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How to Make Your Small Kitchen Feel Bigger

Who doesn’t dream of having a grand eat-in kitchen that would rival something out of a Nancy Meyers movie? I know me too. But some of my favorite kitchen design projects have been for smaller kitchens under 300 square feet. Every detail counts in a small kitchen, and when done right, it really transforms the way the homeowners enjoy the space. Follow these five principles to design a kitchen with lots of character, no matter the square footage. 

Make It Flow

teal and white kitchen
Photo credit: Studio Dearborn

When the kitchen is compact, you may be tempted to skimp on space between the counter and the island or door clearances. But please don’t! If you don’t have enough room to properly open cabinet doors or walk by someone at the sink, you’ll hate spending time there. Keep the clearances at 36 inches minimum, and go for 42 inches if you can. What you lose in storage you’ll gain in a feeling of spaciousness. 

Group Utensils Near Work Areas

pull out storage drawers in kitchen island
Photo credit: Adam Kane Macchia

This seems obvious, but so many kitchens are designed with tool storage scattered all over the kitchen: the knives are in one place, the cutting boards are somewhere else and the mixing bowls for meal prep are in another area. This forces you to criss-cross the kitchen to get what you need–a nightmare if more than one person is cooking! scattered all over the kitchen so the cook has to walk across the kitchen to get what they need–sometimes bumping into other people in the kitchen!  Even if the prep area is small, I try to include storage for cutting boards and knives, which are mainstays for kitchen prep.

Use Large Swaths of the Same Material/Color

Photo credit: Adam Kane Macchia

When a room has lots of different patterns and colors it makes the space feel smaller. But using the same color, or the same tile across a large section of the kitchen makes it feel expansive. Enhance the feeling of space by carrying the backsplash stone or tile all the way to the ceiling, matching the cabinetry to the range hood, or using one color on all the cabinets.  We did all three in this kitchen, and I love the way the Ann Sacks tile creates visual interest while making the room feel harmonious. Choose small hardware or skip it to keep the space feeling visually clean and uncluttered.

Embrace Open Shelving or Glass-Front Cabinets

open shelves in colorful pantry
Photo credit: Adam Kane Macchia

Open shelving seemed like a trend when it first started showing up on Instagram and in design magazines. But it’s definitely here to stay. One overlooked advantage of open shelving is that it makes a kitchen feel more spacious. One downside of open shelving is that things need cleaning often since they can get dusty and greasy. If you’re not ready to store all your glassware on open shelves, choose upper cabinets with glass fronts. This gives the illusion of more room since the eye isn’t stopped by a cabinet door.

Maximize Your Lower Cabinets

pull out shelves and drawers in a kitchen
Photo credit: Studio Dearborn

Since storage space is precious in a smaller kitchen, you can’t afford to waste an inch. I use special pullouts for cutting boards and trays. Toe kicks can hide a feeding drawer for the cat or small dog. That weird corner cabinet becomes usable when you install a lazy-Susan style corner unit from Clever Storage US. In this kitchen above, we were able to add a bin for storing potatoes and onions, and another space for the baking tools like the mixer and rolling pins. The sink cabinet is often an underused space. My solution is an under-sink unit that can fit one or two waste cans and cleaning supplies, while still leaving room for plumbing, garbage disposal, and the sink.  Clearances can come down to fractions of an inch, but everything fits!

Get More Inspiration and Ideas

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