How to design a small kitchen: all your questions answered

Planning a kitchen renovation, but its size leans more on the compact side? Fear not – we’ve asked the experts for their clever design ideas to help maximise your space.

It’s time to normalise small kitchens – because, while they may be little, they have big potential. So, I say embrace all your space’s quirks and learn how to make them work harder. How, I hear you ask? “Compact kitchens come in an array of shapes and sizes and often homeowners are challenged with quirky shaped rooms and odd proportions,” says Al Bruce, founder at kitchen company Olive & Barr. “Although such obstacles require extra thought and planning, they result in a unique kitchen design with an abundance of personality,” adds Al. I don’t know about you, but I like the sounds of that!

Let’s delve into some practical advice and discover brilliant small kitchen design ideas. From which cabinet style to choose, to what worktops, storage and flooring work best in a compact space, we break down all you need to know for planning your new project. And begin…

Green kitchen design with white tiles, built-in oven, brass handles and parquet flooring.
Shaker kitchen, from £35,000, John Lewis of Hungerford.

Which layout works best in a small kitchen?

The small L-shaped kitchen in my London flat is currently working at full capacity. Previous to that, I had a one-wall kitchen, which I surprisingly found to be pretty practical despite its size. So, this has got me thinking – which layout actually works best in a small kitchen?

“When designing a small kitchen, opt for a layout that emphasises functionality and utilises every inch of available space effectively,” advises Molly Chandler, designer at Willis & Stone. “Pay attention to traffic flow and ensure there is enough space for people to move around comfortably, especially in high-traffic areas like around the sink and stove.”

Shaker kitchen design with brass handles, wall lights, open shelf and marble surfaces.
Interior design by Claire Garner Interiors. Photography: Lyndsey Abercromby.

“A galley layout, with cabinets and appliances arranged along two parallel walls is a good option and will help to create a streamlined workflow with everything within easy reach. Alternatively, an L-shaped layout can help optimise corner space whilst still maintaining an open feel. This layout also provides ample counter space and storage along the two adjoining walls,” says Molly.

L-shaped design with pink units, matching island, wood stool and terrazzo surfaces.
Dani Mosley, of catering company @family_feasts, worked with designer and Pluck‘s co-founder George Glasier on a layout where the fridge, hob, and sink would all be within easy reach of one another. Pluck kitchens start at £20,000.

Can I have an island?

If an island is top of your wishlist, why not embrace freestanding furniture? Compact freestanding islands are a great solution for maximising worktop and storage space while also ticking off your wishlist item. Plus, because they appear to be floating, your room won’t feel crowded.

Islands on wheels are also gaining popularity as, thanks to the industrial castors, they can be easily moved out of the way when not in use. You can also achieve a similar look with the help of a kitchen trolley – “a fantastic addition to any prep area as it will really help maximise the space you have,” says Simon Glanville, managing director at storage brand A Place for Everything. “Think about what items you use most frequently (spices, oils etc) and ensure they’re easily accessible. A slimline kitchen trolley is the perfect option to get the most out of every corner!”

Neutral rustic kitchen design with freestanding island and wall hooks.
Sebastian Cox kitchen, from £15,000, by Devol. Photography: Ellei Home.

Does kitchen style matter?

Traditional Shaker? Handleless or slab style? With so many styles available, which cabinetry is the right choice for a small kitchen?

Ashleigh Hanwell, senior designer at kitchen and furniture brand Second Nature recommends handleless cabinets, as these will make a small kitchen feel bigger. “Creating a streamlined and contemporary look, integrated handles will offer a clean aesthetic,” she adds.

But remember you’re not constrained to a kitchen style – think about what you like and talk to your designer about finding ways to make it work within a smaller space.

Open-plan cooking area and dining space with green units and wood table and chairs.
Luna kitchen in Laurel Green, Magnet.

Why not go bespoke?

If your budget allows, there is no doubt bespoke furniture is the way to go for maximising every inch of your kitchen. “Bespoke elements can play a key part in delivering a well-designed small kitchen, as sometimes standard sizes of cabinetry won’t suffice,” says Al. “This allows the opportunity to truly invest in cabinetry which meets all your requirements and challenges you to consider what you do and don’t need from your new kitchen.”

Blue cabinetry with bespoke shelves for storing cook books.
Handmade Shaker kitchen, from £10,000, Olive & Barr.

How can I make my storage work harder?

My favourite topic – storage. There are so many solutions on the market nowadays to help you keep your small kitchen nice and neat, from practical furniture to pretty organisation boxes and containers.

Alex Main, director at kitchen brand The Main Company, recommends installing floor-to-ceiling storage to maximise your small kitchen. “This will make the most of the available wall space and provide you with as much storage as possible. Store frequently used items on the middle and lower shelves and seasonal items towards the top,” adds Alex.

It’s also equally important to make use of any awkward nooks with the help of drawers, shelves or racks. “You should utilise corner cabinets with pull-out drawers or rotating shelves to make the most of the available space, without sacrificing accessibility. Opting for a mix of cabinets and open shelving will also give the impression of a much larger area,” says Ashleigh.

