How to get a small kitchen to work for you

By Carol Brock


Making meals requires a lot of “stuff,” which is particularly challenging when all that stuff must stuff into a small kitchen. In cramped kitchens, clever storage is crucial. A good game plan is to “purge a lot, then splurge a little,” says interior designer Barbee James, owner of Details Design Studio in Boulder. When was the last time you used that butter slicer, and why does a kitchen need three sets of tongs? “Get rid of duplicates and things you don’t use, then invest in a few inexpensive products that create storage,” James advises. Try these tips to get a teeny-weeny kitchen into tiptop, space-saving shape.


Everything and the Kitchen Sink

Sinks take up a lot of space by themselves, so ditch a cumbersome countertop dish drainer and drain dishes directly into the sink. You can purchase a dish rack to install above the sink or buy a metal drying rack that fits neatly over the sink. James suggests stainless steel, or a rubber dish drainer that fits over a sink and rolls up when the dishes are done. “A rubber dish drainer rolls up to the size of a cardboard paper towel holder, so you can easily store it under a sink or even on the counter.”


Hooked on Hooks

Wall space is valuable real estate in small kitchens, so get hooks and hang everything—from pots and utensils to cups and shelves. Backing materials for hooks could include wire frames, pegboards or metal bars that attach to a wall. Don’t overlook cabinet sides either, which are perfect for hanging wine racks, storage baskets and bulkier items, but curate them to avoid a cluttered look. And consider installing wineglass racks like the ones found in bars.


Group Hangouts

Look for products that allow you to group items. Think dish holders, utensil caddies, skillet racks, lid holders and other products that let you cluster or nest kitchen items. “You can buy metal shelf racks at McGuckin Hardware and other places that let you stack two coffee mugs, which takes up the same amount of room as one twenty-ounce glass, so that saves a lot of space,” James says.


Sensible Shelves

With space at a premium, floating wall shelves and pullout cabinet shelves from companies like Brighton’s Roll ’Em Out Shelves are good options for little kitchens. Fill awkward cabinet corners with pullouts that can hold larger pots and pans, and attach open shelves to walls or place them in countertop corners. A lazy Susan for corner cabinets is an inexpensive space saver. And instead of stacking dishes, store them upright in a rack and put lids and other space-consuming items on the insides of cabinet doors or between cabinet dividers. “Storing lids vertically is a good way to save space, and it gives you easy access to them,” James says.


Rollaway Island

A rolling utility cart is a godsend in small kitchens. It can store small appliances that you don’t often use, like a food processor, immersion blender, panini maker or pressure cooker. Roll it in for an extra counter surface for prepping food; roll it out to another room or a closet when it’s not needed. Out of sight, out of mind.


Knives Out

Magnetic knife strips keep these kitchen tools in handy reach. If you can spare the counter space, knife blocks are another option, while fitted cutlery trays keep kitchen drawers organized.


Valuable Views

A recessed kitchen window is an ideal spot to hang pots and pans, which dangle to take up less space. “If you have ceilings that are eight feet or less, you can recess a pot rack into the ceiling, and the pots will still be accessible, but they won’t hang at face level,” James says. Windowsills can host all types of items as well, from plants and fruits to jars and cookbooks.


The Great Divide

Baking trays and muffin tins are problematic in a small kitchen, but cabinet dividers solve the dilemma of storing these cumbersome items. “Cabinet dividers are convenient for storing awkward items, like cutting boards and cookie sheets, and they also allow you to store pans vertically,” James says.

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