When every inch counts

It seems that no matter how large a kitchen, it always fills up. But, finding enough space to store kitchen items can be especially challenging when there just isn’t much space to begin with.

Many homeowners are dealing with galley kitchens, as well as small footprints that are difficult to change. In addition, the trend of opening up the kitchen to other rooms in the house often eliminates valuable wall space traditionally used for cabinetry.

“The kitchen may no longer be an isolated space with four walls filled with cabinets,” says Dawn Willis, AKBD, of Great Spaces, Inc., in Boxborough, MA. “There might only be one good wall because the kitchen is open to other spaces.”

But the lack of cabinetry and storage isn’t the only culprit. Indeed, homeowners today simply have more stuff – more appliances, more gadgets and more cooking and baking supplies.

“With the Internet, cooking programs and home improvement shows, people are just seeing and buying more,” says Deb Bayless, CKD, CBD, of The Kitchen Studio of Glen Ellyn, in Glen Ellyn, IL.

With so many forces working against storage space, designers have to get creative. KBDN spoke with several designers to get their tips on squeezing more storage out of less space.

Kate Hendrikse owner/designer The Kitchen & Bath Design Studio, Sheboygan, WI

Choose frameless cabinets – Every inch adds up, says Hendrikse. She notes the following example from her showroom: An 18"-wide frameless cabinet has an interior drawer width of 15" while a 15" framed cabinet has an interior drawer width of only 10". “You lose 3" in a frameless cabinet, but 5" in a framed one,” she says. “Overall you gain 2" of storage using a frameless cabinet. This adds up in an entire kitchen.”

For clients who prefer framed cabinets, Hendrikse suggests using drawers rather than rollout shelves. “You’ll gain space as well as efficiency because, with drawers, you don’t need space for glides and rollers, nor do you have multiple motions of opening a door and rolling out a shelf,” she says.

Use every inch – While 6" of leftover space at the end of a cabinet run may not be enough to fit another cabinet, it may be sufficient for adding a little storage. “Adding a spice pull-out,” she says, “is an excellent way to gain some extra space.”

Consider aftermarket accessories – Many manufacturers offer an array of organizers and accessories. “Rev-A-Shelf has accessories you can mount on the door,” she notes. “They’re great for storing items like cutting boards.”

Consider small appliances – Many appliances are available in scaled-down versions of their full-size counterparts. “You can store a small countertop microwave in a cabinet,” she says. “For even greater efficiency, use hinges – such as those from Hafele – that allow you to flip the door up.

“Keeping items off the countertop and maintaining a seamless flow of cabinets can also go a long way in improving the aesthetics of a small kitchen,” she continues.

Add an island – Even a small island can create more storage, as well as work space. Hendrikse recently remodeled a 12'x12.5' kitchen where she added a small island with 18"-wide cabinets.

“I used peninsula cabinets that open on each side,” she says. “With a 1" overhang on each side, my client also gained an extra 20" of work space.” The extra storage space proved invaluable since the homeowner lost some storage space when the designer opened up a large portion of one of the kitchen walls to expose it to the dining room.

Dawn Willis, AKBD Great Spaces, Inc.Boxborough, MA

Include a pantry – Pantries make great storage spaces because they don’t have the limitations of a typical cabinet, notes Willis. “You can have straight, open shelving,” she says. “Even shallow pantries that may only be one cereal box deep can be very useful.”

Choose drawers – Drawers can provide more storage than a roll-out shelf. “They’re already compartmentalized with sides,” she says. “And, you gain storage because you don’t have glides and rails that take up extra space.”

Willis also adds toe kick drawers to gain storage. “They’re perfect for storing flat items such as cutting boards and cookies sheets,” she says. “Toe kick drawers keep them organized, without having them stacked on top of, or in front of, other items.”

Prioritize – A small kitchen is often very efficient, Willis notes, because it forces homeowners to prioritize and store only frequently used items in the kitchen. “A lot of items we have are for holidays, or they’re only used a couple of times a year,” she comments.

Willis often moves less-frequently used items to other parts of the home, storing them in hutches – or similarly styled pieces – that look less like kitchen storage and more like beautiful furniture.

Review Your Seating – Seating at a peninsula or island takes up less space than seating at a table because a walkway around them isn’t needed, she says, which leaves more room for storage.

Add specialty organizers – Organizers improve organization to “help you do more with less,” Willis says.

Deb Bayless, CKD/CBD The Kitchen Studio of Glen Ellyn, Glen Ellyn, IL

Customize cabinet interiors – The cabinet above the refrigerator is a perfect candidate, notes Bayless. “In many older homes, these cabinets are only 12" deep,” she says. “Almost invariably, we change them to a 24"-deep cabinet, then customize it with tray dividers. It’s a great way to store items vertically, and with dividers, it doesn’t become a vast cavity.”

Evaluate the pantry – If it’s deep, organize it because items can get lost quickly. If a pantry wasn’t included in the previous floor plan, reconsider unused wall space in the new kitchen. “Even a shallow pantry, just 9" deep, can be invaluable,” she says. “At these depths it may not affect room clearances, but it’s enough space to store canned goods, cereal boxes, etc.”

