A Small Kitchen Gains Space Within the Same Footprint

A small kitchen can feel cramped and cluttered, but with some clever design solutions, you can gain space and efficiency without increasing the kitchen’s overall footprint. As a kitchen design expert, I’ve helped many clients transform their tiny kitchens into functional cooking spaces that don’t feel undersized. With the right layout and storage solutions, it’s amazing how much you can accomplish within a small kitchen. In this detailed guide, I’ll share my best tips for gaining space in a small kitchen without knocking down walls or increasing the square footage. Read on to learn how to make the most of your cozy cooking space!

Assess Your Existing Layout and Workflow

Before making any changes, take time to analyze how you currently use your small kitchen. Watch someone prepare a meal from start to finish, making notes about traffic flow, storage needs, and inefficient elements. Pay attention to wasted space and any bottlenecks that slow down food prep. Try to optimize workflow by grouping commonly used items together and eliminating unnecessary steps. Carefully considering how you interact with your current layout will inform smarter design decisions.

Optimize Traffic Flow

In small kitchens, poor traffic flow can make the space feel even more cramped. Make sure there is adequate clearance around appliances, islands, and peninsulas so multiple cooks can work without bumping into each other. The ideal work triangle that connects the refrigerator, sink, and stove should measure no more than 26 feet total. Reduce traffic jams by ensuring aisles and pathways are at least 42-48 inches wide. If possible, create multiple work zones throughout the kitchen so more tasks can happen simultaneously. Careful planning of traffic flow and work areas can make a small kitchen extremely efficient.

Take Advantage of Vertical Storage Space

One of the best ways to maximize space in a small kitchen is using vertical storage to get items up and off the counter. Floor-to-ceiling pantries with narrow pull-out shelves are perfect for small spaces. Mount spice racks on the inside of cabinet doors to free up drawer space. Consider tall storage units like utility cabinets and ladders to hold bakeware, serving pieces, or small appliances. Install ceiling-height shelving above the refrigerator or range. Wire shelving, racks, and wall-mounted rail systems also maximize empty vertical real estate. Going vertical minimizes your kitchen’s footprint while adding usable hidden storage.

Rethink Traditional Storage Solutions

In a small kitchen, standard cabinetry and storage solutions may not be the best use of limited space. Get creative by replacing some upper cabinets with open shelving. This allows you to store frequently used items within easy reach while opening up the room visually. For lower cabinets, drawers are generally more space-efficient than doors. Consider drawer-style cabinets, roll-out trays, or pull-out racks to fully utilize deep cabinet spaces. Repurpose furniture like hutches, bakers racks, or armoires for alternate kitchen storage. Small shelves mounted on walls or floating ledges add storage without taking up floor space. With some innovative thinking, you can discover storage possibilities you never knew existed!

Take Advantage of Dead Space

Even the tightest kitchen likely has some dead or underutilized space. Look for gaps between cabinets or appliances that can be converted into storage. A custom-built spice drawer or built-in chopping board can make use of a few wasted inches. Install retractable shelves that pop out when needed, then tuck away out of sight. Use the area undersink to add pull-out storage for trash cans, cleaning supplies, or overflow pantry items. Fill annoying dead spaces with specialized storage solutions and you’ll be amazed at the hidden capacity.

Consider Multipurpose Furniture

When working with an extremely small kitchen, multifunctional furniture maximizes every square inch. An island or peninsula with storage space, seating, and rollout work surfaces blends multiple functions. A butcher block or retractable table serves as added prep space when cooking and eating area when raised. Some small kitchens even hide the dining table and chairs within a storage bench or cabinet. Dual-height islands function as counters when lowered or breakfast bars when raised. Look for furniture that serves multiple needs to get double or triple duty out of every piece.

Maximize Kitchen Islands and Carts

Kitchen islands are multi-functional spaces perfect for small kitchens. Opt for a wheeled cart or island to serve as movable prep space when needed, then tuck out of the workflow zone when not in use. Seek out islands with raised counter heights for more comfortable food prep. Incorporate storage with lower cabinets or shelving to get items off the counters. Add hooks, paper towel holders, and spice racks to maximize vertical storage on the island. With the right features and mobility, even a very compact kitchen island can add significant workspace.

Use Lighting to Brighten up Dark Spaces

Small kitchens with limited natural light often feel dark and enclosed. Adding ample task lighting ensures you have bright illumination where you need it most. Undercabinet lights banish shadows from key work areas. Consider glass-front upper cabinets to allow light to filter down to lower counters. Slim LED recessed cans provide overall ambient lighting without stealing headroom in tight spaces. Use dimmers and zoning to control different lighting levels throughout your kitchen. Opening a cramped, dark kitchen with strategic lighting makes the space feel more expansive.

Lose Bulky Appliances to Free Up Space

Standard full-size appliances like refrigerators, stoves and dishwashers consume precious real estate in tiny kitchens. Consider downsizing to more compact appliances designed for small spaces. Slimmer dishwashers, microwave drawer combos, and apartment-size fridges provide similar function in a smaller footprint. Induction cooktops and convection microwaves cook as well as standard ovens while taking up less space. If you don’t use ice, look for a narrow refrigerator without an ice maker. Losing even a few inches withscaled-down appliances can make your small kitchen more usable.

