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Small Kitchen Ideas: 11 Design Strategies for Compact Spaces

this small kitchen idea packs plenty into a compact space
(Image credit: Kitchens International)

When you’ve got a small kitchen, ideas to make the most of it can be hard to come by. However, a small kitchen is an everyday reality for a lot of properties, and many homeowners don’t have the option, or budget, to extend to increase their space when looking at a new kitchen design

That doesn’t mean you can’t have a functional and good-looking kitchen though. These 13 small kitchen ideas can be adapted to any space, whether you’ve got a narrow galley kitchen or a small boxy room to work with, to make a compact kitchen work harder for you. 

1. Built In Seating is a Great Idea for Small Kitchens 

Small kitchen with breakfast nook

(Image credit: Jeremy Phillips)

Built-in or banquette seating is great way to include seating in a small kitchen. Because it's attached to the wall, it's an efficient way to use space and useful for when you need to squeeze a few extra people around the table. You could also include hidden storage in your banquette seating to make even better use of it! 

2. Choose a Handleless Unit in a Small Kitchen 

a handleless kitchen idea for a small kitchen

(Image credit: Sam Smith )

The golden rule of small kitchens is to streamline the design and avoid too much detail that will make a small space feel crowded. This could apply to the likes of patterned tiles (opt for a larger pattern over a smaller, busier design) or even how cabinet handles look in a smaller room. 

A handleless kitchen is a great choice for a small kitchen, as it removes this extra visual clutter. 

(MORE: Kitchen Units Explained)

3. Use an L-shaped Kitchen Layout for a Small Square Room

Classic small kitchen design idea

(Image credit: Ikea)

Small kitchen design ideas are just as much about the flow and access to other areas as they are about the aesthetics and appliances. 

L-shaped kitchens are great for high-traffic routes through the the garden and give the opportunity for loads of wall unit storage. 

(MORE: L-Shaped Kitchen Ideas)

4. Opt for Drawers Over Kitchen Cupboards 

a small kitchen with drawers next to the range cooker

(Image credit: Industville)

To maximise storage, look more to drawers than cupboards. You'll find you can fit more into a drawer than a cupboard, and it also makes access easier when in a small space where there's little room to manoeuvre.  

"Be sure to consider accessibility and safety when making these changes and generally keep to the rule of cupboards above the worktops, drawers below," says Stephen Lynskey, Head Designer at Hammonds Kitchen

5. Re-Imagine the Galley Kitchen

Galley style small kitchen design idea

(Image credit: Wren Kitchens)

The beauty of small kitchen spaces is that everything is readily to hand and this is definitely true of galley layouts. 

Make the most of a narrow and long space by using the golden rule of a kitchen triangle to arrange the sink, oven/hob and fridge, but be sure to consider that galley kitchens are open at both ends so thoroughfare and smelly foods will impact the how you lay out the space. 

6. Effective Wall Space Ideas for a Small Kitchen

a small kitchen design idea from Benchmarx

(Image credit: Benchmarx)

While many beautiful modern kitchens forego wall-mounted cabinets, it may be that they're required to meet your storage needs in a small kitchen. 

"I would usually go about looking to see if a larder cabinet can fit, this takes away from the need to have lots of wall cabinets which can overcrowd the room and make it feel cramped," says Harvey Jones designer Matt Baker. 

(MORE: Kitchen Storage Ideas)

You can choose doors to make them easier to used in small kitchens too. 

"Pocket doors, which slide back into the unit, either as a bi-fold option or a whole option, allow easy access to units but without imposing when open," says Louisa Forsyth, Showroom Manager from Kitchens International

Just remember that pocket doors will trade off a small amount of storage space to house the doors when recessed. 

7. Create Curved Features to Ease Flow in a Small Kitchen

a modern small kitchen with a curved worktop

(Image credit: Kitchens International)

This design tip is based on a psychological principle that, from a young age, our brains are programmed to avoid sharp objects. In the kitchen, we're not talking about avoiding the knife drawer — instead, think about how we subconsciously give a wider berth to corners when moving about a room. 

In a small kitchen where every inch of space counts, this is less ideal, so creating sections of curved worktops and cabinetry is a smart way to soften the edges and make it easier to traverse your kitchen. 

8. Corner Storage Ideas for Small Kitchens 

a corner storage idea in a small kitchen

(Image credit: Benchmarx)

Corner units require careful consideration in order to best make use of the space — essential for a small kitchen. Not only do you want to make full use of the volume of storage space, but make it easy to access too. 

Many kitchen makers will be able to provide corner storage solutions that swing out so that everything is within reach. 

9. Get Your Fridge/Freezer Ratio Right

a small kitchen design idea

(Image credit: GoodHome at B&Q)

If you have a small kitchen, it's less likely you're going to have a large American style fridge freezer, which means you'll have to make a decision on the ratio split of refrigerator to freezer, whether that's an integrated or a freestanding style. 

