8 Ways to Make a Small Kitchen Sizzle

Whether you have a galley in a high rise or a small space in the suburbs, these decorating ideas will help you end up with a delectable kitchen, cooked just the way you like it.

8 Ways to Make a Small Kitchen Sizzle

1 - 3  of 4 videos

By: Mark Mccauley

1. Downsize it

Transitional Kitchen in Soft Green and White

Galley Kitchen Exudes a Cool, Calm Charm

Photo By: Greg Premru Photography Inc. View original photo.

Greg Premru Photography Inc.

Small spaces can sprain a design brain as much — sometimes even more — than large spaces, especially when you add storage and style in tight quarters to the typical kitchen challenges of fixtures and function.

Face it, in a small space you can’t have a kitchen that is a jack-of-all-trades — accommodating schoolwork, mail, laundry, recipe hunting and cooking duties. Unless you don’t cook at all (in which case, feel free to store your out-of-season clothes in the kitchen cabinets!), the small kitchen’s main chore is meal prep. So focus first on function, making sure you have the appliances and work areas you need. You may be able to save a bit of space by using scaled-down or innovative appliances, including refrigerator and freezer drawers and pint-sized microwaves, stoves (some with just two burners) and single sinks. The function is there, without all the square footage! If workspace is at a premium, consider a small-scale island or a counter-topped cart that can be rolled away into a closet when not in use.

2. Open it up

Butcher Block Extension in Kitchen Island

Island with Butcher Block Extension

Photo By: ADAM LARKEY View original photo.


Tiny kitchens can feel claustrophobic when overhead cabinets are towering over your head in tight spaces. Many cooks can’t reach what’s in them (and there’s not a lot of room for a step stool or ladder), and the overall feeling is boxy and closed in. If you can get organized enough, trade the top cupboards for open storage. Consider shelving, pot racks, and magnetic knife or spice holders instead. Not only will your kitchen look more spacious, it’s a great way to show off your favorite dishes or shiny pots and pans — even artwork.

3. Mix up the Materials

Breakfast Nook in Open Concept Kitchen

Open Concept Kitchen with Breakfast Nook

Photo By: Dale Wilcox /AP Images View original photo.

Dale Wilcox /AP Images

You may not have wide-open spaces in your pint-sized kitchen, but you do have lots of choices. In fact, these choices loom larger in a small space than in today’s basic Taj Mahal-sized kitchen. In a big area you can more easily hide flaws or separate competing styles; in a small space everything really has to work, including the mix of wood and metals and other surface materials. And because your petite kitchen may be short on interesting architectural details, it’s up to you to add the all-important style in compelling countertop surfaces, cabinetry, fixtures, flooring, lighting and color. Is there any place you can add a pleasing curve? Will your granite countertop (more affordable in a small space!) coexist with your cabinet color? Your best bet is to create a mix board with samples and swatches of everything you’re considering. One tip: using the same color and style of fixtures and cabinet pulls can help unify a look.

4. Look Into it


Photo By: Jason Kisner ©2012, Scripps Networks, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Jason Kisner, 2012, Scripps Networks, LLC. All Rights Reserved

One of the simplest ways of "expanding" a kitchen is incorporating glass, which lets you see through the objects, thereby enhancing the feeling of spaciousness or what designers call "negative space." Try a glass counter or tabletop, or glass door cabinets. Glass kitchen doors, to the outside world or to the next room, can also visually expand the space. There is even highly reflective glass tile that can give your kitchen sparkle. Mirrors, in a backsplash or strategically placed around the room, also lighten up the look.

5. Light it up

Transitional Neutral Kitchen With Off-White Cabinets

Classic Meets Contemporary in Remodeled Kitchen

Photo By: Photographer: Kristopher Lewis View original photo.

Photographer: Kristopher Lewis

Like any other room, your small kitchen needs a combination of task and atmospheric lighting. Fluorescent lighting, which casts a bluish light impacting the colorization of objects in the room, including the food, is frequently found in kitchens. To counteract it, consider hanging pendant lights that bathe your eating area in a more appetizing color. And try these easy ways to increase the feeling of size in your small kitchen:

• Use incandescent lighting (which is more yellowish) underneath the upper cabinets shining down on the countertops. Ceiling incandescent spot lighting, when directed at the cabinetry, will increase the shadowing of the space and give the area greater visual movement through light and dark contrast as opposed to cabinetry simply shown in the cold blue of fluorescent lighting.

• Think from the ground up — lighting has also been employed in flooring in recent years, glowing like starlight at night up from the floor. It also can be installed under the base cabinetry shining down onto the toe plate.

6. Get Floored

Farmhouse Kitchen With Light Hardwood Flooring

Farmhouse Kitchen With Light Hardwood Flooring

Where does our eye go when we walk into a room? Often it goes down — right to that dust bunny or scuffed floor. That’s why the flooring in a petite kitchen is so important. Linoleum — that old favorite of kitchen floors everywhere — can be really eye-catching in checkerboard black and white in a small space. It’s a relatively inexpensive choice.

Since dimensions are diminutive, you may be able to afford a beautiful tumbled marble that can give you a touch of the outdoors. Of course, marble can be really cold and hard underfoot, but the impact may be worth it to you. Or try cork, which is the number one flooring used in industrial kitchens in the United States. You’ll have to make sure it’s properly sealed (water can make it expand), but it’s a beautiful choice. And you can feel smug about using a politically correct "green" flooring.

7. Color it Big

Photo By: Stephanie Diani/Getty Images

Stephanie Diani/Getty Images

The color of walls, appliances, counters, stools — even the dishtowels — can change the atmosphere and perceived size of the kitchen. Pastels or light colors, with good doses of white, reflect light drawing the eyes upward and make the room seem taller. But don't think you have to be a color chicken in a small space. Bold colorations can be very effective in smaller kitchens. How about some Porsche red metal cabinets with celery green walls and a banana-colored concrete countertop? That’ll get your motor started in the morning!

8. Go for Comfort

Vintage Glam Kitchen with Bright Blue Backsplash

Bright Blue Backsplash in 1940s Vintage Glam Kitchen

Photo By: Francisco Aguila View original photo.

Francisco Aguila

Sure, we now know how to increase the visual size of a small kitchen, from layout and design to color. But consider this: When decorating a smaller space I’ve often found it’s not necessary to increase the size of the room through interior design. The reason: by going with the existing architecture of the small area, you can often create a wonderful well-designed cozy space. So instead of using tricks to enlarge the space, maybe you want to embrace it just the way it is. Instead of going light or sleek, maybe you go country cozy. Perhaps you make sure there is a little nook where you can sit with a visitor knee-to-knee. Or choose a dark, rich color that creates a sophisticated feeling — and use accessories that emphasize that look. The kitchen is small, yes; but it sure is sexy.

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