how to design a small kitchen

Small kitchen? No problem! Yes, a smaller space poses a few challenges, but with a bit of planning you can still make it a beautiful, inviting and practical space: the beating heart of your home. 

This post is packed full of tips for designing a layout, choosing the right cabinets, maximising storage space and using colour and style to make the small kitchen that works for you…

Small kitchen in pastels colours

A gorgeous small kitchen by Farstudio. The clean lines of the Naked Kitchens Shaker cabinet and pastel colours create a light airy feel in a small space. Photo: @mattclaytonphoto

Of course small kitchens can be beautiful, it’s just a question of being smart about design. The key things to think about are:

  • Layout  – how can you best arrange the elements of the kitchen so that everything works for the way you use it?
  • Cabinet choice – which kinds of cabinet will give you the most effective and efficient use of the available space?
  • Smart storage  – how can you incorporate clever storage solutions?
  • Appearance – almost as important as being efficient with space is the way you use colours and finishes to make a small kitchen feel bigger
  • Lighting – maximising both natural and artificial light can make a small room feel spacious and airy.

This guide looks at all these areas in detail, with plenty of practical tips and ideas.

What is the best layout for a small kitchen?

Getting the layout right is critical for any size kitchen, but especially for a small one. If you’re short of space, you need to make every square inch work for you. 

First, think about how you use your kitchen every day, in terms of cooking, equipment, storage and eating. What do you cook, where do you keep the ingredients, what do you use to cook it, and where do you eat it?

What works well in your current kitchen – and what really doesn’t? Look to identify any awkward or underused areas, including odd corners and gaps between cupboards (like that lost space at the back of the deep corner unit where saucepan lids go to die... ). This will help you to retain the best features and eliminate the wasted spaces when you and your kitchen planner design the new layout.

How you use the kitchen will inform how much you want to emphasise different functions, such as storage versus work space. For example, galley kitchens and U-shaped kitchens are often good options for smaller spaces. A galley layout allows for plenty of storage with base and wall cabinets, while a U-shaped design maximises the amount of work surface and allows for good access throughout the space. 

When planning a kitchen, keep in mind the ‘kitchen triangle rule’. Think of the main working areas – the sink, the cooker and the fridge – as points on a triangle, and make sure the pathway between them is easily accessible, and that they’re neither too close together nor too far apart.

As for seating, even if you can’t squeeze in a dining table and chairs there are plenty of space efficient options, such as a floating breakfast bar or peninsula with stools, a slimline island, or a folding or extendable table with drawers or storage racks underneath

 Before and after of a small galley kitchen

A stunning before and after in a small galley kitchen space by @binarydesigner, using the Naked Kitchens painted Ladbroke cabinets for a streamlined feel.

What kind of cabinets work well in a small kitchen?

Here are some ideas for getting the most out of your kitchen cabinets in a small room: 

  • Simple design – In a smaller kitchen, many people opt for a simple, classic cabinet design with clean, unfussy lines, such as a Shaker kitchen. Shaker style cabinets are easily adaptable to any size and style of kitchen, and they still offer plenty of scope for adding your own personal touches.
  • Maximise the vertical space – in a smaller kitchen, make full use of the vertical space. A single wall of floor-to-ceiling cabinets will provide plenty of practical storage and create a feature that helps to draw the eye upwards – a classic interior design trick for making a small space feel bigger.
  • Space-saving units – Using slimline units instead of plinth or filler panels will really help to maximise the available storage space in your kitchen, while dedicated ‘magic’ corner units with articulated shelving can account for those awkward or underused corners.  Pull-out larder cupboards are another clever way of storing food items without taking up space.
  • Be smart with appliances – white goods and other appliances can take up a lot of valuable space in a small kitchen. Reduce their visual impact by using integrated appliances with cabinet doors, to keep the space looking streamlined.Multi-functional appliances such as a combined washer-dryer, or opting for a compact oven or dishwasher, can also save on space, while accessories such as a boiling water tap will help to keep worktops clear.

Your kitchen designer will be able to help you choose cabinets to make the available space work to its maximum potential.

Half opened washing machine cupbaord door
This Heathwood Gardens utility room by Naked Kitchens makes use of vertical space, clean minimalist design and concealed white goods to maximise the feeling of space.

How can I maximise storage space in a smaller kitchen?

A few clever storage solutions you can help to maximise the available space and minimise the clutter in a small kitchen. 

  • Wall space – Make the most of any available wall space, including the space between the worktops and wall cabinets, by adding slimline shelves and using them to store things that you need every day, so they’re close to hand, or hooks for hanging knives, utensils and pans. You can also add hooks to the bottom of your cabinets.
  • Built-in storage  – Pull-out larder cabinets, carousels, drawer dividers, risers, integral chopping boards and spice rack drawers are all good for making sure things are easily accessible while using the space to its full potential. A storage rack on the inside of your cupboard doors can also be a great place to keep those saucepan lids, and a combined waste and recycling bin is a neat space-saver.
  • Portable units  – a portable unit such as an island on wheels, equipped with storage baskets or boxes can be handy in a smaller kitchen and easily be moved as and when needed.

Articulated corner cabinet

A space-saving ‘magic’ articulated corner cabinet in the Naked Kitchens Kelling kitchen

What’s the best colour for a small kitchen?

