Living with and enjoying a compact 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
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.
With a small kitchen, making the best use of the space you have is critical. There are two things you need to do first.
- 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.
- 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:
- Store anything that you use daily between eye level and your hip. This minimizes bending and twisting.
- Drawers use less space being pulled out than doors and they are easier to organize. Make sure they are deep enough though. Shallow drawers can be frustrating.
- Maximize space by using pocket doors. An alternative is using barn door tracks to create sliding doors. Or improve flow by eliminating doors entirely.
- If you are having cabinetry custom built, measure what you want to store and have cabinets constructed to fit not only the item, but to facilitate the activity. A baking center, for instance, might house not only the KitchenAid stand mixer, but also baking ingredients, pans, parchment, and mixing spoons. Add bins for frequently used staples.
- Add storage for the garbage and recycling to keep floor space clear.
- Repurpose interesting old materials like doors and hardware. Even mismatched elements like hardware, vent covers, or light fixtures can be re-plated to match.
- Use full height cabinets to cram as much storage as possible into a given footprint. (Don't forget storage space for a step stool.) At the same time, use open shelves or glass doors on upper cabinets to open space, then use your dishes, serving pieces, and crockery as design elements.
- If you can manage it, leave some empty wall space open over a patch of counter. It opens the space and allows the eye to rest.
- Use a hanging pot rack for oft used pans. Near the range is a good location.
- Maximize light. The more light you have the more spacious your kitchen will seem. Keep window treatments as simple as possible. Add a skylight or Solatube to increase light. Create solutions to provide good ambient and task lighting.
- Install flooring perpendicularly to the two longest walls to increase the illusion of width.
- Use apartment-size or small European-style appliances. A small 24" stove cooks just as well as a full-size range. A small under counter fridge could be perfect for the urban non-cook to keep milk for coffee, especially if you like shopping for fresh ingredients for your evening meal or chilling a good bottle of wine.
- Install a "dish drawer" or narrow dishwasher for doing dishes. Camouflage the appliance with a false cabinet front.
- Install a range and wall oven if possible.
- Keep counters clear for working; hide the coffee maker and microwave.
- Store only what you need and use regularly in the kitchen. Edit. Edit. Edit. Store extra or rarely items together in another location.
- Add style with color. Light colors increase the sense of spaciousness where dark colors make it seem smaller. Warm colors like mango, pale yellow, and ivory look better with food than cool colors. Add a splash of color with artwork.
- Keep surfaces clean with a high-efficiency ventilation system.
- A large, single bowl sink can act as a focal point, a place to store the dirty dishes before you deal with them, and a place to wash the dog. Get the best you can afford ... this is a key element. Have a stowable countertop designed to fit over your sink if you need extra counter space.
- Use fold-out counters or tabletops to add extra workspace temporarily.
- A butcher block on wheels can be stored when not in use and serve as additional storage below.
- Create harmonious kitchen character that works with the architectural style of your home, but don't hesitate to use new or unusual materials if you feel they fit.