Modern fridge freezers tend to be either 70:30 or 50:50 in favour of refrigeration. To decide on what's right for you, you'll need to consider your lifestyle. Larger freezers had been growing in popularity for a while, especially useful if you batch cook, but with more and more people spending more time at home and the growing popularity of fresh ingredient meal boxes, you may find that more fridge space is your preference going forward. 

10. Breakfast Bars are a Great Idea for Small Kitchens

a breakfast bar is a good idea for a small kitchen over an island

(Image credit: Burbidge)

A small kitchen is, in reality, not going to be the entertaining space you may dream of, but there are ways to make it more than just a functional space. A breakfast bar is a low-space way to add casual dining space into your kitchen, and if you have a small household, might be just what you need for quick weekday dining. 

“Keep the footprint of furniture to a minimum by selecting slim breakfast bars and narrow tables," says Bella Glenn, Design Expert at Benchmarx. "This will keep valuable floorspace to a minimum, whilst still offering the functionality that you need. Although you may struggle to comfortably fit an island in a small kitchen, breakfast bar and split-level solutions that lead into open plan living areas can give the same impression."

11. Choose an Undermount Sink 

a undermount sink is a good idea for a small kitchen short on worktop space

(Image credit: Wren Kitchens)

When worktop space is in short supply, an undermount sink is a great solution as it means that you can work over the draining grooves in the worktop when not in use. 

Look out for sink designs that come with covers — so that you can use the sink as extra work space when it's not needed —  or have accessories such as draining racks that can be used over the sink. 

12. Ideas to Clear Clutter in a Small Kitchen

a pull down cabinet idea perfect for a small kitchen

(Image credit: Eggersmann)

When it comes to worktop clutter, small appliances are one of the biggest offenders. Here's a handful of ideas for how to conceal or replace the most common:

  • Microwave ovens are still large pieces of kitchen kit, and often end up hogging lots of work surface. If you can't build one into a tower unit, alongside an oven, consider looking for an oven appliance that has dual functions and also operates as a microwave when needed. 
  • Kettles are being replace more and more with boiling water taps. Though these were once an expensive buy, as they've become more widespread, the price has dropped, and you can now pick one up a basic one starting from around £250. 
  • Toasters are still a real convenience versus trying to toast your bread on the grill every morning. To hide it away and reduce clutter, consider creating a breakfast station in your kitchen. This could be a cupboard with pocket doors, or a clever fold down door like the above from Eggersmann. If you don't opt for a hot tap, make room for your kettle or coffee machine in your breakfast station too. 

13. Go Light for a Brighter Space

white is a good idea for a small kitchen

(Image credit: Harvey Jones)

The classic ideas to make your small kitchen seem bigger are all worth trying. 

"Use mirrors and reflective surfaces to maximise natural light — high gloss finishes, especially in white, give maximum reflection," says Kitchens International's Louisa Forsyth. 

While they can feel bulky and close in the space at eye level, if you do opt for wall-mounted upper cabinets, consider choosing them in a lighter colour such as white, and consider colour matching them to the wall so they draw less focus. 

 14. Choose Integrated Appliances

Integrated appliances, from fridges and ovens to hobs and dishwashers, will all help make the most of a small kitchen. Not only will it offer less visual clutter in the space, as more appliances are hidden behind cabinet doors, but it will help your storage work harder. 

"This is a great tactic for smaller kitchens, as you can choose compact ovens and microwaves that offer the same performance as their freestanding counterparts, at a fraction of their size," says Benchmarx's Bella Glenn. 

15. Create an Open Plan Space With a Small Kitchen 

a one wall kitchen idea can make a small space into an open plan one

(Image credit: Ledbury Studio)

If you're considering knocking down internal walls, there's no right or wrong way to do an open plan kitchen. While larger open plan spaces may benefit from an island, you can create a simple one wall kitchen, which opens out onto a living or dining space. 

16. Design a Hidden Kitchen 

a hidden kitchen idea for a small space

(Image credit: Mowlem & Co)

Last but not least, we love the idea of the trend for concealed kitchens, and think they'd work great in an open plan room that doesn't have loads of room to accommodate a kitchen. The basic premise is that your kitchen doesn't look like a kitchen, and is sometimes hidden behind pocket doors, as in this example from Mowlem & Co

When it comes to a streamlined kitchen and hiding away clutter, a hidden kitchen is the ultimate example! 

Hugh is Digital Editor of homebuilding.co.uk and has worked on a range of home, design and property magazines. Hugh has developed a passion for modern architecture and interior design. He's currently renovating a Victorian terrace in Essex, DIYing as much of the work as possible.