Small Kitchens

Living with and enjoying a compact kitchen

Small kitchen

As you collect kitchen remodeling ideas, you are bound to thumb through home improvement magazines and see vast, beautiful kitchens with expanses shiny granite, stainless steel, and high-end hardwoods. Then, you look around your smallish kitchen and realize that even if you had the $50,000 to spend, a) your house isn't worth that kind of investment and b) that kind of look wouldn't fit anyway.

A host of designers and marketing organizations representing every school of thought and kitchen product have invested millions in selling this kind of "home porn" which is calculated to make you run straight to the bank and sign up for a "low" interest equity loan. In the last 10 years, plenty of Americans have done just that using their homes as a virtual ATM. When you stop to think about it, it's scary how susceptible we are to these design trends. (Most of us live in relatively modest digs and enjoy a median household income of about $46K.) With an average of 2.57 people per household, it seems even odder that many kitchens appear to be designed for seven chefs each of whom has approximately a quarter acre of counter space apiece upon which to work his or her magic.

The net result is to bound to make us feel a little ...hmmm... inadequate. The best thing we can do is take a deep breath, then step back and look at what we can do to make our small kitchen work for us.

The small kitchen advantage

Remodel or move?

Before beginning any remodeling job, consider the size and fit of your home. If you are a young family, it might make more sense to clean, paint, and sell than invest thousands in a small house that your family will outgrow in a couple years. Nevertheless, where space is efficiently allocated and well designed, a family of three can be perfectly comfortable in one of the many small houses built before 1960 with its 1200 sq. ft. footprint. Bigger is a marketing ploy, not a necessity.

Small kitchens—that is, less than 200 square feet—offer a host of advantages. Like the galley on a sail boat, everything in a small kitchen is almost literally within arm's length. They can be incredibly efficient, so even the most sumptuous banquet needn't be out of reach. And because space is limited, only the essentials are needed. In a well-organized small kitchen, things can be easy to find; there's no room for extraneous stuff to clutter your life. Even if you are on a strict budget, you can probably swing a couple nice finishes by shopping around for remnants. If your budget is a bit more robust, high quality materials are often much more affordable when you have limited square footage. A smaller kitchen can be a deluxe workspace for a fraction of the cost of a larger kitchen. And when they work well, homeowners love them.

Design tips

With a small kitchen, making the best use of the space you have is critical. There are two things you need to do first.

  1. Think about the various types of activities you want to accomplish. If your priorities include a message center or built-in pantry, you need to articulate that.
  2. Hire a kitchen designer.

It doesn't matter if you only make toast and coffee in the morning, bring dinner home from the deli, or want to cook six course meals. Design to accommodate your personality and lifestyle. If you want a drop-off zone for books, bags, and gloves or custom built-ins to house a recycling center, it helps to make a list so you can design accordingly. With a small kitchen, there is a limit to the number of discrete activities you can jam into the space, so take your time and think it through.

A kitchen designer for any but the most basic update is going to save you more money than you'll pay out in consultation fees. By working with someone with whom you have an affinity, you'll avoid costly mistakes and get leads on materials and vendors that you would otherwise have no clue about.

Other design tips:

Resources


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