before and after

I am lucky to live with a handy man. Slav and I like to make our living space nice and clean. Even though we are renters, we have never hesitated to make improvements on our rentals. Over the years, we upgraded window treatments, painted walls, refreshed bathroom fixtures, and planted gardens. We cannot wait to have a place to call our own and work on it!

From day one, we knew the Evergreen rental was just a temporary stay. We did not even unpack our books, pictures, and decorations, anticipating another move in a few months. By no means we are living in a rabbit hole – we HAVE to make any place pleasant to live, even just for a week! Since moved in, we finished the brick porch, set up an outdoor water station for our pooches, and planted a sunroom garden. We try to keep the cost down, of course, but these small improvements brought so much joy that they are well worth it, including the DIY kitchen island top we finished a couple weeks ago.

01 before

If you have watched our video tour, you might recall how small the living room is. With a full mattress as sofa, Slav’s standing desk, and a coffee table, even the smallest dining set could not fit in the living room anymore. The first a couple weeks after we moved in, we ate our meals standing around the kitchen island. We immediately started hunting for a small dining set, but a dining set-for-two was really hard to come by.

Then I had an idea – why don’t we make the island top larger? Paired with a couple bar stools, we do not need a real dining set. We did some research and set on just plain plywood to save the cost, then I got to work.

1. Basic shape of the island


The existing size of the island is 49.5″ x 24″. As you can see from the pictures above, the chimney is a foot wider. Extend the island top to span the whole width of the chimney will create sitting space for at least two people on the left side of the island, and extended it by a foot lengthwise or so will provide another sitting at the end of the island.

2. Using cardboard boxes to map out the shape


I prefer a curved island to one with corners. To make the design process easier, I used cardboard boxes and simply cut the shape I wanted. At the right side of the island sits the stove. I extended the island a bit more to make a round corner, which not only allows another sitting spot, but also make the end of the island a bit wider for computer use.


We got a pair of red stools off Craigslist while planning for the new island top.


Using cardboard helps me to get a good sense of the space. I originally wanted to make the island top a foot longer – the current island is 49.5″ and the new one will be 62″ long – but it made the path between living room and kitchen too narrow. So the final length of the new island was 59.5″ instead of 62″. We also refined the shape of the future island on the right side, to provide more space for cooking.

3. Cutting and sealing the new top


With the template in hand, Slav bought a piece of plywood (cheap!) and start cutting.


Freshly cut plywood has really rough edges, which needs to be sanded later.


After a couple round of sanding:


In the picture, we already applied the first coat of wood stain. We want to keep it simple and Slav likes the look of wood grains, so we decided to stain instead of paint it. We did three coats of stain, then sealed the top with three coats of polyurethane sealant. You can see that the top got significantly darker.


4. The result!


We love it! It is spacious, easy to clean, and fits the space perfectly. We only have two stools but this island can seat four comfortably. With more space to spread out, we have eaten hotpot almost every night. It feels so good to finally sit down for dinner.

After a week of use, the new island top now hosts a record player, our microwave,  and during the day, serves as my work station. The height of the island is perfect for me to work on my laptop standing up, and of course I can seat on the stool if I want to. This is how it looks now:


This island top is our simplest DIY yet, but it changed our living space so much for better. Want join us for a hotpot dinner? Come over (and bring your own stool)!