Narrow kitchen ideas – 10 design rules for making a long kitchen space seem wider

Narrow kitchen ideas, essential design rules for long kitchens – and advice for how to make a narrow kitchen look wider

Narrow kitchen ideas
Middle kitchen: Industville/Classic Interiors
(Image credit: Future)

Not all homes come with vast open spaces. Our narrow kitchen ideas are perfect for those not blessed with a large and sociable space.

If you have a long, narrow kitchen, then you’ll be more than aware of the tricky task of making it a long kitchen look wider than it actually is, while desperately searching for interior designer tricks to make your space look beautiful as well as functional. 

So much has changed in the way in which we design and use our kitchens over the last decade or so, but there is something reassuring in how narrow kitchen ideas and layouts have adapted – and thrived – in the modern home.

Narrow kitchen ideas – maximize space in a long kitchen layout

If your kitchen is on the narrow side, there is plenty to feel positive about. With some clever tricks of the trade, there are in fact multiple small kitchen ideas that wall help turn that awkward kitchen layout into something stylish and sophisticated, so don’t give up just yet.

1. Invest in bespoke cabinets if you have an awkward layout

grey galley kitchen part of open-plan kitchen

(Image credit: Polly Eltes)

While the average kitchen consists of four straight-ish walls and a series of cubes, not all rooms are so accommodating. Narrow kitchen ideas might be more time consuming to plan but, with careful management and expert advice, seemingly negative constructional quirks can be turned to your advantage. 

Bespoke kitchen cabinet ideas really come into its own here, making the best use of space, and working with unusual angles and curves while neatly stepping around trickier features. It's important not to see a difficult space, but rather the opportunity to create something unique. 

'Built-in cabinets gives people precisely what they require, says Charlotte Crosland, founder, Charlotte Crosland Interiors. 'It works particularly well in those areas that are awkwardly shaped and fits different requirements such as more shelving or extra drawers for small kitchen appliances, fine china and extra cutlery.'

2. Use every inch of space in a galley kitchen 

Galley kitchen ideas with sage green and wood floor

(Image credit: Haris Kenjar)

‘I love a classic galley kitchen idea,’ enthuses Seattle-based designer Heidi Caillier. ‘They just feel so intimate and special, and there is something very appealing about them practically. They force you to be thoughtful in how you lay out every inch, and I also like the mentality of using all of your kitchen versus just that one corner between the range and the sink.’ 

In the right colors, in this case Farrow & Ball’s French Gray, Heidi also believes that galley kitchens can feel really cozy, ‘like a warm, inviting cocoon’. A mix of kitchen cabinets and open kitchen shelving ideas will ensure it feels light and airy.

3. Use an island to separate an open plan space

A blue kitchen island with a white and gray granite worktop with dark wood flooring and two gold pendant lamps

(Image credit: Mark Bolton)

In recent years, a third galley scenario has evolved. 'Modern galley kitchens can be part of a much larger space featuring a wall-hugging galley run with a long island running parallel, separating a living or dining area beyond,' explains Paul O’Brien, director, Kitchens International. Although following the double galley footprint, it feels different, as it is a lighter, more open and more sociable space. 

4. Plan for cabinetry without handles 

A white galley kitchen with handleless doors leading onto a dining area with large windows.

(Image credit: Future / James Merrell)

Create a feeling of spaciousness by opting for sleek, handleless units, pale-colored finishes and glossy, light-reflecting surfaces, with clutter kept to a minimum. Technological advances in push-open and close doors means that it has become possible to dispense with handles in both wall and base cabinets.

A handleless scheme, particularly one in a cool white kitchen, can appear clinical, so adding a few natural materials will give it a softer edge. Think about including colorful kitchen rug ideas or patterned kitchen backsplash ideas

5. Use lighting to your advantage

Galley kitchen ideas with wood cabinets and grey walls

(Image credit: Artemide)

When space to wow is limited, look upward for inspiration. In this narrow, galley kitchen in Copenhagen a pair of outsized designer suspension lights by Artemide take full advantage of the room’s epic height, while the arctic white ceiling cuts a crisp note against mossy green walls. Natural wood in rich tones has a cosying effect; note how Dinesen’s plank flooring has been carried onto the backsplash to take the timber higher without reducing the room’s width. For extra character, the hand-welded sink area in darkened brass will age and patina with time and use.

6. Create a space for dining

Galley kitchen with breakfast bar

(Image credit: OWO)

Galley kitchens are celebrated for their cooking efficiency but they’re usually found in enclosed rooms and therefore not the most sociable of arrangements. If you have sufficient length available, a banquette-style nook or breakfast bar is a great way to provide somewhere for people to chat, without interrupting culinary progress. The key is to choose a table that won’t impede access into the heart of the small kitchen. 

