How can I make a small kitchen look stylish? 7 interior designers share their decorating dos

A small kitchen can be challenging to decorate in a way that looks stylish and put together. However, with some strategic design choices, even the tiniest kitchen can be both functional and fashionable. To find out how to make the most of a petite kitchen, we asked seven interior designers to share their best decorating dos and don’ts. From layout to color palette to storage solutions, read on for their expert advice on cooking up some serious kitchen style.

Embrace open shelving

One of the easiest ways to give a small kitchen a sense of openness and breathing room is to incorporate open shelving. “Closed cabinets can make a small kitchen feel boxy and cramped,” explains Los Angeles-based designer Betsy Burnham. “But open shelving instantly lightens up the space.”

When using open shelving, Burnham recommends sticking to a cohesive style, like industrial wire shelving or rustic wood planks. “Mixing too many materials can make it look cluttered,” she warns. “I like to combine just two complementary materials, like wood shelves with black metal brackets.”

Don’t be afraid to stack shelves vertically to take advantage of unused wall space. And be strategic with what you display. “Utilize open shelving for pretty dishware, baskets, and decorative objects,” says Burnham. “Keep the clutter hidden behind closed cabinet doors.”

Paint the cabinets a light color

Dark cabinetry can feel overpowering in a petite kitchen. That’s why New York City designer Ariel Okin recommends sticking to light, bright cabinet colors. “Painting the cabinets white or a soft tone like blush pink will maximize the sense of space,” she explains. “And opt for flat cabinet fronts rather than ornate door styles, which can make a small kitchen feel even smaller.”

Upgrading to glass-front cabinet doors is another smart strategy for opening up a cramped kitchen. “The transparency helps create the illusion of more square footage,” says Okin. “For a bit of contrast, try pairing icy white glass-front uppers with lower cabinets in a muted blue or green.”

Prioritize multifunctional furniture

Finding a place for a kitchen table and chairs can be tricky in a compact layout. That’s when it pays to seek out multifunctional furnishings that can pull double duty. “Opt for a small table that can fold out when you need more space, or a bar-height table that allows you to use the area below for additional seating,” advises Portland, Oregon designer Rachel Simoneau.

Simoneau is also a fan of using ottomans or stools that can provide extra seating when needed. “Built-in banquettes are another space-saving option,” she adds. “You can store serving pieces or barware inside and then pull up chairs or stools on the other side when it’s time to eat.”

Install slimline countertops

Standard kitchen countertops can eat up precious real estate in a pint-sized cooking space. Fortunately, there are more streamlined options available. “Installing a narrower countertop is an easy way to maximize every inch,” says Miami-based designer Leyden Lewis. “I usually recommend going with a countertop that’s no more than 16 inches deep. This still gives you enough room to prep and cook comfortably.”

If the existing countertops are deep, Lewis suggests adding a second row of simple floating shelves above to gain a few extra inches of functional space. The streamlined profile keeps the room looking light and airy.

Stick to a neutral color palette

When working with limited square footage, the last thing you want is an overly busy color scheme competing for attention. “Sticking to a neutral palette helps maintain an airy, open vibe,” explains Lewis. She recommends layering creams, whites and pale woods, accented with pops of color from appliances, cookware displays and fresh flowers.

“You can also bring in some visual interest with varied textures and materials,” Lewis adds. For example, pair sleek white cabinetry with an organic butcher block countertop and rustic brick backsplash. Just keep the overall look subdued so it enhances rather than overwhelms the petite proportions.

Make the most of vertical space

In small kitchens, it’s essential to utilize all the vertical real estate available. “Maximize the wall space by mounting wire storage racks, utensil hooks, and floating shelves,” advises interior designer Amy Rutherford, founder of Brooklyn-based Material Creative.

Rutherford is also a proponent of tall upper cabinets that reach all the way to the ceiling. “The more storage you can squeeze in overhead, the more you can open up the kitchen below,” she explains. Just be sure to use a ladder or step stool for safe access.

Other vertical space that shouldn’t go to waste? The area between countertops and cabinets. Rutherford suggests attaching adjustable rails to fill the gap with handy storage bins and baskets that can be switched out or removed as needed.

Opt for pullout storage solutions

With minimal square footage to spare, smart storage is key for keeping a petite kitchen organized. Interior designer Leanne Ford recommends taking advantage of every nook and cranny with specialized pullout storage.

“Pullout shelves in lower cabinets and drawers are great for housing spices, baking pans and other small items,” says Ford. Up high, she likes to install pull down spice racks that tuck away neatly when not in use. For wastebaskets and recycling, Ford suggests pullout bins that hide away in cabinetry.

