Maybe more than any other room in the cabin, a kitchen needs to be as hardworking as it is good looking. With limited space, squeezing in all the elements of a well-designed kitchen can be a challenge. But with the right plan, your small kitchen can have ample space for meal prep and kitchenware storage, and still have room left over for personality, too.
Make a Plan
The key to having a small kitchen design that works is choosing a layout that has the right balance of form and function. One of the most common floor plans for a compact kitchen is a U shape, featuring counters and cabin kitchen cabinets on three sides. “This layout offers the most efficient use of space,” says Patricia Wiseman of Wiseman-Keller Design Corporation. Plus, because it creates multiple meal prep areas, this design suits families well.
If you’re looking for the feel of wide-open spaces despite tight quarters, consider an L-shaped plan. In this configuration, the kitchen is bordered by an adjoining room, making it seem larger. An L-shaped layout also creates a natural work triangle (an efficient flow between the sink, stove and refrigerator). “This keeps everything at hand,” says Inez Price, sales representative with Honest Abe Log Homes. This design is ideal for casual entertaining, as it invites family and friends to join in.
Finally, a galley style can be a smart design for individuals or couples. The stovetop, sink and dishwasher share one side, the cabinetry and the refrigerator the other. “A galley style is a great option, as long as traffic patterns aren’t too strong,” says architect Mira Jean Steinbrecher.
Outside the Box
Whatever floor plan you choose, there are a number of design tips and tricks to help you get even more usable, stylish space from your small kitchen design. First, fill it with only the things you need. “Do you really need that pan or waffle iron you haven’t used in three years?” asks Steinbrecher. For the appliances that stay, store them in a deep cabinet with sliding drawers to save valuable counter space. Also, keep in mind that many manufacturers now offer scaled-down versions of larger appliances.
When it comes to cabinetry, there is no shortage of clever designs. Lazy Susans and slide-out shelves maximize storage, as do floor-to-ceiling cabinets. A pullout pantry is another organizational workhorse. “I have seen these as small as 4 inches by 3 feet deep,” says Wiseman.
Although a full-length island may not be practical, a small-scale one with clipped corners or a free-standing cart that can be rolled away when not in use is a smart way to increase storage and work space. If you choose to incorporate an island, leave at least 36 inches between the counters to ensure an efficient traffic flow.
Getting creative with architecture, lights and color will help your kitchen achieve an airy, open feel despite its diminutive footprint. To create the illusion of space, focus on the area overhead. Opt for 9-foot ceilings or use scissor trusses to add height, but be careful not to go too tall. “When a small room has too much space up top, it can feel like an elevator shaft,” warns Steinbrecher. If an upper level makes raising the ceiling impractical, create the illusion of vertical depth with a pendant light. “A drop-down fixture will draw the eye upward,” explains Price.
Incorporating light beyond the main ceiling fixture can work wonders on the feel and functionality of a small kitchen. Usher in natural light with transoms or clerestory windows, or let nature serve as your backsplash. “Add a slice of window between a countertop and the bottom of the upper cabinet to bring in light,” suggests Wiseman. Or brighten the room with glass-front cabinets with interior lights. (If you’re not ready to go bare, select frosted glass.) Lastly, don’t forget to place light strips underneath cabinets for task lighting.
Like lighting, color can have a big impact on a small space. Cooler hues tend to visually expand a space, while warm shades create a more intimate feel. “Go with lighter colors where you can,” says Wiseman. “They naturally open up an area.”
When planning, remember your textiles can make a difference, too. “If your space is small, then what you put in it must be scaled appropriately,” says Steinbrecher. “Using a countertop or backsplash material that is too bold or has a pattern that is too strong can overwhelm a tiny space.”
Finally, don’t forget to look for ways to add style to your space. Hang pots and pans from a rack, leave room above cabinetry for displaying decorative items, or opt for open shelving to show off pretty dishes, which will carry the eye further and make the room feel larger. “A kitchen is a utilitarian space but these kinds of things will help add character,” says Price.