U-shaped kitchens – 10 inspiring ideas for open-plan designs

A U-shaped kitchen layout is practical, space-efficient and (as we'll show you) can be extremely stylish. Use these designs to inspire your new kitchen layout

a dark blue shaker style u-shaped kitchen in an open plan space
(Image credit: Katie Lee)

U-shaped kitchens are an increasing popular kitchen design, since they work well in open-plan spaces, but are also a good shape for small spaces too, as they max out storage and work surface space, and create a remarkably efficient kitchen work triangle.

Experts at Omega kitchens explain, 'The U-shaped layout is generally considered to be the most practical kitchen layout, as it’s ideal for the ‘golden triangle’ concept of positioning your fridge, cooker and sink within reachable distance of each other, while still allowing each appliance its own space.'

So instead of weeding through heaps of kitchen ideas to find the ones that strike your fancy, we've done the hard work for you rounded up the best U-shaped kitchen ideas so you can decide if if this is the best kitchen shape for you.

Need to see these U-shaped designs for yourself? Get ready to be inspired.

1. Integrate a U-shaped layout into a larger space

A white slab kitchen in an open plan wood cabin

(Image credit: Malcolm Menzies)

If your home has an open-plan feel (or you want it to), opting for a U-shaped kitchen layout can be an effective means of zoning a large, open space. Positioned in a corner with one side of the U forming a peninsular unit, it creates a clear distinction between the kitchen and dining or living areas.

This is achieved effectively with this Fusion White Kitchen from Magnet, which is positioned effectively in the corner of a larger, open plan space. The addition of a breakfast bar and stylish bar stools helps create the link between zones.

If you want any more advice on how to plan an open plan kitchen then make sure you check out our guide. 

2. Maximize the potential of a small space

grey and white toned u-shaped kitchen by norsu interiors

(Image credit: norsu interiors)

Opting for a U-shaped kitchen layout is effective in making a small space seem larger and lighter, while making the most of storage and work surface opportunities. 

Choosing flush-fronted, handleless cabinetry dials down the fussy detail to enhance the feeling of space further.

White kitchens, as well as those with grey tones, work a treat if maximizing the light and bright feel of your space is a priority. We love this combination of sleek and contemporary white and grey toned cabinets with retro features – hello Smeg Fridge – and bold brass fittings from Norsu Interiors. 

If you love this kitchen then lucky for you, we have a whole gallery full on inspirational white kitchen ideas, and grey kitchen ideas too. 

3. Use pendant lighting to create a focal point in a U-shaped kitchen

Kitchen-diner space with white island, industrial-style dining table, matching bench, multicolor chairs, multicolor rug and gallery wall

(Image credit: Kasia Fiszer)

Creating a focal point is an effective means of making a kitchen feel more pulled together. 

In a U-shaped space, pendant lighting is a great option, especially if one side of kitchen cabinets opens out onto an open plan space. 

We love the idea of glass pendant lights, which create the design impact required without sacrificing the light and open feel of the kitchen. 

P.S. We have loads more advice on the best kitchen lighting

4. Open-shelving stops a U-shaped kitchen feeling boxy

A white kitchen with wood countertops in a renovated home

(Image credit: Georgia Burns)

While a major perk of the U-shaped kitchen is its ability to offer abundant storage potential, opting for kitchen cabinets both above and below counter level can result in the room feeling crowded and therefore smaller, especially if you're working with darker woods or colors.

Experts at Omega explain more, 'If your kitchen is large or wide and you need the cupboard space, it should be fairly straightforward to fit top and bottom cabinets around the whole ‘U’, with just one break at the bottom.' 

'However this can make your kitchen feel a little boxed in, so it’s worth maximizing corner cupboards and thinking outside the box a little more to arrange your units.'

To counter this, consider opting for a combination of kitchen cabinets and open shelving units, which will make your space feel larger and more open. Style with your prettiest kitchenware.

5. Maximize the storage potential of a U-shaped kitchen

kitchen with white and grey scheme by wren kitchens

(Image credit: Wren Kitchens)

One of the major benefits of a U-shaped kitchen is its storage potential and it's worth considering how you intend on maximizing storage during the planning and designing stages.

Specially designed corner storage systems are worth the investment in a U-shaped kitchen, while your ratio of deep drawers to cupboards to shelving units should be carefully calculated to suit your storage needs.

We love the way this J Pull Kitchen from Wren Kitchens uses a shelving unit to create extra storage at the end of a row of kitchen cabinets; perfect for storing cook books. 

6. Choose tiles carefully for a small U-shaped kitchen

Woman in a white kitchen extension with terracotta metro subway tiles, kitchen island and sliding doors

(Image credit: Chris Snook)

Choosing the best kitchen tiles is an important design aspect and can make all the difference in terms of the final feel of a space. If you're dealing with a small, U-shaped kitchen, working with light colored tiles is a well known design trick that will make the space feel larger and lighter.

A slightly lesser known design trick is to lay tiles diagonally – this take on a herringbone effect is a great example – as it fools the eye into seeing a space as larger than it really is.

Like that tip? Our guide to choosing the right size tiles for a small kitchen has plenty more. You're welcome. 

7. Channel the maximalist trend in a U-shaped kitchen

A white kitchen in an open plan living area with an island and colorful bar stools

(Image credit: Georgia Burns)

Typically more angular, U-shaped kitchens are perfect for channeling your love of all things, bright, bold and patterned. 

Choose a different finish for each surface; we love the idea of botanical wallpapers, bright toned metro tiles and painted cabinets – the bigger and bolder the clashes, the better – to achieve an on-trend, maximalist look. 

8. Embrace the dark interiors trend (if light allows)

a dark kitchen high, glass fronted cabinets with island and butcher's block by ikea

(Image credit: Ikea)

If you're blessed with a large and naturally light space, don't shy away from a U-shaped kitchen inspired by the dark and atmospheric interiors trend

We love the dark finish of this kitchen. Despite its dark and inky floor to ceiling kitchen cabinets, abundant natural light prevents it from feeling small and boxy. 

The use of a freestanding Vadholma Kitchen Island, available at Ikea, also contributes to the kitchen's open feel. 

9. Or keep thing bright with a white U-shaped kitchen  

white kitchen with subway tile wall and white cabinets and island by deVOL

(Image credit: deVOL)

An all white look is just a classic and works so well in U-shaped kitchen as they are often in smaller kitchens that will benefit from later colors or an open plan kitchen space where you don't want to kitchen to be too much of the focus.

You can always add color and personality with plants, shelving and decorations – just check out our white kitchen ideas gallery for more inspiration. 

10. Consider built-in appliances for a sleek finish

When choosing appliances for a U-shaped kitchen, opting for built-in appliances is a great way to achieve a sleek and contemporary finish. 

We love the distinctly contemporary feel of the extractor fan in this kitchen from KreateCube

Emily Shaw
Emily Shaw

Emily first (temporarily) joined the Real Homes team while interning on her summer break from university. After graduating, she worked on several publications before joining Real Homes as Staff Writer full time in mid-2018. She loves a second-hand bargain and sourcing unique finds to make her rented flat reflect her personality.