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7 Rules for Designing a Functional Small Kitchen

Updated: Jan 19, 2021

Your kitchen might be compact, but it can still offer all of the functionality and good looks that you’re after. In fact, there are actually some benefits to having a small kitchen over a large one.

ArchitecturaLab Kitchen Renovation

ArchitecturaLab Kitchen Renovation

What a transformation!

Simply changing a few elements of the kitchen design can completely change the overall space and benefits the entire house!

More Efficient Design, Better Ergonomics

A tighter work triangle makes for a more ergonomically correct and efficient workspace. In a small kitchen, the key work stations can be accessed by simply turning around, not by walking 10 or 20 feet.

High-End Materials Are More Affordable

Have you been eyeing that artisan tile, premium quartz countertops, or expensive stone flooring? With a small kitchen, you'll be more apt to afford it. Because you are purchasing less material (e.g., 30 square feet of granite countertop instead of 300 square feet), you can afford to upgrade the quality of materials you use.


#1: Start with a functional space plan

A functioning floor plan is important in any size of space, but it is doubly important in a small one. A beautiful kitchen with a strange layout will never work. Make sure your sink, refrigerator, and stovetop are all easily accessible and that there is adequate countertop space by each one for easy use. We call this your kitchen work triangle. Traditionally, small kitchens will fall into one of the following categories:

Corridor-Style or Galley Kitchen

A corridor-style kitchen consists of two parallel walls that are roughly 48 inches apart from each other once the cabinets have been installed. A corridor kitchen is a tight, narrow space often found in condominiums, apartments, and small single-family residences.

L-Shaped Kitchen Layout

The L-shaped kitchen layout is a classic design that satisfies the needs of most medium-sized homes and has been used successfully for decades. Forming the letter "L," cabinets extend in two directions, often with one section of cabinets longer than the other section.

One-Wall Kitchen Layout

A one-wall kitchen layout design is as basic as it gets. This design is perfect for long and narrow spaces. Everything in the kitchen, including cabinets, sink, refrigerator, stove, and dishwasher, is concentrated on one long wall.

U-Shaped Kitchen Layout Design

A U-shaped kitchen layout consists of three sections of base cabinets forming the perimeter of a space, with one end open. The U-shaped layout needs to have three available walls so that it can be implemented. Alternatively, instead of a third wall, you can run a peninsula outward. This peninsula can be composed of base cabinets and a countertop.

Based on the constraints of the existing kitchen, we decided that the U Shaped Kitchen Layout would work best for this renovation.

#2: Pick a color palette and stick with it

From the very beginning, choose the colors you want to work with and stick to them. Introducing too many colors in a small space will feel overwhelming. Sticking to this scheme all over makes the space feel larger than it is and more inviting. Regardless of the colors you choose, keeping it consistent throughout is a good way to go in a small kitchen. Go for neutral or lighter colors and then save a bold color for the details you want to highlight in order to make the space pop.

Here, we are working with whites and greys to keep the small kitchen feeling light and airy while using the blue as an accent to bring some fun and personality to the space.

#3: Break up the cabinetry

In a small space, storage is a big deal. However, too much cabinetry can feel heavy and closed off, so we like to add one or two elements that break it up a bit. These small changes will make a big impact in how open your kitchen feels!

Mix in glass doors on some of your cabinets and find some spaces for a break in the pattern - whether through adding a built in microwave, vent hood, or window.

#4: Push cabinetry all the way to the ceiling

Often, standard kitchen cabinetry has an open space at the top. While this does create a more airy feel, it's a luxury you often cannot afford in the small kitchen. After all, would you rather have a dead space or more usable shelving?

#5: Carefully select lighting

If your kitchen is small, it is especially important to make sure your lighting is doing its job. No matter how many tricks you employ to make it feel larger, bad lighting will always contribute to a space feeling small. If there is no island to hang pendants over, we love to hang one above the kitchen sink, both to add another level of lighting and to make sure you aren't doing your dishes in the dark! We also love installing sconces above open shelving or a window. Flush mounts or recessed lighting on the ceiling will add to the overall brightness of the space. Lighting will play a major role in helping your small kitchen feel larger.

Concentrate on the three types: ambient, to light up the whole room, provided by ceiling lights; kitchen task lighting, for work areas; and accent, to highlight specific features.

Pendant lights over any breakfast bar are still a good idea in a small kitchen to add to the overall aesthetic. Choose smaller versions than you would in a bigger space and they’ll look in proportion to the room’s dimensions.

#6 Go big with design

Just because your space is small, doesn't mean your ambition has to be! Pay attention to every detail, from cabinet hardware to window treatments, to the objects styling your countertop. Each of these elements will go a long way in making the space feel grand. In a large kitchen all of these elements could be overwhelming, but since the kitchen is small and we stuck to a specific color palette, it works.

#7 Flooring Matters!

Large format tile can help a space feel larger by not overwhelming the eye with small details of small format repetitive patterns. Wood planks can lead the eye outwards to make the kitchen feel wider, or along the length so it feels bigger in that direction, depending on how they’re laid.

What are you waiting for? Let's get you your dream kitchen!

Contact us for more information here!

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