October 2015

Less is More: Get the most out of a small kitchen

Author: Amy Dickson

Homes have reduced in size on average 250-350 square feet in the past five years, and that impact has carried over into the kitchen. Kitchens are still the heart of the home, and with recent economic conditions and a continued interest in sustainability, it has been proven that you can get more for less. More quality, more features, more creative options, and in many cases “more” kitchen. You don’t necessarily get more square footage or storage in the kitchen, but alternatively you can get more visual and design impact with the space.

There is a debate over the concept of “Big” kitchens being more expensive. As it turns out, the pocketbook is not necessarily making all the decisions. Homeowners are spending more per square foot on both large and small kitchens than they were 10-15 years ago, despite disposable incomes being reduced by most homeowners.

The open plan has been a new focus in interior design, combining the general living space and the kitchen into one visual landscape. A galley kitchen with a small footprint and an open floor plan makes for a big impact. The actual kitchen may be small and compact, but the overall sense is open or “big.” This is at the heart of the “less is more” issue for all leading kitchen designers.

They understand that in order to be competitive in today’s market you must be able to provide a design and products that match the client’s budget and design goals.

Smaller kitchens are being proposed every day by designers, and it does not look like this trend will be slowing any time soon. Small does not always mean less storage or functionality. A better design can incorporate more storage in less space by taking advantage of areas like built-in pantries and wasted corner cabinets. A built in pantry, on average, has 48 cubic feet of space, of which 24 cubic feet is actually usable. A cabinet with pullouts or built-in roll-trays that takes the place of standard wire shelves can almost double the useable space. The quality of hardware used on roll-trays and pullouts has dramatically improved so that operation is smooth and fluid. The phrase “soft-close drawers” has become a standard feature on almost every cabinet line available, when only a couple years ago it was always an upgrade. Together, these improvements reduce the footprint while adding more efficient storage.

Here are some tips for how to plan an efficient small kitchen:
Make a wish list. Be detailed when documenting your habits, storage needs, priorities, and wishes. List your daily habits side by side next to your wishes, and then compare to the available space you have. Prioritize those items that are wishes and not necessary to the overall goal of the project.

Organize by zone. This establishes what you will need in each area of the kitchen and which items might be stored elsewhere, or possibly eliminated completely. Purging yourself of items that you have had for a long time but have not used at all is a good idea. Chances are, if you didn’t remember you had it, you probably don’t need it. Donate these items to your church or a non-profit like Habitat for Humanity and get a tax deduction.

Store away seldom used items. Items that you only use once or twice a year can be kept in another storage location. Consider spaces adjacent to the kitchen. An existing piece of furniture or a new one that has more design appeal is a perfect place to store glassware or even canned goods. In the old days, hutches and freestanding cabinets were where most of the nonperishable foods were kept, and that is coming back into vogue. The cavity of a wall can also be a good solution for making new storage space. Most people forget that the space inside interior walls is mostly “dead” unused space. It can be cut out and made into a niche, or inserted with a shallow cabinet or shelves to store glass, food, or decorative objects.

Choose the right size appliances. Appliances take up a lot of the space in a kitchen, and you have more size options than ever before. Instead of a 36-inch wide refrigerator with a freezer on bottom, you can substitute a 24- or 30-inch all refrigerator combined with freezer drawers or a separate freezer in a pantry closet or garage. If your goal is to have a beautiful functional kitchen, then the freezer can live elsewhere, because the average person uses it only 20 percent of the time when getting food out to eat. Many consumers save money by having an extra freezer in the garage, allowing them to eat out less frequently and therefore save money, which offsets the cost of the extra freezer along with its operational cost.

Don’t stray from basic design principles. If you want to increase the sense of openness in a space, then incorporate strong horizontal lines in narrow boxy spaces, and vertical lines in low ceilings to add a sense of height. If you want more emphasis in the space, then combine bold colors with contrasting textures, and patterns either on the floors and/or ceilings.

Select appropriate lighting. Lighting is critical in small kitchens, because every detail needs attention. Natural light is preferable and adds depth to a space. Aim for at least one or two natural light sources in a small kitchen. In addition, under-cabinet and directional ceiling lighting adds a sense of depth and opens up the space.

Pay attention to details. Every detail must be addressed to make the space engaging to the senses. Large kitchens tend to be more forgiving, but in order to make a small kitchen stand out, every detail counts. The size of the hardware, width of the grout lines, and consistency of metal finish on appliance and plumbing fixtures, all can make or break the focal point of a small kitchen. Aim for continuity and flow among these details, which will add character to the space and ultimately stand out in small kitchens. 

Amy Dickson is a designer at La Source.

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