. With the walls being so tall, I was worried about painting the whole thing, since it would make things a lot harder for me to finish, and also because I was worried it might be overwhelming.”

So, “We ended up painting a third of the wall sunshine yellow to brighten up our space during those gloomy days.” The creative solution was a smart decision, as the kitchen walls extend into the couple’s dining and living space. Since their kitchen blends into two additional living spaces, they made a few distinctive choices to differentiate the three rooms.

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Photography by Sam Ushiro

“We have a large, diamond patterned rug in the living room that is distinct from the small rug we use in the kitchen. Our apartment is super limited on counter space, so the addition of an island/bar helped solve the problem of where to prep meals, while also creating a distinct ‘wall’ between the living room and the kitchen,” says Ushiro.

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Photography by Sam Ushiro
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Photography by Sam Ushiro

And by using certain furnishing tricks, it’s easy to replicate this style in your own home as well. “Our cabinets didn’t have any knobs or pulls when we moved in for some reason, so one of the first things I did was search the internet for fun cabinet knobs. We ended up installing eight knobs and two pulls for our cabinets and drawers.”

Pro tip: “Switching out knobs or pulls is an easy way to add some style to a kitchen if you’re in a position where the landlord won’t let you do too much else.”

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Photography by Sam Ushiro

The same simple solutions can be applied to tiny living and storage space predicaments. “While we don’t have a ton of floor space and have zero closets, we are lucky because we have extremely high ceilings!” says Ushiro. “Utilizing the height of our space as a way for storage solutions has really helped. We put dishes that get used less on top of our cabinets, and are going to be installing shelving around the apartment to continue taking advantage of all the space above eye level.”

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Photography by Sam Ushiro

Whether it’s the modern, mustard yellow, ceramic arc pendant lamp suspended in the kitchen area or the retro, bubblegum pink kitchen bar stool, each choice of furniture has been essential to finalizing the remodel. “We took advantage of places like Ikea in as many ways as possible (i.e., buying generic drawer pulls and spray painting them hot pink), and in most cases, I patiently waited until items went on sale! I asked my followers and readers for their suggestions on places to buy furniture as well, and there was an overwhelming love for Wayfair to get cheap items—which is where we got our pink bar stool!”

At the project’s end, it was the couple’s savvy rug selection that tied everything together. “When it comes to rugs, I’m a huge fan of tying all the colors of a room together with one’s rug choice. The rug we chose had the blues from our dishware and backsplash, but also the yellows and greens from the rest of our kitchen decor. It’s also incredibly difficult when you have one room for your kitchen, living room, and dining room, to make sure each room looks different, but still somehow goes together as a whole.”

Sticking to their cost-effective budget, Ushiro spent hours watching YouTube videos on how to make the apartment’s various macramé suspended planters… and it’s safe to say the results paid off. “It was really fun because we got to customize them how we wanted to get the perfect look and fit for our plants!”

And speaking of plants, their space is pet-friendly, which is one reason for the faux plants inside the planters. It’s to accommodate their third roommate, a black cat named Sabbath. “One, I don’t have a green thumb in any way, and two, our cat eats everything, non-edible and edible! Cat owners, you know how that goes.”

Overall, the #Awwpartment is a cohesive and colorful blend of the two’s playful aesthetic—we can only imagine what they’ll create when they finally own their own place. 

See more kitchen makeovers:

A Spacious New Kitchen Totally Transformed This Dated Apartment
Before and After: A Dated Kitchen Gets a Functional Makeover
Before & After: This Couple Converted a Closet Into a Massive Kitchen

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