Small galley kitchen ideas: 10 ways with a tight, two-sided layout
Do you have a less than spacious kitchen that you need to reinvent? Take heart in knowing that small kitchen design does not have to be dysfunctional and lacklustre – and there are a range of brilliant solutions on offer.
With their endless creativity and curiosity for solutions, they can help you create an impressive and tailored cooking space that will rival any larger kitchens in functionality and looks.
In a small kitchen, functionality is paramount. There is no use designing a kitchen where floors are slippery, drawers are disorganised and the lighting is so bad that you need to squint to see.
There are some general design points you’ll want to mull over before you arrive at the fun stage of choosing your cabinet design and picking your ideal kitchen colours.
A well-lit kitchen is a safe kitchen. In a small kitchen you may be in closer than usual proximity to hot cookers and that knife rack, so being able to see everything clearly is a must.
Natural light is always nice to have. Layer this where possible with functional lighting over the sink, cooker and countertops.
Manoeuvring through a tight space can be tricky, particularly at night. Floor-level lighting – for example in your plinths – can be an especially practical and welcome addition in a small space.
Thinking about what type of flooring to use in your kitchen? Don’t just stop at aesthetics as decent anti-slip flooring is a key safety point. Anti-slip flooring will give you a better grip in the event of any floor spills.
It may be helpful for your countertops to contrast with your kitchen cabinets. In a small kitchen, where light might be a challenge, a sharp colour difference can make navigating your countertop easier.
Depending on where you source your kitchen, you can have flexibility on how high your countertop goes. For someone who has mobility challenges and is wheelchair-bound, this could allow them to cook comfortably.
Ideally, the edges of the countertop should be rounded to avoid nasty bumps – again, a particular concern in small kitchens.
Want to cook an omelette? It isn’t much fun having to dig around in deep drawers and cabinets to do the simplest thing in your kitchen.
Consider pull-out drawers for easy access where possible.
Have items that you use time and again, like spatulas, spoons and chopping boards? Don’t bury them in drawers. That can be frustrating. Hang them on hooks in the open where possible.
Installing built-in appliances like a microwave and an oven are a must if you want to make the most of your limited kitchen space. Another bonus is that you might have the option of installing the appliances at a perfect height that works for your personal needs.
For example, a dishwasher halfway up a bank of units can be easier to load and empty without bending.
Keep countertop appliances away from the sink
In a compact kitchen, small appliances can easily drift toward wet areas. Keep an eye on this and install electrical switches in easily accessible points, away from water.
In a small kitchen, careful consideration of storage can make all the difference to how the space works and feels. Shelves look good in small spaces because they create “breathing room”, whereas a small room crowded with cabinets has the potential to feel confining. It can also be hard to find what you need when everything is hidden away behind cupboard doors.
Another advantage to shelving is that it is substantially more pocket-friendly than cabinetry, and frees up your budget to use more attractive materials in your small kitchen.
However, it can offer less storage space than cabinets overall and, because everything is on show, you’ll need to keep it neat, tidy and clean. That said, if you think hard about what really needs to be in your kitchen and are prepared to whittle down your utensils and cookware, shelves can look stunning.
If you’re doing away with wall cabinets to give your small kitchen room to breathe, that shouldn’t mean losing storage potential. Take your wall potential to new heights with layered modular storage that can be shaped to your specific needs.
Triple stacking with a variety of dedicated slots and shelf pockets are perfect for maintaining a state of tidiness. Everything on your wall shelving has a home and, because you have space for a set number of plates and glasses, it helps to keep the kitchen décor overspill in check.
Investing in attractive modular storage is considerably more cost-effective than wall cabinets and can add to the wow factor for your small space with a deliberate approach to kitchen shelf styling. Add visual interest to your shelves with curated crockery, books and other objects that make you smile.
Glazed cabinets in a small kitchen can be charming and can add to the sense of lightness, especially when tucked away in cosy corners.
To add to the sense of openness, keep the wall behind visible – a trick that is often missed even in larger kitchens that feature glazed cabinets. You could also combine a glazed wall cabinet with a mix of open shelves for an airy on-display effect.
Do you have an awkward space where off–the–shelf cabinets won’t fit? Companies like Foxstow offer bespoke options.
