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.

  • Smaller spaces save space—for the entire 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, and bedrooms. Cutting down on kitchen size may even allow you to add an entirely new room, such as a guest bathroom.
  • Small kitchens are less expensive. The kitchen is the most expensive remodel in the house. Keeping the space small reduces the use of expensive materials like countertops, tile, cabinets, and appliances. This brings down your overall cost.
  • Do-it-yourself 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—keep the fridge, stove, and sink within a tight triangle—still applies. With small kitchens, the work triangle is practically built-in, making for very efficient use of the space during meal preparation. With a larger kitchen, establishing the triangle is more difficult.
  • 01 of 08

    Keep It Light

    Bright modern kitchen and dining room in an old country house
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    If you're in the mood for dark paint colors in your kitchen, you may want to carefully consider this first. Lighten up your kitchen paint colors to add the feeling of space. Light colors reflect more light back into the room. If you want darker colors, try adding it in small, limited areas: a backsplash with darker tiles or a darker-colored countertop.

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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 large sink/counter combination that it is easy to ignore the alternatives. The massive sink and countertop, popular in larger homes, will not work in a small kitchen. Large farmhouse or apron sinks aren't a good fit for most small kitchens.

    In a small kitchen, keep the sink on the smaller side. You may find it better to have a slimmer single-basin sink than a wide double-basin sink. Or a workspace sink might help since these combine counter-based items like cutting boards and drying trays with the sink.

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  • 03 of 08

    Make Space by Minimizing Elements

    Apartment kitchen
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    Sometimes, you just don't have enough space for all the features of a traditional kitchen. For example, in an efficiency apartment, one that has just one bedroom, one bathroom, and a generalized living/eating area, there isn't much space for a standard kitchen.

    Instead, freestanding furniture can be used to keep clutter to a minimum. Foregoing some of the traditional kitchen features, such as weighty cabinetry built-in base and wall cabinets, allows more flexibility with kitchen design. Mobile kitchen islands are a good place for microwaves or as an extra space for prepping food.  

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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 almost certain that you've got what is called a galley kitchen. Sometimes called a corridor kitchen, a galley 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. For one, minimize the size of the sink in order to give yourself more countertop space. Look into slimmer, space-saving appliances. Tuck away or re-think the use, or overuse, of small countertop appliances that can be duplicated by appliances that you already own.

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  • 05 of 08

    Waste No Space

    Balanced kitchen with natural accents
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    Storage can be a problem in limited-space kitchens. The instant you increase your storage, your work area shrinks.

    Fortunately, in response to this shrinking space, kitchen cabinet manufacturers have come up with great ideas about how and where to create storage space. For example, filler cabinets with sliders, as narrow as 3 inches wide, can help you store baking pans, spices, utensils, and other smaller items. You'll be surprised at how many kitchen items are small enough to fit in these narrow spaces.

    Another idea is to install pantry cabinets and wall cabinets that reach the ceiling. A strong case can be made for having a gap between the top of the cabinets and the ceiling. It can be visually appealing since it does make the wall cabinets feel less imposing. But in a small kitchen, this gap represents wasted space.

    Pushing up with the wall cabinets affords you just a bit more room. It's less valuable space than the lower shelves since it's hard to access. But it does work well for small appliances that you don't use very often, like blenders, pasta machines, foot dehydrators, or air fryers, or for foodstuffs that only get used every so often.

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  • 06 of 08

    Go All Out With the Backsplash

    Tile backsplash in contemporary kitchen
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    Kitchens are very functional places devoted to the work of preparing and serving food. So, you don't have a lot of spaces to adorn in any kitchen, especially a small kitchen. But where you do have decorative space available, use it wisely.

    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 stone, 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
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    Your kitchen flooring can affect who you view. With smaller tiles, it's a visual illusion. Tiny floor tiles make your small kitchen feel busy and cramped. Large tiles make a kithen feel airier and larger.

    One reason for this is that with the large tiles, you're reducing the number of grout lines. You can use 12-inch by 12-inch tiles but 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 (or worse, out of parallel) to the cabinets.

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  • 08 of 08

    Squeeze the Fridge and Push It Up

    Interiors of a kitchen
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    Recent years have seen the development of ever-widening refrigerators. 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. 

    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).

    Some of these slim fridges are a mere 24 inches wide and hold close to 10 cubic feet in the cooling compartment and about one-third of that space in the freezer. For urban residents who eat out as much as they eat in, it makes sense to shink down the fridge.

    Other small-kitchen owners may opt for a built-in under-counter refrigerator that takes up no countertop space at all.