How to design a small kitchen

How to design a small kitchen

Sebastian, self-taught DIY-er, Exeter

Guide written by:

Sebastian, self-taught DIY-er, Exeter

Designing a small, functional kitchen-diner on a budget is no easy task. But no matter whether you have an I-shaped, L-shaped or open plan room, it should be possible to install a space-saving fitted kitchen and bar table without breaking the bank! Read on for our top tips on fitting out a small kitchen.

Important features

  • Layout
  • Wall-mounted cabinets
  • Modular units
  • Folding tables
  • Slide-out worktops
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Small kitchen layouts to maximise space

Small kitchen layouts

Small kitchens generally come in one of two layouts:

  • I-shaped kitchens (for narrow rooms);

  • L-shaped kitchens (with a right angle).

The amount of usable floor space and the layout of your room will determine the kind of appliances and the type of furniture you can install in your small kitchen – for example, the size of your cooker, fridge and the number of units you can fit.

If you are renting, you will generally have to work around the existing layout though you can still use kitchen furniture and storage to optimise the space you have.

If you own your own home and you're willing to carry out renovations, you may be able to knock down a partition wall in order to fit an island complete with worktop space and storage. This will open up your kitchen onto the living room and turn your small kitchen into an open plan kitchen. Getting rid of the kitchen door is also a quick and easy way to gain space. Kitchens must always be fitted with adequate ventilation, especially if you do not have a window. When painting a small space, it is best to use light tones, regardless of colour, to make the space appear larger. The paint must also be moisture-resistant and washable.

Depending on what your walls are made of, you might be able to create alcoves which can then be used to accommodate shelves.

The lighting in a kitchen must be functional. If possible, install some accent lighting and direct lighting, such as spotlights. This will help to add decorative interest and ambiance, no matter how small the space!

What are kitchen zones?

What are kitchen zones?

Small kitchens have to follow the same installation rules as a standard fitted kitchen in terms of the three kitchen zones: namely, the washing up zone, the food prep zone and the cooking zone.

Washing up zone

The washing up zone is dedicated to cleaning and contains the sink, bin and draining board. While useful, equipment like waste disposal units and water filter systems are not recommended in small kitchens. When space is tight in the kitchen, functionality must come first.

Cooking zone

The cooking zone is made up of your hob, cooker hood and splashback. Things like pan drawers, utensil holders and spice racks can also be incorporated into this zone.

Prep zone

The prep zone is usually also home to food storage and therefore includes your fridge and cupboards. Ideally, your wash-up and prep zone should be side by side with the cooking zone within reach of the prep zone. At the same time, you don't want to put your fridge next to the cooker.

Designing a 2m² kitchen

Small flats or studios often come with petite kitchenettes to match. Bearing in mind that these spaces aren't often occupied by large families, there's no need to go for oversized appliances. If you are looking to fit a 2 m² kitchen in a flat you share with a partner or live in alone, focus on the essentials such as:

  • a tabletop fridge for one person;

  • a two burner hob;

  • a mini oven;

  • an aluminium sink (a thin material);

  • a utensil rack and spice rack;

  • undersink storage;

  • a tiered drying rack;

  • slimline units for storage.

Why choose a kitchenette?

A kitchenette is an inexpensive solution for the smallest of kitchens. The classic white under-sink units of the past are gradually being replaced by more colourful, modern units made of materials like beech or wenge with modern details like stainless steel handles.

Advantages of kitchenettes

Why choose a kitchenette?

A kitchenette can be a good alternative to a regular fitted kitchen. With a total average length of just 1.2 metres, these kitchens comprise a sink, hob and fridge.

If space is tight, these kitchens have it all – a simple design, easy assembly and a wide range of materials designed to optimise space with the use of thin materials, stainless steel sinks and large one or two door cupboards.

8 space-saving tips for small kitchens

1. Utensil racks

8 space-saving tips for small kitchens

A utensil rack can be used to keep items such as oven gloves, whisks, spoons and spatulas within reach of the worktop.

2. Corner sinks

Corner sinks can be installed in kitchens with unusual layouts. They can feature one or two bowls and a drip tray, and come in a range of materials including stainless steel, plastic and other synthetic materials.

3. Tall cabinets

Tall cabinets work well in small kitchens as they are slimline. A tall cabinet can be a great storage solution for setting up beside the fridge in a prep zone. Using an over-the-sink dish rack can save a lot of space by freeing up the worktop space you would otherwise use to drip dry dishes.

4. Built-in appliances

8 space-saving tips for small kitchens

Built-in appliances are great for maximising space. However, a small kitchen rarely has room for more than a fridge and oven, or even mini oven. Choose your wall units and shelves to fit around your appliances and be sure to choose the right wall plugs when installing.

5. Kitchen trolleys

A kitchen trolley is really handy and can be tucked between two pieces of furniture, or a wall and a kitchen unit. Pick a model on castors with storage baskets, a drawer and hooks. It can be used to finish off a prep zone if it is topped with a thick surface which can double up as worktop space. Alternatively, it can be filled with condiments and used in the cooking zone.

6. Sliding doors

If you have little clearance for hinged doors, choose units with sliding doors instead. If you don't have space for either, go for shelves or take the doors off your cabinets and fill in the screw holes with screw caps.

7. Slide-out worktops

A slide-out worktop, installed in place of a drawer, can help to add a little extra counter space to small kitchens. If you trust your DIY skills, you can always make your own simple slide-out worktop using a piece of MDF and drawer runners designed to hold weights of 20 kg minimum. You can also consider a foldaway worktop.

8. Foldaway and modular furniture

From folding tables to undersink built-in bins, kitchen trolleys to over-the-sink cutting boards there are lots of effective ways to save space in the kitchen.

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Drawer runners

How to make a kitchen look bigger

What colours should I use?

How to make a kitchen look bigger

It is best to go for light colours in a kitchen to give the illusion of space. Pairing paler tones with a dark colour on the back wall of the kitchen will help to add depth to the room.

Mirrored splashbacks

Mirrors also add depth and light to a room. That's why they are often used in smaller spaces with little natural light. Installing a mirrored splashback should help to make your cooking zone appear bigger – along with the prep zone if the mirror is long enough.

What type of table is best for a small kitchen?

If you also use the kitchen to eat your meals, it can be a good idea to choose a foldaway table or, better still, a kitchen bar table. Some bar tables can even be folded away. Depending on the layout of the kitchen and the rest of your home, these narrow tables can also help to keep the kitchen separate or be used to create a service hatch or add worktop space.

More information on kitchens

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Guide written by:

Sebastian, self-taught DIY-er, Exeter

Sebastian, self-taught DIY-er, Exeter

Redo a roof with wooden beams? Check. Advise everybody in the DIY shop? Check. Redo bathroom plumbing? Check. If it doesn't work, try again! I'll do my best to advise you in your projects.

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