How to design a small kitchen

A small kitchen can be a great workspace with all the features you need and good looks. This advice will have yours delivering on every count

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Designing a kitchen is one thing, but designing a small kitchen can seem as if it demands compromises, whether that’s in functionality, or style. But with good planning even the most compact of kitchens can work efficiently and look fabulous. Here’s what you need to consider to get the (small) kitchen of your dreams.

Small blue kitchen

Kitchen, Ikea

(Image: © Ikea)

Why a small kitchen needs careful planning

A small kitchen needs to deliver all the worktop space, cooking options, appliances and small kitchen storage solutions of a bigger room without having the same volume to accommodate them. It may be part of an open-plan kitchen-diner, which means less wall space for cabinetry, or it could be in a small and sometimes awkwardly shaped separate room.

But a kitchen that falls short of your expectations definitely doesn’t have to be the result. Use our guide and whether you’re working with a kitchen designer, architect or builder, you can plan a perfectly formed small kitchen.  

small white cabinet kitchen with black marble surfaces

Limehouse Kitchen from Neptune

(Image: © Neptune)

What to include in a small kitchen design?

What are the must-have elements for your small kitchen? And what would you ideally like to include? Use our list to ensure nothing vital is excluded, and that you consider the ways to incorporate desirable features. 

Small L-shaped kitchen

Kitchen, Ikea

(Image: © Ikea)

Draw up a small kitchen floorplan

If you’re working with a kitchen designer or architect, they’ll create a scale plan of your room, but it’s perfectly possible to make your own using graph paper.

Does your small kitchen have a window? One door or more? Mark them on here. If it’s part of an open-plan kitchen-diner, it may not have these, but do include the other zones of the room on the plan, too, so you can see how the small kitchen area relates to them.

With the plan you’ll be able to see where base and wall units can go, how your essential elements fit, and whether the would-like-to-include features can find a place in the small kitchen.

Small kitchen

Kitchen, Ikea

(Image: © Ikea)

Design the best small kitchen layout

Galley kitchen layouts

Often, a small kitchen will have a galley layout. The narrowest of rooms – or open-plan spaces – might only fit a single run of units along one wall. If there’s a little more space, there might be a second run of units opposite. The same layout could work if your small kitchen is part of an open-plan space, with the opposite run of units created by a kitchen island.

A galley is an efficient small kitchen layout. Bear in mind these design points:

  • Where there’s a double run of units and the kitchen leads to somewhere else and younger family members will be passing through, it’s safer to keep sink and hob on one side.
  • If passing kids aren’t an issue, positioning the sink opposite the hob with the fridge as the third point of the classic kitchen work triangle is efficient.
  • Even if there’s only space for a single run of units, it may be possible to fit a narrow worktop on one side of the room, creating a breakfast bar or just extra prep space. 

a small yet contemporary kitchen with marble topped white cabinets and a bright red blind

Find these dramatic red blinds at English Blinds

(Image: © English Blinds)

U-shaped kitchen layouts 

These can work well for small kitchens. You can easily create an efficient work triangle with the cooker, fridge and sink on each of the sides. Consider these points:

  • To avoid a closed-in feel, think about open shelving or glazed wall cupboards, at least on one side of the U.
  • Make the most of the corners with specially designed pull-out interiors for the units located there.
  • If the U isn’t even on both sides, put the hob on the longer run for maximum worktop space either side.

small kitchen in an awkward space with wood finish and white cabinets

(Image: © B&Q)

L-shaped kitchen layouts

Practical in small spaces, they're often part of an open-plan kitchen diner.

  • Locate the oven and hob on one section of the L and the sink on the other.
  • If the window position allows it, use the longer wall for wall units with oven and hob in the same run. The sink will sit comfortably under the window.
  • If you're planning an L-shape in an open-plan scheme, be aware that you'll have your back to family and friends when you're working.
    tall units, including a built-in fridge freezer, work well on the shorter part of the L (if the window's not in this position).

Small L Shaped Ikea Kitchen

Kitchen, Ikea

(Image: © Ikea)

Decide on a small kitchen design

Once you know what you want to include in a small kitchen, and the way in which cabinetry and other elements are going to be arranged, think about the style of units.

To maximise the feeling of space in a small kitchen, dial down the detail on kitchen cabinetry. If you’re after a contemporary kitchen look, flat-fronted units will fit the bill – handless cabinets are ideal and are great for very small kitchens, ensuring there are no protruding handles.

Don’t fret if you prefer a more classic look. Shaker-style kitchens have a panelled front that’s unfussy by design, so they’ll prevent a small room looking hectic with detail.

Reflective finishes will make the most of daylight and artificial illumination, helping a small space feel larger than it really is. Think high-gloss units or even stainless steel. If those aren’t your favourites, though, flatter finishes or painted units in pale colours will also brighten in a space-stretching way.

Check out our 25 kitchen cabinet ideas and 10 beautiful small kitchen ideas for inspiration. 

small shaker style kitchen with arger and white colour scheme

(Image: © deVOL)

Which cabinet colour for a small kitchen?

