Tips for Small Kitchens

Our tips for designing small kitchens to make these tiny spaces feel light and airy and full of your favourite things.

Small kitchens have their own particular challenges. A lack of surface space and the wrong amount of the wrong kind of storage can make these tiny rooms feel claustrophobic and unenjoyable. I know from my own experience that you can turn a dark, cramped kitchen into a light and airy one without filling it with cabinetry and glossy white surfaces.

It’s perfectly possible to make a small kitchen feel like a titchy version of the country kitchen we all want. It can be chic, spacious and full of all your favourite things. Here are my tips.

Invoke Marie Kondo

The first thing you need to do, before you even choose your new kitchen, is summon up Marie Kondo, the Japanese tidying pixie. You will find you can probably get rid of around third of your stuff (we did). 

Be honest with yourself about whether you are keeping things because of that fatal ‘one day I might….’ thing. Personally I've chosen to outsource the storage of my cake tins to Amazon. If I feel like baking a cake I shall simply buy a new tin. But I know deep down it’s extremely unlikely that I’ll be baking a cake in the next few years and so the financial insanity of this approach is moot.

You can probably afford a nicer kitchen than you think

One of the real advantages of a small kitchen is the cost. Less cabinetry means a much lower cost.

You may also find that, as most of your base run is going to be appliances, you can afford a handmade kitchen. Handmade kitchens are great for for squeezing out every single inch of space. To give you an idea, we’ve just installed a Devol kitchen in our flat and it came in at a lower price than John Lewis and, surprisingly, Homebase. The reason for this is that some companies (like Devol) build appliance frames rather than cabinets, which work out a lot less expensive.

Integrate appliances

Integrating appliances (bye bye Smeg fridge) creates a seamless effect along the base run which seems to make the appliances disappear. If you have sufficient space, consider an under-counter larder fridge and freezer instead of a full height fridge/freezer as this will give you significantly more surface space and allow your eye to travel to the end of the run, creating even more visual space.

But buy a showy sink and taps

Every room needs a focal point. If you are in the country you might make this an Aga but in the city it’s probably going to be the sink - other than the hob it’s the one thing you can’t hide behind a cupboard - and so I say go for it and make it fabulous. Belfast sinks are great as they can fit inside a standard 600mm cabinet but seem so much larger and make the room feel grander. My advice is to go overboard on the taps and make them stand out as every kitchen needs a little bit of crazy and it may as well be the taps. Think of them as the earrings of your kitchen.

Don’t be fooled by glossy surfaces

Glossy cabinet doors and surfaces do, I guess, bounce light around but really they just make your room look glossy and when have you ever wanted to hang out in a glossy room? It’s far better to have reflections coming from your fabulous taps and sparkling crystal wine glasses than it is from a laminated cupboard door.

Create flow with the room next door

If your kitchen is in, of just off, your sitting room or dining room, keeping the flooring the same (yes, you can have wood in the kitchen) and painting the walls in more or less the same colour will help the spaces flow together. It will feel like you are seamlessly moving between spaces rather than leaving a large open room to go into a glossy cupboard.

Go as dark as you like, but get the lighting right

Don't feel you need to paint a small kitchen white to make it feel larger, as larger is not always what you want. If your kitchen is in your sitting room or your dining room, you might be better to paint it a darker colour to make it disappear. The smallest kitchen I've designed is in the corner of a studio flat and we painted it black to make it fade away into the corner.

The crucial thing with a dark kitchen is to make sure you have good enough lighting. I am annoyingly particular about lights and prefer to use Orluna downlighters and John Cullen under cupboard lights. After much trial and error these two give the best light (2700 kelvin), are bright enough, are nice to look at, and are LEDs as really life is too short to be fiddling around with changing halogen bulbs. Especially when you never seem to have the right one available. 

An extra tip, which is not specific to small kitchens, is to have at least two circuits. It’s really nice to have a low level circuit (just the under cupboard lights, for example), for making a cup of tea late at night or for making coffee on dark December morning without blinding yourself.  

Have fewer cabinets

I know this isn’t a universally popular opinion, but the fewer cupboards you have to store stuff in, the less stuff you will store. It’s as simple as that. Have a look at how many bottles of fish sauce there are languishing away in sticky paradise at the back of your cupboard - in ours we had three and I don’t even like fish sauce. As human beings we have this odd compulsion to fill every cupboard full of things, as if we think an empty cupboard reflects our empty lives or something horrifying like that. Fewer cupboards means less stuff which means a nicer kitchen for you.

Embrace open shelving and dresser tops

Open shelving and dresser tops do three things:

Firstly, the items arranged on them add some texture, personality and life to kitchens, rooms which can easily become sterile. Secondly, they make the kitchen a more efficient place to be. They are less deep than cabinets so you never have to try to reach something at the back of the cupboard like James Herriot extracting a calf from a cow. And in a small kitchen not smacking your head on an open wall cabinet door on a daily basis is a blessing. And thirdly, it will encourage you to have fewer items, be more tidy and choose things that co-ordinate well and create a sense of calm. 

It’s best to stick to white and natural tones, with perhaps one colour, and to store your dry goods in glass or clear plastic jars. Use vintage stoneware jars to hide garish things like stock cubes.

Hide the ugly, display the pretty

Despite what Brabantia want you to think, bins are ugly and should be hidden away and a pull out bin keeps your precious floor space free. Anything else ugly like cereal boxes, ketchup bottles and cleaning products should also be put away but that’s about it. Keep your nice things out on display - the more easily accessible your items are, the more efficient your kitchen will be to use. You will get much more use out of your items as they won’t be shoved away in the back of a cupboard never to be seen again.

Keep small appliances out. Or ditch them. 

Magimix, blenders, Breville sandwich toasters, juicers, electric whisks, the list of small appliances we hold on to goes on and on. In the same way as you are taught to deal with your wardrobe, keep them on the surface and if you haven’t used them in six months or a year, pass them on to someone who will. You will love the extra space far more than you love your two yearly toasted cheese sandwich.

Keep large things off the surface 

A stove-top kettle (especially our favourite, the Alessi Michael Graves’ kettle) frees up precious surface space from both the kettle and the electric cable. You can leave it on your hob and it’s far more chic than any electric kettle every invented.

Knives are better hung on a wall-mounted magnets as knife blocks take up a lot of surface space. Bread bins (which everyone knows is where crusts of bread go to die) are one of the worst offenders of gobbling up precious surface. We have a rush bread basket and a bread bag which is a much better solution for a small kitchen.

Decant everything

I'm a big fan of decanting things into bowls, whether in the fridge or on the surface. Berries, salt, eggs and sugar cubes look particularly nice in stoneware bowls and make the fridge a prettier place to be. This also has the added advantage of giving you fewer bowls to store on your shelves as you can more or less keep them all in use.

If you have any more tips for small kitchens, do leave them in the comments below.

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Words by Annabel Bird

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Our tips for designing small kitchens to make these tiny spaces feel light and airy and full of your favourite things.

Comments

Your tips to reorganize small kitchens are incredible! And I’ll decorate my own kitchen with full of all my favourite things. Thanks for sharing this!

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