Small galley kitchen ideas: 10 ways with a tight, two-sided layout

Create a functional, efficient design that’s stylish, too.

If you’re the sort of person who prizes efficiency and function, the double galley kitchen was surely designed with you in mind. Its twin-run layout ensures that everything you need to cook is only a few steps away, with the ability to form a classic working triangle between hob, sink and fridge. 

Which all sounds brilliant. Unfortunately, small galley kitchens can suffer from the ‘corridor effect’, turning from fabulous functional spaces into cramped, crowded rooms. However, with some designer know-how and planning, your double galley can be anything but, whether you’re thinking of a new kitchen refit or keen to update an existing scheme.  

The easiest way to plan a double galley is to think about how the working triangle functions in the space you have available. Which side do each of the elements sit on, and how far away are they from each other? Try to keep them as close as possible, so you don’t have to walk too far around the room when preparing meals. 

Dark Devol kitchen units in galley style with built in ovensCredit: Devol

A long kitchen provides a huge amount of flexibility, so there may be several potential combinations of the working triangle elements. Workspace can be limited, especially if one side of the galley is home to tall units, so increase it where possible – sink covers and flush-fitted induction hobs that can double as a surface with a chopping board will help. If space allows, you can even add a small table or bar at the end of a run of units. 

A kitchen designer will be able to help you plan a functional layout, but if you need some inspiration to start, we’ve pulled together some expert suggestions below. 


1. Allow enough space

Don’t shut others out

Blue Shaker style galley kitchenCredit: Olive & Barr

Double galley layouts can mean it’s difficult for two people to pass each other, turning your lovely new kitchen into a one-cook domain. To prevent this happening (if that’s an issue for you), make sure there’s enough space between the two runs of units to comfortably move around and work in the room.  

“An empty space of between 1m (3ft 3in) and 1.2m (3ft 11in) is recommended,” advises Josie Medved, design project manager at Symphony Group. “This will allow enough space for two people to pass one another easily, especially if there is a door at each end of the room. You also need to be able to fully open the largest size of kitchen door, which is 600mm (2ft), and be able to pull down a 600mm dishwasher door into the area.” 

If it’s not possible to have a 600mm-deep run of units on each side, think about including reduced-depth base units along one side with slim shelves above, rather than wall units. You could even have a tall bank of reduced-depth units along one wall, but while this maximises your storage space, it can make the room look even narrower, so use with caution. 

2. Create a warm welcome

Small doesn’t have to be sterile

Green galley kitchen with parquet flooringCredit: Inhouse Inspired Room Design

With two facing runs of cabinetry, it can be easy to prioritise practicality over personality. However, in a small galley kitchen, thoughtful details are vital to keep it welcoming. It can be easier than you think, too. A statement light, a vibrant splashback, or even a few plants dotted around can help turn your space into a place you’ll love to linger.  

“Textures, handles, and other accents will help the kitchen feel more curated, so always look for where you can add interest,” says Chris Dance, head designer and director at InHouse Inspired Room Design. “Perhaps that’s in a tiled splashback, or metallic handles. Either way, these details will make a considerable difference – as much as the colour of your cabinetry.” 

3. Go high instead of low

Make the most of space up above

Duck egg galley kitchen with wooden worktopsCredit: Devol

A galley kitchen offers lots of flexibility, especially in terms of storage space, as you can use every spare inch. However, there can be the temptation to fill one end with furniture too, creating a U-shaped layout.   

“Corner cabinets are a waste of space in small kitchens,” says Howard Miller, director at H. Miller Bros. “I much prefer a galley with two straight runs facing each other. Turning this into a U just creates two awkward corner cabinets and cuts out floor space. Very often, small galley kitchens are in Victorian-era houses. These tend to have taller than average ceiling heights, so you can compensate for lack of area by having more high-level storage.” 

4. Avoid strict symmetry

It can feel tunnel-like

White galley kitchen with built-in ovenCredit: Stoneham Kitchens

A pair of facing rows of units that are identical run the risk of looking like a corridor. Even if you need to use several tall units, try to break them up visually.

Floor-to-ceiling cupboards are a simple yet effective way to make use of your wall space and therefore enhance storage options, says Adrian Stoneham, managing director at Stoneham Kitchens. However, for a galley layout, this can be done along one wall, or to break up the symmetry, think about integrated ovens, a sink area and glass wall cupboards to keep items on show. You could also add black mirror glass to tall doors to give the illusion of space.


5. Be shelf-ish

Avoid too many bulky wall cabinets

Galley kitchen with floor-to-ceiling cabinets and ladderCredit: Hatch + Mason for The Main Company

Narrow galley kitchens can sometimes feel cramped, especially when there are two rows of cabinetry bearing down on the occupant, or units right up to the ceiling. To create a more open and airy feeling, swap a solid block of wall cabinets for floating shelves or hanging rails. Removing the visual weight of bulky cabinets instantly creates a more spacious feel yet shelves or rails will still provide useful storage.  