A vintage or vintage-styld glazed wall cabinet is a great option for adding character to your small kitchen. Take a look around your local antique shops or check out websites like Vinterior, MadeinDesign or Collinge Antiques.
Depending on your kitchen layout or preferred style, you might want to keep some things on display and some things hidden.
A single wall-mounted cabinet is a good halfway house – giving you the option to hide away bulkier kitchen appliances while enjoying the benefits of easy-access open storage elsewhere.
This kitchen (above) also employs another great use of limited space – a utensil rail fixed to the bottom of a shelving unit. You could also fix a rail to the base of a wall cabinet, to hold anything from kitchen roll to saucepans.
Small kitchen spaces lend themselves to unapologetically bold colour choices. This is a clever trick that interior designers use to make a tiny room feel dramatic and polished.
Take a lesson from Top 100 House and Garden interior designer Sean Symington. For this elegant, small kitchen, he chose to lavish the walls in Edward Bulmer Natural Paint’s Sang De Boeuf. He says: “We decided to go dark in this small London kitchen. The outcome is dramatic and cosy. This moody deep tone looks great paired with the navy cabinetry and pretty block printed fabrics.”
The result? Who’s looking at the size of the kitchen? The fact is, there are much larger kitchens that are not nearly as charismatic as this one. So to create a characterful small kitchen, it makes sense to harness the power of colour.
If making a statement with your wall colour doesn’t appeal, a great way to give personality to a small kitchen is to make a statement with your flooring. You can keep cabinetry light and bright but add wow factor on the floor by introducing a bold pattern.
One of the great things about having a smaller kitchen to design is the décor budget can stretch to better materials, such as encaustic tiles.
We love Bert & May’s range but, if your budget is really tight, you can achieve a similar look with a vinyl tile, which is also easy to clean. Just check it has enough grip – you don’t want to be slipping around and potentially injuring yourself.
John Lewis of Hungerford is rightly proud of its ability to create droolworthy micro-kitchens that squeeze out every inch of beauty and functionality through design.
Their designers recommend not skimping on worktops in small kitchens. Instead, they suggest they are perfect for statement work surfaces since they “add character without breaking the bank”. In their latest project, they installed a work surface made of quality Silestone Helix polished quartz (above).
The power of the reduced work surface area is that costs are naturally contained so that better quality materials can be invested in.
When selecting a work surface, look for one that is as low maintenance as it is attractive – a gorgeous Calacatta marble worktop might be tempting, but it could easily stain if there is a red wine spill. Marble-look composite stone worktops are, therefore, far more practical.
With a small kitchen design, you’ll want to create décor “distractions” that draw the eyes to shapes, textures and bold colour choices and away from noticing limited dimensions.
This kitchen, above, featuring textured black tiles from Porcelain Superstore, is a great example of how a careful choice of materials in a small kitchen can make a great impact versus one that feels constrained.
The big win is the monochrome black – your chosen colour does not have to be black but you get a sense of what can be achieved when a single colour is used as the main focal point.
Opting for kitchen cabinets? Consider a textured glass option that draws the eyes upwards. Will your splash back area be tiled? Textured wall tiles are a great way to introduce a distraction element in a way that flat, painted surfaces don’t.
When you have limited space in your kitchen, multi-purpose fixtures and equipment become your small kitchen design best friends. For instance, who needs a kettle when the folks at Quooker have invented a single tap that gives you a choice of boiling, sparkling and chilled water on demand?
Add a flexible pull-out hose that makes washing up easy and you may find that this is a handy piece of equipment to streamline your kitchen.
A hidden advantage of a hot water tap is the opportunity to cut down on the excessive use of kitchen equipment that so easily leads to a small kitchen feeling cluttered. Blanching vegetables instantly and cooking fresh pasta at the turn of a handle are two ways a hot water tap can make small kitchen life easier and tidier.
A small kitchen worktop is no place for awkward, bulky and potentially dangerous knife storage. By fixing knives to the wall through use of a magnetic rack or wall-mounted slot in blocks, these high-use items are safely out of the way but still well within reach. And, did you know you have the option to have wooden magnetic bars if you want a more traditional style?