Install Pull-out Faucets and Drop-Down Outlets

Finding enough counter workspace for food prep and appliances is tricky in small kitchens. Install a retractable faucet that pulls out when needed for washing produce or filling pots, then tucks back flush against the wall or counter when not in use. Drop-down power outlets positioned above peninsulas or islands allow you to plug in a blender or mixer, then retract the outlet to restore a flat counter surface. Both pull-out faucets and power outlets maximize space by popping out only when needed. Their streamlined profiles minimize visual clutter in your compact workspace.

Keep the Floor Plan Open and Airy

A small, closed-in kitchen will only feel more cramped and confined. Where possible, remove visual barriers to make your kitchen appear more open and spacious. Eliminate wall and floor cabinets that make the space feel boxy. Extend counters to the edges of the room’s perimeter for an uninterrupted flow. Swap any solid cabinet doors for glass fronts or open shelving. Use reflective surfaces like stainless steel, glass tile, or mirrored backsplashes to brighten up tight spaces. The more open, airy, and visually unobstructed you can make a small kitchen, the more sizeable it will feel.

Add Architectural Interest to Draw the Eye Upward

Well-designed architectural elements instantly give a small kitchen a more spacious feel by drawing the eye upward. Floating shelves mounted a few inches from the wall lead to a raised ceiling. Adding a vaulted ceiling over part of the room lends height and dimension. Try open shelving that extends all the way to the ceiling. An oversized statement light fixture serves as a focal point. Exposed beams, textured wallcoverings, or tall accent tiles also lead the gaze skyward. Details that add vertical interest make compact kitchens feel less oppressive and boxed-in.

Embrace simplicity

Clutter, ornamentation, and elaborate details overwhelm a tiny kitchen, making it feel cramped and messy. Stick to a minimalist, streamlined aesthetic to keep your small space looking clean and open. Limit upper cabinets to essential storage and skip intricate crown moldings or trimwork. Choose plain cabinet fronts in a single color without elaborate hardware. Opt for subtle, neutral backsplashes and lean towards seamless materials like quartz. Monochromatic color schemes feel more soothing and expansive. The less visual busyness in a small kitchen, the more spacious it will appear.

Extend Functionality to Adjacent Spaces

If your kitchen shares open access with a dining area or living space, extend its functionality into those adjoining rooms. Tuck the dining table and chairs into an unused section of living room right off the kitchen. Situate a rolling buffet cart or sideboard next to the dining space for extra storage and serving space. Add a work table or desktop just outside the kitchen’s doorway for food prep. Install a bench or row of coat hooks in an adjacent mudroom to hold bags, lunch boxes, or aprons. Taking advantage of nearby areas minimizes clutter inside your kitchen.

FAQs About Gaining Space in a Small Kitchen

Q: How much space do I really need in the kitchen?

A: While guidelines vary, most home chefs can comfortably cook, clean, and dine in a minimum of 150 square feet. Smaller kitchens under 120 square feet will require more creative storage and layout solutions. Prioritize key work zones around the sink, stove, and refrigerator and don’t waste space on oversized dining areas.

Q: Should I tear down walls to expand my tiny kitchen?

A: Knocking down walls is certainly an effective way to gain space, but not always feasible. Assess the load-bearing status and cost to remove walls before demolishing. Often, working within the existing footprint and borrowing space from adjoining rooms is a simpler, less disruptive option.

Q: What design tricks make a small kitchen appear larger?

A: Use reflective surfaces, open shelving, neutral colors, streamlined cabinets and minimal ornamentation to visually expand a tight kitchen. Strategic lighting and vaulted ceilings draw the eye up and make the space feel more airy. Removing upper cabinets also makes small kitchens appear more spacious and less boxy.

Q: How can I get more prep and storage space without expanding?

A: Roll-out shelves, drawer organizers, lazy susans, vertical storage racks and pull-out units maximize every inch of existing cabinetry. Islands and portable carts add movable prep space. Look for dead zones that can accommodate narrow spice drawers or specialty storage solutions.

Q: Should I use smaller or larger floor tiles in a small kitchen?

A: Surprisingly, small floor tiles like 12×12 inches make a kitchen feel cramped and busy. Larger tiles like 12×24 inches or 16×16 inches make the floor appear more expansive. Just take care that larger grout lines don’t trap dirt. Aim for tiles with less than a 1/8 inch grout width.

Q: What backsplash tiles work best in tiny kitchens?

A: Choose a simple, clean-lined backsplash with large tiles. Subway tiles, stone slabs, or continuous materials like quartz require fewer cuts and draw the eye up, giving the illusion of height. Avoid mosaic tiles or fussy patterns, which clutter up a small space.


While a small kitchen presents certain challenges, there are countless ways to open up these cozy spaces and maximize every square inch. Take time to analyze your current layout and usage patterns. Embrace vertical storage, multi-purpose furniture, and convert dead space into usable space. Skip bulky appliances and opt for pull-outs and drop-downs that tuck away. Keep the aesthetic clean, minimal and well lit. Extend the function into nearby areas and borrow space outside the existing footprint. With smart, strategic design choices, even the tiniest kitchen can become an inviting, highly efficient space for cooking and entertaining.