Think double-duty – If there is a dining room, use it as a dining room as well as a place for kids to do homework. “If you had a large eat-in kitchen and a dining room, maybe you can pare down eating in the kitchen to seating for two,” she says. “Now you’ve freed up a lot more room for storage.”

Add a banquette – A banquette or fixed bench can save space compared to a table and chairs because the extra clearance isn’t needed, plus drawers or a lift-up lid can be added so the bench can be used for storage.

Evaluate end-of-cabinet runs – Broom closets and organizers at the ends of cabinet runs can help with organization, and may eliminate the need for a desk. “I’ve tacked slot dividers to the ends of cabinet runs so every family member has a bin to store papers,” she says. “In another kitchen I added a white board and cork board. It’s easy. It doesn’t take up desk space. Literally, it’s just 2" of space.”

Think small – Bayless encourages clients to take cues from storage in boats and RVs. Also, consider smaller appliances. They take up less space, leaving more for storage. “A 15" beverage center can store a lot,” she says. “And, a couple of manufacturers now offer 18" dishwashers. If you plan to run it every day, a smaller dishwasher just might be the ticket.”

Scott Jaffa, AIA The Jaffa Group Park City, UT

Eliminate dead space – Pantries are a good choice for turning awkward niches and spaces that might otherwise be wasted into extra storage, such as the all-too-common 2' niche between the wall and refrigerator. “These spaces can often become a catchall for magazines, mail and purses,” says Jaffa. “Consider including a floor-to-ceiling cabinet pantry that’s accessible from both sides.”

Think globally – Consider how clients cook and store kitchen items when developing a layout. “It makes it much easier to add storage, and put it in the right place,” he says. “People often find they don’t need as much storage space as they think they do, if it’s organized.”

Being organized also includes taking advantage of aftermarket organization tools, such as drawer inserts and storage systems like those from VintageView, he notes. “You can store more wine bottles because they’re organized,” he says.

Add height – Running cabinets to the ceiling can gain up to one-third more storage space, Jaffa indicates. “The upper shelves are great for holiday storage and items you don’t use all the time,” he says. “And it’s seamless…the extra storage is concealed, it blends, and it looks like it was always meant to be there.”

Clean house – Jaffa encourages clients to go through their kitchen supplies, and although they may not get rid of special dishes, etc., they can eliminate items they’ve doubled-up on. “Many people buy more because they can’t find what they need,” he says. “A lot of times they will duplicate, even triplicate, items without even realizing it.”

Teri Turan Turan Design, Tyrone, GA

Reconfigure cabinet orientation – When she’s left with a small, awkward space at the end of a cabinet run, Turan will often flip the orientation of the last cabinet to gain the most efficient amount of storage space.

“Even with 12", you may only have a 9"-wide opening,” she says. “That won’t handle much in terms of storage, so I’ll flip the cabinet sideways. When you look at the run of cabinets, you’ll see the side of the last cabinet. But around the corner, you’ll have a 24"-wide cabinet that’s 12" deep. By flipping its orientation, we now have some phenomenal wall-depth storage.”

Think outside the box – Some clients with small kitchens really test the design ability of Turan, including one homeowner who wanted an island in her tiny space.

“There just wasn’t room,” she says. Her solution was to include a roll-out island cart, providing for portable storage. “When she’s working in the kitchen, she can roll it out to the center,” she indicates. “When she doesn’t need it anymore, she can roll it back in line with the cabinetry.”

Turan also helped another homeowner solve the dilemma of where to store cookbooks, iPads, iPods, mail, etc. “Oftentimes clients want to store non-kitchen items in their kitchens,” she says. “For one homeowner, I created a mini-office in the kitchen with a tall, shallow cabinet that helped solve myriad problems.”

Shereé Baker designer, K&W Interiors, Anchorage, AK

Incorporate small appliances – Baker had a recent client who searched high and low for good-quality, small appliances for her tiny L-shaped kitchen. Using small-scale appliances gave her extra storage space, which was critical since she only had nine cabinets in the entire kitchen. “She needed small appliances, but she still wanted ones that were attractive,” she says, indicating her client was looking for sleek, stainless appliances and wanted to stay away from cheap “apartment” appliances. “Although she wanted a full-size oven, she did find a small cooktop (two burners), refrigerator (20") and ventilation hood (22").”

This client also opted for a single-basin, extra-deep 30"x18" sink to save space.

Include aftermarket organizational tools – Accessories, such as door-mounted racks, as well as magnetic knife wall holders and tip-out sink trays, keep some hard-to-corral-items organized and out of drawers. “They keep items conveniently located, and they don’t waste space inside the cabinet,” she remarks.

Consider using toe-kick drawers – “Toe kick space is basically wasted space,” Baker notes. At 4.5" tall by the width of the drawer, homeowners can gain valuable space. “They are available in many higher-quality drawers,” she says, adding that purchasing high-quality products is important in small spaces. “With a smaller kitchen, drawers will get used more often.”

Minimize what you have – Choose multiple-use utensils, she says. “Be selective in what you purchase for the kitchen,” she stresses. “Again, purchase better quality. If you have three knives instead of 12, those three will get used a lot more.”