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Don’t Cut Corners in Small Kitchens

6/27/2014 4:00:00 PM
Article by Holly Berecz


A hard-working kitchen corner by Donna Dufresne Interior Design. Photo courtesy of Donna Dufresne Interior Design.

Small kitchens might seem like a design challenge, but they can actually be very functional, and even far more efficient than their larger counterparts. When space is a premium, there is little choice but to pare down and make do with essentials. I mean, do you really need an avocado slicer? Can’t you perform the same tasks with a knife and spoon? (I hope my husband doesn’t read this!) Do you ever actually use six mixing bowls at the same time? Odds are, in a small kitchen, the answer is no.

In a small kitchen design, it’s essential to make use of every inch of space. This means the corners too. This usable space often goes to waste. It can be very deep, hard to reach, and difficult to organize, in general. So give a lot of thought to how you can conquer the corners to offer vital storage or work space so that nothing goes wasted.


Corner drawers are a clever alternative to the corner lazy Susan. Photo courtesy of Susan Brook Interiors.

So, what can you put in corners besides a lazy Susan? There are plenty of other ways to utilize the area. One storage trick increasing in popularity is the corner drawer. An advantage is that it’s far easier to reach items you can pull out towards you than those you have to practically crawl inside of the cabinet to reach. Plus, cabinet details and hardware can go a long way in adding visual appeal.


Stephanie Kratz Interiors makes efficient use of a corner by incorporating a sink in this Dallas hi-rise apartment. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Kratz Interiors. 

Another way to free-up valuable straight countertop runs and add more functional workspace is by locating the sink in the corner. Placed here, the sink occupies an area that may have otherwise been wasted. The placement avoids chopping up the flow of countertops along a wall allowing for a longer stretch of usable space. Just be sure the sink you choose is small and light enough to function properly in the corner. You’ll need to confirm that the cabinetry is strong enough to accommodate a larger or heavier sink choice.


This small kitchen by San Francisco’s John Lum Architecture, Inc. is big on organization. Photo courtesy of John Lum Architecture, Inc. AIA.

Often times, with a small kitchen design, it’s just a matter of what you can fit and where. The key is to utilize every bit of available space, no matter how small. Have a few inches between cabinets? Add some thin bookshelves to hold favored cookbooks. Want a place for a small flat screen TV, try tucking it into a shelf in the corner. You can even raise it up and add shallow drawers for bonus storage.

Here are a few additional general tips to keep in mind when working on a small kitchen design:

  • Kitchen not wide enough for an island? This may be true, but you may be able to reconfigure and add even a small peninsula, which can go a long way in providing additional workspace.
  • Will the kitchen accommodate a corner refrigerator? The fridge is one large appliance that could be neatly tucked into a corner, leaving room for more efficient storage and countertop space.
  • Stretch overhead cabinets to the ceiling. Tall cabinets help make use of every millimeter of space.
  • A shelf built into a backsplash can hold cooking tools that might otherwise take up room in drawers or on shelves or counters.
  • Use small appliances. Sure, everyone would love to have a hulking Sub-Zero fridge. But it’s just not always practical. In a small space, you’re not regularly cooking for a large crowd. A smaller refrigerator, stove, and dishwasher will work just fine, especially since many manufacturers now design very hard working space-saving appliances.
  • Use a pot rack or hang pots and pans. Blend them into the kitchen décor to help free up valuable cabinet space. They can go a long way to adding character to a small kitchen.
  • Use illusion. Get creative with lighting to visually add more space. Under cabinet and under counter lighting are two great options that help the kitchen appear bigger overall. Pendant lighting over even a small island or peninsula also enhances space perception by drawing the eye upward.
  • Reduce clutter. Even the smallest kitchen can seem roomy when the countertops are clear. Pare down cooking tools and make room for only those that are used regularly. (Tell your clients they can borrow that Christmas cookie spritzer from a friend when they need it.)
  • Incorporate open shelving. Though it may sound like a set-up for clutter, open shelving can actually help to streamline the look of a kitchen and create the illusion of space. They key is to keep it for regularly used items and don’t pack too many items on the shelves.
  • Incorporate glass fronts into cabinet doors. This helps lighten the look of cabinetry and can make the kitchen seem more expansive.
  • Keep window treatments simple. Letting in more natural light will help keep the space light and bright, making it feel as large as possible.
  • Blend cabinets and walls. By painting a wall the same shade as cabinets, you erase visual boundaries that might stop the eye.
  • Streamline. Ornate corbels, carved cabinetry and fussy details can make a kitchen feel choppy. Instead, keep it tailored to smooth out the look and create a roomier feel.

We’d love to know…

What’s your “rule of thumb” when it comes to compact kitchen design?

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