Design Ideas for Small Kitchens

Modern Scandinavian kitchen and dining room
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Having a small "space-challenged" kitchen is not necessarily a liability. The appeal of a massive, spacious kitchen quickly dims if your lifestyle doesn't warrant it, while a small, well-designed kitchen can present a surprising number of advantages. When carefully considered, a small kitchen can be so appealing that some remodeling jobs now aim at reducing the size of a large kitchen in favor of a more manageable space.

Here are some of the advantages of small kitchens:

  • They save space in the house. Many kitchens are far larger than needed, while a small kitchen can be just right for your needs. And shrinking the kitchen space during remodeling provides space for other areas of your house: living rooms, offices, bedrooms. Cutting down on kitchen size may even allow you to add an entirely new room, such as a guest bathroom.
  • Small kitchens are cheaper. The kitchen is the most expensive remodel in the house. Keeping the space small reduces the use of expensive materials, bringing down your overall cost.
  • DIY remodeling is easier. Often, size is the tipping point between doing it yourself or hiring a professional. The scale of a small kitchen may be just right for your DIY abilities and the time you have available.
  • Small kitchens are better ergonomically. The old rule of the kitchen triangle still applies. With small kitchens, the work triangle is practically built-in, making for very efficient use of the space during meal preparation.
  • 01 of 08

    Keep It Light

    Bright modern kitchen and dining room in an old country house
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    If you're hankering for dark paint colors in your them for your next house. The first piece of advice for a small kitchen is always to lighten up your kitchen paint colors. By doing this, you instantly add the feeling of space because light colors reflect lots of light.

    The paint colors from Behr shown here are Chai Latte, Apple Crisp, and Popped Corn.

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  • 02 of 08

    Shrink the Sink

    close up of a worktop of a modern kitchen
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    We're all so accustomed to the 12-foot-long sink/counter combination that it is easy to ignore the alternatives. The massive sink and countertop made popular by the kitchen design industry is not always the best choice. 

    In a small kitchen, sequester the sink in its own area, freeing up other parts of the kitchen for food prep. In this example, an otherwise unusable kitchen corner has been filled with a practical use. In a small kitchen, it's crucial to make wise use of every space. 

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  • 03 of 08

    Make Space by Minimizing Elements

    Apartment kitchen
    RoBeDeRo / Getty Images

    Sometimes, you just don't have enough space for all the features of a traditional kitchen. In this efficiency apartment that has just one bedroom, one bathroom, and a generalized living/eating area, there wasn't much space for a standard kitchen. Instead, freestanding furniture (from retailers like IKEA) can be used to keep clutter to a minimum. The essential basics are still present, but this "kitchen" blends well with generalized living space by foregoing some of the traditional kitchen features, such as weighty cabinetry.  

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  • 04 of 08

    Embrace the Galley

    White kitchen with wooden countertop
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    If you've got a small kitchen, it's 90 percent certain that you've got what is called a galley kitchen. A galley (sometimes called a corridor kitchen) is little more than a hallway with counters on either side. Typically, one counter has all of the services (sink, stove, dishwasher, etc.), with the other side comprising cabinets and counters. 

    When planning your small kitchen, it's a good idea to learn how to work with the compact specifications of galley kitchens.

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  • 05 of 08

    Waste No Space

    Balanced kitchen with natural accents
    KatarzynaBialasiewicz / Getty Images

    Storage is problematic in limited-space kitchens—the instant you increase your storage, your work area shrinks.

    Fortunately, kitchen cabinet manufacturers have gotten smart about how and where to create storage space. For example, filler cabinets with sliders, as narrow as three inches wide, can help you store baking pans, spices, utensils, and other smaller items.

    Another idea is to install pantry cabinets and wall cabinets that reach to the ceiling. Although the gap at the top can be visually appealing (it does make the wall cabinets feel less imposing), in a small kitchen this is valuable space being wasted. Fill it in!

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  • 06 of 08

    Go All Out With the Backsplash

    Tile backsplash in contemporary kitchen
    Lived In Images / Getty Images

    You don't have a lot of spaces to adorn in a small kitchen. So when they are available, adorn these spaces to be sumptuous. The backsplash is the perfect place to start since a fancy treatment here will liven up the entire kitchen. A small kitchen backsplash is not a lot of square footage, so if you want lavish limestone, glistening glass mosaic, or antique tin tile in the backsplash, chances are good that your budget can support it.

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  • 07 of 08

    Keep Floor Tile Large and Light

    Kitchen interior
    SrdjanPav / Getty Images

    It's a visual illusion—tiny floor tiles make your small kitchen feel busy and cramped; large tiles make it feel airier and larger. One reason for this is that with the large tiles, you're reducing the number of grout lines. Go for nothing smaller than standard 12 x 12-inch tiles, but preferably larger.

    One caution: galley kitchens, with their very narrow center floor, will look odd if you lay large tiles, especially if long grout lines run parallel to the cabinets.

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  • 08 of 08

    Squeeze the Fridge and Push It Up

    Interiors of a kitchen
    Eric Audras / Getty Images

    Recent years have seen the development of refrigerators that have all the subtlety of a sumo wrestler squatting in the kitchen. These counter-depth appliances with their side-by-side French doors take up an enormous amount of countertop space that could be used to prepare meals. 

    But thankfully, so-called slim-line refrigerators are becoming a bigger seller for appliance manufacturers, ideal for people who live in urban condos and even postage stamp-sized apartments (micro apartments or apodments). The model shown here is a mere 24 inches wide and holds 9.7 cubic feet in the cooling compartment and 3.3 cubic feet in the freezer. Small and stylish, it's from Liebherr.

    Other small-kitchen owners may opt for two built-in under-counter refrigerators that take up no countertop space at all.