What is the most efficient arrangement for a small kitchen? Designers want you to know this essential information

Get your layout right the first time with these expert tips for arranging a small kitchen

A black galley kitchen with chrome appliances leading into a white living room / A light wood kitchen with a small peninsula with black barstools and white marble countertops / An all white kitchen with marble countertops, floor-to-ceiling cabinets, and gold hardware
(Image credit: Darren Chung / Martin Moore)

When it comes to designing a small kitchen, getting the layout right is paramount to having a functional space. While we are likely to want to jump straight to decorating knowing what is the most efficient arrangement for a small kitchen is an essential first step. 

There are a surprising amount of small kitchen layout ideas that can help to organize small kitchen ideas so that they function well and don't leave you faltering around the space – from storage ideas for small kitchens to the best kitchen doors these expert ideas will all help to improve the flow and effiency of any kitchen.

Here, designers and kitchen experts have offered their advice on how to arrange and how to plan a layout for a small kitchen so that you can have the most efficient arrangement no matter your kitchen footprint.

What is the most efficient arrangement for a small kitchen?

There are six types of kitchen layouts that benefit different sized spaces and different needs. While there is no one universal arrangement for a small kitchen that is more efficient than the rest, there are a few styles that are more practical than others.  

For a small kitchen, consider layouts such as the U-shape which is generally considered to be the most practical kitchen layout as it is ideal for the 'golden triangle' appliance layout; a galley kitchen which makes use of vertical height and offers plenty of access to workspace; or a peninsular kitchen which offers the ability to divide narrow kitchen ideas as well as adding additional cabinet and counter space for storage and eating or socializing. 

If you have a slightly large or square space, you may be able to consider a small kitchen island to help add a workspace and offer a place for socializing or eating. 

1. Consider how you use the space

A black galley kitchen with chrome appliances leading into a white living room

(Image credit: Darren Chung)

Knowing how you want to use your kitchen ideas will help you to efficiently arrange your kitchen based on your individual needs. As each person has different appliances, different cooking or baking styles, and different needs, the most efficient small kitchen arrangement can vary from person to person. 

'The layout of the room is what makes a kitchen design successful,' states Tom Howley, Design Director at the eponymous kitchen company. 'The most important thing to consider is how you use your space. For example, if the room is open-plan, will you include a dining area, if so, consider adding an island with storage built in underneath to maximize space. The overall design of the kitchen should focus on the balance of scale and proportion. Simple, modern updates such as open shelving paired with a curved island give the design a contemporary edge, without losing the traditional craftsmanship values or the storage required.'

2. Place your appliances wisely 

An all white kitchen with marble countertops, floor-to-ceiling cabinets, and gold hardware

(Image credit: Martin Moore)

The kitchen triangle has been the go-to method for arranging kitchens and designing small kitchens for decades. Despite this, a new way of placing appliances has emerged with more designers opting to create 'work zones' in the kitchen to account for the varied appliances homes often own nowadays. 'The dishwasher should be near the sink, so you can stack dishes as you rinse them off, for example, says Cat Dal of Cat Dal Interiors. 'Fridges must be near worktop, so you have some set down space, but keep the hob and the sink opposite one another to zone these spaces as well as maintain general kitchen safety practices,' Cat warns. This is especially important if you have an electric hob. 

3. Consider a peninsular to divide the space

A light wood kitchen with a small peninsula with black barstools and white marble countertops

(Image credit: Martin Moore)

If your room does not allow for small kitchen island ideas, adding a peninsular is a great way of adding dining and socializing space to a small kitchen. 'In smaller kitchens, a peninsular can often be a better alternative. This layout is less space hungry, but still has the same capacity for storage and multitasking. A peninsular can also be a very effective room divider' says Richard Moore, design director at luxury kitchen designers, Martin Moore.

These peninsulas act as an additional workspace as well as breakfast bar ideas for small kitchens making them the ideal addition to any small kitchen arrangement.

4. Use pocket doors to free up the footprint

Hallway with grey and white tiled floor and built in cupboards on the left and console table and chairs to the right, view through to kitchen and garden.

