Your first few apartments may not have a dream kitchen. When you’re starting out, a single row of appliances and kitchen wall cabinets pushed against the back of a studio is the more likely layout available. However, just because there’s less square footage to use doesn’t mean the setup doesn’t deserve a design overhaul of its own. In many cases you probably can’t shift the sink or refrigerator, but kitchen wall cabinets can almost always be updated. Bringing in additional storage creates plenty of new possibilities, too, like showing off ceramic bowls as if they’re art or finally getting a practical meal-prep area. All there is to do is pick which upgrade fits your needs—and floor plan—best.

See What’s Inside

Courtesy of British Standard

Before this room gets pretty, it’s got to be functional, right? Glass kitchen cabinet doors allow you to see where to search for something, whether that’s a mug or a dinner plate. Leave the avalanche of Tupperware to the solid-front cupboards underneath. 

Soften a Sterile Space With Wood

Photography by Meghan McNeer

Wipeed-clean countertops and steel sinks can create a hospital vibe if they aren’t offset with a warm organic material. Mounting wood kitchen wall cabinets, studded with rippled glass panels, livens up the space. 

Nothing Is More Honest Than Open Shelving

Photography by Mia Baxter

The trouble with being hyper-organized is that when you accomplish your goal, no one typically notices. After years of abstaining from random NPR coffee mugs and novelty stemware, show off your hard work. Open shelving keeps your streamlined ceramics collection within easy reach—and eyesight. Plus when the shelves are painted to blend into the wall, they’ll keep your small kitchen from feeling top-heavy.

Renovate Around the Kitchen Cabinets

Photography by Mariko Reed; Styling by Rosy Fridman

Maybe your design overhaul is over budget or the landlord doesn’t want the pieces changed—sometimes old cabinets simply can’t be scrapped. In that event, spruce them up by adjusting the wall surrounding them. New wallpaper running between the upper and lower kitchen wall cabinets and throughout the rest of the room draws the eye away from the cupboards. Before installing, just be sure to confirm the material is safe near hot surfaces (i.e., the stove).

White Cupboards Are Classic

Photography by Cody Guilfoyle

There’s a reason homeowners often choose white fronts: They work! Every spot and stain shows up, so you know what needs an extra scrub. In particularly tight quarters, lighter-tone kitchen cabinets also help a space appear brighter, so you’ll have all the more desire to get chopping.