My Rental Kitchen Reno: Story Time, Before & Afters, and a Life Lesson

This is a LONG awaited post, and I’m finally here to give the people what they want! Check out what’s ahead!

August 2019, I signed a lease for my first apartment ON MY OWN. It’s a big move, and knowing the costs of apartments in Chicago + my space standards + my salary, I knew I wouldn’t be able to live in a fancy sky-rise (sigh), and would be relegated to an older building. And hey, that’s okay! I think my generation needs to take a step back and stop acting like we are entitled to everything, but that’s a topic for another post.

Anyway, as someone who was still pretty green to renting (I had only been in one other apartment in Chicago previously), I was just desperate to secure decent place in my price range in a neighborhood I wanted. The desperation, of course, blinds you to some… quirks in apartments that may be overlooked in walk-throughs.

The walls aren’t falling in? I don’t smell mold? There are no holes in the floors? Great – looks awesome. Where do I sign.

My Mom came down one weekend to tour a few places with me, and I thought I found the one! I perfect 1 bed in the heart of Lakeview, right by the park and close to basically anything I need. AND it was decently updated! A dishwasher?! Who is she?!

Unfortunately, someone else thought it was perfect too, and snatched it from me just 6 hours after I had viewed it. However, the realtor I was working with let me know that there was a 2 bed in the same unit for only $100 more a month, so I said let’s see it.

I quickly walked through – the kitchen was NOT as updated… but to the naked eye didn’t look awful. No dishwasher, but hey, I hadn’t had one in years anyway. So I jumped and signed the lease and it felt AMAZING. Me, a 27 year old with a 2 bed in Lakeview? OKAY I SEE YOU HUNNY.

Fast forward to October 2019, move-in day. My family and I had spent the morning packing up my old place, and we arrived at my new address in the early afternoon. The building engineer meets me to give me the keys and greets me with “Well, you’re going to be disappointed….” NOT the best greeting to receive on move-in day!

The previous tenants had just moved out that morning due to a lot of miscommunication… (annoying)… so NOTHING was cleaned. I was informed these people had lived in this unit for 11 years and had never ONCE called maintenance for anything… not a lightbulb… nothing. AND YOU COULD TELL.

Once I walked in and there was no one’s furniture and stuff to hide the imperfections of the unit, I immediately had a horrible sinking feeling like I had just signed my name to a craphole – a dumpster fire, if you will. My Dad, who dislikes the city to begin with and thinks it’s an absolute waste of money (and in some ways he’s not wrong), entered the apartment and immediately went into judgement mode (you’re paying HOW MUCH for this?!). He meant well because it was out of worry, but let’s just say it was an extremely stressful rest of the day!

Thankfully, my Mom and older sister were there to quell fears and tears and provide reassurance that we would get everything in working order and make the apartment cute and warm and welcoming.

The real saving grace though? The building engineer, Leo, came up with us, and immediately told me that really, the whole kitchen needed to be redone. The flooring was identical to a 90s classroom blocked tiled floor, cabinets and drawers had been painted over so many times that they were gummy, drawers weren’t on tracks and were falling out, the sink was leaking, and more. Thankfully, they had already installed a new refrigerator and stove/oven, but there was still so much that was less than ideal. How did I not notice this when signing?! Desperation – I tell ya, it’s blinding!

At my Leo’s suggestion, I looked at him and said “Really? Do you really think there could be some updates done?” To that he replied that I should email the property manager and let them know that he made the suggestion from his professional opinion. So that very same night after my family left, I sat on my bed, tears rolling down my face because it had been a DAY, and I did just that.

I emailed very politely, but firmly, that the kitchen was not in working or livable order. I made a list of immediate fixes that needed to be addressed so that I could at least cook in there, but was also clear that Leo suggested that this kitchen needed to be completely renovated after 11 years. In the coming days, emergency fixes were addressed, but I continued to be adamant on the need for a full overhaul.

After just 2-3 weeks of emails and approvals, I got the news that they were going to completely renovate the kitchen. Like, GUT it. Before the approval came through, my Mom and I were talking about ways we could improve it ourselves if they said they wouldn’t fix anything. We were chatting removable flooring, wallpaper, knobs… it would have been quite the ordeal! So, when I got the go ahead, I was over-the-moon.

Honestly, I was shocked, astounded, impressed that I was able to wheel and deal my way into a new kitchen even after I had already signed a lease! They were going to completely redo this room without any charge, without raising my rent, and everything would be brand new.

Now, I was not expecting a luxury kitchen by ANY means. I just wanted to have a kitchen that felt clean to cook in! I was just happy to be getting new cabinets, honestly.

The original plan was to be done in 10 days, which seemed too good to be true – and it was. Renovations started November 18th, so I was hoping it would be done by the time I returned from the Thanksgiving holiday, but, alas. It was not so. Deadlines kept getting pushed back and back due to materials being delayed and whatever other reasons they came up with, but I tried to be patient because this was truly a miracle I got this to happen.

During this reno, my stove and microwave was in my guest room, my refrigerator was in my living room, and I had virtually had no place to cook. For 5 weeks, I had a lot of leftover meals from Mom, a lot of take-out, and a lot of mess around my apartment. It seemed like FOREVER, and truthfully, was pretty stressful since I hadn’t even fully settled in from moving in October. BUT I knew it would be worth it in the end, and boy, was it ever! Did I mention I got a dishwasher?!

From start to finish, everyday I would walk up my back steps to open the back door to check on the progress and take pictures. It was SO cool to see the process, and as everything started to come together, it was all more than I could have ever expected! So, without further adieu, here are before’s/during’s/and after’s!




What do you think?!

Leave your best reaction in a comment below 🙂 Are you interested in me posting more home content? Interested in any links for any of my kitchen items? Let me know and I’ll do a shop my post!

The Life Lesson:

So, the life lesson you ask? It’s actually a pretty classic life lesson that falls along the lines of:


Honestly, this was a very tangible and tactile example of how important these lessons are. It would have been extremely easy for me to think that a kitchen reno was too big of an ask, so might as well not try. But babe, sometimes you just have to speak it into the universe, and make nice with the right people to make things happen.

I honestly need to remind myself I did this. I made this happen. Any time I start to think I can’t do something or something seems too out of reach for me, I need to remember this life example.

Ask for what you want, be kind but firm, and charm the pants off of people and you can move mountains.


happily Haleigh

2 thoughts on “My Rental Kitchen Reno: Story Time, Before & Afters, and a Life Lesson

  1. Absolutely love your kitchen!! That is also an insane story, one that I can totally relate to as we just went through a crazy Chicago apartment ordeal as well! Please share home decor posts! I always love some inspiration!❤️

    Liked by 1 person

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