Creative planning can help kitchen designers develop small-space solutions that feel and function like their big-kitchen counterparts.
Think vertically. Rather than standard 24"+ base cabinet depth, increase walk space by replacing traditional wall and base cabinets with 12"- to 18"-deep tall storage cabinetry. This eliminates lost backsplash wall space, while increasing walkways.
Whatever the room’s shape or size, plan multi-tasking areas. For example, a small kitchen cannot accommodate a freestanding table that you walk around that is only used for dining. Counters/tables need to serve for prep/dining/computing/etc.
Move away from the idea of full-sized, single-purpose appliances. A tiny kitchen with a double oven doesn’t work. However, a small kitchen with a drop-in or freestanding range (featuring a whole-sized oven) can be easily coupled with a microwave/convection oven combination.
Use the backsplash. This is the most wasted space in a kitchen. Utilizing storage systems designed for hanging shallow items allows this area to replace a drawer bank.
Reintroduce yourself to improved downdraft ventilation systems. Too often, we settle for a microwave/hood combination in a small kitchen because we remember past downdraft system engineering that didn’t exhaust well. New equipment does a much better job.
Learn about the functionality of induction cooktops. They provide countertop as well as a cooking surface. (Some appliance experts predict that this type of heat transference will replace space-consuming high BTU-rated gas burners for surface cooking in the future.)
Integrate chopping/draining/rinsing activities right into the sink design itself. Rather than assuming these activities need to be accomplished at the countertop adjacent to the sink, look at new 30"- to-36"-wide sinks that are designed with food preparation accessories that work within the sink area.
Consider separating the primary refrigerator from its corresponding freezer. Accessibility to the fresh food storage is the most critical element in a small space. To create the most workable arrangement, the freezer might need to be located in an adjacent space.
Consider shallow base cabinets in some areas. This may allow you to intersect a wall with a door or other structural element. It’s important that you maximize counter space as well as the cabinetry.
Reintroduce yourself to some of the new hardware that allows for pull-out chopping surfaces or pull-out tables. We first saw these types of “multi-tasking” surfaces in the mid-’80s. One new table system from Häfele America pulls out on legs. It is as sturdy as a free-standing table. I’ve seen some examples of tables that are at the end of a cabinet run with sliding hardware so that the table can move along the work surface at a 90-degree angle to the counter. Häfele has a great pull system that allows a small counter to be against the wall, then it rolls around on casters to serve as an eating area.
Don’t overlook the functionality of a corner sink, whether there’s a window or not. Placing a single sink in the corner in a diagonal cabinet allows you to maximize the length of an uninterrupted counter surface on one or both sides of the water appliance. Even if a window is along the counter space elsewhere, don’t automatically think you need to tie the sink to the window.
Take another look at tall, narrow pantry pull-outs. They were first introduced some years ago with wire shelves. Many designers found their clients did not like cleaning these “oven rack” shelf systems. Today, these storage units have a solid “non-skid” surface. Beautifully engineered and of very sturdy construction, they could be just the answer in a small 12" space next to a refrigerator or in another area.
Find extra floor and wall space adjacent to the kitchen by installing new stacking washer/dryer combinations. New laundry equipment is very efficient and can handle regular loads as well as hand washables. The high value for this appliance is that the full-sized, front-loading washer and dryer can be stacked on top of one another in a 30"x30" cube.
If you haven’t seen the movie Julie & Julia, do enjoy it! Or, go online to the Smithsonian and take a look at Julia Child’s original kitchen. In her small Connecticut home (where she filmed her original TV shows), she used a peg board wall hanging system to keep all of her frequently used pots and pans easily accessible. If you have a shallow wall space, think about hanging the pots, pans, lids, pot holders and oven top utensils. This is an excellent way to save base cabinet space for something else. An alternative to the “Julia Child” look: rather than her peg board solution, stack two to four wall-mounted bars with S hooks. The advantage to such bars is that the
S hooks are completely free to move in any direction based on what type of utensil they are storing.
As you will see in many small kitchen solutions, shallow, tall pantries are excellent alternatives to wall and base combinations – once your countertop requirement has been met. The smaller the kitchen, the easier it is to lose things in it – because, when space is at a premium, we tend to pack things onto shelves and cabinets without much thought for how easy they will be to find later. The same goes for worktops, which get cluttered with gadgets, utensils, storage jars and plug-in electrical equipment, so you find that you have to move things just to find space to work on. Tall cabinets can contain clutter better than bases and open counters!
“Big” thinking is a winning approach for designers challenged with existing small kitchens. These Pacific Northwest kitchen solutions demonstrate how to maximize existing square footage, add new small footage economically and “trade places” by reorganizing living/activity spaces adjacent to the kitchen.