White’s a winning choice when space is short in the kitchen because it’ll help bounce light round the room and make it feel bigger. Pure white looks contemporary, or you can opt for creamier tones for a softer effect.

Coloured kitchen finishes are best kept to paler tints. Think light greens, blues or greys if the room’s short on light.

Got a small kitchen with rooflights or a high ceiling and tall window? Then colour choices expand. Darker tones of grey and blue won’t close the room down if there’s plenty of daylight.

Want to create extra interest in a small kitchen? Consider teaming white wall units with darker base units, or pale wood cabinets on the walls with white units below. The light-reflecting surfaces you do include will keep the room bright.

Kitchen with kitchen island

Accessories shown, Amara

(Image: © Amara)

Go for the idea small kitchen worktop

Light’s your friend when the goal is to make a small kitchen feel more generous in size, so reflective worksurfaces can help. Pale natural stones can look spectacular in a small kitchen, adding character as well as bouncing light round. Manufactured composites also come in colourways and finishes that can boost the light.

Less costly laminates can pull off the same tricks in light colours. Or why not go for stainless steel to give the kitchen a professional edge and keep it bright?

Alternatively, in a well-lit small kitchen, you might want the warm contrast of wood against white or nearly-white units.

Choose the best window dressing for a small kitchen

Window treatments in a small kitchen need to be able to withstand the atmosphere and be easy to keep clean. They also need to be as space-efficient as the rest of your choices for the room.

Window shutters make the grade on both counts because they can be wiped clean, and because they fit the window exactly, so there’s no dangling fabric if they’re above a sink, for example. Other possibilities include kitchen blinds specially made for high-condensation rooms. If the kitchen faces the garden, window film, which is applied to the glass, can ensure sufficient privacy.

Orla Keily mustard roller blind in a grey kitchen

(Image: © Blinds 2 Go)

Select small kitchen splashbacks

A splashback can help make a small kitchen feel more spacious as well as doing its wall-protecting job. Glass is barely-there and will reflect light, while high gloss tiles make more of a feature but can still help brighten. Don’t like tiles that are high shine? Match a less glossy version to the wall colour and take the tiles just a minimal distance up the wall for a more expansive feel.

Try more unusual ideas, too. A mirrored splashback can trick the eye into seeing the room as bigger. Make sure you buy a design made for the job – it must be toughened. In country-style kitchens, vertical panelling can bring a fresh twist to wall protection, and because of the orientation of the planks, make the ceiling feel higher.

Design small kitchen lighting

Good lighting is essential for safety when you’re working in the kitchen, and will also make the room feel larger as there are no areas lost in shadow. Concentrate on the three types: ambient, to light up the whole room, provided by ceiling lights; task, for work areas; and accent, to highlight specific features.

Pendant lights over any breakfast bar are still a good idea in a small kitchen to add to the overall aesthetic. Choose smaller versions than you would in a bigger space and they’ll look in proportion to the room’s dimensions. 

Find out how to get your kitchen lighting scheme just right in our feature.

Sebastian Cox Kitchen sideboard by deVOL

Sebastian Cox Kitchen sideboard by deVOL

(Image: © deVOL)

Plan small kitchen flooring

The full range of kitchen flooring types are suitable for a small kitchen, but as well as selecting for practicality and looks as well as according to your budget, you may want to use the flooring to make the kitchen feel larger.

Large format tiles with a rectified edge and in a light finish can help the room feel bigger as there are fewer visible grout lines breaking up the floor.

An uninterrupted expanse of vinyl, rubber, concrete or resin flooring can look sleek and expansive.

Wood planks can lead the eye outwards to make the kitchen feel wider, or along the length so it feels bigger in that direction, depending on how they’re laid.

Natural Carrara Marble Tiles

(Image: © Walls and Floors)

Invest in good small kitchen storage

Working small kitchen storage ideas into a small kitchen design is a must, particularly with a view to keeping worktops neat and clear, which in turn will help your kitchen feel larger. Storage jar ideas and clever pantry storage ideas will all keep your cupboards neat and anything kept on the worktops looking organised.

The White Company storage jars

(Image: © The White Company)

What does a new small kitchen cost?

An average size new kitchen costs from around £3,000 for good quality units, while worktops cost from £100, and appliances and fitting can vary from a few hundred pounds to more than £2,000, according to the design. How much cabinetry and worktop a small kitchen will accommodate does depend on the layout (see above), so a figure of £17/m² for off-the-shelf units and worksurfaces may also help you prepare a budget. 

Will you need planning permission for a small kitchen?

A new kitchen doesn’t require planning permission, and even if you are planning a kitchen extension, this work may be covered by permitted development

New units and fittings don’t require building regulations approval, but drainage and electrical works may. 

Who can fit a small kitchen?

A kitchen company or supplier may provide a fitting service, while a specialist kitchen designer can manage everything from initial plans to the fit out, including all the trades involved. Or, find a reliable builder yourself to install the kitchen.

Competent DIYers may want to take on tasks such as fitting the kitchen units and tiling themselves.

Designing a small kitchen on a budget?

Try these tips to cut the cost of your new kitchen:

More small kitchen know how: