Get the Most Out of Your Small Kitchen

With a little ingenuity, you can have a spectacular -- and functional -- kitchen.
With a little ingenuity, you can have a spectacular -- and functional -- kitchen.

There are few things that are higher on a homebuyer's list than a fabulous kitchen. And while rushing around in your cramped, overflowing kitchen, you've had plenty of time to dream up your wish list of finishes and appliances.

Ideally, it's a kitchen with plenty of space and a large enough fridge to accommodate fresh groceries, pre-prepared meals and lots of leftovers. It would have an island to comfortably seat guests and, of course, lots of natural light and an abundance of charm. Oh, and wood floors would be great, too. Tile gets a little cold on your feet in the winter.

But the fact of the matter is the housing market has tanked and you're probably not going anywhere for a while. You've looked into expanding, but that's not really in the cards right now, either -- at least for the time being. So, how are you possibly going to make this work? The key to getting the biggest bang out of your small footprint is to maximize every inch of usable space. For example, you may not be able to get a wider sink, but you can probably find a deeper model to reclaim some space. Tricks like this will help you turn your tiny train wreck into the kitchen of your dreams. Well, almost.


Small Kitchen Decorating Ideas

Everything in one place equals more convenience.
Everything in one place equals more convenience.

Your small kitchen may not accommodate a mammoth refrigerator or a six-burner stove, but there's plenty that you can do to make it a fashionable and functional space. The most important aspect to decorating a small kitchen is to minimize clutter. This means getting rid of items you don't use on a regular basis, particularly small appliances and specialty kitchen tools that take up precious drawer space. Everything needs to have a place where it lives, and it needs to be put back after each use.

A great trick for small kitchen decorating is to use open shelving in lieu of cabinets. Or, you can replace the doors on the upper cabinets with glass doors and paint the back of the cabinets the same color as the walls. A row of upper cabinets can create a claustrophobic feeling in a small space, so having open space above eye level keeps the room from feeling like it's closing in. The only downside is it means keeping the shelves organized and uniformly decorated to avoid looking cluttered. This may mean keeping your eclectic coffee mug somewhere else or lining the shelves with baskets to organize items and keep them out of view.

You can do a lot with color to make a small kitchen feel more spacious. All white cabinets, walls and countertops lend a feeling of spaciousness to a small kitchen. To keep the space from feeling too washed out, however, you can add color and texture in your accessories, like dishes, curtains and rugs. If you prefer a little more color, cool tones make walls appear to recede, making the room seem bigger than it is. Just try to keep the walls, floor, cabinets and countertops in the same color palette. This will tie everything together without overwhelming the space.

Backsplashes made with clear tile or mirrors reflect light, which visually appears to open up the space. And if you're using floor tiles, set them at a diagonal. This is another visual trick that keeps the eye moving and creates the illusion of more space. Just keep in mind that smooth lines and simple patterns are best for a small kitchen. If there's too much going on, it may create visual clutter.

Small Kitchen Design Ideas

This kitchen has the triangle in the perfect position.
This kitchen has the triangle in the perfect position.
Digital Vision/Thinkstock

The key to any good kitchen design is to keep a triangle in mind. The triangle is comprised of the three main work areas in a kitchen: the sink, the stove and the refrigerator -- and designers have the proportions down to a science. For small kitchens, a U-shaped or galley configuration is usually the most space efficient with the triangle in mind. Galley kitchens are configured in a straight line on both sides of the wall, usually with the sink and fridge on one side and the stove on the other. They're super-efficient and actually preferred by many professional chefs. The only downside is that the aisle down the middle is also the traffic area through the kitchen, so things can get a little congested. If space permits, U-shaped kitchens are ideal for families who spend a lot of time in the kitchen together.

It's important in small kitchens to steer clear of the supersized appliances, and find ones that suit the scale of the room. There are many efficient models out there that were specifically designed to maximize use for small kitchens. This includes countertop appliances, too. If your small kitchen is a galley setup, make sure that appliances are flush with cabinets and counters. This visual trick gives the appearance of a continuous line, which keeps the eye moving forward and makes the space seem larger. To maximize storage, take your cabinets all the way up to the ceiling, and if there's room, invest in a rollaway island. It's great for small kitchens, because you can stow it in the corner when it's not in use. But don't stop there. We've got more storage ideas on the next page.

Kitchen Storage Ideas

We should all be so lucky to have this much storage.
We should all be so lucky to have this much storage.

As we mentioned, the key to a successful small kitchen storage plan is to maximize the space available. The first step is to look around for any unused space. There's probably a gap next to your refrigerator. If you can squeeze 10 inches out of it, you can install a rollout pantry that's great for storing canned goods and spices, both of which take up a lot of room in cabinets. Empty walls also make great storage areas. Pots and pans can be hung, as well as cooking utensils and even coffee cups and tea mugs. You can simply hang them on hooks or put up a pegboard for the ultimate wall of organization.

The next item on the storage list is to increase your shelf space. Shelves, shelves and more shelves are essential to finding places for all of your kitchen goods. You can hang shelves on walls or put freestanding shelves in bits of free floor space. Dividers and shelves within your cabinets often maximize storage for bulky items like pots and pans and cookie sheets. And shelves that pull out are a great way to store smaller items in deep cupboards.

Counter space is often at a premium in small kitchens, so the less stuff that lives on the counter, the better. Forgo the countertop spice rack and store the spice jars in a cupboard. Buy small appliances, like can openers and toaster ovens, that mount under cabinets and can be pulled out when needed. Kitchen tools like collapsible strainers and folding dish racks are great investments for small kitchens. They can be quickly pulled out when needed, and they store flat so they take up a lot less cabinet or drawer space.

Of course, if you cook or bake quite a bit, you will most likely run out of room no matter how crafty you get. In times like these, you just need to think outside of the box. Once-a-year holiday dishes and cooking pans can be stored under the bed along with your seasonal clothes. If you use the microwave more than the oven, don't overlook that prime storage space. The under-used oven is a great place for pots, pans and cookie sheets.

Related Articles


  • "8 Ways to Make a Small Kitchen Sizzle.", 2010.
  • "10 Small Kitchens.", 2010.
  • "Designing Your Kitchen.", 2010.
  • "Organize the Kitchen.", November 6, 2007.
  • "Real-Life Redo: Hardworking Small Kitchen.", 2010.
  • Roehrig, Elizabeth. "Maximizing a Small Kitchen.", 2010.
  • "Small Kitchen Design Tips.", 2010.
  • "Small-Space Makeover.", 2010.