We work on a lot of kitchens every year, but this year I am preparing to upgrade my own kitchen, which means I have Kitchens on my Brain more than usual!

Like many of my clients, our kitchen’s existing footprint isn’t quite as large as we think would be ideal, but our home was built in 1913 and I am resisting moving any walls which would change the flow of the home in ways I would prefer to avoid.  So, like many, I am looking to maximize the existing kitchen’s floor plan in ways that will make it function better!


Here are a few good ideas to consider if you are in a similar dilemma:

Hidden Appliances:  Integrating your appliances into the overall aesthetic of the kitchen chops it up a lot less.  Buying a dishwasher and a refrigerator that have “panel ready doors” means you can have your cabinet supplier create door fronts that match the rest of your kitchen in style and finish.

Choosing a counter depth fridge also goes a long way in creating a harmonious flow in a smaller space.  Personally, I tend to lose items in the back of a traditionally deep fridge, so this is a perfect solution for me!

You can also consider using appliances below eye level – by utilizing only refrigerator and freezer drawers, instead of the traditional tall version of this appliance.

I recommend appliances with multiple functions for clients with really compact spaces.  One of the best examples of this is a microwave that doubles as ventilation above a cooktop or range.  It is both practical and space-conscious!

Consider creating a built in nook for your microwave and appliance “garages” for smaller essentials like the toaster and the coffee maker.  This reduces counter clutter in a profound way!

A Place for Everything:  Drawers are miracle workers compared to traditional cabinet doors and shelves.  Consider shallow drawers for your knives, flatware and cooking tools and deeper drawers for your pots and lids.

Don’t forget drawers for table linens and, if you are a tea-lover like me, for your collection of various teas.

A Secret Stash:  One of my favorite kitchen details we employed in the past couple of years was the idea of one of our clients!  We opened up a wall near her cooktop and installed shallow shelves for spices.  Then we created a custom canvas with hinges on it to cover this custom spice cabinet!  It was a perfect solution in her compact kitchen! 

Extra Space:  The insides of cabinet doors are an opportunity for additional storage.  Consider them for spice organizers or for hooks to hang measuring cups and other handheld tools. 

Essential Dimensions:  A work aisle should be at least 42” wide in a space for one cook and at least 48” wide for multiple cooks.

As you are planning your space, make sure to think about how the different appliances will relate to one another when they are in the open position.  The last thing you want is an oven and a dishwasher back to back where you will get in the way of your loved one as they empty the dishwasher and you put in the casserole!

The Work Triangle is much spoken about and with good reason.  You want to be able to easily move between fridge, sink and stove – but you don’t want them so close you have issues like I just mentioned above!

That’s why the ideal layout is a triangle and not a straight line! 

Moveable Assistance can be gained by adding an island on wheels or a bar cart that can be moved into the center of the kitchen when you need additional prep space, but without crowding your floor plan the rest of the time. 

Open Shelving is a great way to visually open up a kitchen, when used in lieu of upper cabinets for portions of the wall.  They are usually a good space for stacking plates or bowls or glassware.

Just make sure you know yourself and won’t be troubled at keeping these areas from looking too chaotic.  

Corner Cabinets are always tricky – but there are much better options these days than the old fashioned lazy susan (she was always dropping pots and small stored items off in the back!)  Make sure to explore some of these new and better corner organizers!

Getting Organized is especially tricky in a smaller kitchen.  Consider using pull out pantries to make it possible to easily see and access all you have stored. 

For this same reason, consider pull out shelves inside your kitchen cabinetry so that you are never losing track of what is in the back of your cabinets.  It’ll also save your knees and back! 

Think Vertical and create storage to hold baking sheets and serving platters without stacking them on one another.  We often use the storage cabinet space above a counter depth fridge to do this.  It’s the perfect depth for trays and platters and you only have to reach up and grasp the one corner of the item to easily pull it out.

