28 small kitchen ideas that blend function and style

These small kitchen ideas will ensure every bijou space feels practical without compromising on style

Small kitchen ideas
(Image credit: deVOL)

When it comes to small kitchen ideas, making a more compact space cater to all the various kitchen requirements can be difficult. But with a few thoughtful changes, you can transform a bijou space into a kitchen you enjoy spending time in once again.

Searching for kitchen ideas and inspiration usually leads to large, spacious schemes. But when you’re working with a small kitchen, the same rules don’t apply. Less counter space, limited storage, and reduced traffic flow can quickly leave you feeling frustrated with your scheme, so practical yet stylish solutions are required.

Whether your kitchen is long and narrow, a compact square, or a small zone in an open-plan layout, these small kitchen ideas suggested by interior designers, will help you maximize your space while making a stylish statement.

28 small kitchen ideas to maximize a bijou space

These small kitchen ideas offer useful tips, tricks, and designs to get the most out of your space. From making the kitchen look bigger to alternative storage suggestions and even the best ways to introduce decor, there’s something here to suit every small kitchen. 

1. Minimize the number of upper cabinets

Small kitchen painted green with the upper cabinets removed

(Image credit: deVOL)

While upper cabinetry adds extra storage space, it can make a small kitchen feel more cramped and crowded. Removing every cabinet on the upper portion of your kitchen isn't practical, but taking down a few can instantly open up the space and give the illusion of a larger room.

'If you aim to make your small kitchen look bigger, avoid filling the room with too many wall cupboards and leave plenty of light and space around windows,’ suggests Helen Parker, creative director at deVOL.

Consider which parts of the kitchen feel the darkest and most crowded – removing one or two wall cabinets closest to the window will have the biggest impact on the overall feel of the scheme. 

2. Go dark on the cabinetry

Dark green and white kitchen

(Image credit: Nathan Schroder Photography/Urbanology)

When designing a small kitchen, your immediate reaction might be to fill the space with light colors. While this can create a beautiful kitchen scheme, embracing the small floor plan rather than working against it can result in a bold, intimate design.

'Dark cabinets are always used to create mood and drama, so small or big, you will achieve this look with dark cupboards. There is a sense that big is better, but a small richly colored kitchen can be the most alluring of spaces, holding a certain charm and beauty that is hard to achieve in a large space,’ says Helen. 

Decorating with a moody color palette is an increasingly popular choice, and a kitchen is a great space to have fun with darker hues. From dark forest greens to burgundy and deep blues, these moody colors offer warmth and personality in a small kitchen.  

3. Introduce narrow shelves

small kitchen with narrow shelves added in an alcove

(Image credit: deVOL)

Maximizing a small kitchen involves introducing as many stylish space-saving solutions as possible. Kitchen shelving ideas come in all forms and sizes, but introducing narrow shelving in a small space can make all the difference.

‘Small kitchens can be challenging but fun to design, you have to utilize every little spot and be clever with depths and heights. A small indent in a wall is a perfect place to fit some slim shelves and when painted the same color as the walls, they almost disappear,’ Helen suggests.

These shelves introduce a new space for keeping glassware, aesthetic tableware, and decorative elements to make the kitchen feel more homely.

4. Stagger the worktops

Breakfast bar in kitchen with neutral cabinets

(Image credit: deVOL)

If you’re willing to embark on a larger fix, reducing the size of your work surfaces will add more floor space and the option to introduce other elements, like a small seating area.

‘Staggering the depth of your worktops allows you to create small shallow areas for seating or slim cupboards. You need to keep the depth for the sink and appliances, but if your kitchen is long and thin, a staggered worktop is the perfect solution for a little breakfast bar,’ says Helen.

There are plenty of options for how much of your workspace you stagger – do this to one small section if you simply want to add a breakfast bar, or reduce the depth of one whole side of the kitchen if your goal is to increase floor space for better flow.