“Don’t forget the awkward corner spaces,” Ford adds. “You can find pullout corner storage units for everything from pots and pans to cutlery.” Getting organizing essentials off the countertops is a quick trick for opening up the room.

Scale down appliances

Oversized appliances can quickly overwhelm a compact kitchen. Interior designer Jonathan Rachman says choosing more reasonably proportioned models is one of the most effective strategies for optimizing petite spaces.

“I always look for appliance possibilities with small footprints,” says the Seattle-based designer. “That might mean selecting a dorm-sized refrigerator or a narrow cooktop instead of a full stove and oven.”

For major appliances like refrigerators and ovens, Rachman recommends consulting specifications to find options with slightly smaller dimensions. “Even shaving off a few inches makes a noticeable difference,” he says. Mini versions of microwaves, dishwashers and other appliances can also be great options for tiny kitchens.

Add architectural details

Don’t be afraid to add some architectural interest to bring a small kitchen to life. Interior designer Orlando Soria relies on moldings, arches, niches and other built-ins to lend character without clutter.

“Frame the kitchen window with trimmed-out molding for a playful pop of pattern,” suggests the Los Angeles and New York City-based Soria. Or create a focal point by framing out a section of wallpaper.

Soria also loves the look of open shelving or glass-front cabinets set into a fitted arched alcove. “It adds a nice architectural touch in a tight space,” he explains. Consider updating your kitchen layout to incorporate new nooks and crannies tailored to your own unique space.

Incorporate hidden storage

For additional storage capacity without the visual clutter, interior designer Ana Rodriguez relies on a variety of hidden nooks and compartments. “Take advantage of any unused areas, like the space under the sink or behind appliances,” says Rodriguez.

The San Francisco-based designer is also a fan of false drawer fronts that disguise pullout storage for trash and recycling bins. “You can find rollout trays designed specifically for saucepans, cutting boards, baking pans and other kitchen tools,” she adds. “They take advantage of the unused space at the back of lower cabinets.”

Up high, Rodriguez looks for opportunities to incorporate height-adjustable cabinets that expose hidden storage when pulled down. “And I love using special hinges to transform cabinet doors themselves into usable space,” she adds. Get creative to discover all the potential storage hiding in your small kitchen.

Frequently Asked Questions about Decorating a Small Kitchen

How can I make my small kitchen feel bigger?

  • Use light, bright paint colors on the walls and cabinetry
  • Incorporate glass-front cabinets or open shelving
  • Install narrow countertops to maximize workspace
  • Stick to compact, smaller-scale appliances
  • Use multifunctional furniture like folding tables
  • Maximize vertical storage with tall cabinets and floating shelves

What colors make a small kitchen look bigger?

  • Soft whites, creams and pale gray shades visually expand a room
  • Avoid dark, bold colors, which can make walls look like they are closing in
  • Add pops of bright color with small appliances, cookware displays or flowers

How do you arrange a small kitchen?

  • Place the fridge, stove and sink in a convenient triangle for efficiency
  • Situate frequently used items in easy-to-reach areas
  • Use corners for spice racks, specialty pullout storage and other narrow items
  • Make sure walkways are at least 36 inches wide so multiple people can pass through

What can I put on my kitchen walls to make it look bigger?

  • Hang mirrors opposite windows to reflect light and double the feeling of openness
  • Use glass-front cabinets or open shelving to prevent a closed-in look
  • Paint stripes on the walls vertically to create the illusion of higher ceilings
  • Install floating shelves high on the walls to draw the eye upward

Should I get upper cabinets in a small kitchen?

Upper cabinets are still recommended in small kitchens to maximize essential storage space. Options include:

  • Glass-front upper cabinets to maintain an open, airy look
  • Extra-tall upper cabinets that reach all the way to the ceiling
  • Open shelving used sparingly to break up expanses of closed cabinets

How do you decorate a rental kitchen?

  • Use removable vinyl wraps or contact paper to give cabinets a fresh look
  • Attach floating shelves for extra storage without making holes
  • Roll up a rug to instantly spruce up the floor
  • Display kitchenware with removable hooks, racks and hanging baskets
  • Upgrade lighting with plug-in pendant lamps or under-cabinet fixtures


Decorating a compact kitchen comes with its fair share of challenges. But with some strategic design moves, it’s entirely possible to transform a petite cooking space into a stylish, functional area you’re excited to spend time in. Focus on brightening up the room with light colors, opening it up with transparent surfaces, maximizing storage, and choosing the right streamlined, small-footprint fixtures. With the right furnishings and layout, your tiny kitchen can feel downright spacious. Just follow the tips from our interior designers to cook up a spectacular small kitchen design.