Small Kitchen Ideas: How to Maximize Storage in a Minimal Kitchen

Me, I love a small kitchen. All your tools within easy reach. People packed around convivially chatting as you prep the meal. It positively thrums with life.

But in this most utilitarian of spaces, there’s a fine line between cozy and cramped. The trick to maximizing your minimal kitchen’s full potential lies in how you take advantage of every available inch of space–without having it all look cluttered. Here’s how.

1. Rack it up.

Above: This setup by West Elm employs several different kitchen racks to maximize storage.

Pot, dish, knife–hang racks of every kind. Creating storage in a small kitchen means taking advantage of whatever space is available, no matter how unorthodox. Speciality racks can utilize walls, ceilings, the side of a counter, any vertical surface, freeing up limited cabinet and counter space.

Nails and hooks also do the trick on a smaller scale; use them to hang things from the rafters, under the cabinets, and at the end of a counter.

Above: A single piece of wood offers easy storage in British Standard’s Shepherd’s Hut Kitchen. For sourcing, see 10 Easy Pieces: Wall-Mounted Plate Racks.

2. Nest.

Above: Montreal ceramicist Basma Osama specializes in classically shaped, stackable dishware.

When I lived in New York City, I used to joke with people who were fishing for birthday ideas, “Please don’t give me anything that’s doesn’t stack!” Of course plates are stackable, but also consider where you might economize on space with other nesting dishes and utensils. For example, instead of space-hogging stemware (which you’ll rarely use), invest in some stemless Spanish wine glasses. Nesting bowls are an obvious choice. And how about stackable cookware, bake sets, and storage containers? (See 10 Space-Saving Solutions, Nesting Edition.)

3. Store things in plain sight.

Above L: In his ground-breaking London kitchen, chef Alastair Hendy hangs a collection of German scrubbing brushes right over the sink. Above R: In their $350 kitchen remodel, Suzie Ryu and Kana Philip employed open shelving and hooks to keep things within easy reach.

With her signature peg board, Julia Child was the first (or at least the most famous person) to advocate storing kitchen tools workbench style. Not only useful, the arrangement looks good too. The trick is to invest in quality tools–hang them and you have instant utilitarian art.

Above: Architect Sheila Bonnell suspends utensils on the wall next to her stove–but far enough away that grease and splatters aren’t a problem. See Kitchen of the Week: A Streamlined Cape Cod Classic.

4. Cull your culinary gear.

Above: How many knives do you really need? This Boxwood Handle Knife by Coltellerie Berti, available at Quitokeeto for $440, could be the one.

In his best-selling chronicle of life in the kitchen, chef Anthony Bourdain famously declared that cooks need only “one good knife” for all their cutting and chopping. I think his exact words were: “I repeat, one good knife.”

While this kind of discipline might be extreme, it does beg the issue of our American (or is it human?) tendency to over-equip ourselves. In the minimal kitchen, it’s essential to consider what you really need, as opposed to want. Do you really have to have different glasses for wine and juice? (Remember those stackable Spanish wine glasses? See 10 Easy Pieces: Basic Drinking Glasses.) A garlic roaster? Use tinfoil. Separate salad, dinner, and fish forks–Do you live at Downton? Zero in on items like Bourdain’s chef’s knife that can be used for multiple tasks.

See how a family of five does it in Small-Space Living: A Compact Cabin Kitchen and Carmella’s 7-Step Plan to Clutter-Free Living.

5. Invest in the classics.

Above: San Francisco shop owner Sue Fisher King sets her table with elegant basics that work for everyday as well as special occasions. See Steal This Look: A Simple Table Setting from Sue Fisher King.

An extension of the above principles, instead of buying trendy items, invest in classic pieces and tools. Their simple silhouettes and colors keep your kitchen looking clean and organized. And they tend to be multi-use, easily transitioning from kitchen to table, and from every day to formal. For example, good quality linen napkins are fancy enough for a dinner party, but are also perfect for picnics. A white stoneware platter looks equally at home with a pile of corn on the cob or hosting the roast pheasant. A ceramic mixing bowl is equally useful for whipping up a batch of chocolate chip cookies and for serving your guests a fresh salad.

Above: In her newly renovated kitchen by Jersey Ice Cream Co., photographer/blogger Beth Kirby stacks classic Picardie glasses. See The One-Month Makeover: Beth Kirby’s Star-Is-Born Kitchen.

6. Double up your storage.

Above: In her DIY kitchen remodel in Brooklyn, Danielle Arceneaux created a storage wonderland over her cabinets by using wine racks to support a simple shelf. See Reader Rehab: DIY Kitchen Remodel for Under $500.

Take advantage of every inch of height both inside and outside cabinets. For example, many people under-utilize the space below the sink by simply placing items on the cabinet floor. Why not add a low drawer for extra sponge and dish cloth storage and then stack cleaning products on top? And that slot in between the counter and fridge? Stash a cutting board there. Got a spare corner? Build a shelf.

Above: South African architect Clara da Cruz Almeida took maximum advantage of the height in her 183-square-foot prefab for two.

Small kitchen design is a favorite topic around here. For more advice and inspiration, take a look at:

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