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From poky to perfect: 7 design tips to make the most of a small kitchen

The kitchen has evolved to become the centre of most households. Here’s how to make a small one feel spacious.

KITCHENS ARE OFTEN the most-used rooms in the house – even where they aren’t a large, sociable kitchen-diner. And for many modern households, a small kitchen can be a big pain point.

It’s difficult to create a kitchen in a small space that’s both stylish and practical, especially if you’re not planning a full kitchen makeover today or tomorrow.

But even if you’re not flush with counter space, there are ways to make the most of your little kitchen.

1. Use colour to create a feeling of space

It’s an age-old adage for a reason – darker colours make a space feel more closed in, and in a kitchen, you have to worry about more than just the wall colour. “Wood can be quite dark and can really suck the light out of a room, so if you want to make the room feel a little more spacious, then certainly painting your presses a bright colour will make a difference,” says David Dempsey, a designer at Noel Dempsey Kitchens and Interiors.

“Some people think gloss kitchens will reflect the light better, and it does to a certain degree but gloss looks cheaper so we tend not to use many shiny surfaces. We recommend matte finishes,” he says.

Smart use of drawers or pull-out baskets can boost the usable space in your presses Shutterstock / Africa Studio Shutterstock / Africa Studio / Africa Studio

2. Rethink your presses from the inside out

The way most kitchen presses are designed, it’s difficult to really maximise the storage space you have without a little help. While David recommends pullout drawer systems for smaller spaces instead of traditional presses, he says: “If you have an existing kitchen and you want to retro-fit it, putting pull out baskets inside presses would help.”

This is something Leandro Godoy, Kitchens and Dining Manager at IKEA, agrees is extremely important in a small kitchen. “Good storage solutions are a must in a small kitchen. List what you need to store and organise the cabinets in a way that they can accommodate the items, but also maximise the space within them. Shelf inserts can double your shelf space, and narrow and wide storage boxes, with and without handles, keep your cabinets tidy and give you easy access to your items,” he says.

3. Take appliances off the worktop (even the ones you think you need)

Taking as much clutter off your countertops as possible will visually make the space feel less busy, and as such, less small. “Planning is key in a small space. Be really clear on what you want from your kitchen and prioritise a design that meets these needs. A good example here is being really selective with the appliances, large and small, you have in your kitchen. Ask yourself how often will I use this appliance? If it’s something you rarely use, is it worth taking up valuable space in your kitchen?” says Leandro.

While you might decide a sandwich maker or blender isn’t key, most kitchens can’t be without a kettle, but David recommends removing that also. “Your kettle can be replaced by a boiling water tap, which is very popular at the moment. It frees up that worktop space. Once you have a socket underneath your sink, which most people would have for a dishwasher or whatever, it’s just a small bit of plumbing and you plug it in. You don’t have to re-drill worktops or anything like that if you have a normal tap hole, it will just replace your regular tap,” he says.

Use under-cabinet or other directional lights to brighten up corners and make them attractive to use Shutterstock / Yury Stroykin Shutterstock / Yury Stroykin / Yury Stroykin

4. Get directional lighting

Good lighting can make a huge difference in a small space, both in terms of how bright the space is, and how practically useful it is. “I would recommend purchasing task lighting. Good directional lighting makes prepping ingredients and serving food so much easier and it doesn’t have to take up space on a countertop. Lights clipped to shelves can be angled to point wherever’s most useful,” says Leandro.

If you have a bit more budget available, having the lights built into your workspaces can make a big difference. “If you can’t see the bulbs, if they’re recessed up behind a wall press, that can make give the effect of daylight. It’s a useful way of making a darker space look a bit more naturally lit. By virtue of being a brighter space then, it feels a bit bigger then,” says David.

5. Make the most of your vertical space – even the awkward bits

Storage space is at a premium in small kitchens, so you really have to make the most of every square inch you have, and that includes the vertical space you don’t even really notice now. “Most of the time we’d go to the ceiling with our presses, so your pantry units would be taller,” says David. “But if you have existing presses, you can add smaller boxes on top of them to take advantage of that space above them for storage.”

And that’s not the only vertical space you have, according to Leandro. “Use your walls. Shelves, small mounted units and even rails and hooks can be easily added giving you more storage options. Keep things you use less frequently up high,” he says.

Make the most of the 'dead space' on top of cabinets for less frequently-used items Shutterstock / mama_mia Shutterstock / mama_mia / mama_mia

6. Run out of wall? Use the ceiling too

Walls are all well and good, but your ceiling might be an even better option if your kitchen is very narrow. “Rails, magnetic racks and hooks make great use of free space in a small kitchen. They can be easily added and are an affordable option. You can keep your most used utensils and pots here but also they give you the opportunity to display whatever you want and bring your personality to life in the kitchen,” says Leandro.

While hanging racks offer an alternative space for storage, particularly for pots and pans, David warns to ensure your ceiling is “properly reinforced before you hang a rack that will hold heavy weights on it”.

7. Add temporary counter space that you can put away when it’s not in use

Depending on the space available, you may be able to bring in an extra food prep surface to help make cooking more practical. “For a lot of people the big problem is worktop space. If it’s a small kitchen, you might have space for a small little square island, maybe one that’s movable. You can have it pushed up against the wall when it’s not in use, and then when you’re preparing food, you can pull it out like a small extra worktop, or like a butcher’s block type thing. It just gives you that extra space, and when you don’t need it you can push it back out of the way,” says David.

If that would leave you with little room to move around the kitchen, even pushed out of the way, Leandro has a suggestion: “A wall mounted drop leaf table works well in a small kitchen. It saves space when not in use by folding away but can easily used for dining, preparing food or even as a desk,” he says.

More: 8 design tips for a hallway that makes you happy (plus the mistakes you’re probably making)>

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