Renovating a Duplex

A fun home makeover project I did was for the owner of a duplex. It was built in the ’80s and had quite the 70’s feel with regards to its look, see the Before photo below of the kitchen.

The owner wanted to update it, live in one side and rent out the other at top-dollar rent. The duplex’s location warranted the high-rent goal but the decor of the unit did not. He asked me to come up with color and design recommendations. Since it wasn’t local, I asked him for photos of all the rooms and of the exterior. I knew he wanted to keep the carpeting so I set out to put a color palette together that would complement the carpet but still have a neutral, contemporary feel that would offer mass appeal to potential renters.

Creating a palette


The owner wanted to keep the carpet because it was in good condition but he was willing to repaint all the rooms and replace everything in the kitchen and bathrooms including flooring.

As with any makeover project, I got swatches/samples for paint, floor tile, and countertop granite and lay them together to easily weed out ones with the wrong color hue. Sometimes it’s a subtle hue difference but by laying out swatches it’s easy to see which ones work well together.

The carpet throughout the duplex was a neutral tan but it had a slight pink hue whereas some tan carpet has a more yellow hue. The kitchen floor adjoined the living room stairs carpeted area so I chose a neutral tan porcelain tile. The tan hue of the tile went well with the carpet and created a clean modern floor for the kitchen. Tile is a win-win in a rental because it’s very durable, easy to keep clean, more allergy-friendly than carpet, and with basic care, it looks great.

For the paint throughout the home, I chose a light taupe paint that worked well with the carpet color and tan tile, Olympic paint, called Tightrope. I chose a satin finish so it wouldn’t have much sheen but would be easy to clean. Continuing the same paint color throughout made for a consistent neutral backdrop and helped the duplex feel bigger, less chopped up by varying paint colors in each room. The owner was okay to replace the baseboards in the home with white ones. This was an easy but impactful improvement over the existing dark brown baseboards, and the white complemented the tan wall paint nicely.

To contrast well with the tan floor and continue the modern look, I recommended dark brown kitchen cabinets with straight, clean lines. The color provided warmth to the kitchen and made a great focal point.

With these basics established, I looked at various granite samples. The owner loved granite and knew it would help attract high-end rent dollars. He didn’t want white or light counters, so I chose a style at Home Depot, Caledonia, a grey-black granite that had flecks of tan that matched the paint and tile color.

I also recommended simple nickel cabinet door and drawer pulls that would add to the clean modern feel. A high-arching nickel faucet was installed giving the sink more function and style.

The right light

The kitchen didn’t have good lighting so I recommended having can lights installed and I chose a simple modern nickel light fixture for the small eat-in area, Kichler Layla Brushed Nickel Etched Glass Shaded Chandelier. Since the kitchen area was small I chose the 3-light fixture.

This not only provided extra light for dining, it helped designate the eat-in area to show potential renters the extra function of the kitchen area. A simple flush-mount fixture that went well with the cabinet handles and faucet was installed over the sink to provide good soft light for food prep. Well thought-out lighting provides a welcoming feel to rooms, it makes the space much more functional and allows the features of the home to shine, literally.

The kitchen window also got a facelift with a new white wood window frame. This tied in nicely with the new white baseboards.


The bathrooms were dark and dated. For continuity throughout the home, I recommended re-doing the floor with the same tan floor tile used in the kitchen. The tub walls were re-done with bright white tile. To add some pizazz to the bath, I recommended an accent strip of tile with a mix of grayish black tiles. For the vanity, I recommended a dark wood and white counter and sink. The dark wood tied nicely together with the strip of dark wall tiles. Like the kitchen, the baths had bad lighting so I recommended a simple modern nickel fixture to go above the mirror and a can light near the tub area. A good fixture placed over the mirror helps provide the task lighting needed for putting on makeup and shaving etc. without shadows. And the can light provides soft light throughout the room without being too harsh.


The owner also wanted to change out the brick on the front of the duplex, it just had a short brick border. Some of the bricks were broken so it was a good opportunity to also update the look of the exterior. I recommended a neutral stone that was lighter than the siding so it complemented each other nicely. The overall lighter cleaner appearance made the house look so much more modern.

The owner was extremely happy with the overall renovation and the new modern look. His realtor who had expert knowledge of the area gave us a thumbs up on the transformation and confirmed he would be able to rent the unit for top dollar. This was a very fun project and when the client is happy, I’m happy.

If you are renovating a rental house, keep in mind you’re also renovating a home. If you keep the end user in mind, in this case, a renter, you’ll appeal to them as they’re looking for a home to rent. Think of function and finishes they’re looking for that fit the rental rate. And in doing so you’ll keep that home rented and keep rental income coming in. It’s a win-win for the home owner and home renter.