(Image credit: Richard Powers)

If zoning your small kitchen off from the rest of the house is something that you wish to do, consider using clever pocket doors to maximise your kitchens efficiency without encroaching on the small footprint. 'In a very small kitchen, a great way to save space is to fit pocket doors at the entrance. These doors slide into the wall, meaning you don’t have to worry about a full, traditional door obscuring any cabinetry within the kitchen when it’s open,' says Tom Howley.

Using clever doors is not only reserved for entrances, however. Adding clever openings to kitchen cabinet ideas can also help to maximise space to preserve efficiency. 'In terms of space saving with cabinetry, the rule is pull-out. Fit deep cabinetry and pull-out drawers or a cage system for a multi-layered, discrete and effective storage system,' Tom adds.

5. Utilize shelving instead of cabinets

A white kitchen with four layers of open shelving displaying white kitchenware

(Image credit: Jody Stewart)

Kitchen shelving ideas such as open shelving is not only a kitchen trend, but a versitile, efficient way of arranging a small kitchen and kitchen storage ideas. 'Modular, open shelving provides a great way to fit storage into small spaces,' advises Peter Erlandsson, co-owner at String Furniture. 'The best thing about modular furniture is that it really can be installed anywhere. 

'There are only two things you need to consider. The first is making sure your shelving is deep and tall enough to store your belongings but narrow enough that it doesn’t compromise your precious square-footage. The second is making sure you use a mix of open shelving and cabinet styles to create a display unit that is flexible enough to hide the things you don’t want on show. You can design a string shelving system to suit any space with a range of shelving sizes.'

6. Invest in space saving appliances

Close up of white kitchen with wooden floor and black Aga

(Image credit: Jody Stewart)

When it comes to picking applinacces to add into your small kitchen arrangement, choosing the best kitchen appliances also includes finding space saving or multipurpose additions that can help increase the floorspace and efficiency of your small kitchen. 

'Built-under draw fridges and dishwashers work brilliantly, as well as ovens with doors that slip back underneath the oven itself,' says Tom Howley. 'Also, for the wine connoisseurs, built-under wine temperature regulators look incredibly sleek. Another innovative way to keep your kitchen looking spacious is to do away with the (very popular) industrial-style extractor units. Hobs with integrated extraction are on the market today, leaving space above your hob for extra storage, or a beautiful splashback or even a piece of art.'

'Small kitchens can be fun and funky but, must be very functional,' contines Nick Cryer of Berkeley Place. 'Depending on how small the space is it maybe necessary to introduce bespoke storage units in non-standard sizes. Storage units need to be very organised inside. Smaller appliances will help – possibly locate things like freezers elsewhere. Think about very cleverly designed islands which might offer multi-function for preparation/storage/dining etc, and even fold away. Seating can be bench style and built-in to suit an island/moveable work/tabletop. Don’t compromise the space too much – it is better to have less storage than not being able to move around.'

What shape is most efficient in small space kitchens? 

The most efficient layout for a kitchen, including small kitchens, is the U-shaped layout. Although this layout produces two, deep corner cabinets, clever cabinet additions such as sliding storage units makes light of these previously difficult storage areas. 

Is the kitchen triangle outdated?

While the kitchen triangle (the triangle placement of the cooker, fridge-freezer, and sink) is still used in many kitchens, many designers are instead opting to create kitchen 'workzones' which are shown to allow for more creativity and individuality as we add more unique appliances into the home and have different styles of cooking or baking. These workzones allow for more flexibility and efficiency for many. 

Chiana Dickson
Content Editor

Chiana has been at Homes & Gardens for two years, having started her journey in interior journalism as part of the graduate program. She spends most of her time producing content for the Solved section of the website, helping readers get the most out of their homes through clever decluttering, cleaning, and tidying tips – many of which she tests and reviews herself in her home in Lancaster to ensure they will consistently deliver for her readers and dabbles in the latest design trends. She also has a first-class degree in Literature from Lancaster University.