Outdated Kitchen Rules You Can Ignore When Designing a Small Kitchen

Kitchens are often the heart of a home, but when space is limited, designing a small kitchen can be tricky. Many conventional kitchen design “rules” don’t work well for compact layouts. However, by thinking creatively and ignoring some outdated advice, you can create a beautiful, functional small kitchen. This article explores common small kitchen myths you can break to make the most of your space.

Matching Cabinets and Countertops are Essential

Having continuous countertops and cabinetry might seem like the ideal for a unified look, but it’s not required in a small kitchen. Mixing and matching countertops and cabinets in different styles, colors, or materials can add character and prevent a cramped feeling. Feel free to get creative with combinations like:

  • White upper cabinets + dark lower cabinets
  • Wood countertops on one side + tile/stone on the other
  • Painted cabinets + natural wood countertops

The key is choosing pairings that complement each other without being completely matchy-matchy. Play with contrasting tones and textures for visual interest in your petite kitchen.

Every Kitchen Needs a Pantry

Conventional wisdom states that all kitchens should have space for a pantry to store dry goods and equipment. However, in very compact kitchens, a full pantry is an inefficient use of precious real estate. There are many clever storage alternatives for small kitchens that provide the function of a pantry without sacrificing space:

  • Pull-out cabinets: Install pull-out shelves or drawers in lower cabinets to access items.
  • Open shelving: Display items attractively on open shelves.
  • Freestanding cabinetry: A tall, narrow cupboard can hold items.
  • Under-cabinet racks: Mount spice racks, pot racks or baskets under upper cabinets.
  • Nearby storage solutions: Use storage furniture in an adjacent room, hall or entryway.

With some creativity, you can have organized storage that fits your space and needs. Don’t feel like a pantry is non-negotiable.

The Triangle Workspace Rule

The classic “workspace triangle” concept suggests a workflow pattern between the sink, fridge and stove. But in a tight kitchen, adhering to a strict triangular workflow may not be possible or practical. Be willing to think beyond triangles to create a logical workspace flow in your unique space. Some ideas:

  • Create multiple mini-triangles: Have work stations centering around different appliances.
  • Use the perimeter: Focus work zones along the outer edges if the middle is tight.
  • Go in a line: Arrange the main appliances in a practical sequence without triangles.
  • Zone it out: Define work areas by countertop depths and cabinetry divisions, not imaginary triangles.

Focus on how you move through your real footprint rather than making triangles fit arbitrarily. Craft a workflow pattern tailored to you.

Upper Cabinets Should Go to the Ceiling

Standard kitchen design recommends upper cabinets extend all the way to the ceiling. However, this can make small kitchens feel more closed in. Consider ending cabinets below the ceiling line to create an airier, more spacious impression. For plentiful storage, make sure the gap between the tops of cabinets and ceiling is minimized. You can also opt for:

  • Partial upper cabinets: Install upper cabinets only halfway up the wall.
  • No upper cabinets: Eliminate uppers altogether and use open shelving.
  • A short soffit: Install a soffit (side niche) rather than tall cabinets.
  • Different heights: Vary cabinet heights for visual interest.

Don’t afraid to buck tradition – take cabinets only as high as truly needed. Your small kitchen will feel more expansive.

Island and Peninsula Seating is a Must

In many kitchens, a island or peninsula with an overhang to accommodate bar seating makes sense. But in a compact kitchen, permanent stools at an island or peninsula can impede traffic flow and make the space feel crowded. While an island can still provide useful countertop area in a small kitchen, having fixed seating nooks may not be the best use of precious square footage. Consider alternatives like:

  • A narrow island or peninsula without seating overhang
  • Movable stools or chairs instead of built-in seating
  • An island with countertop space on both sides instead of seating space
  • No island or peninsula – use a small dining table nearby instead

Don’t assume seating is a must-have. Focus on including an island or peninsula design element that maximizes usable area.

You Must Have Room for a Table

A spacious dining area in the kitchen is wonderful – but don’t think it’s essential. If your priority is maximizing efficiency and workflow, consider forgoing a full-sized dining table and using creative substitutions instead:

  • Breakfast bar seating
  • A bistro table or small café table
  • A fold-down wall table or table extension
  • An adjacent dining room or dining nook just steps away
  • Using your island, peninsula or even countertop as dining space in a pinch

Finding a spot for a table is ideal, but there are many options that work in a small kitchen. Don’t automatically rule out a compact kitchen just because a standard dining table won’t fit.

Kitchen Work Triangles Outdated Kitchen Rules You Can Ignore When Designing a Small Kitchen

The kitchen work triangle is a common kitchen design guideline based on the idea that the sink, stove, and refrigerator should form a triangle shape with work zones in between. But while work triangles can optimize workflow in larger kitchens, they aren’t always practical or possible in small, tight layouts.

Here are some tips for effectively designing a small kitchen without relying on the work triangle concept:

  • Focus on workflow between zones, not imaginary triangles. Think about how you naturally move through the real footprint.
  • Overlap zones if space is tight. Allow appliance zones to overlap in places.
  • Use the perimeter to arrange key areas if the middle is too narrow.
  • Create multiple separate triangles between different appliances if one triangle is impossible.
  • Go in a line if that fits the space better than a triangle.
  • Separate storage from work zones. Put frequently used items near appliances, not in pantry across the room.
  • Prioritize the fridge, stove, and sink. Don’t worry as much about a special zone for smaller appliances.
  • Add portable carts to provide more prepping space between appliances.

The kitchen work triangle is just a guideline – be willing to disregard it as needed to create a functional small kitchen layout that maximizes your available space. Focus on real workflow.

Full-Height Wall Cabinets Maximize Storage

Standard kitchen design recommends installing upper wall cabinets that go all the way up to the ceiling. However, while this does increase storage capacity, tall wall cabinets can make a small, enclosed kitchen feel cramped and dark.

Here are some tips for gaining storage in a small kitchen without full-height wall cabinets:

  • Opt for shorter wall cabinets that stop several inches below the ceiling instead.
  • Include open shelving higher up on walls for frequent-use items.
  • Use wall-mounted rail systems with hanging utensil racks, pot racks, and baskets.
  • Put narrow floor-to-ceiling cabinetry like broom closets, pantries, or appliance garages in unused nooks.
  • Install a short soffit with storage rather than tall cabinets above the sink.
  • Vary cabinet heights for visual interest and to highlight windows or architectural details.

With some creativity, you can find handy storage solutions beyond just tall upper cabinets. Give your small kitchen a more open, airy feel.

Avoid Wall Ovens – Freestanding is Best

It’s often recommended to opt for a wall oven in a small kitchen to save space. However, wall ovens can make accessing the oven awkward. Freestanding stoves, on the other hand, don’t require uncomfortable reaching over hot burners. Some tips for small kitchen ovens:

  • Choose a freestanding range – they maximize ease of use.
  • Look for compact models with oven beside/below cooktop if you prefer freestanding.
  • Install at a height you can comfortably reach if going for a wall oven.
  • Use a speed oven/microwave wall unit to supplement a cooktop – you gain oven function without sacrificing space.
  • Add a separate wall-mounted microwave at an easily accessible height.
  • Opt for a cooktop alone and use a nearby standard oven.

Don’t feel like you have to sacrifice a convenient freestanding oven/range in a small kitchen. Prioritize ease of use and access over strictly maximizing space.

Your Sink Should be Under a Window

Placing a kitchen sink under a window seems idyllic, allowing you to enjoy natural scenery and light while washing dishes. However, limited counter space on either side of a window-facing sink can hamper functionality in a compact kitchen. Some better options include:

  • Putting the sink on an interior wall with plentiful countertop on both sides.
  • Using a compact window as a backsplash behind the sink, not impeding counter space.
  • Choosing a galley style kitchen with the sink on one wall and stove on the opposite.
  • Installing the sink in an island to maximize open counter area around it.
  • Adding a second small prep sink by a window instead of making it the primary cleaning sink.

Don’t sacrifice valuable prep and landing space next to your main sink for the sake of a picturesque window location. Prioritize function over form.

Limit Color Palette for a Unified Look

Using a unified color scheme with limited hues is commonly recommended to make a small kitchen feel harmonious and pulled-together. However, sticking to a neutral, matchy-matchy palette can also end up feeling uninteresting and flat. Don’t be afraid to incorporate:

  • Pops of brighter accent colors amid otherwise neutral cabinets to liven things up.
  • Contrasting paint colors on upper and lower cabinets to add visual dimension.
  • Varying wood cabinet tones like light and dark stained wood paired together.
  • Multi-colored mosaic backsplashes with glass, stone or ceramic tiles.
  • Retro-inspired appliances like a pastel fridge or range for vintage character.
  • Cheerful retro wallpaper like red gingham as a unique backsplash material.

Thoughtful touches of contrast and color can make a small kitchen feel upbeat and interesting, not just matchy-matchy.

Dark Hues Will Make a Small Kitchen Feel Closed In

Many design experts warn against using dark paint colors in a small, enclosed kitchen – but dark hues don’t automatically make a space feel small. Deep tones like navy blue, black, dark green or even bold black and white patterns can look crisp and stylish. Consider:

  • Using dark colors sparingly like on lower cabinets or an accent wall, not everywhere.
  • Choosing dark cabinets paired with light walls and countertops to prevent heaviness.
  • Glossy finishes and reflective surfaces to bounce light around.
  • Bright, retro-inspired patterns like black and white checkerboard flooring.
  • Warm metallics like brass hardware and fixtures to add glam.
  • Abundant lighting such as track lighting, under cabinet lighting and pendant lights.

With thoughtful design choices, rich shades can make a small kitchen feel cozy and stylish – not congested and confined.

Outdated Kitchen Rules You Can Ignore When Designing a Small Kitchen

When it comes to small kitchen design, there are many commonly accepted “rules” that you can actually break. Here are some outdated pieces of advice you can ignore when planning your compact cooking space:

  • You must have matching countertops and cabinets. Mismatched materials add character!
  • Every kitchen requires a pantry. Creative storage solutions exist!
  • The kitchen workspace must follow a triangle pattern. Focus on real workflow, not shapes.
  • Upper cabinets should always reach the ceiling. Lower uppers = more light!
  • An island or peninsula needs seating. Maximize prep space instead.
  • You must squeeze in a table. Alternatives like bistro sets work!
  • The sink should be under a window. Better to have ample counter space.
  • Limit your color scheme. Pops of color prevent drabness!
  • Dark hues will make the space feel closed in. They can be chic in moderation!

When designing your small kitchen, don’t feel chained to all the “rules”. Breaking conventions leads to creative, functional solutions tailored to you and your home. Focus on your needs and style!

FAQs About Designing Small Kitchens

Here are some frequently asked questions about optimizing small kitchen spaces without being constrained by all the design “rules”:

What are some general tips for designing an efficient small kitchen?

Some key strategies include:

  • Prioritize function over fixed design ideas. Focus on what works for your real space and lifestyle.
  • Think vertically. Use walls efficiently with stacked cabinetry, shelving, and wall-mounted storage systems.
  • Look for multifunctional solutions. For example, a rolling cart can provide extra prep space and storage.
  • Seek hidden storage opportunities like corner lazy susans, pull-out cabinet organizers and hidden waste/recycle bins.
  • Edit ruthlessly. Avoid clutter and only include essential appliances and items you use often.
  • Consider open concept spaces. An open kitchen/living area borrows light and feels more spacious.

What are some alternatives to upper cabinets for storage in a small kitchen?

Beyond standard wall cabinets, options include:

  • Shelving mounted above countertops
  • Wall-mounted rails and hanging racks
  • Narrow freestanding pantries or cupboards
  • Apothecary drawers/cabinets for spices and oils
  • Built-in nooks or “soffits” of various heights
  • Counter-height shelving or glass-front cabinets

How can you incorporate an island or peninsula without seating in a small kitchen?

Some approaches include:

  • Using an island or peninsula mainly as a spacious landing zone and prep area.
  • Offsetting the island/peninsula to align with only one set of cabinets rather than centering it.
  • Opting for a movable kitchen cart or work table rather than a built-in island or peninsula.
  • Adding seating like stools on the opposite side of the island/peninsula from the kitchen.

What are some ideas for alternative dining spaces if a full dining table won’t fit?

Options include:

  • A small bistro table or café-style table and chairs
  • A bar counter with seating along the back of the kitchen
  • Banquette seating built into a kitchen nook
  • A drop-leaf table that folds out of the way when not in use
  • Using your island, peninsula or countertop as impromptu dining space
  • An adjacent breakfast nook, dining room or patio for meal spillover space

How can you make a small kitchen feel more spacious and airy?

Strategies to try:

  • Opt for lighter wall and cabinet colors.
  • Add mirrors or reflective surfaces to visually expand the space.
  • Incorporate glass-front cabinet doors.
  • Use glass tile or subway tile for the backsplash.
  • Include an open shelf rather than upper cabinets.
  • Keep countertops visually uncluttered and free of excess appliances.
  • Add abundant lighting such as track lighting and under cabinet lights.

In Summary

While standard kitchen design wisdom includes many “rules”, don’t feel like you have to abide by tired conventions when planning a petite kitchen. By bucking outdated advice, you can create a beautiful, functional cooking space tailored to your needs, preferences and lifestyle. Focus on smart workspace flow rather than triangles. Opt for alternating cabinet colors over matchiness. Skip the full-height uppers if they’ll make you feel boxed in. Include a colorful mosaic backsplash instead of limiting your palette. Consider a bistro table instead of cramming in a large dining set. There are so many creative possibilities. The most important thing is to ignore any design “rule” that doesn’t make sense for your quaint cooking quarters. Embrace creative solutions that provide beauty and functionality.