Much as you would with wall-mounted units, be sure to include task lighting on the bottom of shelves, whether that’s in the form of LED strips or spotlights. “Clever lighting solutions are essential within the small galley kitchen,” explains Dance. “Lighting built into cabinetry – whether casting downwards into task areas or as atmospheric plinth and grip ledge lighting – is ideal for building atmosphere as well as illuminating tasks.” 

6. Play with lighting and colour

This can make the space seem wider

Black and white galley kitchenCredit: Mereway

Want to create a galley kitchen that comes with plenty of wow despite its small size? Then you’ll need some clever design tricks to draw the eye around the room. “A galley kitchen can be super stylish when shapes, colours and light are optimised to open and lift the space,” reveals Mark Mills, managing director at Mereway 

“Using lighter and flexible colours, such as creams and whites, perhaps subtly contrasting with darker colours on either side of a narrow space, is a great way to open up the kitchen. This effectively uses the limited natural light that may be available by drawing attention to it. You can also mix and match similar handles for a coordinated but subtly different look.” 

7. Add a place to dine

Don’t rule out a breakfast area

White galley kitchen with breakfast areaCredit: Kitchens International

No matter how snug your small galley kitchen is, there may still be the opportunity to incorporate a compact breakfast bar. This could be a tall bistro table or a simpler construction tucked at the end of a run.

Either way, you’ll find it could be incredibly handy – doubling up as extra worktop space when required, ideal for coffee breaks or a glass of wine at the end of a day, or even as a space for odd home working days. Or simply for breakfast and light lunches.

8. Create a display area

It’s OK to show off

Ikea galley kitchen with green walls and black wall cabinetsCredit: Ikea

If you’re looking for ways to brighten up your galley kitchen, one idea is to switch from solid-fronted cabinets to glass-fronted ones. This can create a more open and spacious feel in the room. Plus, glass cabinets can be a great way to display your kitchen wares and add some visual interest to the space.  

If you’re concerned about keeping your cupboard contents private, don’t worry – there are options for that too. For example, you could choose smoked glass, which makes the cabinet contents less visible while still allowing light to pass through. 

9. Brighten with white

Choose the most classic of colours

White galley kitchen with skylightCredit: DesignSpace London

For those who love the ultra-modern look, there are few better choices than crisp, pristine white. It’s the perfect way to make the most of a small galley kitchen, even if you opt for a velvety matt finish over gloss. “Light colours maximise the feeling of space,” explains Paul O’Brien, brand director at Kitchens International. “You can also add mirrors and reflective surfaces, such as glass, to bounce natural light around.” 

To prevent a white kitchen feeling clinical, it helps to add a contrasting element – this could be practical stainless steel, pale wood for warmth, or a few pops of black for a monochrome effect.

10. Consider appliances carefully

Maximise your space

A small galley kitchen can easily become cluttered if it’s stuffed with appliances or the appliances dominate the layout. Bulky electricals, such as American-style fridge freezers, often stand proud of a run of cabinetry, turning your sleek scheme into more of a jumble.

If you have space elsewhere, it can be handy to locate a large fridge freezer slightly out of the kitchen, with a compact undercounter fridge for everyday essentials, such as milk, in the galley instead. Alternatively, look for an appliance with handleless doors, which will create an uninterrupted, more spacious look.  

The same is true for full-sized dishwashers, which require space in front of them to drop down the door. “For households with less space, or galley kitchens, traditional full-size dishwashers are becoming less suitable,” says Jo Jackson, product manager at appliance manufacturer Fisher & Paykel. “Instead, the single DishDrawer is perfect, as it holds a true half load, and doesn’t need as much space in front to be fully opened.” 

How do I prevent my small galley kitchen from feeling like a corridor?

It’s all about your furniture choices

The furniture you choose can be key to preventing your small double galley kitchen looking like a corridor. It’s best to install tall units at the end of runs (except when they’re next to windows, as this can block natural daylight) and to stagger units of different depths or breakfront one area with units that are slightly deeper.

Is a galley kitchen really right for me?

Use online design tools to experiment

Not sure if our small galley kitchen ideas are right for your space? Check out other small kitchen ideas or try creating a rough layout with space-planning software online, such as SmartDraw or KitchenPlanner  

Alternatively, if you’re ready to find a kitchen designer to help you plan your project, check out My Kitchen Specialist. It’ll help you find an independent retailer near you who usually offers different ranges of kitchen furniture and appliances to suit your budget.  


Written by Rachel Ogden she/her