Not every kitchen is open-plan and entertainer sized. In fact, many cozy condo kitchens and suburban home kitchens are modestly sized to downright small. Even in larger homes, a secondary kitchenette still needs to be beautiful and independently functional. If you’ve ever worked in a small kitchen, then you’re likely aware that some small kitchen designs work better than others, and not just in terms of attractiveness. Some small kitchens have everything you need within a convenient arm’s reach and some feel cramped no matter how you cook.

Today, we’re here to bring you eight of the smartest tips in small kitchen design to make sure your remodeled or newly built small kitchen is both beautiful and a delight for a single chef to cook in.

Streamline Your Kitchen Workflow

The first thing you want to think about, and keep in mind throughout this project, is your kitchen workflow. Consider being the lone chef with everything in reach. You want the fridge to open easily from the stove, and for the sink to have plenty of room for dishes or ingredient prep nearby. You’ll need your pans and utensils at hand, and even the direction you move through the kitchen to make sense.

Small kitchens, interestingly, are usually built for right-handed use considering the direction of cabinets and assumed workflow from left-to-right in terms of meal preparation steps. But if you are left-handed and the sole cook, you might enjoy a left-handed design flow instead.

Put Thought Into Cabinet Door Design and Direction

On that note, put some careful thought into how your cabinet doors should open. Cabinet doors that block your view and access to the contents are less useful. You may, for example, want all the cabinet doors to the left of the stove to have hinges on the left-hand side so that you can easily reach in with your left hand, and all the doors on the right side to open opposite. Cabinet doors facing each other work better for larger kitchens where you can more easily stand back to access the double-open cabinet.

Likewise, for your refrigerator and microwave (you can swap door hinge directions on many models). Imagine yourself standing in your small kitchen design to consider how you want your cabinet doors to open. 

Eschew the Island

Kitchen islands are wonderful if you have a wide-open space, but they are real floor-space consumers in a smaller kitchen. Instead, consider how to maximize your space without an island or simulate some of that friendly kitchen-sharing effect of an island in your smaller space.

Kitchen Island Alternatives

  • Slide-Out Counter Space
    • A counter that slides out from beneath another counter can extend your space and create a welcome place for guests to eat or help with prep, while also clearing away when you need the floor space.
  • Alter One Wall as a Pass-Through Window/Bar
    • You might consider cutting a hole in the kitchen wall leading to the living room and turning into a pass-through window and/or breakfast bar, much like an island but without taking out the wall’s support beams.
  • Fold-Out Kitchen Table
    • A table that folds out from the wall like a Murphy bed can be a welcoming place for guests, an extra surface for large recipes, and tidy away when you need room to move around.

Slide-Out Shelf Drawers

There is a special kind of vertical drawer that is incredibly useful for organization, efficient use of small spaces, and putting traditionally “dead” cabinet space to use. These drawers include two or three layers of narrow storage that are perfect for things like spices or Tupperware lids.

Optimize Your Pantry Organization

Organization solutions are also a great idea for small kitchens to reduce clutter. You may have seen the multi-layer compartment pantries that are all the rage for optimizing pantry storage. These techniques can be used in nearly every cabinet in your kitchen. In addition to compartment storage in your pantry, you can install fold-out or rotating storage n your cabinets allowing your items to stay organized, save, and deeply nested all at the same time.

Break up Cabinetry

Long rows of cabinetry with appliances at either end don’t work as well in a small kitchen because you need to create more efficiently packed “work triangles” that accommodate everything you need in small spaces. So break up your cabinetry with a combination of appliances and more open-seeming storage.

  • With Appliances
    • Nestle your stove, refrigerator, and dishwasher strategically into the rows of cabinetry to make them easier to reach and more convenient to use. This will also visually break up the kitchen and make it seem larger.
  • With Vertical and Horizontal Shelves
    • Integrate open vertical shelving and mix in the occasional stacked open horizontal shelving to make your kitchen seem more open. This can provide shelves with quick-access items that you don’t need to open cabinet doors to reach.

Nestle Kitchen-Functionals and Small Appliances Into the Cabinet Space

Then there are the functional items and small appliances that are often overlooked in initial kitchen design, therefore wind up cluttering the counters. Set your paper towel dispenser, for instance, into the side of your cabinet next to the sink or stove. Build a lofted cubby for your microwave, and install your dish-sponge basket onto the actual backsplash behind the sink. The more forward-thinking you can do on your functional details, the tidier your small kitchen can be.

Hang Supplies From Above

Stainless steel - Cookware in Small Kitchen
Saving space by hanging the cookware.

Finally, don’t forget your overhead space. Pushing cabinets up to the ceiling can add space, but may also require a step-stool. But hanging your pots, pans, and ladles from the ceiling gives you extra drawer and cabinet space. Also, it puts everything you need exactly within your reach. Just be sure to give those hanging racks a good dusting once a week.


Designing or remodeling a small kitchen is easier than it sounds if you understand the process. Find ways to fit organization and extra functionality into every inch of your small kitchen. Then, open the cabinet doors in a practical direction and you’ll find yourself loving the easy within-reach convenience of cooking within your own personal-sized kitchen paradise. Contact us today to start planning your small kitchen design!

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