Here, a built-in seat with storage above and below means the dining area doesn’t steal precious cupboard space, and the table and stools can easily be pushed in tight when not required.

7. Extend in glass

Galley kitchen with grey cabinets

(Image credit: Future)

Natural light is everything when you’re cooking in narrow confines. A lean-to glazed kitchen extension idea has added precious dining space to this narrow  kitchen, while opening the views out to the garden all year round. 

‘The eye is drawn to the light and the dining area, which is used by the whole family throughout the day and has become the focal point within this bright, open space,’ explains Lisa Morton, director, Vale Garden Houses. Bold chequered flooring, installed diagonally, has a widening effect, while helping to disguise an unavoidable step between the original and new living spaces.

8. Consider the layout – and remove obstacles

An example of small kitchen ideas showing a galley kitchen with black cabinets, an orange wall and a glass roof

(Image credit: Future / Jonathan Gooch)

When trying to make the most of limited space, take time to consider the natural flow through rooms, recommends Victoria Wormsley of French-Brooks Interiors. ‘Think about how people are going to pass through the space and ask if you really need each and every door (but be aware that some will need to be retained for fire regulations, particularly when it comes to narrow kitchens). Where possible, remove doors and architraves to improve the flow.’

9. Clear the clutter in a narrow kitchen

An example of small kitchen ideas showing open shelving units storing crockery, vases and pots in between neutral cabinets

(Image credit: Future / Jan Baldwin)

One way to create the illusion of space in a narrow kitchen is to rid the countertop areas of clutter but be realistic before setting out. It’s never going to be entirely possible to live without various small useful things, which need storing away somewhere, believes Sandrine Zhang Ferron, founder of Vinterior. ‘So create small areas of small kitchen storage ideas that are both practical and add style to your home, from roomier pieces like kitchen cabinets down to biscuit tins to squeeze into a corner.’

10. Put color and lighting at the forefront

A modern yellow kitchen color scheme with wooden flooring and furniture, marble backsplash and handleless lemon yellow cabinetry.

(Image credit: Future/James Merrell)

Well-chosen kitchen color ideas can work wonders in disguising awkward or narrow kitchen space. Judy Smith of Crown Paint, says the best approach is to paint the shell of the room white, which will open up the space, then to apply concentrated color to key focal points. 

'Choose the most attractive features in the room then paint these in contrasting shades to make them stand out. This will also pull the emphasis away from less attractive elements.' 

Another saviour is kitchen lighting, which can give a low ceiling a sense of height or put strange angles in the shadows. A lighting designer will be able to advise on everything from high-precision controls to the most suitable color for bulbs. 'In an awkwardly shaped kitchen, flexible lighting can be adjusted to control the direction and spread of light effectively.'

How can I make the most of my narrow kitchen?

With careful planning, narrow kitchens are ideal spaces for cooks. Efficient and compact, they need fewer steps to get around and make the most of a restricted space.

'Galleys can be really stylish. Long lines of countertops create strong horizontal planes that look incredibly sleek,' says Hugo Tugman, chairman and founder of Architect Your Home.

A one-wall galley is best suited to one person cooking, as it requires linear movement from one activity to the next. For ease of use, separate the cooking and wet zones by a reasonable length of worktop but, if possible, avoid putting the sink and cooker at opposite ends of the room. 

'You’ll gain wide work surfaces but may feel very cramped when cooking or washing up,' explains Graeme Smith, conceptual designer at Second Nature Kitchens. A double galley allows the traditional work triangle, with a cooker and fridge on one side and the sink opposite, and gives more room for two cooks to work together.

In recent years, a further galley scenario has evolved. 'Modern galley kitchens can be part of a much larger space featuring a wall-hugging galley run with a long island running parallel, separating a living or dining area beyond,' says Paul O’Brien, director of Kitchens International. Although conforming to the double-galley footprint, it feels different, as it is a lighter, more open and more sociable space.

What is a narrow kitchen called?

A narrow kitchen is often referred to as a galley kitchen. The galley kitchen layout is one of the classics in kitchen design and takes its name from a ship’s kitchen, which was traditionally squeezed into a long narrow space but needed to be super efficient. In today’s homes, the two options – single galley comprising one long run of units, or double galley with parallel runs – give rise to a particularly efficient cooking space. 

Jennifer Ebert

Jennifer is the Digital Editor at Homes & Gardens. Having worked in the interiors industry for a number of years, spanning many publications, she now hones her digital prowess on the 'best interiors website' in the world. Multi-skilled, Jennifer has worked in PR and marketing, and the occasional dabble in the social media, commercial and e-commerce space. Over the years, she has written about every area of the home, from compiling design houses from some of the best interior designers in the world to sourcing celebrity homes, reviewing appliances and even the odd news story or two.