Expert Advice: 11 Tips for a Tiny but Efficient Kitchen


To be filed under Bigger Is Not Always Better: Recently we’ve noticed a slew of tiny kitchens that are reinvigorating the concept of the kitchenette—so much so that we called it a trend a couple years back. These new kitchenettes are design-forward, super-efficient, and not lacking in style. “I find many kitchens too big for the size of the apartment,” says Karin Montgomery Spath, a New Zealand–based designer with a penchant for taking on the smallest of small-space projects. Somehow she manages to squeeze in fully equipped but postage-stamp-sized kitchens in each one. We asked her how she does it; here are her tips.

1. Resist the urge to install an island.

“These are big space wasters in a kitchenette,” Spath says. “Instead, use the dining table, or attach a table lying flush against the wall (painted the same color as the wall) and flip it out when needed.”

Above: Spath installed an artful and fully-functional kitchenette in an above-garage apartment, complete with a Corian counter and stainless steel sink. See Small-Space Living: An Airy Studio Apartment in a Garage for more. Photograph by Matthew Williams.

2. Build in everyday necessities.

“Just under the countertop, on either one side of the sink or both, have pullout chopping boards,” Spath says. There’s no need to buy and store cutting boards—and they’re always at the ready.

Photograph by Matthew Williams.
Above: When it comes to kitchenettes, practice smart storage: In the same garage apartment, low, built-in storage cupboards conceal tableware and food items (and don’t clutter the kitchen). Photograph by Matthew Williams.

3. Enlist multitaskers.

Spath suggests sourcing a combination oven/microwave to serve double duty (and save space). Or consider a compact speed oven: See Remodeling 101: Beyond the Microwave, the Speed Oven.

4. Weed out the pantry.

“Challenge how much food you really need to store. Do you need all of those packets of dried goods?”

Serveware on Pegboards at Front Cafe by Yvonne Mouser, Photo by James Newman
Above: Peg boards are multifunctional and offer endless storage possibilities. For more, see Versatile Function: Pegboard Organizers by Yvonne Mouser. Photograph by James Newman.

5. Make use of wall space.

“Knives and utensils can be stored on the wall,” Spath says. Install peg boards, peg rails, or an Ikea Grundtal rail system to hang kitchen tools and make use of vertical space.

6. Rethink the stovetop.

How often do you really use all four burners on your stove? “A two-burner cooktop (along with an oven/microwave) is all one needs to whip up a great dinner,” Spath says. See 10 Easy Pieces: Compact Cooking Appliances for a few options.

Scott Newkirk Kitchen, Photo by Matthew Wiliams
Above: Doing dishes by hand is made easier when you have the right tools. Photograph by Matthew Williams for Remodelista.

7. Hand-wash the dishes.

“Unless you plan to entertain a lot, do you really need a dishwasher?” Spath says. (We happen to think washing dishes by hand can be enjoyable if you have the right tools—more on that here.) If you can’t imagine living without one, “a dish drawer is probably the answer,” Spath says.

8. Remember these numbers: 9 by 15.

When it comes to sinks, Spath keeps in mind the ideal ratio: “A small sink 25 centimeters wide by 40 centimeters deep [about 9 by 15 inches] will fit an oversized dish for washing and is all one needs for washing dishes,” Spath says. Ikea’s Fyndig Sink is just slightly larger, 15 by 13 inches, and is $31.99.

Dishes in Cabinet by Matthew Williams for Remodelista
Above: Be honest about the number of dishes you need: Don’t overbuy. Photograph by Matthew Williams for Remodelista.

9. Find the ideal dishes—but be honest about how many you need.

Be judicious with your dishware. For really small spaces, Spath suggests finding “bowls that double as dinner plates, soup plates, and cereal bowls, and glasses that double as wine, beer, and water glasses..” And don’t be tempted to overbuy in case someday you have a big dinner party: “How many people, at most, are you likely to entertain?” Spath says. “Perhaps six, so six bowls are all you will need.” Consider also: Space-Saving Stackable Drinking Glasses.

10. Scale down the fridge.

Most refrigerators are the size of a small car—and maybe bigger than your new kitchenette. Think small: “A good under-counter fridge is a must. The Liebherr UIK 1550 holds a lot,” Spath says. Bonus: A small fridge will curb how many perishables you can buy, cutting down on food waste at the end of the week. For a few more options, see 10 Easy Pieces: Compact Refrigerators.

Karin Montgomery Spath New Zealand Studio Kitchen and Dining, Photo by Matthew Williams
Above: Spath demo-ed the larger, U-shaped kitchen in this Auckland studio apartment and installed a scaled-back but dramatic black kitchenette, gold backsplash included. See A Glamorous Studio Apartment in Auckland That Feels Like a One-Bedroom, Hack Edition. Photograph by Matthew Williams.

11. Omit one-use appliances.

“Take a good look through all of your kitchen appliances and cull down to get only those that you use on a weekly basis,” Spath says. “Use a pretty jug sitting on the stovetop, or just a teapot instead of an electric kettle.” Never use your waffle iron or panini maker? Donate them or give them away. Keep the coffee maker or anything else that (truly) sees regular use.

More tricks for small kitchens:

N.B.: This post has been updated; it was first published November 2018.

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