Another great location for vertical storage is at a slim cupboard next to the oven.  A perfect vertical location for cookie sheets, baking pans and cooling racks! 

Run Cabinets to the Ceiling to dramatically expand your kitchen’s storage capacity, and to avoid a gap of space that just becomes a dust collector.  If you are short, like I am, use these upper cabinets for the items you use infrequently.  Perfect for the holiday serving dishes!!

Hang a Pot Rack:  It creates some visual clutter, but it keeps your cooking gear close at hand.  In some client kitchens we’ve done this above their kitchen window space in order to not have any space go unused!

Enjoy a View:  The most common kitchen layout includes a sink centered to a window – which adds a nice touch of symmetry and ideally a lovely view for those washing the vegetables or the dishes.  If it’s not possible to situate a window above your sink, consider a beautiful tile mosaic or something lovely for the eyes to relax and enjoy while the hands work.

And don’t forget the view above the other place we spend the most time in the kitchen – above the stove!  If you have a wall behind your stove, consider doing a recessed niche here with decorative tile and a ledge that can double as a place to set spices and oil while you are cooking! 

Focus on a Great Faucet:  In addition to selecting appliances that will make your life easier, take some time to also consider the faucet you will find most pleasing.

High gooseneck faucets make it easy to fill large pots and vases and to maneuver things in and out of the sink.

Some clients appreciate a single handle faucet too so it is easy to reach up and adjust.

And consider the sprayer – are you right handed or left handed?  If your sprayer is separate from the faucet neck, be sure to consider placing it on the same side as your dominant hand.

Dish Towels represent one of the many things we are less likely to think about as we design our own kitchens.  But consider where these will be placed adjacent to your sink area.  There are some lovely dish towel hanger pull out units you can install below a sink now.  Or a hook or rod on a nearby island can be an effective place to stash these between uses.

Similarly, be sure to consider were you will stash your sponges and scrubbers.  If you aren’t employing a farm house sink, you may have space to do a tilt-out storage compartment in front of your sink that is perfect for stashing these less than beautiful but necessary items.

Work with Color:  Often in smaller spaces I’ll recommend utilizing color carefully.  This may mean one finish for all cabinets that is a few shades lighter or darker than a similar color at the walls and ceilings of the space.

That being said, in my own small kitchen, we are considering one finish for the bulk of the cabinetry, but having a tall antique cabinet along one wall in a much bolder color.  What fun is it in life if we don’t break a few rules?

One other fun detail we’ve employed in small kitchens is doing the upper cabinets in a slightly lighter paint shade than the base cabinets.  Turns out lovely! 

Light It Up:  The right lighting can assist a space in feeling less cramped!  For a kitchen, definitely consider lighting at the ceiling (cans) along with some drop fixtures from the ceiling, if possible, to provide some medium high light. 

Then under cabinet lighting is also absolutely essential.  That one simple change makes such a profound difference for our clients!!  It highlights your backsplash beautifully, but even more importantly, you can see clearly what you are cooking!! 

Reflective Surfaces make a big impression in a small space.  Shiny backsplash tiles, glass inserts in cabinet doors and chrome fixtures all reflect lighting making the space feel brighter and oddly bigger. 

Cleanability:  Most people love to cook but aren’t always enamored by the clean-up work that’s then created.  Consider surfaces that are easy to wipe down and keep clean.

There are fabulous counter top products being made these days out of quartz.  Made out of natural stone and combined with man-made polymers, these products that beautifully mimic limestone, soapstone, granite or marble are incredibly durable and easy to maintain.  And many of them are resistant to harboring bacteria!

Everyone Loves a Chef:  For some amazing reason, people at parties always love to hang out in the kitchen.  Make sure to keep your cooking life easier by planning for an adjacent seating area where they can feel a part of what you are creating, without being underfoot!

Good luck with your kitchen planning!  And please let us know if you’d like any assistance planning and remodeling your space!

Happy Cooking! 

- Sasha Witte

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