Plotting the right layout can make or break a compact kitchen. Our guide to small kitchen layout ideas covers all the bases to help reach your kitchen’s full potential.
While options can be limited in a small kitchen, they often turn out to be far more ergonomically efficient when it comes down to the nitty-gritty of cooking. No traipsing miles to gather ingredients, or circumnavigate a monolithic island unit to reach the sink. When space is tight, everything is meticulously placed for convenience, exactly where you need it.
The best way to approach layout planning is to make a list of your ‘must-haves’, particularly in terms of appliances as they can swallow up a lot of storage space. Take time to think about how you cook, who else needs access to the kitchen, even if it’s just the fridge, and where the dining table is in relation to the dishwasher.
Do seek advice from a professional kitchen designer – they are trained in spatial design and the latest space-saving innovations and can often suggest ways to get more in without overcrowding.
SMALL KITCHEN LAYOUT IDEAS
1. DOUBLE GALLEY
The only layout more spatially efficient than a single galley, is a double galley! 'Double galley kitchens are practical because they efficiently utilise both sides of a narrow space,’ explains Pluck’s co-founder George Glasier.
‘As the cabinetry doesn’t meet at the room’s corners, they eliminate the awkward-to-reach corner cupboard debate. Visually they provide symmetry and therefore balance to the space, which can help make a small kitchen appear bigger.'
2. MOVEABLE ISLAND
When space is tight, an island unit can become more of an obstacle than asset.
In this 3.6m wide kitchen, interior designer Robert Rhodes felt a permanent island, even a narrow one, would have made the space on either side feel small and compromised. Instead, a freestanding vintage table provides extra prep space when needed and can be moved out of the way when entertaining.
‘Going for a freestanding piece can prove much more flexible and also offers a more relaxed, laidback look than fitted units,’ says Robert.
3. ADD AN ISLAND
Owned by a professional chef, this ‘galley plus island’ layout focuses on cooking efficiency.
The chef can get busy in the heart of the kitchen, while the island steers family and guests away from the heat. Including the property’s Bath Stone wall as a design feature prevents precious inches of cooking space being wasted on wall cladding.
4. SINGLE GALLEY
A single galley layout, with the entire kitchen on one elevation, is inspired by the confines of a ship’s galley, where every inch counts.
This striking cobalt kitchen belonging to artist and interior designer Luke Edward Hall is in an open-plan room that also accommodates dining and relaxing. Fortunately, the ceiling is high, so Luke could maximise storage with wall cabinets, without overpowering the room.
‘You can see the kitchen from the sofa,’ says Luke. ‘Although I like to have fresh produce and ceramics on display, it is nice for us to be able to put things away.’
5. U-SHAPE SOLUTIONS
If you have to cram a lot of units into a very small space, a U-shape layout is often the best bet. The downside of two corners is compensated by extra cupboard space on the end wall.
‘The key to a compact u-shapekitchen is using every inch to your advantage. Use Le Mans units inside corner cupboards – they’ll bring the contents out to you,’ says Hayley Robson, creative director, Day True.
‘Take the kitchen cabinets as close to the ceiling aspossible. Not only does this look extremely elegant but it also maximises storage more than you would think.’
6. HIDE IT AWAY
Combining kitchen, living and dining in one room is a common scenario in small apartments.
For this luxurious space in Knightsbridge, interior designer Kia Stanford has conceived a hidden kitchen that conceals the more practical side of cooking when the owners are relaxing. ‘The trick is to select materials and finishes more typically associated with living room furniture,’ says Kia.
Here, tall pocket doors to shut away the small appliances and boiling water tap. Don’t be fooled by first appearances, this hidden kitchen is fully equipped for cooking up a storm.
7. NARROW ISLAND
The width of floorspace around an island is arguably more important than the width of the island itself. Aim for at least 90-100cm clear walkway around an island’s full perimeter.
‘It is essential not to make an island’s dimensions too big as it may restrict movement around the kitchen,’ explains Ben Burbidge, managing director, Kitchen Makers.
An island unit should be at least one cabinet deep (60cm) to provide useful storage underneath, a little wider will be useful for spreading out when prepping on the surface.
8. CLEAR WALLS
Leaving walls free from cabinetry can make a huge impact to the sense of space in a small kitchen. This only works if you have sufficient storage space elsewhere, such as a walk-in pantry.
Open shelving is less burdensome than solid wall cabinets, but even they create a degree of visual ‘noise’, so if it’s simplicity you are seeking, better to go without.
Here, Plain English has packed storage into both sides of the peninsula, leaving the walls blissfully empty, bar a simple cooker hood.
9. RAISE THE BAR
Perfect for casual meals, a quick coffee or chatting to friends while you cook – all without losing prep space – a breakfast bar is hugely practical.
‘Don’t assume it isn’t possible to squeeze a breakfast bar into a small kitchen. What a table-style design lacks in storage, it more than makes up for in creating a feeling of lightness and space,’ says Fabiana Scavolini, CEO of Scavolini.
‘This style of breakfast bar is less obtrusive than a standard peninsula with base units and it opens up the space by showing more of the floor.’
10. PENINSULA PLUS POINTS
A peninsula is similar to an island unit but connects to a wall at one end. They’re often used to create an L-shape layout in an open-plan kitchen-diner.
‘A peninsula is perfect for those with smaller spaces who would like to create a sociable cooking and dining experience for guests.
'It’s an extremely multi-functional layout that is perfect for serving food and drinks when entertaining,’ explains Darren Watts, showroom development and design director, Wren Kitchens.
Add a small overhang and stools to create a useful breakfast bar.
WHAT IS THE BEST LAYOUT FOR A SMALL KITCHEN?
Regardless of size, a kitchen layout is usually dictated by immovable architectural elements, like windows, doors, chimney breasts and structural beams.
Try to avoid layouts that involve corners – such as L and U-shapes – but if a corner is inevitable, do make use of internal storage mechanisms like Le Mans and carousel systems.
Drawers are considered superior to cupboards in terms of full access to all contents. Also think about how cabinets and appliances open – a dishwasher door that clashes with a fridge door opposite will endlessly annoy.
HOW DO YOU DECLUTTER A SMALL KITCHEN?
On cabinetry, a plain slab door with push-touch or recessed handles will look sleeker than a framed door with protruding hardware.
A breakfast cupboard, with bi-folding or tambour doors, can be used to hide away countertop appliances, including the coffee machine and toaster. A boiling water tap takes the kettle out of the equation and can be combined with your regular hot and cold supply in one neat unit.
Larders always sound like a luxury exclusive to large kitchens, but they utilise the room’s height so offer impressive volumes of storage. Hang a small set of steps on the inside of the larder door for easy access to the top shelves.
WHAT APPLIANCES ARE BEST FOR SMALL KITCHENS?
Look for multifunctional appliances that really earn their place. A combi-microwave or combi-steam oven is essentially two cooking methods in one.
You can also get single ovens that can be split to cook at different temperatures; like a double oven but in a smaller footprint. Built-in compact appliances are 45cm-high, instead of 60cm, and can be stacked neatly. Induction hobs with built-in extraction can also save space overhead but do check how much cupboard space you’ll lose below for the motor unit.
Slimline dishwashers are 45cm-wide, which can make all the difference if you’re counting every cm. Undermounted drawer-style refrigeration comes with impressive capacities.
Do think very carefully about the appliances you need, or you could end up with nowhere to store crockery. Could a wine fridge fit in the dining room for example?