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5 Ways to Improve Your Outdated College Kitchen

If your college kitchen is anything like mine during my sophomore year, it likely hasn’t been updated since the late ‘80s, there are mysterious stains on the countertops that will never go away — no matter how many cleaning products you use — and the cabinets are the worst color blue you’ve ever seen (who even paints cabinets blue anyways?). 

We spend so much time thinking about how we’re going to decorate our bedroom or dorm room, from the color scheme to the wall decor and desk accessories, but we don’t ever think about how we can elevate our kitchen — even when they’re hopelessly outdated. 

With a few easy steps and some cute decor items, you can make your kitchen more put-together and well-decorated. After all, the average person spends about an hour a day in the kitchen eating, drinking and cleaning, which adds up to over 15 days out of the year spent in your least-decorated space (if you factor in summer and winter breaks). Don’t you want to spend that time somewhere that’s at least somewhat aesthetically pleasing?

Add a chalkboard to your fridge 

While brand-new appliances can make any space look chic, outdated ones can do the exact opposite — especially if they’ve been used by decades of college students. If your fridge, similar to the one my eight roommates and I shared sophomore year, is a little too old (and not old in the cute, retro kind of way that’s back in style), some creative decorating can cover it up.

A few square feet of peel-and-stick chalkboard wallpaper (Bed Bath & Beyond, $27) can turn your fridge into a space for grocery shopping lists, fun messages, and even passive-aggressive reminders to your roommates to wash the dishes. Or, this pack of four vinyl chalkboard sheets from Crate & Barrel ($17) can be used on both the fridge or any empty wall for schedules, to-do lists, and more.

Throw up a (temporary) backsplash

Another easy trick for making your space more sophisticated is adding a peel-and-stick wallpaper backsplash. The upside of this is that it’s easy to put on, and it peels right off at the end of the semester — so you don’t have to worry about your landlord or the housing office coming after you for damage fees.

Wayfair offers a bunch of options, from a white mosaic tile ($16) to a blue scalloped tile ($14). If you’re willing to spend a little bit more on the magazine-quality kitchen you’ve been daydreaming about, the brand Say Home Decor sells modern wallpaper patterns like this gold and white chevron tile ($45) and this white marble hexagon tile ($45).

Fill your counters intentionally

No one likes a messy countertop. But when it’s filled with just the right mix of functional-yet-decorative items, it can be eye-catching rather than cluttered. 

The biggest culprit of turning countertops into eyesores? Piles of dishes (both clean and dirty). Make it slightly more organized with this bamboo drying rack from the Container Store ($20), which is miles better than a water-soaked dish towel precariously stacked with dishes. Or this steel wire drying rack from Target ($35), complete with a cutlery holder and drainboard. 

You can also turn your counters into a haven of organization, using storage containers that are useful and visually appealing. Use something like this two-tier corner shelf from Target ($15) for everything from cooking supplies to produce. Display all your favorite Trader Joe’s seasoning on this bamboo spice rack (Wayfair, $14). Neatly store your K-Cups in a four-tiered drawer ($24) or carousel ($20). And display baking ingredients like flour, chocolate chips, and sugar (or cookies, a la Kloe Kardashian circa 2015) in glass jars like these lidded canisters from the Container Store ($10-15).

Dress up your empty walls

Every kitchen I’ve had in my college apartments have included large, empty walls that were in dire need of decoration. Whether you have feet of empty wall space or a few inches next to the cabinets, there’s always room to liven up the area with some decor.

For something glaringly obvious, opt for this wooden sign that simply says, “EAT” (Amazon, $15). For fans of charcuterie boards and cheese plates, this cheese print from Etsy ($20) will fill any wall perfectly, and coffee lovers will enjoy this poster breaking down common caffeinated drinks (Etsy, $26). To stick with a food theme, try any of these food alphabet prints from BLAEK Design Studio (Fy, $16) — you can even get one for each of your roommates’ initials. In my apartment, we’d have milk, corn and steak on our wall.

And if you want wall decor that has a purpose, this industrial-style hanging mug rack from Target ($27) can fit your entire collection of cute coffee mugs — perfect for all of your caffeine-addicted roomies.

And don’t forget the table

If you really think about it, your kitchen table is the centerpiece of the space. Plus, it’s prime real estate for decor. Add some placemats at every seat to spice up your empty table. From Bed Bath & Beyond, you can go classy with these Essex placemats in a variety of colors ($3 each), a bit more modern with these circular Serenity placemats ($3 each), or rustic with some fringe placemats ($5 each). 

For a centerpiece, set up a tray in the middle of the table and fill it with everything from flowers to candles, silverware, and even holiday-themed trinkets for every month of the year. For your base, start with something like this wooden Lazy Susan from Hearth & Hand (Target, $40) or this metal rectangle serving tray (Target, $20). Then layer on small succulents, a vase of flowers, a napkin holder like this gold one from Crate & Barrel ($17), candles, cookbooks, and more.

And for any leftover tabletop space you have, try something unique like this rose gold hexagon rack from the Container Store ($25). If you’re over 21, it’s a great way to spice up any table — and show off your favorite rosés.

Whether you try one or all of these decorating tips, your space is sure to be at least ten times better than the drab, out-of-date college kitchen you started with.

Makena is the Decor Section Editor, and former Style Section Editor and Editorial Intern at Her Campus. She is a senior at Marist College majoring in Communication with a concentration in Journalism and a minor in Graphic Design. One day she hopes to put her writing skills to work at a magazine or women's publication.  Follow her on Instagram @makenagera and Twitter @makena_gera.