9 Galley Kitchen Design Tips to Make the Most of Your Small Space

A galley kitchen refers to a narrow kitchen layout where the cabinets and appliances line up along two parallel walls, like a galley ship. Galley kitchens are common in apartments, condos, and older homes where space is limited.

Though galley kitchens present some unique design challenges, you can make the most of your small galley kitchen with smart layout and storage ideas. Follow these 9 galley kitchen design tips to maximize your compact cooking space.

Optimize Traffic Flow

With two parallel walls and narrow walkways, proper traffic flow is essential in a galley kitchen. Avoid collisions and congestion with these ideas:

Place Appliances Strategically

Position appliances like the stove, refrigerator and sink in a logical workflow. Keep the most-used items toward the open end of the galley if possible. Allow at least 36 inches between counters and appliances for maneuvering.

Use the Right Mix of Cabinetry

Include some floor cabinets for storage along with wall cabinets to keep the pathway open. Shelves, rollouts and pull-out cabinets also help avoid blocked access.

Add a Bar-Height Island or Peninsula

An island or peninsula can divide the galley without closing it off completely. Opt for a bar-height or slim counter that allows traffic to pass through.

Install Sliding, Pocket or Bifold Doors

If your galley kitchen connects to a dining area, sliding doors can fully open the space when needed. Pocket and bifold doors also conserve floor space with their narrow profiles.

Cut Across Corners

When placing cabinets and appliances, cut across the corner instead of installing everything flush against the walls. This allows easier movement diagonally through the galley.

Maximize Vertical Storage Space

Galley kitchens offer prime real estate for tall cabinets along the walls. Take advantage with these tips:

Use Wall Space for Shelving

Install shelving that reaches all the way up to the ceiling. You can store less-used items up high while keeping favorites within reach.

Stack Upper Cabinets Higher

Standard upper cabinets hang about 18 inches from the counter. But in a galley kitchen, stacking cabinets all the way up to the ceiling lets you fit twice as much stuff.

Add Drawers Wherever Possible

Opt for drawers over lower cabinets and open shelving. Drawers provide more accessible storage per inch than any other option.

Hang Pot Racks and Rail Systems

Install ceiling-mounted racks or hanging rail systems to get pots, pans and utensils up and out of the way. Use the vertical air space for storage.

Consider Open Shelving

While it doesn’t maximize usable space, open shelving introduces visual spaciousness and easy access in a small galley kitchen.

Embrace Wall-Mounted Storage

When floor space is limited, look up. Wall-mounted rails, hooks, shelves and cabinets keep necessities accessible while minimizing their footprint.

Use Over-Cabinet Rails

Install metal rails above wall cabinets to hang utensils, pots and pans. Items can hang flush against the wall instead of cluttering counters.

Mount Knife Strips and Spice Racks

Wall-mounted magnetic knife strips and vertical spice racks are good options for small galley kitchens. Get knives and spices off the counters but within easy reach.

Hang Pots and Pans

Pot racks free up drawer and cabinet space. Or hang pots directly on the wall using S-hooks and utensil rails mounted inside cabinet doors.

Consider Glass-Front Cabinetry

Glass-front upper cabinets maintain an open, airy feel while fully utilizing vertical storage. Sturdy shelves behind glass doors take advantage of every inch.

Get Creative with Hidden Storage

Unexpected hideaways make the most of every last bit of space in a cramped galley kitchen. Seek out these prime real estate spots for tucking away items:

Under Cabinet Space

Install drawer inserts or roll-out shelves under existing base cabinets to create bonus storage zones. Lazy susans also maximize use of blind corner spots.

End Panels of Cabinets

Cut out recesses in the end panels of base cabinets to hold cutting boards, trays and more. Use wasted space between cabinets.

Toe-Kick Area

Stash small appliances like stick vacuums or instant pots in the recessed toe-kick space along the base of cabinets. Use it as a secret hiding spot.

