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the kitchens issue

Tight squeeze? How to make a small kitchen feel bigger - without gutting the whole space

Nathalie Marquez Courtney shares some fast fixes to help you make the most of a compact kitchen.

AS A LIFELONG renter, I’ve rarely been blessed in the kitchen department. Most of my early kitchen experiences could be classed as being of the “PS” variety. As in, “Here’s your apartment – PS, that tiny dark smelly corner over there is the kitchen.”

Rarely was there a door to separate the smell (and mess) of my culinary concoctions from the rest of the space, or that most wished for of features, an actual window.

Cramped countertops, zero storage and tiny cabinets – I’ve seen it all, and often all at once, packaged into a footprint barely big enough to flip a pancake in.

But there are plenty of smart design changes that can make a big impact on compact kitchens. Whether your kitchen is as tiny as the ones I’m used to, or you just long for a little bit of extra workspace, here are seven affordable upgrades to make a small kitchen feel streamlined, spacious and bright…

1. Clear the clutter: One of the easiest – and cheapest – ways to make a small kitchen feel roomier is to clear away countertop clutter. Examine everything you have out and ask yourself if it’s used enough to justify being there. Be ruthless – do you only make toast at the weekends? Pack that space hog away.

2. Add some clever storage hacks: Of course, all that stuff has to go somewhere, this being a small kitchen after all. Look for ways to maximise storage wherever you can. Try adding a rail with hooks under a cupboard for mugs, wall mount your utensils, or try putting up some small shelves for spices and other regularly used condiments. Even a tray popped on top of the microwave can double as extra storage space for everyday essentials.

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3. Add extra counter space without gutting the whole kitchen: Now that you’ve cleared the clutter, you may realise your counters still leave a lot to be desired in terms of space. Add a couple of butcher block-style chopping boards to streamline things and broaden your available food prep zones. If you have enough work space but just don’t like the look of your countertops, try covering them in contact paper, available online in a range of designs.

4. Turn your cupboards into open shelves: Open shelving can really help brighten up a space and improve the flow of a room. If you’re stuck with unappealing cupboards though, all is not lost. Simply remove the doors from the top cabinets (most click off and on surprisingly easily) and thoroughly clean and paint the inside of the shelves white for that bright, open shelf look. You could even add some cool wallpaper to the back for a pop of interest. Bonus: you’re more likely to use things if you can see them, and open shelving forces you to keep stuff tidy.

5. Adopt a clear storage jar policy: If you already have open shelving or lots of shelves, improve the look of them by decanting as many items as possible into clear storage jars. Removing the busy pattern of packaging will instantly add a sense of space and glass storage jars do a better job of reflecting light. Use what you have on hand – clean jam or yoghurt jars are perfect for things like nuts and seeds.

6. Brighten up your backsplash: Busy tiles making the space feel closed in? If you don’t fancy the look of the ones you have, adding news ones can be easier than you think. Removable peel and stick tiles are available in a range of designs, from cool subway-style versions to pretty Mediterranean ones and they can be applied directly over existing tiles. Light, high gloss finishes work well in small spaces.

7. Add some fancy finishing touches: You’d be surprised at what a huge difference a few clever design touches can make to a basic kitchen, in terms of modernising and opening up a space. Companies like Pretty Pegs and Superfront specialise in budget-friendly upgrades for standard Ikea pieces – think everything from swapping out drawer handles to cool new cabinet fronts.

More: 7 excellent Ikea kitchen items that Irish designers love – for under €50>

Nathalie Marquez Courtney
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