How To Design A Compact Kitchen

When you live in an apartment or a smaller home, it can be frustrating to turn the pages of glossy design mags and see kitchens the size of your entire apartment! Acres of joinery, walk-in pantries and walls of appliances.

How do you relate this to your home? And where do you look for advice on how to create a great, functional kitchen, when size is one of your most significant constraints? Well, here are my 5 tips for how to design a compact kitchen.

[mc_block_title custom_title=”1. Choose quality and durability”]

You may have a smaller kitchen, but chances are you will be placing similar demands on it, and it will receive a fair amount of punishing!

Finishes such as Laminex or similar products, are actually amongst the more economical choices for kitchens, and definitely more durable than some higher-end finishes.

Invest in great appliances that look good, are easy to clean and enjoyable to use.

Select storage and fitout solutions that help you amp up the functionality factor. Companies such as Hafele and Hettich – and even Ikea – have some great solutions for getting standard kitchen cupboards and drawers to work really hard and fit lots of your things.

[mc_block_title custom_title=”2. Think of it as furniture”]

Compact kitchens in compact homes and apartments are often on display, and a readily visible space on arrival, and whilst living in your home.

Just because it’s a super-functional space that needs to work hard doesn’t mean it can’t look great too.

Modular design is where you combine components to create an overall design. It’s been big in Europe for some years now, especially in kitchen and joinery design. Only recently, Ikea updated its range here to catch us up to its overseas stores.

What this modular design does is two-fold. It means you can put together the components you need for the functions they have to perform – rather than being constrained by fixed larger units.

And, it looks good. It looks more like furniture than kitchen joinery. And if your kitchen is on display, this can help it look great in your space.

[mc_block_title custom_title=”3. Multipurpose bench space”]

When space is a premium, it’s essential that the things you generally have in it do more than one job. This certainly extends to your kitchen.

Fitting the normal kitchen functions into a smaller space – things like your cooktop, sink, fridge recess – will usually mean a sacrifice in benchspace.

So create an island bench that doubles as a dining table. Ensure the bench has sufficient overhangs (at least 150mm), and it will then be comfortable for guests to sit around and eat. Locate it 1,100 – 1,200mm away from adjacent benches for easy access around it. Everyone congregates in the kitchen when you entertain – so make it comfortable for them to be there, and useful for you!

Undercover Architect | Amelia Lee
[mc_block_title custom_title=”4. Maximise storage opportunities”]

Storage is essential in a functioning kitchen, which can be hard to achieve in compact designs.

Think through what you need to store, and size your storage appropriately.

For example, pantry (dry goods) storage works best when 300mm, so items are easy to see and don’t get stacked behind others. Overhead cupboards are this depth, but you don’t always want all your food stored up that high.

When you want full height pantry storage, a pull out pantry is a great feature for compact, accessible storage. Below bench drawers also work really well. Both these options allow you to maximise the full 600mm depth of joinery required elsewhere in the kitchen, and make your food items visible and easy to get to.

Look also to your wall space, and splashback areas. Rails to hang utensils, or small shelving for those regularly used items, can expand the storage capacity of your kitchen easily.

Undercover Architect | Amelia Lee

[mc_block_title custom_title=”5. Choose appliances wisely”]

There are many options available for appliances that will help you save space and still tick the boxes in functionality.

Dishwashers are now available in models narrower than the standard 600mm, or as a dish-drawer that allows some extra storage below it.

There are ‘combi ovens’ available that double as conventional ovens and microwaves in one appliance.

You can combine cooktops now too with the exact elements you want – rather than buying one unit at a fixed size.

These are just some examples of what’s available, so hit your appliance store and start searching. Look to the European brands as they’ve been designing for compact kitchens for a long time. They may be a slightly higher investment, but in a small kitchen, you need everything working really hard, so choose quality if you can.

Less can be more when it comes to kitchen design. Don’t feel like your small kitchen is a compromise, or lust after the acres of joinery and bench space you see in magazines and real estate images.

Look for inspiration to our European cousins, and New York, where apartment living is the norm, and they’ve been getting it right for decades. Great kitchen design is a must to make these homes work well. You don’t have to sacrifice function just because you need a compact fit.

Avatar of Amelia Lee

Amelia Lee is the Undercover Architect, your secret ally in getting it right when designing, building or renovating your home – so it works for your family now, and always.

1 Comment

  1. Avatar of Amelia

    Hi Mum Central – thank you for sharing this advice with your community.
    I know, from personal and professional experience, how frustrating it can be to a) not have a kitchen that works well, and b) only see examples that need a space 3 times what you have!
    I hope these tips inspire those in your community with compact homes to know how to design a kitchen that makes their life easier. Compact doesn’t mean compromise – I really believe we can live better with less!
    – Amelia, UA x

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