As for smaller solutions, personally, I love glass labelled jars for decanting dried goods, and colourful crates and rattan baskets for fruit and vegetables. “Opt for translucent boxes or bins, so you can easily see the contents. These come in various sizes, with or without lids – the lidded ones mean they’re stackable,” says Simon.

View inside drawers with storage containers filled with cereal, pasta, sweet and savoury treats.
Clear kitchen storage canisters, £40 for five, A Place for Everything.

What colour palette suits a small kitchen?

Bright shades tend to work best in more compact designs as they can make a room appear larger simply by bouncing off light. “Go for whites, light greys or lighter greens to give the illusion of more space. Even more light will be reflected if you paint your wall white and don’t have any wall units,” says Josie Medved, design manager at furniture brand Symphony.

Small neutral kitchen with white cabinets, butler sink, brass tap and window curtain.
Marlborough Terracotta Parquet tiles, £78 per sq m, Ca’ Pietra, pictured in @philippabloom‘s kitchen. Photography: Adam Carter.

“If you would like a darker colour in the kitchen, have this colour on the base units and choose a paler colour for tall or wall units and a very pale, polished worktop such as white, light grey or a real marble to keep the light reflecting around the space,” adds Josie.

Small blue kitchen design with central island and wall-mounted cabinetry.
Porter kitchen in Hartforth Blue, from £12,000, Second Nature.

Which worktops and splashbacks should I choose?

You need to pay attention to the materials and finishes you pick as these can either help enhance the look of your small kitchen or break your design. So, when it comes to worktops, it’s always advisable to lean towards light-coloured surfaces. “White is the brightest pigment on the colour spectrum. By nature, it shines and reflects light around a room, creating a sense of spaciousness,” explains Mor Krisher, head of product design at premium surfaces brand, Caesarstone.

“In a small kitchen, consider a white marble-inspired worktop and slab splashback. This seamless look creates an open space without any disconnect. A feeling of expansiveness will be achieved and result in the room appearing and feeling larger than it really is,” he adds.

Veiny splashback and worktop above handleless units with decorated shelf.
5031 Statuario Maximus by Caesarstone.

As for splashbacks, opt for reflective solutions to instantly achieve the illusion of a bigger space. “Reflective surfaces in smaller kitchens help to reflect light and give the illusion of a larger space,” says Alex. “This can be done in a few ways including a mirrored splashback to maximise the light as much as possible or glass-front wall cabinets to showcase your personal possessions without the walls feeling too compact in the process.”

Black kitchen with matching appliances, tap and decor, brass lighting and hardware and mirrored splashback.
Design by The Main Company. Photography: Chris Snook.
Grey handleless units with wood worktop, bar stools and oversized lighting.
Turin kitchen in Charcoal, from £4382, Symphony.

What about appliances?

Multi-functionality is key in any kitchen, but even more so in smaller spaces. So, choose appliances that will save you space – from hobs with integrated extraction to ovens with dozens of features that eliminate the need for countertop gadgets.

Black hob with integrated extractor built in an island.
HOBD482D 83cm venting induction hob, £2299, Smeg.

Rich Mackey, product manager at Smeg UK, advises: “Multi-functional appliances are a key element to look out for when buying for your small kitchen and innovation means consumers only need to purchase one appliance opposed to three or four. Using built-in appliances is a wider choice for small kitchens as they boast the same functionalities as larger ovens while maintaining complementary style throughout.”

Tim Hutchinson, UK refrigeration divisional manager at Liebherr, agrees: “Integrated appliances can maximise space efficiency as they are custom-designed to fit seamlessly into any available space. This can be particularly beneficial in small or compact areas where smart, space-saving design is crucial.”

Neutral kitchen with parquet flooring and integrated appliances.
Fully integrated fridge-freezer IRBh5120, Liebherr.

Go beyond appliances and look where you can implement multi-functional products. “Kettle hot water taps and sparkling water taps are a great compact kitchen investment as they provide convenience when it comes to hosting and day-to-day tasks, along with space-saving credentials that allow homeowners to streamline their kitchen counters,” says Lewis Neathey, leader, product management at LIXIL EMENA and Grohe UK.

Chrome sink and tap in neutral scheme.
 Red duo tap C-spout with M-size boiler in chrome, £2394.22, Grohe.

And finally, what about the floor?

If you love a pared-back look, timeless wood flooring can help boost your kitchen’s style factor while also opening up your space. Neel Bradham, chief executive officer at flooring expert Parador, explains: “When it comes to selecting flooring, opt for lighter colours and narrower planks to visually open up smaller rooms – creating an airy feel. Try a narrow parquet style for an added sense of decadence, making your compact space feel all the more grand.”

But if you want to introduce pattern in your kitchen, then why not have fun with your flooring? From the classic chequerboard to more intricate prints, be daring with your design choices to make a statement. “Consider opting for medium to small-scale patterns that are more proportionate to the size of the room. Lighter colours also tend to make a space feel more open and airier, helping to reflect light and create a more spacious feel,” says Carly Greening, creative product manager at The Floor Room.

Colourful kitchen design with pastel units, quirky decor, wall art and patterned flooring.
Karndean Heritage in Clifton, £189 per sq m, The Floor Room.

We hope this article has helped inspire you with some ideas for your small kitchen renovation. Happy planning!

Featured image: Studio Dean. Photography: Susie Lowe.

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