Dead Space Between Studs

Make use of narrow gaps between wall studs – they’re perfect for spice racks, cutting boards, utensil holders and vertical knife storage.

Inside Cabinet Doors

Mount shallow shelves or small storage racks on the inside of upper cabinet doors to hold bottles, spices and other tiny items.

Choose Multi-Purpose and Convertible Furnishings

From transformable tables to space-saving appliances, flexible furnishings optimize every inch and serve multiple roles.

Opt for Retractable or Drop-Leaf Tables

Expandable tables like retractable kitchen islands or drop-leaf dining sets can collapse for a slimmer profile when not in use.

Install an Expandable Dinner Table

Tables with extension leaves, self-storing butterfly leaves or pull-out surfaces maximize dining space when needed and minimize footprint when not.

Consider Small Multi-Cookers

All-in-one appliances like Instant Pots replace several appliances with one space-saving electric multi-cooker.

Choose Portable Kitchen Carts

Rolling carts act as extra counters when needed and can be stashed out of the way when not. Portable butcher block islands serve a similar purpose.

Buy Multipurpose Ladders

Wooden ladders do triple duty – use them as dining room seating,Tiered serving trays, or even hanging racks for pots and pans.

Incorporate Mirrors and Glass to Expand Space

Visual tricks give the perception of a larger galley kitchen. Mirrors and glass reflect light and create the illusion of roominess.

Strategically Hang Mirrors

Place mirrors opposite windows or along the longest walls in narrow galley kitchens. The reflective surface simulates more space.

Install Mirrored Cabinets and Backsplashes

Mirrored cabinets and backsplashes make kitchens appear wider and brighter. Glass-front cabinets also maintain openness.

Swap Out Opaque Lighting

Replace overhead lighting or shades with clear glass for maximum light transmission.Brightness makes small spaces feel expansive.

Add a Glass-Topped Dining Table

Dining tables with transparent glass tops take up minimal visual space compared to solid wood or stone. Light passes through for an airier feel.

Open Shelving Lets Light Through

While open shelves themselves don’t save space, the light and visibility they allow gives the illusion of roominess.

Paint Strategically to Expand Space

Color and paint technique can visually expand a galley kitchen. Use light colors, vertical stripes and faux finishes to make walls recede.

Stick to Light, Bright Colors

Light whites, off-whites and pale neutrals make walls appear farther away. Darker hues can close in a space.

Use Sheens Strategically

Flat paint on ceiling hides imperfections, while glossy backsplashes expand space. Use gloss and satin paint on cabinetry for reflective light.

Add Vertical Stripes

Wide vertical stripes, focal walls or tall tiles make ceilings seem higher and walls appear farther apart. Vertical lines extend space.

Paint Ceilings Bright White

White ceiling paint maximizes light reflection and makes any room feel larger. Brighten up low galley kitchen ceilings.

Try Ceiling and Faux Finishes

Special paint techniques like rag-rolling, sponging, stippling or murals add depth and interest to a small space.

Install Space-Saving Pull-Out Storage Fixtures

Specialized pull-out fixtures like slide-out spice racks, tilt-out trays and corner cabinet lazy susans maximize every inch of confined galley kitchens.

Use Pull-Out Cabinet Organizers

Install pull-out metal racks or sliding trays in standard cabinets to double your storage capacity. Everything becomes accessible.

Add Slide-Out Spice Racks

Horizontal slide-out spice racks allow you to store spices in a compact slot, then pull the shelf out when you need it.

Include Tilt-Out Trays

Angled tilt-out trays in base cabinet corners make use of awkward dead space. Just tilt up to access items in the back.

Install Corner Lazy Susan Shelves

Rotating lazy susan corner cabinets spin entirely for complete access to the contents. No more crawling and reaching into corners.

Use Roll-Out Shelves

Roll-out shelves bring items tucked in the back of lower cabinets into easy reach. Smooth gliders make them easily accessible.

Take Advantage of Multi-Level Counter Space

When floor space is tight, make use of allvertical space. Second-level countertops double your usable surface area.

