To Avoid a Kitchen Reno, This Designer Cleverly Covered Up Her Boring Cabinets

And more renter-friendly ideas.
Anna Kocharian Avatar

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The first thing Olga Naiman did when she moved into her Brooklyn condo was to cover the bare, bland walls of the narrow entry with a floor-to-ceiling Fornasetti wallpaper and bright pink curtains to match. “I wanted each room to have a distinct color imprint, a different feeling,” notes Naiman. The interior designer and prop stylist, who is the mastermind behind spaces featured everywhere from Anthropologie to Vogue, has a background in theatrical set design and channels her work as a major source of inspiration in her own home. “On a set, you turn a corner and you’re suddenly in a different place,” she explains.

Woman standing in front of wall with blue squiggle wallpaper

It’s a practice Naiman readily puts into play in her apartment, which she shares with her partner, Michael Smith, and 3-year-old twins, Laszlo and Lucia. Color is woven throughout, with hits of pattern cleverly layered in. A hue that stands in as a secondary shade in one room takes decorative charge in the next, and graphic prints add texture and depth. “I would never call myself a traditional designer,” says Naiman. “I love bold decor that comes with moments of magic—everything in my home has symbolism or meaning.”

Place Your Bed as the Center of Attention 

bed with blue headboard

Offset a small bedroom with a low-platform bed—the inverse takes up vital real estate spatially and visually—and use nightstands and table lamps as interesting accessories. The cobalt headboard, which Naiman crafted herself after falling short on finding the perfect one, creates a bold stroke of color. Layering in soft textures, like a leopard-print pillow, is another inexpensive way to incorporate pattern into the space. The final touch? “A throw always breaks up the monotony of a bedspread,” says Naiman.

Transform Boring Kitchen Cabinets

Since an entire kitchen renovation was both impractical and unaffordable, Naiman opted to focus on one standout moment: the cabinetry. Inspired by a wallpaper she saw in an Art Deco exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, Naiman refurbished the existing oak veneer kitchen cabinets with a graphic color-block boasting a silver leaf detail. The smaller surface means you can splurge on a design that might be too pricey elsewhere.

Shift Focus From the Walls

blue sofa in front of bookshelf

Naiman approaches her bookshelves as stackable still lifes (and a way to keep items out of reach of her little ones), using each square of the shelving system as a frame. The shelves earmarked to hold decorative accessories are lined with a graphic wallpaper, while the shelves reserved for books are left blank to avoid an overly crowded feel. The loose checkerboard effect allows the eye to move freely from one composition to the next. “It’s an easy way for renters to add depth to a wall,” she points out.

Let Textiles Do Double Duty

Room with red curtain and red chairs

White walls are a rarity in Naiman’s home. Instead you’ll find panels of vibrant fabrics draped around the space (more often than not concealing an unsightly surface), which she attributes to her roots: “I’m Russian, and Russians love rich textures—especially silk—and fabric on the walls.” In the bedroom, a series of curtains disguise 19 feet of closet doors and a wall-mounted television. “Rather than painting the walls, tack up some beautiful fabric,” Naiman suggests. “When you move, take it with you, and you’ll have curtains for your next place.”

Use Color to Succeed Pattern

kids room with chalkboard paint

Primary hues set the tone for Laszlo and Lucia’s room (a nook Naiman carved out from the originally one-bedroom apartment). The walls decked out in chalkboard paint act as a grounding neutral—as well as a creative outlet for the twins. “I told them they could draw on any wall that is black,” says Naiman. She skipped big patterns in favor of displaying the children’s art, which, unsurprisingly, is full of color.

Embrace the Rule of Three

Artwork and chest between kitchen and bookshelf

Drawing from elements of photography, the rule of three—or what Naiman refers to as triangulation—follows the idea that the dominant color of a chosen palette should appear within three points of a room: high, low, and eye level. In her living room, Naiman highlights the turquoise, pink, and blue from a painting, emulating the hues by way of the counter stools, lounge chair, and sofa, respectively.

Anna Kocharian Avatar

Anna Kocharian


Anna has a penchant for travel, fresh flowers, and books. You can usually find her on some sort of culinary adventure, seeking the best burgers or waffles in the city.