Compact Kitchen Units: What to Know Before You Buy

Compact Kitchen Unit

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After years of embracing the ever-expanding house, homeowners and homebuyers have learned that big isn't always great. Tiny is good. Tiny saves the earth's resources, costs less, can be more efficient, and usually makes sense for smaller households or single people. Tiny extends to the kitchen, as well.

If you have ever had a small kitchen, you might form your idea of a compact kitchen unit on that notion. Often based around a galley or an L-shaped plan, most small conventional kitchens have one or two counters, a stove, oven, and a sink, all shrunk to a small footprint.

Borrowing from that basic idea, a compact kitchen unit is even smaller than that and is structured in a unique way so that all services work together.

What Is a Compact Kitchen Unit?

Compact kitchen units are unified bundles that address the needs of micro-small primary residential spaces such as urban apartments and condos, rentals of all types, and vacation homes and cabins.

A compact kitchen unit, or kitchenette, is a complete full- or partial-service kitchen package that comes as one unit or in a few pieces that are meant to be assembled as a single unit. In the end, though, all pieces will form one unit. Compact kitchen units usually have one price, with optional items like microwaves and expanded cooking ranges driving the cost higher.

Compact Kitchen Unit Uses

Sometimes, homeowners undertaking a large kitchen remodel that is expected to last for a long time may purchase or rent a compact kitchen unit for temporary use.

Also, with the tiny house movement and a growing awareness that bigger is not always necessarily better, the appeal of these postage-stamp-sized cooking spaces has been spreading to other, larger types of homes.

Compact kitchen units are used in rental properties where efficiency is required and cost needs to remain low.

Compact Kitchen Unit Sizes

Average kitchen size tends to be around 100 to 200 square feet. The classic 10-foot by 10-foot kitchen, regularly held out as a benchmark for estimating kitchen remodel costs, represents the high end of available space for compact kitchen units. Most compact kitchen units can occupy a space that is only 25-percent of that size. In fact, some units will even fit in a space as small as 8 square feet.

By definition, compact kitchen units are small. It is rare to find a unit wider than 72 inches. Most widths fall in the 30-inch to 48-inch range. Larger compact kitchen units extend from the base cabinets upward to include wall cabinets. The portion of the unit that carries the wall cabinets also forms a backsplash.

Typical Compact Kitchen Unit Layouts

Site-built galley kitchens run in a straight line with no interruption between amenities. Most compact kitchen units have the same galley-style layout.

In some cases, the kitchen unit is fully assembled and literally ships on a wood pallet as a single piece. Other kitchen units are too large and heavy to ship in this manner, so they ship in several pieces that can easily be assembled on site.

One difference between a compact kitchen unit and a conventional galley kitchen is that compact units truly are compact. Classic space-wasting features of conventional kitchens such as blind corners and spacers between appliances are not found with compact kitchen units. Everything is kept tight. By the same token, legitimate storage space is extremely limited.

Compact Kitchen Unit Design Features

Most compact kitchen units are plain and unadorned. Materials such as powder-coated steel, melamine, thermofoil, and stainless steel are typical. A few companies sell units with heavier materials such as quartz countertops and wood cabinets, and one company, Yestertec, even installs kitchen units in furniture-grade armoires.

  • No need to piece together separate items

  • More features packed into a small space

  • Fast installation

  • Usually quite durable since they tend to be designed for rentals

  • Sometimes ship as single units

  • Plain design

  • Heavy and unwieldy to ship and move

  • Few companies make compact kitchen units

  • Off-brand appliances

  • Appliances smaller sized

Compact Kitchen Unit Appliances and Services

While usually solid and fully functional, appliances are rarely premium-quality or even name-brand. Since small is the name of the game with compact units, it follows that individual appliances and services are tiny, as well.

  • Refrigerators: Most refrigerators are roughly the size of bar fridges and tend to max out at 5.1 cubic feet. Most of the refrigerators include freezers.
  • Sinks: Single basin sinks are a common feature on compact kitchen units and tend to measure in the 14-inch by 16-inch range. Garbage disposers tend not to be standard features but can be ordered as a special item.
  • Microwaves: Microwaves tend to be optional features and typically are no larger than 0.7 cubic feet.
  • Stoves: Two burners are common, with only a few expanding to four burners.
  • Ovens: Larger kitchen units may have ovens in the form of integrated stove/ovens.
  • Dishwashers: Dishwashers are rarely found as a standard feature in compact kitchen units and tend to be special-order items.