Add a Microwave Shelf

Install short 18-inch shelves above large appliances like refrigerators to gain a microwave platform or extra prep space.

Install a Peninsula with Bar Seating

A high peninsula or bar-height countertop gains surface area without taking up floor space. Add seating above.

Consider Floating Shelves

Wall-mounted floating shelves placed above countertops provide additional space for decor, cookbooks, or small appliances.

Use Rolling Carts

Portable utility carts or work tables roll up to provide temporary extra surface area when you need it.

Include a Wall-Mounted Drop-Down Table

A fold-down table mounted on the wall drops down when needed for extra meal prep area or serving space.

Embrace Contrasting Textures and Materials

Juxtaposing various visual elements makes a compact galley kitchen feel more expansive and dynamic.

Mix Tile Orientation

Laying rectangular subway tiles vertically, diagonally, horizontally and even checkerboard style adds interest and energy.

Combine Tile Sizes

Using large-format 12-inch tiles on walls with smaller mosaic backsplash tiles adds contrast and visual depth.

Blend Open and Closed Storage

Integrate open shelving into areas with solid cabinetry. The mix of open and closed storage expands the look.

Contrast Countertops

Pairing a smooth granite island with textured butcher block countertops adds both visual and tactile diversity.

Coordinate Metals and Finishes

Mixing metals like brushed nickel faucets with black iron handles creates an eclectic, collected look with character.

Incorporate Clever Space-Saving Appliances

Specialized compact appliances provide full functionality in a smaller footprint. Make more room with mini and multi-use devices.

Choose Compact Dishwashers

Slim 18-inch wide dishwashers fit in tight spaces. Or select a portable countertop dishwasher that stores out of the way.

Buy a Mini Fridge

Opt for a small cubed mini fridge instead of a full-size model. You can often tuck one under countertops or into tight openings.

Install an Over-the-Range Microwave

Microwaves that mount above the cooktop save precious counter space. Just be sure to follow mounting guidelines.

Use Multipurpose Small Appliances

All-in-one appliances like Instant Pots, air fryers, and multicookers combine several gadgets into one.

Include a Skinny Range or Cooktop

Narrow 30-inch ranges and cooktops fit in tight spots with minimal clearance needed on the sides.

Carefully Select Countertops and Backsplashes

Make surfaces feel expansive by limiting busy patterns and using reflective, light finishes.

Choose Solid Countertop Colors

Skip speckled granite or heavily veined surfaces. Stick to solid whites and light neutrals to avoid a busy look.

Select a Mirrored or Metallic Backsplash

Polished metal, stainless steel, glass or mirror backsplashes reflect light and make the space feel larger.

Use Large-Format Wall Tiles

Oversized tile ranges like 4×16-inch subway tiles draw the eye up and make walls seem taller.

Opt for White Marble or Quartz Countertops

Light-colored solid surfaces are visually spacious looking. Dark granite has the opposite effect.

Avoid Cluttered Backsplash Patterns

Stick with simple subway tiles or uniform glass mosaics. Busy backsplash designs overwhelm and shrink the space.

Prioritize Hidden Small Appliances

Keep counters clutter-free by storing small appliances out of sight without sacrificing convenience.

Stash Inside Cabinets

Designate a cabinet just for small appliances. Use risers, dividers or turntables to neatly organize them.

Conceal Inside Drawers

Deep drawers with vertical dividers or customized inserts are great for neatly stashing countertop clutter.

Hide Under Sink Base Cabinet

Install pull-out shelves under the sink base cabinet to store appliances out of sight but within reach.

Buy Appliance Garages

Countertop appliance garages have lift-up lids to conceal small appliances when not in use, freeing up counter space.

Consider Retractable Power Outlets

Hide pop-up electrical outlets inside cabinets, drawers or countertops. Attach appliances when needed.

Incorporate Open Racks and Shelves

While open shelving doesn’t maximize usable space, the lightweight look enhances visual spaciousness.

Use Glass Shelving

Glass shelves maintain transparency and light flow. Matte glass shows fewer fingerprints than shiny glass.

Opt for Wire Shelving

Metal wire shelving disappears from view more than solid wood. Plus, you can see through it to expand space.

Put Upper Cabinets on Legs

Raising upper cabinets off the countertop contributes to a lighter, airier aesthetic. Add legs or side pillars.

Install Corner Shelving

Open corner shelves utilize wasted space while opening up the room. Enhance with glass or acrylic panels.

Light Up Undersides

Adding lighting under open wall shelves highlights displays and makes the kitchen feel more expansive.


Making the most of a long, narrow galley-style kitchen comes down to taking advantage of vertical space for storage, enhancing light and views, and choosing space-saving multi-function appliances and furnishings. Strategic layout, mirrored surfaces, streamlined storage options, and lighter colors help maximize perceived spaciousness as well. With clever planning, even the tightest galley kitchen can be highly functional and provide plenty of prep and storage capacity needed to create beautiful meals and memories.

Frequently Asked Questions About Galley Kitchen Design

What are the most common challenges with a galley kitchen layout?

The top challenges in a galley kitchen design include:

  • Limited floor space and tight clearances
  • Restricted traffic flow and bottlenecks
  • Lack of natural light due to minimal windows
  • Difficulty incorporating an eat-in dining area
  • Insufficient storage options and counter space

What are some tips to make a small galley kitchen feel bigger?

Tips to make a cramped galley kitchen feel more spacious include:

  • Use mirrors to reflect light and add the illusion of width
  • Paint walls light colors and ceilings bright white
  • Open up sightlines with glass cabinet doors
  • Add tall shelving and vertical storage to draw the eye up
  • Include an island or peninsula to delineate kitchen zones
  • Opt for retractable vents, sleek appliances and slim fixtures
  • Incorporate multi-function furnishings like rolling carts

How much clearance do you need in a galley kitchen?

Ideally, you need a minimum of 36 inches of clearance between counters, islands and appliances in a galley kitchen design. At pinch points and in doorways, a clearance of 32 inches provides comfortable movement. Near the refrigerator and primary cabinets, allow for 42-48 inches of clearance.

What is the best placement for the sink, stove and refrigerator in a galley kitchen?

The ideal layout is to place the refrigerator at one end, install the sink in the middle under a window if possible, and position the stove on the opposite end. This allows you to move seamlessly from fridge to sink to cooktop.

What kind of flooring works best for small galley kitchens?

For galley kitchen flooring, choose lighter solid colors and subtle patterns like wood-look planks in white oak or birch. Avoid dark, speckled granite or busy tile patterns. Large format tiles help the space feel airier.

How do you add more storage to a narrow galley kitchen?

Smart storage solutions for maximizing space in a galley kitchen layout include:

  • Full height wall cabinets
  • Shelves or cabinets over the fridge
  • Pull-out cabinets and roll-out shelves
  • Spice drawer organizers
  • Corner lazy susans
  • Multi-level islands or peninsulas
  • Pot racks and ceiling-mounted rails
  • Wall-mounted knife strips and utensil hooks

Should you put an island in a small galley kitchen?

In most cases, a slim island or peninsula makes sense in a galley kitchen. Opt for a bar-height or counter-height island no wider than 48 inches. This divides the galley without blocking circulation. An island provides extra prep space and storage as well as casual dining potential.

How wide should upper cabinets be in a galley kitchen?

Standard upper kitchen cabinets are usually either 12, 18 or 24 inches wide. In a galley kitchen, prioritize full-height 24 or 30 inch wide cabinets to maximize vertical storage. Avoid wider 36-inch uppers that protrude too far and impede traffic flow.

What are some budget-friendly galley kitchen remodel ideas?

Affordable ways to upgrade a galley kitchen include:

  • Adding a fresh coat of white or light grey paint
  • Switching outdated hardware for modern handles and pulls
  • Installing peel-and-stick tile or vinyl backsplash