Thinking Big With Small Kitchens

When designing a small kitchen, it’s important to prioritize, steal space where available, maximize views and storage, give plenty of thought to the lighting scheme, remove unnecessary clutter and be realistic about what is and isn’t possible.

Planning & Design (Mary Jo Peterson, CKD, CBD, CAPS).

While generous kitchens exist in many of the homes that we design for, we can also find ourselves working in smaller spaces. Recently, I was reminded of this when I was teaching.

I was using a case study of an aging-in-place home in Arizona, where things are long and low and on one level, when an architect in class commented that his home turf in the older part of Boston included kitchens that would ft into my kitchen’s island. When I stopped to think about it, I realized that my last two private residential projects had been a small kitchen in a new construction in Connecticut and a seriously space-challenged condo in Manhattan. It made me think that it might be appropriate to review a few of the things we all must remember when we are working in these little jewel boxes.

Thinking Big With Small Kitchens

This may be a bit regional, from the Southwest where things are more spread out to the Northeast where they are more stacked, or it may be more the difference between country and urban environments. This may also be seen more with the downsizing that some of us experience in the moves we make as we age – something I’ve seen more of as many of my recent clients are in the 65+ group. There are many things we might say about the smaller kitchen, but here is a quick top ten list of things to review as you plan your efforts to think big in a smaller-sized kitchen space.

1. Prioritize

There are several layers to this process. The first occurs during the initial client interview when you’ll discuss food prep, serving and entertaining habits and inventory needed. This inventory must include items related to food prep utensils and gear, tableware and serving items, small appliances, look books, items related to other kitchen activities and everything to be stored in the kitchen. The second phase of this prioritizing occurs when the conceptual plans have been reviewed and the client can use trace layered over the plan, or best, over elevations to identify where they might place the items they  wish  to  store,  which can help with the balancing process. This is the point at which decisions are made as to which items must be kept at the point of use and which items can be stored in auxiliary spots, or which items are redundant and might not be necessary. Gale Steves’ book, Right-sizing  Your  Home, has wonderful tips for this process.

2. Steal space.

During this process, or really prior to this process, you will have been  reviewing  adjacent spaces in the home to see if and where inches might be stolen for additional storage. The big ones are obvious – taking down a wall, or a mud room, family entrance, back hall, or laundry that might be redesigned to include pantry storage – these are huge gains of storage. Beyond the big changes, it’s important to remember that inches really do make a difference. Canned goods can be stored in six inches or less, so a back hall that can a ford a pocket, even between studs, might allow for some serious added storage where before there was none. Sometimes, areas where headroom has been cleared around stairs can offer additional storage – just remember that inches make a difference.

Another recent wealth of storage for me has been  in  furniture  pieces, whether used as hutches for a client’s dishes, barware or children’s items located just out of the main kitchen space.

3. Find the views.

Especially in interior spaces, which are common in condos and apartments, a small kitchen with no windows can really benefit with a peak through to some natural light – especially if it introduces a view.Look to see if there is a blank section of wall where cabinetry can’t be added where a solar tube or sky light, or better yet, a cut-out or window can be added, incorporating light and a view. This can go a long way toward brightening the mood and the sense of space, connecting it with adjacent spaces and hopefully outdoors.

4. Be realistic.

The kitchen designer who told me that my dream of a double 36″ integrated refrigerator/ freezer just was not to be in the kitchen space I had available became my dear friend and brought me into this business. Sometimes we just have to be realistic and help our clients get the best of what they want within the parameters of their space. This may mean a single refrigerator or dishwasher, a smaller cooktop or a microwave/convection as a second oven. We must help our clients be realistic and balance their wishes and their beautiful appliances, sets of equipment and utensils with appropriate and workable amounts of storage at the point of use and work surface.

5. Double duty.

We have wonderful opportunities today to make small spaces work better through double duty applications of fixtures and appliances. A favorite example of mine is the induction cooktop, which is a beautifully smooth work surface that never overheats. It can be covered with a chopping block and it’s a perfect work  surface when not in use. Think of the many accessories available to make today’s sinks into work stations, helping to make them serve double duty. This is perfect for the small kitchen with limited counter space, as long as we provide for storage of those chopping blocks and strainer covers.

6. Remove the unnecessary.

We have a responsibility to guide our clients in filtering out the unused, the unnecessary and the oversized items that can be stored or given away.

7. Improve the lighting.

Quality and adjustable lighting, both ambient and task, are readily available and can dramatically enhance the size and sense of the space.

8. Maximize storage.

We have unlimited options for accessing whatever space is available to us. While not ideal for those of us who don’t wish to use step ladders, going vertical is also an option for items used infrequently, or for display.

9. Use/ appreciate every inch.

As an example, in the recent condo project, we opted to go from a 36″ refrigerator to a 24″ integrated unit and a 12″ pull-out pantry, providing a single woman with plenty of refrigeration plus full-height pantry. Sometimes shrinking a sink or creating a pocket for storage can make a huge difference.

10. Expand the boundaries.

Do this in every way and in every direction. Remember that color can be used to visually expand a space’s boundaries. Lighten the palate but use rich texture; add interest in the ceiling; draw the eye to the window or the view.

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