When it comes to designing small spaces, the key to a successful project is meticulous planning. Never is this more the case than when dealing with a spatially challenged kitchen. Regardless of size, your culinary space is the heart of the home. Even if you aren't a gourmet chef, you will undoubtedly find yourself in the kitchen when guests come over — it's just a natural gathering spot. But you don't need a massive cook space with an island the size of, well, an island in order for it to be functional and attractive. To prove that square footage doesn't matter when designing this particular room, we pulled out our Rolodex and tapped a handful of pros for their small kitchen decorating ideas.
1. Get creative with storage.
Consider overlooked or underused areas of the kitchen, like below the sink and even between cabinets, as seen in this streamlined cook space by Henrybuilt, which makes the most of a vertical area on a bank of cabinets. "When you're working with limited space, you have to use super efficient products to make small kitchens act big. A recent innovation from Henrybuilt is the Vertical Bar Block that brings function to corners and small spaces, zones that prove challenging in terms of kitchen design," explains Janet Hall, Henrybuilt founder. "It acts as a tool box, including an electrical outlet as well as tailored storage for cutting boards, wine bottles, cooking tools, knives, and trays."
What this kitchen lacks in size, it more than makes up for in beautiful design and well-planned use of space. In a compact area it manages to incorporate a combination of countertop materials, integrated appliances and storage, and thoughtful design details like a corrugated peninsula base, exposed wood ceiling, and artistic suspension lighting while still remaining uncluttered.
2. Keep it neutral.
Resist temptation to overly decorate when you're working with a particularly small space as it creates distraction and can make a tiny space feel and look choppy. "In a small kitchen, the use of too many colors creates visual clutter. Keep the palette neutral, which will open the room, and stick to one solid hue to connect the space's various components," offers Melissa Benham, principal at Studio Gild.
This soothing small kitchen by Studio Gild packs plenty of personality into a monochromatic space. High-gloss cabinets and a reflective backsplash bounce light from another room adding depth and movement. An oversize flush-mount light fixture is functional without taking up a lot of visual space, while black stools speak to the darker kitchen cabinets and ground the room. A vase of fresh flowers adds a subtle pop of color.
3. Incorporate as much natural light as possible.
There's nothing quite like natural light to add warmth and the feeling of openness to a room. If you're working with a kitchen that's enclosed, or you're unable to create a door or window, don't forget to consider adding light from above. "A skylight will of course add natural light, which is a huge plus. It will also add a sense of verticality, which will help make a small kitchen feel larger," offers Daleet Spector, an interior designer based in Santa Monica. "If you can incorporate a window, especially one with a view, it will visually extend your space and create a sense of openness," she adds.
This small kitchen decorating idea, by kitchen gurus DeVol Kitchens, showcases an expansive skylight that floods the room with an abundance of natural light. They pair cream cabinets with a pale-blue wood-topped island for a serene, traditional vibe. "Cool colors recede and thus are a good idea for small kitchens, especially when walls, ceiling, and moldings are all painted the same color," Spector explains. A bank of glass cabinet fronts breaks up a wall of solid fronts; mini pendant lights add period detail without visual weight.
4. Opt for open shelving.
Open shelves have gotten a lot of play the last few years and for good reason. They're a versatile option that work in almost any style kitchen from modern to rustic to traditional, depending on the type of material used for the shelf. They're also ideal for displaying beautiful collections of ceramics and dinnerware but are optimal for tidy people with a design sense. "Open shelves may be trickier to keep clean and organized, but they will be less heavy on the wall and make a kitchen appear less cramped," Spector explains.
Above, Spector adds a trio of open shelves to each side of a square window, which anchors this open-concept kitchen and adds visual height. Clear pendant lights illuminate the space without breaking the site line, and a plywood island brings warmth to a cement tile floor and backsplash.
5. Use glass cabinetry.
If you love the look of open shelving but aren't sure you're prepared for the upkeep they require, glass cabinets are a great small kitchen decorating idea. "Glass-front cabinet doors are always great in a small kitchen to keep things light and airy," explains Caroline Grant and Dolores Suarez of Dekar Design. They can be used in conjunction with solid cabinets to break up the visual heaviness while still allowing for some covered storage to hide necessary, but less attractive, kitchen staples.
This timeless white kitchen by Dekar Design features a series of glass upper cabinets bookended by a set of floor-to-ceiling wood-front cabinets. The glass adds visual interest while breaking up the solid built-ins and is complemented by a classic marble backsplash. Dark wood stools bring a rustic note and a bit of edge to the elegant space.
6. Splurge on a statement-making slab.
We love marble and all its glamour but know that its beauty comes with a steep price tag. Sigh. One perk of having a small kitchen is that there's less counter space to cover, which might make purchasing a slab of eye-catching stone more of a reality. "When the space is small, you don't have to buy such large quantities of stone or tile so you can splurge on a slab. Using a slab countertop can help create a continuous line and makes the kitchen feel bigger," notes Grant and Suarez.
Sarah Sherman Samuel uses an emerald green tweed marble countertop and backsplash for maximum impact in this stylish kitchen. She adds warmth with a wood-topped island, while a pair of gold pendant lights and Fireclay Tile on the floor — applied in a herringbone pattern — personalize the space and add to the glam factor.
7. Less is more.
Note to self: Everything in its place and a place for everything. "Just as much as you want to avoid visual clutter in a small kitchen, you also want to avoid physical clutter. Store all appliances and utensils out of sight for a streamlined, clean look," says Kristen Ekeland, principal at Studio Gild.
This organized small kitchen decorating idea by Studio Gild leaves countertops virtually bare and open shelving with just a handful of decorative items for interest. Wood cabinets bring plenty of warmth to the sparse space and neutral surfaces. Consider forgoing cabinet pulls, as they do here, to enhance the orderly and uncluttered look.
8. Reorient your tile.
Thinking outside the box when working with a small kitchen can have a significant design impact. "When choosing a tile, change up the direction you place it to add depth and personality to the space. Play with the tile vertically or stack the tiles on top of each other, instead of staggering it the traditional way. You can also play with the size of your grout lines, sometimes less is more," says Natalie Chianese, Homepolish designer.
In this compact kitchen by Barrett Made, subway tile applied in an unexpected vertical offset pattern draws the eye up and creates the feeling of height while the cool, iridescent colors allow light to play and give the illusion that the wall is receding. Terra cotta is back and popping up across the design world. Here, a pair of terra cotta pendant lights adds an earthy, textural quality that warms up the modern space.
9. Plan your artificial light sources.
Don't forget to consider your artificial light sources. Their location and style can have a real effect on the overall look and feel of your culinary space. "A dramatic chandelier over an island adds a great focal point in a small kitchen. Don't be afraid to go big and bold," says Jennifer Farrell, brand ambassador for Lamps Plus. And while they might seem basic (re: boring) don't neglect your recessed lighting needs. She continues, "Bright, clean source lighting is key in a small kitchen, as dark spaces tend to feel smaller. To cast a sunny, even glow over the entire space, choose 3000K LED recessed lighting if your walls are white or cream, or 3500K if your walls are a deeper color."
Shea of Studio McGee pairs an eye-catching midcentury-inspired chandelier with plenty of recessed lighting for a small kitchen decorating idea that's equal parts gorgeous and practical. A marble island paired with hunter green cabinets and oil-rubbed bronze hardware has a fresh and modern feel to it that we dig.