Another upside to magnetic knife storage is that sharp knives are kept out of drawers, so there’s no risk of injury while rummaging around in overstuffed drawers that can be the norm in very small kitchens. Storing knives in drawers can also lead them to becoming blunt very quickly.
Just be sure to check the reviews for any magnetic holder you’re planning to buy. If it’s not magnetic enough, your knives may slip, but if the force is too strong, it may be a challenge to pull the knife away.
Think you can only have a kitchen island if you have a large space? The good news is that designers have been inventive in coming up with perfectly compact mobile islands.
Placed at the end of a row of cabinets, a mobile island becomes an extension of your worktop. To make sure the fit is seamless, check that the height and depth of your mobile island is the same as your fixed kitchen counter.
The best designs incorporate drawers and shelving, and some also feature integrated bins, which is always handy when you’re chopping vegetables for your Sunday roast.
Prefer to hide your clutter to keep your small kitchen orderly? Many options, such as the Sherbourne Kitchen Island from Studio, below, come with cabinet doors and in a range of neutral colours.
In a small kitchen design, the empty space that is often left above wall-mounted cabinets can become seriously valuable real estate. Of course, we’re not suggesting you store the everyday items you need close at hand far up and out of reach. But, for the kitchen gear that you don’t need every day of the week, sky-high joinery might be perfect for leaving your worktop uncluttered.
Kitchen cabinets that go up to your ceiling may be a must for downsizing from a larger kitchen if you have more things than space. If you are renovating, and keeping previously installed cabinets, a contractor can add joinery to the top of your current cabinets so you can still benefit from ceiling-height storage.
Of course, it makes sense to store your everyday items within easy reach – keep a foldable step ladder tucked away for when you need to reach those occasional items.
Didn’t think you could have a dining area in your small kitchen? This narrow space demonstrates what’s possible. An extendable table can be moved away from the wall to seat four people comfortably, but takes up only as much space as a 600mm (2ft) base unit. The plate rack above keeps crockery within easy reach, ready for breakfast or dinner.
Or how about a compact dining table option that seamlessly folds away when not in use? We like the look of the Brendan Folding Dining Table by Weilai Concept. One minute it’s a small dining table for four and the next it’s a neat and unassuming sideboard. In a small kitchen, the adjustable length offers handy flexibility. When not in use for dining, the sideboard has a couple of nifty shelves, meaning you can enjoy some additional storage when the chairs and table are stashed away.
All kitchens call for layers of lighting to work their best, and small kitchens are no exception. Many homeowners tend to sprinkle in functional lighting only and fail to realise what adding a decorative light (or two) could do to make their small kitchen design more attractive.
For low ceilings, a flush pendant light can be an elegant solution, and the scope to experiment certainly widens if you are blessed with tall ceilings – just be sure to think about any door swings.
When choosing lights for your kitchen, there are a few things to consider. Make sure they have at least an IP44 rating – this is so the light can be used in potentially damp areas. Also, white light is better for kitchens than yellow – so you will ideally want bulbs with a Kelvin rating of 3,000 to 4,500, which is best for food preparation areas.
A top tip for making your small kitchen appear bigger is to skip the freestanding appliances in favour of slick, integrated options. Depending on what look you opt for, your appliances may be completely hidden from view to give a clean, streamlined look.
If there’s space, you can opt for a tall appliance tower that may house one or more of your appliances – such as your built-in microwave and eye-level oven. This ultimately frees up space in your base units, giving you easier access compared to storing your everyday items higher up.
Taking space-saving kitchen appliances a step further, Jo Jackson, product manager at Fisher & Paykel, recommends investing in multifunctional appliances as a great way to free up space in a small kitchen.
Phillips gives the example of the Fisher & Paykel Combination Steam Oven that removes the need for a separate steamer or air fryer. She also recommends features like integrated cool drawers and dishwasher drawers, which take up less room in a small kitchen.
There are so many features to admire in this small kitchen design by Neptune – the way a simple shelf deals with the awkward space above the eaves, the delicate pink cabinetry with tailored storage for cookbooks, wine and utensils.
But what’s our favourite feature? The statement 60cm (2ft) AGA cooker, which shows you can still incorporate a design classic in a limited space. This version was designed specifically for urban spaces and is electric rather than oil-fired.