5. Add a multi-functional island

can you fit an island in a galley kitchen, pale blue and cream kitchen with stone tile floor, small kitchen island, wine cooler, white countertops

(Image credit: Olive & Barr)

Some small kitchens have just enough space for a kitchen island. In these cases, the kitchen island must work as hard as possible with several practical functions.

‘Design the island to be multifunctional, adding shallow cabinets where the stools sit and drawers deep enough to store multiple pots and pans,’ suggests Barrett Oswald and Mary Long of Barrett Oswald Designs

Maximizing the storage in a kitchen island (no matter how small) will save space elsewhere in the room. Take it one step further by adding hooks to the side of the island for towels, cutting boards, or additional pans that don’t fit in the drawers.

6. Create a decorative gallery wall

chopping boards wall decor in a contemporary light green kitchen

(Image credit: LH.Designs / Lauren Taylor)

Every room in the home benefits from decorative items, but in a small kitchen, decor can quickly take up valuable surface space. Instead, introducing wall decor makes a feature of an unutilized area while injecting the scheme with a personal touch. 

Decorating with artwork is a great place to start – add a mismatched selection of frames in varying sizes with vintage-style art and pieces you’ve collected over time. Alternatively, displaying useful and aesthetically pleasing kitchenware adds a design element while providing extra storage. 

7. Introduce glossy tiles to reflect light

white small galley style kitchen with aged brick flooring and antique rug

(Image credit: Madeline Harper Photography)

Small kitchens sometimes struggle to maximize light, resulting in a dingy, unwelcoming space. Instead of committing to an entire rewiring job to add extra kitchen lighting, introduce decorative elements that reflect light around the room, such as glossy tiles.

‘For the backsplash, we went with these vertically laid tiles in variegated off-white. The tone variation creates the illusion of depth, while the high-gloss finish helps to reflect light throughout the space,’ says Shawna Percival, founder and designer at Styleberry Creative Interiors

8. Work a dining nook into a small kitchen

galley kitchen with wooden cabinetry and windowseat

(Image credit: Jane Beiles)

Galley kitchens are one of the most common small kitchen styles. These long, narrow spaces bring a myriad of design challenges, including a lack of space to add a traditional dining area.

As such, small kitchen ideas often prioritize storage at the cost of social spaces, but this kitchen combines the two to great effect. ‘The custom design of the corner banquette seating incorporates drawers below the bench and a tall pantry cupboard to the right, while also providing a space for friends and family to sit and relax,’ explains interior designer Georgia Zikas.

Dining nook ideas are becoming a sought-after design, even in large kitchens. The cozy, intimate appeal makes them feel more homely and effectively creates a zone to separate the dining space from the more practical areas of the kitchen. 

9. Add a partial wall in an open-plan layout

grey galley kitchen part of open-plan kitchen

(Image credit: Polly Eltes)

How to plan the layout of a small kitchen? There may be little choice, though a galley kitchen is often your only choice – even in an open plan area. One of the benefits of open plan kitchen ideas is that you have a large footprint at your disposal, but be careful that it doesn’t dominate the room. 

This clever kitchen design divides the living space from the kitchen with a wall of cabinetry and a small subway tile backsplash – one of our favorite kitchen wall tile ideas – helping to keep the practical space separate from the social. 

However, the partial wall ensures that the cook isn’t isolated. Designed around a large window with a half wall to let in light from the patio doors and skylight, this small kitchen still feels open and airy.

10. Decorate with a cohesive color palette

White kitchen with display cabinets and LED lighting

(Image credit: Martin Moore)

Avoid using too many bright, contrasting colors in a small kitchen – it can overwhelm the space and instantly make the kitchen feel small and chaotic. Instead, choose colors in the same family for a seamless, aesthetically pleasing scheme.

‘In the cozy kitchen in one of our Chelsea pied-à-terre projects, we applied fresh colors throughout to help the eye slide seamlessly from one surface to another and make the space seem bigger than it is,' says Sarah Peake, founder and creative director at Studio Peake.

