Design ideas for small kitchens

Use this guide to plan the layout, storage, appliances and cabinetry of your kitchen

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However limited your room size, use this guide to find out how careful planning of the layout, storage, appliances and cabinetry can ensure you achieve the kitchen space you want.

Having a small kitchen doesn’t mean that you need to compromise on style. Clever cabinetry choices and judicious use of space can both help to create a kitchen that suits your requirements. U-shaped, L-shaped and galley designs will all make the most of a small area.

Breakfast bar

Image above: The galley-style run of cabinets on either side of this kitchen combines storage, worktop space and integrated appliances in the full-height units. An overhanging worktop at one end combines work space with a small breakfast bar, perfect for casual dining and compact bar stools. Cooke & Lewis Appleby high-gloss kitchen in cream, £2,718, B&Q

‘The key question is what you need – is it extra storage, more appliances, or dining space perhaps? This should lead your approach to the rest of the kitchen design and what to include and exclude,’ says Clotilde Passalacqua, interior design leader at Ikea UK and Ireland. If there’s room, it’s a good idea to include a breakfast bar, so that there’s somewhere for guests or children to perch outside the working kitchen area.

Left U shaped units Right Flat finish

Above left: Elegance and functionality come together beautifully in this compact handmade kitchen. Pale-coloured wall units help to maintain a sense of space, and the glazed ceiling lantern brings in much-needed light. Visual tricks, such as the reflective glass splashback, long drawers beneath the hob and the unfussy wall-to-ceiling cabinetry on the right work together to make this small space big on style. The Real Shaker kitchen, from £8,000, DeVol

Above right: In a galley layout, where space between the units is tight, handleless cabinetry comes into its own. In this design, the simple flat-fronted drawers of the base cabinets create a linear effect that gives the illusion of length. Modulnova Fly kitchen in Bianco Snow, from £25,000, DesignSpace London

Cabinetry colours and materials

The lighter and simpler the cabinetry, the better. It’s a good idea to use pale colours and glossy reflective materials to bounce light around the room but, if you want a dark finish, try to use it on the base units only and fill the walls with open shelving or use a lighter shade for the wall cabinets. Be careful not to build up cabinetry next to windows, as blocking out natural light will only serve to make the room feel more cramped and dark. Positioning lighting carefully – particularly in working areas – will help to make the space feel more open.

It’s best to avoid cabinetry with fussy detailing and stick to simple Shaker or flat-fronted laminates. If you have a narrow double galley, make sure there’s enough space to open cabinets or appliances without bashing the doors of the units opposite – a gap of at least 90cm to one metre is advisable. Take care with your choice of handles, too, as protruding handles could end up catching clothes as you walk past if they are too big for the space. Bespoke cabinetry really comes into its own in a compact kitchen as it can be designed specifically to fit your room. Think about having narrower base cabinets on one side of a double galley for instance, or tall wall units that reach all the way to the ceiling, providing you with additional storage space.

Useful compartments drawer

Image above: Good storage, such as this spice and utensil store, can make or break a kitchen, and is especially important in a small kitchen. Corner LeMans units, tambour door cabinets on the work surfaces and segmented utensil drawers all contribute to a well ordered design. Kitchens from Siematic cost from £20,000

Storage ideas

Fight the temptation to overfill a small room with cabinetry. It can block out light and also make the room feel cramped. If storage is an issue then consider including clever interior fittings in fewer units instead. Drawers are always a better solution than simple cabinets of shelves as they open all the way, allowing you to store more and also to see what’s inside at a glance. Corner storage is a brilliant use of space and fittings, especially in a U-shaped design – LeMans units, for example, pull right out so you don’t have to scrabble around at the back of cupboards to find the pan you want. Clear work surfaces can make all the difference in a compact room, so always plan space in your units to store your small appliances, allowing you to tidy them away when they aren’t needed but access them easily when required.

Left Unusual solutions Right Sliding doors

Above left: Making the most of what you have is key to good kitchen design. In this space, the understairs cupboard has been fitted with cabinets and built-in appliances. Hyttan and Veddinge cabinetry, from £1,115, excluding appliances, Ikea

Above right: In this narrow room, the floorboards have been laid widthways to give the illusion that the room is wider than it is. Keeping the worktops clear, apart from key small appliances, further enhances the sense of space. Linear kitchen, from £18,000, Harvey Jones


In terms of both features and looks, compact appliances pack a big punch these days, so they’re an excellent choice for a small kitchen. Most manufacturers produce ranges that are only 45cm deep, and built-in models are a great solution grouped in banks of cabinetry. Slimline dishwashers are also useful, with some newer models holding nine place settings – perfect for a small family.

Go for multifunctional designs, such as combination ovens and microwaves, and washer-dryers, to cut down on the number of separate appliances you will need to squeeze in. A hardworking sink with lots of inserts, such as drainers and worktop savers, to sit over the top, will help to create extra work space. If you don’t want a kettle cluttering up your worktop, a combination boiling water tap is also a good investment. Some now have compact tanks that sit out of sight below your sink and take up very little room.

Resist the temptation, though, to position a flash ‘professional’-style spray tap over a small sink. Not only will it look disproportionate, but it can also result in water splashing back out over you and your work surface if you don’t take great care.

Under sink storage

Image above: Space around the base of a sink, which usually goes to waste, can be put to good use with a specially designed drawer that sits around the underside and includes compartments for cleaning materials. Blum inserts, such as this one, are available from all good kitchen showrooms

Design options

For an effective layout, plan a space with a ‘working triangle’ between the oven, sink and fridge to reduce the distance necessary to travel between them when cooking. Each side of this imaginary triangle should ideally measure 1-2.5 metres. Also consider how you can use the following layout ideas in your small kitchen to create a practical design.

Galley – A long narrow kitchen with units along one or both sides. Many smaller rooms have this arrangement.

U-shaped kitchen – An efficient solution for compact spaces, this has units on three walls, with the kitchen entrance on the fourth wall.

L-shaped kitchen – A single run of units with another, shorter run at a 90-degree angle. This is good for small rooms but is a very workable design for open-plan spaces, too.

Open-plan layout – A small kitchen flowing into a larger dining or living area will feel more spacious.

Featured image: In this narrow room, the floorboards have been laid widthways to give the illusion that the room is wider than it is. Keeping the worktops clear, apart from key small appliances, further enhances the sense of space. Linear kitchen, from £18,000, Harvey Jones