As well as layout and style, the use of colour can have a big effect on how a smaller kitchen looks and feels. Lighter and neutral colours such as white, ivory, cream or light grey work well for smaller kitchens, as brighter colours reflect the most light and can help to open up the space and make it feel fresh and spacious. 

Alternatively, soft pastels such as soothing greens or light blues can make even the smallest kitchen feel tranquil and relaxed. 

Try teaming a set of light kitchen units with neutral walls and a wooden worktop for a clean, natural feel; you can introduce a pop of colour and texture via some stylish appliances, soft furnishings, or a set of coloured or patterned splashbacks. 

Of course, these rules are there to be broken. It doesn’t follow that just because you have space restrictions then bolder colours are out; sometimes darker colours such as deep blues and greys can add depth and interest in a smaller kitchen. Mixing and matching different colours can be very effective: try balancing a set of darker base units with lighter cabinets, walls and worktops for a dramatic effect, without making things feel too enclosed. 

U shaped kitchen with Ladbroke doors
Proof that bold colours can work beautifully in small kitchens. This U-shaped kitchen uses Naked Kitchens’ Ladbroke door fronts in our Brancaster Blue colour to stunning effect. Photo: @hlsjacobs

What materials and finishes are best in a small kitchen? 

The choice of materials and finishes can make a big difference in a small kitchen. Using shiny, reflective materials can help to reflect the light further and make the space seem bigger. High gloss cabinet doors, shiny worktops and reflective splashbacks or floor tiles really maximise the light.

Glass is another fabulous way of enhancing the light and space in a kitchen. Including some glass-fronted cabinets will give a greater sense of depth, helping to make the space feel more open – and you can display some favourite items such as glassware or recipe books, while still keeping things neat and tidy. 

When it comes to kitchen hardware, it’s best to keep things simple. Choosing minimalist handles will help to create a seamless look: for maximum effect opt for sleek, shiny materials such as chrome for the handles and taps. Or you can go the whole hog and choose handleless cabinets and drawers, which will maintain those clean lines (and will be one less thing to avoid as you navigate through a narrow kitchen!)

Redhill kitchen with a full length window
Lighting options galore in this Redhill kitchen. Natural light from the full-length window bounces off the gleaming surfaces

How can lighting help a small kitchen feel bigger?

Light is one of the best ways of making a small space feel bigger. So if your kitchen is lacking in windows (or has none at all) you need to be smart about bringing in light.

First, look to maximise any available natural light wherever possible. Adding in a skylight or a full-length window can make a huge difference to a small space, but if this isn’t an option make the most of any existing windows by keeping them free of obstructions, going curtainless if you can and keeping your window sills clutter-free. 

As for artificial lighting, the best lighting schemes include a combination of ambient, task and accent lighting, and ideally your kitchen lighting scheme will be included as part of your initial kitchen design.

Spotlights provide plenty of ambient light without taking up much space, while some under-cabinet downlighting will illuminate the worktops, providing practical task lighting and emphasising the wider space. 

However, lighting is also a great way of making a statement, and a striking feature pendant light will provide a great focal point and add interest in a smaller kitchen. Pendant lights are also a great way of defining an eating area. Whether it’s a funky contemporary light fitting with exposed bulbs, or a beautiful, sparkling chandelier – whatever suits the style and scale of your space. 

Finally, consider the type of lightbulbs you’re using in your kitchen: daylight style bulbs are brighter and will mimic the feeling of natural daylight, while ‘warm-white’ bulbs will produce a gentler light, with a softer, more atmospheric effect. 

Naked Kitchens can build the perfect kitchen for the way you live. Small spaces are no problem - we love a challenge! Get in touch and one of our expert kitchen designers will help you create a beautiful, bespoke kitchen that works for you.

Small Kitchens: Frequently Asked Questions

Can a small kitchen still look stylish?

Any kitchen can look stylish, regardless of its size, and a small kitchen doesn’t have to be bland, cramped or boring. With good planning, design and some effective storage, a small kitchen really can be beautiful.

Can you have dark cabinets in a small kitchen?

Absolutely yes – done well, bold colours can be very effective in a small kitchen, adding a touch of depth, drama and style

How can you keep on top of clutter in a small kitchen?

Surface clutter can make a smaller kitchen feel more closed in. As well as regularly clearing out all that unused kitchen gadgetry, clever storage can help make the kitchen feel clean, streamlined and spacious.  

Options include: ‘magic’ corner units with articulated shelving, storage racks on the inside of cabinet doors, pull-out larder cabinets, carousels, drawer dividers, risers, integral chopping boards, and spice rack drawers.
Larder cupboard open
A bespoke larder cupboard by Naked Kitchens including storage shelves on the inside of the door and personalised drawers for family members. 

Should I remove the door to make my small kitchen feel bigger?

In a small kitchen, a traditional hinged door can take up valuable space. However, it also provides a useful barrier against sounds and smells, particularly when you’re cooking (or working from home). An alternative option to removing the door completely might be a glass sliding door, which will still let through plenty of light and can be opened to create a bigger space.

Can you have an island in a small kitchen?

An island may seem a distant dream in a small kitchen, but actually it’s often possible to include one within your kitchen design. If you don’t have enough room to navigate around a full-size island, you could opt for a slimline island or a peninsula (these also work well in a small kitchen zone that’s part of a larger open plan space). Talk to your kitchen designer about island options for small kitchens.

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