In this kitchen, various shades of white have created a tonal look with subtle contrast, but it can be achieved with any color, from dark hues to brighter, more joyful colors.

11. Choose space-enhancing flooring to trick the eye

kitchen with blue cabinetry and wooden floor with white ceiling and walls

(Image credit: Kasia Fiszer)

While there are plenty of kitchen flooring ideas, it can be difficult to choose the right material and style for a small kitchen. It must be hard-wearing, easy to clean, and provide the perfect base for the rest of your kitchen. 

‘A smaller kitchen requires careful thought and consideration to give the illusion of a larger space,’ says Isabel Fernandez, director at Quorn Stone. ‘We often find a large tile can work well to achieve this. A smaller tile results in lots of grout joints which can enclose the space and detract the eye from the tile,’

There are also stone flooring types and kitchen tile ideas that are perfect for small kitchen ideas. 'Wood effect porcelain is becoming increasingly popular in tighter spaces due to their long and narrow format – if you choose a complementary grout color it becomes less noticeable which helps to open the space out,' adds Isabel. 

12. Avoid a ‘fully fitted’ kitchen design

Small kitchen with free standing cabinetry

(Image credit: Jessica Summer)

Often, small kitchen ideas suggest maximizing every inch of vertical space, and while this is a great way to maximize storage, it can create a space that feels too full and bulky. Instead, introduce informal storage alongside traditional cabinetry.

‘When designing a compact kitchen, you might consider avoiding the “fully fitted” look and perhaps think about decorating above kitchen cabinets with open shelves, or use glass in the upper cabinets to provide a degree of reflection and additional depth,' suggests Claire Sa, director at De Rosee Sa

13. Create a small pantry in an awkward corner

Small kitchen with a cupboard used as a pantry

(Image credit: Paul Massey)

Storage is a key consideration for any kitchen, however, it is even more important when it comes to small kitchen ideas. ‘Tidiness is the difference between a small kitchen looking sleek and sophisticated, or cluttered and cramped,’ says Maryana Grinshpun, principal at Mammoth Projects

If you have a small cupboard, alcove, or even an under-utilized corner, it can be transformed with small pantry ideas. ‘With pantries continuing to top kitchen wish lists, people are adding open shelving and slimline doors or a curtain to even the smallest of spaces to create mini ancillary pantries,’ says Anderian Bergman, design manager at British Standard.  

14. Add warmth and pattern with a rug

abbie naber white and wood kitchen two-tone kitchen cabinets

(Image credit: A. Naber Design)

A rug in any room can ground the space, but in a small kitchen, it can add much-needed warmth, comfort, and pattern. In a galley kitchen, opt for a runner, or in a wider space, introduce a rug that fills the floor space for the illusion of a larger kitchen.

Adding decorative interest on the floor means you don't have to worry about introducing decor on counters or shelving, which can take up much-needed storage space for kitchen essentials. Plus, a rug is much easier to clean or swap out when you want to update your kitchen without buying anything new

15. Make a statement with bold floor tiles

deVOL Haberdasher's kitchen with chequered tiled floor

(Image credit: deVOL Haberdasher's kitchen with chequered tiled floor)

In a similar grain to adding a statement rug, bold and bright kitchen floor tile ideas are a great way to add a decorative element to your scheme. Any pattern that draws the eye across the kitchen will help make the space feel larger, and limiting the color palette of the tiles you choose will exaggerate the effect further.

Kitchen flooring like this becomes the feature of the room and is best used when the units and walls are plain in color, that way there’s no creative clashing. You can also use tiles to zone the kitchen area if the space is open plan.  

16. Soften hard edges with decorative textures

Small kitchen with a fluted sink detail

(Image credit: Studio Duggan)

The very nature of kitchens means there are a lot of hard lines and edges. In a small kitchen, softening some of this hardness will create a more visually appealing scheme.

In this kitchen, the ribbed white sink mimics the ribbed glass of the cabinets, which makes the tableware visible without being entirely exposed. These key design features help a dark and small scheme look fabulous.

17. Make a feature of kitchen lighting

Small kitchen with sconce lighting on the wall

(Image credit: Nicola Harding)

Clever lighting ideas for small kitchens are needed in compact spaces. LED strips under cabinets add an extra light source while creating a decorative element, which can also be achieved with sconces.

For a more elevated finish, make a design statement with your lights, and if you can source wall lights that have adjustable heads then all the better, as they can double as task lamps too. This works particularly well when you don’t have wall units to hang LED strips. 

Here, a line of lamps is echoed by a line of pictures above. This linear trick is a visually appealing way to make a small kitchen appear longer than it is.

18. Remove cabinet handles for a seamless look

Kitchen cabinet ideas

(Image credit: Future / Paul Raeside)

Creating a fuss-free, family-friendly design is easy with handle-free cabinetry. Available in a variety of finishes, from hi-gloss white to textured woods and ceramics, it’s a style that works beautifully in both modern and period properties. 

A handle-free scheme, particularly in a cool white, can appear clinical, but adding a few natural materials will give it a softer edge. Pair flush cabinets with a colorful patterned tile backsplash or wooden worktops to add warmth and interest to the design.

19. Limit how many finishes are introduced

Modern kitchen with wood cabinet and marble

(Image credit: Michael P.H. Clifford)

While a large kitchen can carry multiple design elements, a small kitchen works better when you limit the number of finishes you use – keep things simple and timeless for a space that endures.

‘I would recommend a maximum of three finishes in a small kitchen, which allows you to zone areas, create features, and let other sections blend into the background,' says Lindsey Rendall, co-founder, Rendall & Wright

20. Keep counters clear

small kitchen with clutter free counters

(Image credit: White Cliff Studio)

Small kitchen ideas usually include limited counter space, so keeping it clear of clutter and kitchenware is key to ensuring you have enough surface space for food prep and cooking.

'When it comes to counter space I'm a big fan of having counters clear for a good workspace, but sometimes that isn't always easy when limited on space,’ says Bailey Todd, of White Cliff Studio. Where possible, store items away when they are not in use, but if you’re really stretched for storage, introduce organizational solutions.

‘If you have to use your counters, get pretty stackable boxes to store items on the counter while still looking pretty and keeping surfaces clear,’ she suggests.

21. Opt for a small sink basin

rustic modern kitchen with glass fronted shelves and a butlers sink

(Image credit: deVOL)

There is certainly an appeal of having a statement farmhouse basin or a double sink, but in a small kitchen, they just aren’t practical if you're trying to make the most of your space. And due to the wider profile, they will instantly make your kitchen feel smaller.

Instead, opt for a smaller sink, and pair it with a beautiful brass faucet so it still creates a focal point in the space. For a more decorative element, choose a small sink with a decorative edge – this works especially well in small cottage kitchen ideas

22. Hide unsightly appliances behind closed doors

small kitchen with narrow shelves added in an alcove

(Image credit: deVOL)

Integrated appliances have become particularly popular recently (think appliance garages and hidden fridges), and they work particularly well in small kitchen ideas. The key to compact spaces is to keep visual elements simple, and this hack will make a big difference.

Hiding essential appliances such as a fridge, dishwasher, or washing machine will instantly make a kitchen feel more spacious. Yes, you might have to open a cupboard to get to them, but the overall look will be sleeker instead of a mis-match of different elements in a small space.

23. Add a portable kitchen island

Pink kitchen with a butchers block for an island

(Image credit: Ellei Home/deVOL)

If you don't have space for a built-in small kitchen island, a space-saving collusion is to introduce a portable alternative.  A portable kitchen island can be moved around the room according to needs, which means they are more flexible than their static counterparts.

These moveable options don’t feature plumbing, electricity, or gas. They are usually tables, trollies, or units on wheels, but they come in a whole host of styles from industrial designs to classic farmhouse kitchen islands

24. Paint the kitchen ceiling

green farmhouse kitchen

(Image credit: Little Greene)

In the past, advice has always been to keep the ceiling white to give the illusion of a taller space, but with the right kitchen color ideas, painting the ceiling a more saturated hue can be more effective. 

Consider taking the kitchen wall color over the ceiling – having a continuous flow of color gives the illusion of height while having a contrast between the two can shorten the room.

25. Save cupboard space with a ceiling rack

small kitchen with a ceiling pot rack

(Image credit: JLF Architects/Audrey Hall)

Often when designers talk about utilizing vertical space in a kitchen, they are referring to floor-to-ceiling cupboards. However, there is another, more decorative way to take advantage of tall ceilings.

‘Use a ceiling pot rack or wall-mounted hooks to hang pots and pans that often gobble up valuable cabinet space,’ suggests Artem Kropovinsky, founder of Arsight. This not only reduces the number of closed storage solutions you need in the kitchen, but it also introduces a feature that is considered a timeless kitchen design element

26. Replace cabinet doors with curtains

Small kitchen with cabinet doors replaced with curtains

(Image credit: deVOL)

This small kitchen idea is nothing new, but it is gaining traction, especially in country kitchen ideas. Cupboard doors on the lower cabinets can feel bulky, and opening various doors can really impede the walkway space.

Swapping cabinet doors with curtains is a quick and easy way to remove the problem. This doesn’t necessarily have to be done for every cabinet, perhaps just one or two that you frequently access or that cause the most hindrance on walkway space.

As well as being a way to add more space, these cabinet curtains also add an element of softness to a kitchen, and allow you to add pattern and character to the scheme. This is just one of many valance ideas for kitchens worth considering in a small space. 

27. Use sliding storage in a small kitchen

A narrow pull out larder in a traditional white kitchen with a large clock on the wall

(Image credit: Future)

Small kitchen ideas are all about smart, space-saving solutions, so using every small corner can make a difference. In areas of the kitchen where you don’t have the width of space for traditional-style storage, consider maximizing the depth available.

‘Make the most out of narrow spaces between appliances or in small corners by using sliding shelves or a slim pull-out pantry. This will help you locate items that would otherwise get lost at the back of the cupboard,’ suggests Artem.

Even the narrowest of spaces can work for this – if you only have a particularly narrow but deep space, consider a spice drawer or pull-out condiment station. With some careful consideration, you might just find these spaces more useful than traditional drawers and cupboards.

28. Select smaller appliances to save space

Small kitchen with the ceiling painted the same color as the walls to make the space feel larger

(Image credit: deVOL)

Designing a small kitchen requires some compromises. While having a full-size oven, dishwasher, and all the luxury appliances might be the dream, it’s highly likely they just won’t fit. Instead, look to appliances that are either smaller or have more than one purpose.

‘Some other small kitchen options include using smaller versions of electrical appliances which are also multi-functional. For instance, one may choose to have a convection microwave or even a compact dishwasher because it saves on space greatly,’ says Artem.

Kitchen appliances have come a long way, so there are plenty of small-scale options that are still stylish and highly functional.  

How do I plan a small kitchen?

Getting the right designer on board is key and, crucially, the kitchen needs to be designed to suit the space, rather than picking a range or style and trying to adapt your small kitchen ideas to fit. 

Dual purpose pieces and good internal storage will make the most of cupboard space. Weigh up the pros and cons of tall units over worktop space – small double galleys often benefit from one side of tall cabinets teamed with one run of base units opposite. Although, you should make every attempt to keep work surface clear of clutter. 

Look for compact appliances, choosing premium models that give the optimum internal space while still fitting a standard or compact footprint. Also pieces such as multi-functional compact ovens, offer a range of cooking methods from steam to conventional and microwave in one neat little package.

It's also worth taking shape into account – U-shaped kitchens for example, can work really well in a small space.

What is the best layout for a small kitchen?

In terms of small kitchen layouts, a galley format is a popular choice. 

Galley kitchens, with their linear simplicity, have a timeless appeal no matter how big or small your space. And with open plan living becoming increasingly popular, a galley kitchen is a compact solution that is both practical and surprisingly stylish.

What is the best color for a small kitchen?

The best color for a small kitchen ultimately depends on what you want from the space, but don't let the size hold you back from going bold.

While the long established preference for going ‘light and bright’ when decorating small spaces does apply, it’s important not to let your kitchen slip into neutral obscurity. 

'Don’t be afraid to use color – even really bright colors in high gloss finishes, such as lime green, blue, lilac or pink. It’s a great way to give your kitchen a boost if you haven’t got a great deal of space to play with,' advises Adrian Stoneham of Stoneham Kitchens.

If you do feel more comfortable with a pale palette, try to shake things up in other ways. Incorporating interesting shapes, via serpentine curved units, or adding one strong feature piece like a chandelier or designer bar stools, can create a really dynamic room that’s easy to update.

How can I decorate my small kitchen?

Decorating a small kitchen can be approached in the same way as in a larger kitchen. In other words, pick finishes and decorative elements that please you and complement the style of the rest of your home. But it's really important to understand that every choice you make for a small kitchen will be magnified by the compact conditions.

So, if you were to choose a paint color, bold tiles or a maximalist wallpaper for the walls, each will feel that much more vivid and dominating than in a larger kitchen. For this reason, it is a good idea to limit your choice of decorative layers to just two and to keep them to specific areas of the room.

Or, go for subtlety and be aware that toning down your choices just a little can still be really effective in a small kitchen.

Can I put an island in a small kitchen?

When it comes to fitting a kitchen, a question that's often asked is 'can I put an island in a small kitchen?' The good news is that there's usually always a way to make it work.

An island unit is perhaps the most popular feature in a kitchen, and is one that can work well in a small kitchen. 

In a very large room, it will act as a bridge between perimeter furniture, improving the work triangle and allowing more than one cook to work comfortably side-by-side, but can also make a wonderful addition to a small kitchen, adding extra seating and negating the need for a separate dining room.

With the addition of arresting light pendants or an eye-catching work surface, it can become the room’s design centrepiece. In an open-plan kitchen, use an island or peninsula to divide cooking and dining. 

‘The addition of breakfast bar seating can create intimacy in the smallest kitchen, and only requires a 40cm worktop overhang to  dine in comfort,’ says interior designer Abigail Hall

Connect both water and electricity, and your island will become an impressive workhorse, incorporating cooking, washing and cooling appliances. ‘This will free up surfaces in the rest of the kitchen but we also see the island as an opportunity to have extra ovens or specialist appliances such as a teppanyaki, wok burner or BBQ grill,’ adds Neil Lerner

What shape is most efficient in small space kitchens?

A U-shaped layout could be the most efficient choice for a small space kitchen as it allows a good number of cabinets. With two corners in the layout, use pull-out internal fittings that permit access to all the contents of these cabinets to maximize storage.

A galley kitchen can also be an efficient choice. Bear in mind that the width of a galley kitchen should be 7 to 12ft (2.1 to 3.7m) with a minimum of 3ft (0.9m) between opposite countertops. Be mindful that 3ft (0.9m) of walking space between countertops is a bare minimum and is the best solution for kitchens where one person is using it. For a more flexible layout, 4 to 5ft (1.2 to 1.5m) of space between countertops is ideal.

There are so many small kitchen ideas to inspire – whether you create a moody scheme or make the most of small kitchen storage ideas, these designs prove even the smallest of spaces can be beautiful and functional.

Jennifer Ebert
Deputy Editor (Digital)

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.

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