A small kitchen layout can present challenges when it comes to storage, workflow, and functionality. However, with some clever planning and strategic design choices, small kitchens can be highly efficient, attractive, and enjoyable to cook in. There are many things to consider when designing a small kitchen layout, from work triangle dimensions to type of storage to appliances. Following kitchen design basics while taking advantage of space-saving techniques can result in the ideal kitchen layout for your needs and preferences. Read on for tips on how to maximize and optimize limited square footage when designing your small kitchen layout.

Measure Your Space and Set Priorities

The first step in planning your small kitchen layout is to carefully measure the existing space. Be sure to measure wall to wall, floor to ceiling, windows, doors, pipes, vents, and any other architectural elements. This will give you an accurate sense of the absolute maximum space you have available. Once you know the precise dimensions, sketch out the current layout to scale on graph paper.

Next, make a list of your must-haves for the new kitchen layout. Do you need space for entertaining or extra seating? Is a pantry essential? What are your most-used appliances and cookware? Defining your priorities will help inform what you can compromise on in a small kitchen layout. If a large fridge and oven range are most important, you may need to sacrifice some pantry space. Measuring precisely and setting priorities are key first steps before designing the layout.

Utilize Your Kitchen Work Triangle

The kitchen work triangle is a guideline for efficient kitchen workflow and layout. The three points of the triangle represent the main kitchen zones:

  • Cooktop
  • Refrigerator
  • Sink

In an ideal kitchen layout, you can easily move between these three workstations with minimal effort and steps. For a small kitchen, experts recommend a work triangle with each side between 4-6 feet in length. Anything smaller can make the kitchen feel cramped, while much larger creates unnecessary steps.

You can be flexible with the exact shape of the work triangle to customize it to your space. An isosceles triangle with two equal sides may fit your small kitchen best. Just be sure to remove any obstacles that might get in the way, such as a freestanding island or table. Focus on clear access and easy movement between the main kitchen zones.

Choose Space-Saving Appliances

Appliance selection will significantly impact your small kitchen layout. Standard ovens, stovetops, and refrigerators simply take up too much space. Investing in smaller and streamlined appliance options can make a surprising difference.

  • Compact microwave/convection oven combo instead of a full-size oven
  • Small range cooktop or induction burner rather than large stove and oven
  • Under-counter or counter-depth refrigerator over full-size
  • Small free-standing freezer in place of wide model
  • Slim dishwasher with 24-inch footprint or smaller
  • Washer/dryer combo unit to replace side-by-side models

Be sure to measure the appliance sizes you are considering during the planning process to ensure they will fit and allow proper surrounding counter and cabinet dimensions. Even going down just a few inches can recover several square feet of floor space.

Evaluate Work Surface and Storage Options

When space is limited, you need to carefully consider work surfaces and storage solutions. What will allow you to maximize usable workspace and keep essentials accessible but out of the way?

Work Surfaces

  • Island – Even a narrow island can provide enhanced workspace and storage. Just be sure sightlines are adequate.
  • Peninsula – Provides workspace accessible from both sides while also creating separation.
  • Sliding/Folding Tables – Use as needed, then tuck away to recover floor space.
  • Countertop Extensions – Support extra prep area then push back when not needed.
  • Wall-Mounted Drop-Leaf Tables – Fold down for compact storage when workspace not needed.

Storage Solutions

  • Tall Pantry Cabinet – One deep and narrow floor-to-ceiling cabinet maximizes storage.
  • Roll-Out Shelving – Easy access to items pushed to back of base cabinets.
  • Blind Corner Cabinet Organizers – Take advantage of hard-to-reach corner space.
  • Vertical Dividers – Double your existing cabinet storage capacity.
  • Wall-Mounted Railings/Racks – Provide additional storage up and out of the way.
  • Under-Sink Roll-Outs – Use previously wasted plumbing space for sponges, cleaners, etc.

Selecting innovative work surfaces and storage options that suit your particular space and needs is an important part of small kitchen layout planning.

Consider Temporary Expansion Options

While your small kitchen layout should reflect the permanent available space, also consider temporary expandability. Think about where you could set up a folding table or extra countertop as needed for holidays, larger gatherings, or special projects such as canning or baking.

Having strategic places to add supplemental surface area even just occasionally can make a small kitchen more livable day-to-day. However, these expandable stations should not interfere with primary work triangles and circulation routes when not in use. Focus on versatility in your layout.

Design Zones and Allocate Activities

In addition to your work triangle, think about how you want to divide up your small kitchen layout into logical zones or workstations. Common kitchen zones include:

  • Food Prep Zone
  • Cooking Zone
  • Cleaning Zone
  • Dining Zone

Consider which tasks can share space and which should be separated. For example, keep food prep and dish washing supplies apart for food safety. Also look for opportunities to allocate tasks outside the primary kitchen, such as:

  • Breakfast nook with small table and stools
  • Coffee/beverage station in adjacent space
  • Secondary prep zone on another counter

By planning zones and allocating activities thoughtfully, you can maximize efficiency and minimize cross-contamination risks. Just be sure zones are well-delineated in a compact layout.

Add Architectural Interest With Floor Plans

While a rectangular or square shape may be the default, don’t be afraid to get creative with architectural elements to enhance your small kitchen layout. Consider:

Galley Kitchen

  • Ideal for very small kitchens
  • Allows for efficient single-wall workflow
  • Can feel cramped with multiple cooks
  • Works best for one cook at a time

L-Shaped Kitchen

  • Efficient work triangle
  • Comfortably accommodates multiple cooks
  • Allows for a logical kitchen zone layout

U-Shaped Kitchen

  • Provides ample continuous counter space
  • Allows for a spacious work triangle
  • Walk-through section acts as natural room divider

Look for ways architectural contours and details can improve spacial flow and make the most of every inch. Just beware of overly chopped up or broken floor plans that disrupt movement.

