Small kitchen layouts – 14 ideas to maximize your small space

Improve a less-than-generous cooking space with these small kitchen layouts

A composite of small kitchen layout ideas
(Image credit: Barbara Sallick/William Abranowicz/Emily J Followill/Beth Webb Interiors/Ward & Co./Taran Wilkhu)

Planning a small kitchen layout can be tricky, as finding the best layout can make or break a compact kitchen. 

Our kitchen ideas guide to small kitchen layouts covers all the bases to help you reach the full potential of your kitchen.

While you might think options can be limited for small kitchen ideas, these smaller spaces often turn out to be far more ergonomically efficient. 

No traipsing miles to gather ingredients, or circumnavigating a monolithic island unit to reach the sink. When space is tight, everything is meticulously placed for convenience and is exactly where you need it.

Best small kitchen layouts

When thinking about how to plan a small kitchen layout, it's best 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 to kitchen layouts without overcrowding.

1. Maximize natural light to make a galley feel bigger

A galley kitchen with floor-to-ceiling windows and light wood farmhouse cabinetry

(Image credit: Emily J Followill/Beth Webb Interiors)

While it’s a highly sensible layout choice for a long, thin space, double galley kitchens have a reputation for feeling dark and pokey. To help make them feel bigger, be sure to maximize the room’s potential for natural light. 

If it’s architecturally possible, maximizing window space at one end of the galley will do wonders for the sense of space in the room. In this small but breathtaking space by designer Beth Webb, the kitchen of a South Carolina hunting lodge is made to feel light and breezy through the use of floor-to-ceiling windows, helped by the positioning of another window on the perpendicular wall. 

2. Open shelving and glass cabinets help create depth

A modern kitchen with blue units, warm wood shelves and a stone-topped island

(Image credit: Ward & Co./Taran Wilkhu)

While closed cabinetry is perfect for keeping kitchens feeling neat and tidy, too much of it on the top half of the elevations is likely to make a small kitchen feel smaller – you’re effectively extending the solid wall outwards into the room. 

To combat this, keep solid cabinetry to the lower half of the kitchen, and break up the higher levels with open kitchen shelving ideas and glass-fronted cupboards. In this apartment kitchen by London designers Ward & Co., open cabinetry is used exclusively above the worktops, allowing for a greater sense of depth in those areas.  

3. Make the most of space with a double galley

A galley kitchen with black cabinets and drawers leading to an orange wall and black bookcase

(Image credit: Future/Jonathan Gooch)

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, offering more storage for small kitchens,’ explains Pluck’s co-founder George Glasier.

George also explains how this small kitchen layout can make a small kitchen look bigger: ‘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.'

4. Try a moveable option

An example of small kitchen layout ideas showing blue cabinets on either side of a moveable wooden table on light parquet flooring

(Image credit: Luke White)

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.

5. Undulate worktops and cabinetry to make the most of space 

A kitchen with wall-to-wall white backsplash tiling and blue cabinets

(Image credit: Barbara Sallick/William Abranowicz)

If you’re keen to eek out every bit of floor space you can, remember that worktops and cabinetry do not have to be at the same depth the whole way around the kitchen. 

In this kitchen owned and designed by Waterworks Co-Founder Barbara Sallick, the worktop to the left hand side includes a small inlet opposite the island, between deeper areas that facilitate corner cupboards and a tall glass cabinet. This makes the most of walking space where those few inches of storage space aren’t necessary. 

6. Get creative with awkward nooks

A kitchen with deep blue cabinets, brass fittings and a low window seating area

(Image credit: Adam Macchia)

If you’ve inherited a kitchen where architectural features are an obstacle to making the most of the space, it’s time to get creative. 

In this apartment kitchen owned by furniture expert Christine Retlev, a window with a low bottom edge makes it difficult to extend the worktop all the way to the end wall. Instead, Retlev installed a lower countertop, and turned the awkward nook into a seating area, perfect for enjoying a cup of coffee alongside views of Manhattan.  

7. Add an island

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

(Image credit: Mark Bolton)

Kitchen islands can have so many uses, whether it's for storage, extra worktop surface or for sitting.

By incorporating breakfast bar ideas into the design of your kitchen, you're making the space go further with the addition of a handy spot to eat and drink. And it takes up less room than a clunky kitchen table.

8. Think how a single galley might work

A single galley kitchen with blue cabinets and mosaic tiles in front of a pink wall

(Image credit: Luke Edward Hall)

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 maximize his small kitchen storage options 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.’

9. Consider U-shape solutions

An example of small kitchen layout ideas showing a U-shaped kitchen and dining area in dark wood with white walls

(Image credit: Future/Paul Raeside)

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 compact U-shaped kitchens 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 as possible. Not only does this look extremely elegant but it also maximises storage more than you would think.’

10. Choose to hide it away

A kitchen, dining and living space with brown floor to ceiling cabinets, a red and gold island, and a circular table with floral chairs

(Image credit: Photography/Anna Stathaki.)

Combining kitchen, living and dining in one room is a common scenario in small apartments.

For this luxury 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 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.

11. Add a narrow island

A narrow white kitchen island in front of a large blue window and metal pendant lights

(Image credit: Future Plc and Serena Fokschaner)

The width of floor space 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, Burbidge & Son.

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.

12. Use clear walls

An example of small kitchen layout ideas showing a dark green peninsula with a marble worktop, light blue wall tiles and a white extractor fan

(Image credit: Plain English)

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.

13. Try a breakfast bar

A white breakfast bar with blue and white bar stools below three industrial metal pendant lights

(Image credit: Rachael Smith)

Perfect for casual meals, a quick coffee or chatting to friends while you cook – all without losing prep space – breakfast bars are 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.’

Don't forget to think about lighting ideas for small kitchens, too, so your breakfast bar can stand out in all its glory.

14. Pop in a peninsula 

A kitchen with a peninsula with white cabinets in front of a pink wall

(Image credit: Wren Kitchens)

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 L-shaped kitchens to create a useful breakfast bar.

What is the best layout for a small kitchen?

The best kitchen layouts are usually dictated by the 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?

One way to declutter a small kitchen is through the use of cabinetry. A plain slab door with push-touch or recessed handles will look sleeker than a framed door with protruding hardware.

Likewise, 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?

Multifunctional appliances are best for small kitchens, like a combi-microwave or combi-steam oven, which are 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. Under-mounted 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?