This savvy apartment makeover proves you can do wonders with a space even if it’s not technicall­y yours.


Designer Dabito’s blog Old Brand New has a devoted global following and he’s just released a book! The designer, artist, photograph­er and passionate vintage hunter has built a reputation for his use of bold colour and eclectic maximalism, and enjoys helping people renovate their spaces including this Koreatown apartment in Los Angeles. He explains the process behind its recent transforma­tion.


Kim* has been renting a one-bedroom apartment in Koreatown, Los Angeles, for over 10 years. The rent is super a ordable, which is something that’s practicall­y impossible to find in Los Angeles, so she plans on staying put for a while. Her bedroom was small and didn’t have a good flow, and the bathroom wasn’t functional for her daily regimen. But her living room was spacious with a faux fireplace that added an architectu­ral element.


Kim is a fantastic cook. Her signature dish is Hainan chicken rice, which happens to be one of my favourite foods in the world. She loves the outdoors and recently got into fencing, as well. Her favourite flower is sunflower, so my plan was to imbue its

colours into her space.


Even though she’s renting, we were able to make the apartment feel like hers by using wallpaper, creating a DIY headboard, updating her bathroom, and adding bold colour to the living room.

To create a better layout, we placed the bed in the middle of the room so that she can walk by both sides of the bed. This is also good for one’s romantic fêng shui, as placing a bed in one corner sends the message that only one person will be getting into the bed. Taking inspiratio­n from a boutique hotel I stayed in,

we created a custom DIY headboard that spans the entire length of the wall the bed is on. The wallpaper print is inspired by vintage handloomed Baule ikat cloth from West Africa. When I saw this in a plum colour, I thought it was unique and added a bold pattern to a previously quiet space.

The bathroom was desperate for attention. My first task was to update the countertop and sink, both of which were too high. Kim is a grown woman, but like a toddler in preschool she had to use a stool every night and morning to wash her face. I had a piece of quartz fabricated to fit a new copper undermount sink.

Kim loved this lily pad wallpaper because it reminded her of a jacket her mom owned that had lilies on it. We painted the cabinet Behr “Royal Orchard” to match the wallpaper.

For the floors we used peel-and-stick tiles to cover up the old, hideous existing tiles. As a renter, you’re certainly not doing any permanent tile work, but peel-and-stick tiles are an impermanen­t, reversible solution that can refresh the space to make it feel more like your own. I updated the medicine cabinet to a wood-framed option that lends some warmth and plays well o of the copper sink.

The walk-in shower needed to be updated as well. It had a grimy frosted shower door. And tiles that were in bad condition. I decided to reglaze the tiles back to a bright and shiny white that looked like new. Then I installed a glass shower door to allow light into the shower and make it feel more open. Kim said it now feels like a spa in there!


If you’re living in a home with dated, old, broken, or grimy tiles, reglazing the tiles can make all the di erence. Hire a profession­al to reglaze your tiles, which keeps the existing tiles in place but makes them feel new without any demo work. Here’s the fun part: the glazes come in all types of colours, so you can truly reimagine your space.


I am all about cheap and cheerful ways to update a space, and using peel-and-stick subway tiles for a kitchen backsplash is one of the best ways to change the vibe. No renovation required! Kim’s old backsplash featured dated glass mosaic tiles. So, we picked simple white peel-and-stick subway tiles to brighten up the kitchen. We painted the island a teal blue to add some much-needed colour and contrast. Kim also wanted counter stools that were upholstere­d and had some back support, so we swapped out her old metal industrial stools.


Since one of Kim’s favourite flowers is the sunflower, and she wanted a laid-back vibe for her living room, we painted over the grey walls and ceiling with a bright yellow ( Valspar “Sunday Brunch”). We chose an orange, curved sofa to play with the warm tones and an armchair with rounded edges for a cosy vibe. The co ee and accent tables are also rounded, which creates a smooth flow around the space instead of running into sharp corners. Even the chandelier and table lamp have curvy designs to make it feel relaxed and airy. A neutral rug with graphic lines anchors the room. Instead of hanging the artworks above the mantel, we chose to lean them against the wall for a more casual look. The rust-colour print ties in with the colour of the sofa.

Overlap artworks in di erent sizes to create variation in height. Mix in wood, woven textures (knits, throws, and pillows) and ceramics to add warmth to a space.

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Old Brand New by Dabito published by Hardie Grant Books.
This is an edited extract from Old Brand New by Dabito published by Hardie Grant Books.
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