Embrace Multi-Purpose Furnishings

From seating to storage, select furnishings that can serve multiple purposes and uses. Ideas for multi-functional small kitchen furnishings include:

  • Counter stools that can flip up and tuck under to recover floor space
  • An island with seating on one side and storage on the other
  • Banquette seating with pull-out storage drawers underneath
  • A farmhouse table that can expand with leaves for more dining space
  • Bar cart that doubles as a mobile island or extra prep space
  • Cabinet with a fold-down front that converts to a desk or table

With some creativity, you can find furniture pieces that allow you to get more use out of the compact square footage. Dual-purpose furnishings are a small kitchen layout’s best friend.

Strategically Use Lighting and Color Palettes

Well-designed lighting and an intentional color palette are secrets for making a small kitchen layout feel open and airy rather than cramped. Essential strategies include:


  • Task lighting over key workstations
  • Under cabinet lighting for extra brightness
  • Large mirror to reflect and amplify natural light
  • Light interior colors to prevent a cave-like feeling

Color Palette

  • Soft, neutral hued cabinets, counters, and backsplashes
  • Pops of color on bar stools, appliances, and accent walls
  • Avoid dark or glossy materials that absorb light
  • Monochromatic scheme gives illusion of expanded space

Light colors, reflective surfaces, under cabinet fixtures and spot lighting all help make a small kitchen shine. Just take care that overly cool undertones don’t make the space feel sterile.

Design for Maximum Vertical Storage

Since horizontal floor space is limited in a small kitchen, look to maximize vertical storage on walls, cabinets, pantries, and islands. Vertical storage options include:

  • Tall pantry unit with deep shelves
  • Floor-to-ceiling shelving unit for glassware/dishes
  • Wall-mounted pot rack and utensil railings
  • Spice racks mounted inside cabinet doors
  • Wall-mounted knife strip or magnetic strip
  • Wine glass hanging rack under cabinets
  • Paper towel holder mounted on side of cabinet
  • Microwave or utensil caddies mounted high on walls

You can also have upper cabinets go all the way to the ceiling rather than stopping short with wasted space above. Every bit of vertical real estate in a small kitchen should be utilized.

Have Realistic Expectations

While a small kitchen layout presents certain challenges, also embrace the possibilities. You can create an efficient, organized, and personal kitchen with careful planning and purposeful use of space. However, it is unrealistic to expect a tiny kitchen to function exactly like a large kitchen.

Accept that you may need to:

  • Take some items like stand mixers and large appliances out only when in use
  • Hand wash large pots/pans that don’t fit in your small sink
  • Dry dishes in a dish rack instead of leaving them in the dishwasher
  • Store infrequently used items in adjacent spaces
  • Get creative when prepping big meals for gatherings

With realistic expectations and a willingness to adapt techniques as needed, your small kitchen can deliver full cooking functionality.


Designing a small kitchen layout presents exciting challenges that can result in smart, innovative, and liveable kitchens. By following fundamental kitchen design principles while taking advantage of space-saving appliances, storage solutions, multi-purpose furnishings, and layout plans, you can create a kitchen that maximizes every inch. Invest in quality materials, lighting and impactful accents tailored to your style. Be willing to edit items rigorously to only essentials. With strategic planning and customization, a small kitchen can empower big cooking dreams.

FAQ About Small Kitchen Layouts

What are some small kitchen layout ideas to maximize space?

Some excellent small kitchen layout ideas include:

  • Galley kitchen for single wall workflow
  • Peninsula instead of island to save space
  • Slide-out shelves and drawers in base cabinets
  • Wall-mounted drop-down tables and pot racks
  • Multi-tiered vertical shelving units
  • Window seating bench with storage below
  • Mix of open and closed storage to reduce visual clutter

How small can a practical kitchen be?

While it depends on your needs, lifestyle and storage requirements, in general kitchens under 70 square feet start to feel quite small for full functionality. It is possible to have an efficient kitchen under 50 square feet, but the space will require significant spatial planning and compact, slimline appliances.

Should I have an island in a small kitchen?

An island can work very well in a small kitchen, provided there is adequate floor space. Aim for at least a 32-36 inch walkway around the island perimeter so it does not disrupt circulation. An island squeezed into an already cramped kitchen tends to limit functional space rather than add to it.

What size appliances make the most of small kitchens?

Look for appliance widths under 30 inches. Great small kitchen appliance options include:

  • 24-inch wide refrigerator and freezer columns
  • 15-20 inch compact microwave-convection ovens
  • 20-24 inch rangetops or induction cooktops
  • 18-24 inch slimline dishwasher models
  • Stacked washer/dryer units under 30 inches wide

How can I add seating in a small kitchen?

Smart options for small kitchen seating include counter-height stools that can tuck under the counter or island when not in use, banquette seating with storage drawers underneath, and a small bistro table and chairs in an adjacent breakfast nook area.

What color scheme makes a small kitchen look bigger?

Soft neutral tones like off-white, light grey and pale blues paired with reflective surfaces give the illusion of expanded space. Dark or rich colors tend to make small kitchens feel closed in and cramped. Bold pops of color through accents and décor provide visual interest while keeping the backdrop light.


Creative layouts, multi-functional furnishings, space-saving appliances and a thoughtful color palette allow you to transform a small kitchen into a highly usable culinary workspace. Focus on quality over quantity, and find innovative ways to maximize every inch vertically and horizontally. With realistic expectations and strategic spatial planning, even the tiniest kitchen can be inviting and functional.