Small kitchen spaces can be frustrating. No matter how you try to usher friends and family into the living room, they invariably congregate in your tiny kitchen, where you are busy trying to balance pots, pans, and chopping boards as you prepare dinner. Magazines and television shows abound with spacious, airy kitchens and miles of countertop; your kitchen cannot even be properly photographed because you can’t back up enough to get anything more than half a cabinet and your stove in the viewfinder. Of course, you could always enlarge your kitchen by building an addition or stealing space from an adjoining room, but this can quickly get pricy, and not everyone wants contractors trudging dirt through the house for weeks (or months.) Never fear; there are ways to make your tiny kitchen look and feel bigger than it actually is.
1. Clear the counter! Yes, we all love the convenience of having toaster ovens, coffee makers, can openers, and champion boxer endorsed grills out on the counter where they are instantly accessible, but this creates visual clutter that will make your kitchen seem smaller than it is. Evaluate your need for these items; do you really need a toaster AND a toaster oven? Can you get an over-the-stove microwave instead of a countertop model? Put as many things as possible away in a cabinet or drawer: flour/sugar canisters, can openers, random decorative jugs, and crocks full of cooking utensils. If you only have one or two coffee drinkers living in your home, consider stashing your plug in coffee maker in a closet and using a french press. (French presses are small glass pitchers with a metal mesh plunger. Simply boil your water, put in your coffee grounds, let it sit a minute or two, and push the plunger down.) Not only will you have fresher, better tasting coffee, but the french press is easier to keep clean and takes up no more space than a really large drinking glass. If you have coffee-drinking company over, you can pull your electric coffee maker out of the closet.
2. Use your cabinet and drawer space wisely. First, get rid of stuff you don’t need or use. Do you really need six slotted spoons and five bread knives? If you are firmly convinced that some day you will need these items, at least put them in a box and store them in the back of a closet. Drawer organizers and pull out baskets can make storage easier and more accessible, particularly for narrow base cabinets, where most of the space in the back is difficult to reach.
3. Paint the walls a solid, light color. Darker colors and patterns tend to visually shrink a space, which can be useful if you have a 2,000 square foot living room, but problematic if your kitchen is more the size of a hot dog stand. Light, neutral colors will reflect the light and open up the space. If you can, paint your cabinets a light color as well (be sure to sand and prime them well, or the paint will easily chip off.) If your walls have a chair rail dividing them in half, keep the top and bottom portions as close in color as possible. If your walls don’t have a chair rail, keep it that way; the larger your solid blocks of color, the bigger your kitchen will feel.
4. Keep your collection of wall plaques, calendars, and giant novelty cutlery to a bare minimum. The more items you put on your walls, the more crowded it will feel. This doesn’t mean your walls have to be empty, just that one medium sized picture or plaque is better than four small ones. Display items that are similar in style and color; two identical black picture frames will look more like a single item than two differently sized and styled frames.
5. Similarly, keep the clutter on the fridge to a minimum. You don’t really need to chronicle your nephew/granddaughter’s entire childhood on your freezer door. Get a couple of inexpensive magnetic frames and rotate your pictures as often as you like. If you have seventy three magnets that you just can’t bear to part with, rotate those as well. The cleaner and more streamlined you can keep all surfaces in your kitchen, the better.
6. Depending on the construction of your house, consider removing the ceiling to expose the joists above. This works particularly well in houses from the nineteenth or early twentieth century. By exposing the joists and painting them a light color, you make your ceiling taller, which makes the room feel significantly more spacious. (If you have plumbing or electric running through the ceiling, this may not be something you want to do. Exposed wiring will have to be boxed in or rerouted through conduit to be safe.) Exposing ceiling joists can be a messy and neck-straining project, but it can also make a huge difference in the feel of your kitchen, and may be worth considering.
7. If you have space for a table in your kitchen, use a drop leaf table or another type of table that can be made bigger when you need it and smaller when you don’t. Not only will this save you space when the table is not in use, but less stuff will end up piling up on the tabletop when you have to constantly move it. A drop leaf table that attaches to the wall can take up no space at all when collapsed, and seat 2-3 people when extended. Folding chairs can be kept in a closet or, if you have the space, hung on the wall.
8. Additional counter space can make all the difference when cooking a large or complicated meal. Wheeled carts that fit under the countertop can be pulled out when needed and pushed back when not in use. If you like, you can even fit the edge of the cart with a door that matches the rest of your cabinetry so it blends in perfectly. Storage lost from the removal of a cabinet can be gained back by fitting the cart with wire baskets. Building such a cart requires some basic woodworking skills, but is not difficult.
9. If you are severely pressed for storage space, pots and pans can be hung on a pot rack. Though this will help your storage dilemma, be aware that it will also make your kitchen look more cluttered, which will not help that elusive sense of space that you strive for. Hanging a couple of large pots may look less cluttered than five or six smaller pots, and can save you the same amount of room. The same goes for utensil rails; having your ladles and spoons hanging on the wall may make them easy to store and access, but it will also clutter your space, so keep hanging utensils to a minimum. Round magnetic spice jars with clear lids are a good storage option. Mounted on a metal strip or the fridge, they are sleek looking and uniform in color and shape, so they form one cohesive group (unlike the utensils and pots, which are a hodgepodge of shapes and sizes.) This makes your spices accessible and attractive with only a minimal amount of clutter, freeing up shelf or drawer space.
10. Lastly, focus on your light sources. Do away with the patterned curtains. Simple window treatments are the best; shades and blinds are an excellent choice. If you prefer, a frosted glass window film will still let in the light, but block out your neighbors’ view of you as you wash the spaghetti pot. (Stay away from dark or heavily patterned window films, which will darken your kitchen too much.) Minimalistic window coverings will make your kitchen feel clean and tidy. A light filled kitchen is much more pleasant to be in, so if your windows don’t provide enough natural light, make sure your fixtures make up the difference. A single large mirror can reflect light and create the illusion of more space; just make sure the frame is not too heavy or ornate. If you are particularly handy, think about opening up a space between your kitchen and living/dining room. A square or arch will let the light through and create a sense of flow and openness. (Again, watch out for electric or plumbing that may be in the walls.)
While a tiny kitchen can be challenging to work with, small changes can really make a difference in how your space feels. Having a kitchen that defies its square footage can make it a pleasure to prepare meals.