10 ways to make a tiny kitchen work for you

Look inside my small (and I mean really small) kitchen and you might not instantly guess that I love to cook. But I’ve never let a lack of space stop me from making any recipe, be it a homemade lasagna or an elaborate birthday cake. With careful planning, the right organization tools and a few tips, a galley kitchen like mine can actually be the best kind of kitchen because everything you need is right at hand.

Here’s how to make the most of your cooking space — no matter how tiny — and set yourself up for stress-free meal prep.

1. Clear The Countertops

In a small space, you must be vigilant about what resides on the countertops; only things that are truly used daily should be there. I know it’s not convenient to pull out the food processorstand mixer or blender every time you want to use it, but if space is limited, it’s worth the mild inconvenience to leave countertops clear. You can make room for those excess countertop items in drawers and cabinets by moving the rarely used items out of the kitchen altogether (I’m looking at you, extra-large Le Creuset Dutch Oven). In my own kitchen, I decided to ditch my utensil crock and moved all my spatulaswooden spoons and tongs to a drawer to regain precious counter space.

2. Base Cabinet Drawers > Shelves

Since you’ll be stashing as much as you can away from the counters, you want to make sure you can easily access these items. I find drawers make it much easier to reach the back of a cabinet than a plain old shelf. If you’ve got a mix of drawers and shelves, the things you reach for most should be in the drawers, while those less frequently used tools, like special cake pans, can go on the back reaches of shelves. If you don’t have many lower drawers, consider installing pull-out cabinet shelves, which are as close as you can get to retrofitting drawers into your existing cabinets. In my own kitchen, I placed an order for more interior drawers for the IKEA cabinets I installed eight years ago — it’s never too late for improvement!

3. Consider Decanting

This is controversial, I know, but I am in favor of decanting pantry items into glass jars. Yes, it is fussy, but in a small space I find that they fit much more neatly into cabinets than a mishmash of boxes and bags, which amounts to less chaos overall. I up-cycle tomato sauce jars and the like, but for things that need to be stored airtight, you can’t beat old-school clip-top jars.

4. Use Your Vertical Spaces Strategically

The walls of your kitchen have great potential for additional storage, but you’ll need to be careful not to overwhelm your space with too many things hanging from the wall. A wall-mounted magnetic knife rack is smart because it takes up so much less room than in-drawer knife storage or a knife block — plus it keeps your knives within reach. A hanging rail is also always wise (IKEA’s Kungsfors rail is a classic budget option, but for something luxe, I am gaga for deVOL’s brass rails).

There are dozens of other ways to go vertical: Screw cup hooks into the underside of upper cabinets and hang your mugs next to the coffee maker; install a hook and hang a wire fruit basket to reclaim the fruit bowl’s real estate; buy strong magnetic hooks and stick them to your range hood (we have a mesh strainer hanging from ours). But don’t employ all of these tricks or your kitchen will feel cramped.

5. Utilize Any Awkward Gaps

If you have the type of kitchen cabinets with a gap between the top of the cabinet and the ceiling, you can probably put that awkward space to good use. Display your prettiest serving bowls up there or place baskets in the under-utilized space to store things like paper towels, non-perishables from a wholesale club and party supplies. I’ve even seen someone install a shelf supported by simple wooden wine racks. Psst! You can also place some nice baskets on top of your fridge if you’ve got unused space there.

6. Put Your Appliances To Work

Today there’s almost no end to the magnetic organizers you can add to your fridge. And for good reason — in a small kitchen, it’s smart to use this vertical surface to store things. In my own apartment, we have a magnetic paper towel holder, scissors that came with their own magnetic holster and a few magnetic hooks for potholders. Author Marie Vijoen has her spices stylishly stuck to the front of her fridgeYamazaki makes beautiful magnetic accessories, including this sleek refrigerator rack (if there were enough room on the side of my fridge to use this, I would totally get it).

If you’re really short on counter space, you might also use your stove for storage. Consider an over-the-stovetop cutting board, which covers two of your burners to create additional workspace (while you’re not cooking, of course!). You can also stick a magnetic hook to the front of your range to hold pot holders. I’ve never used one myself, but I took note when Melanie of the blog A Small Life shared a link to a magnetic stove shelf that lets you use the top of your range like a mini shelf — genius!

7. Streamline The Sink

Pare back what’s stored around the sink to reduce clutter and make it easier to clean. For example, we have only one soap dispenser and just wash our hands with dish soap. If you don’t use your scrub brush daily, tuck it under the sink. Don’t do many dishes by hand and have a relatively large sink? An over-the-sink dish rack will free up the counter space next to the sink; you can stash a microfiber or wool dish drying mat beneath the sink for those times when you have a larger number to hand dry.

8. Become A Minimalist Cleaner

The under-the-sink area is often a dark hole crammed full of clutter. If you reduce the number of products you use, it will go a long way towards making the most of this space. Instead of three different spray cleaners, maybe you can use a single all-purpose option. If you have multiples of certain categories of cleanser, use them up before restocking. Another favorite trick: Take the roll of garbage bags out of its bulky box.

9. Edit Your Batterie De Cuisine

While we’re talking about paring back, I should mention that decluttering your cooking and food storage tools is the fastest and easiest way to make your kitchen feel more spacious. If you have the time and inclination, do a thorough assessment of every object in the kitchen. Could you store it somewhere else? Might you get rid of it altogether? In an attempt to tame my food storage containers, I’ve temporarily boxed up many of my containers to see how many I really need.

10. Be Realistic About What Your Kitchen Can Do

This last one has nothing to do with how you set up your kitchen, but everything to do with your chances of success cooking in it. When planning a menu, ask yourself if you can realistically make everything in your small kitchen. When we entertain, I almost always opt for one-dish meals like a lasagna or tray of enchiladas to ensure that my kitchen is not in chaos when guests arrive. If I’m planning a big celebratory meal, you better believe I will ask a guest to bring dessert or buy one at a bakery. Not asking too much of your kitchen is key to mastering the art of cooking in a small space.


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