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Maximizing a Small Kitchen

Updated: Feb 11

(Originally published in the Napa Valley Register)


Small spaces require big ideas. This is especially true when the space is one of the most popular rooms in the house – like the kitchen. Since form and function are equally important in my world, optimizing space in a small kitchen while creating a beautiful aesthetic can be a tricky balancing act. On the one hand, I want to use all available space. On the other hand, I want to avoid clutter.

In the spirit of using both hands, here are a few of my DOs and DON’Ts:


1) If the sink is flanked by upper cabinets and has a window above, then DO bridge the cabinets with a shelf. But DON’T clutter the shelf. DO display like-colored pottery or showcase just one item. This makes a design statement and brings your eye upward which gives the illusion of more space.


2) DO hang a rack over a stove but DON’T hang anything other than sparkling clean pots and pans (aged copper is the exception). DO hang utensils mindfully - as if you’re hanging works of art.


3) DO brighten the space with good lighting - a combination of under-cabinet, recessed, and decorative pendants. DON’T limit natural light with a fussy window treatment.


4) DO consider taking down any floating bank of upper cabinets that separate the kitchen from the adjacent room. DON’T ignore this great advice.


5) DO consider knocking out any wall shared with a dining or family room and replacing it with an island or countertop bar. The island or bar can incorporate a cooktop and lower cabinetry on the kitchen side and seating on the other side. DO embrace magic tricks. Presto-chango, your kitchen has just increased in size.


6) DO consider switching out wood doors on upper cabinets for glass doors.


7) If installing new cabinetry, DO take upper cabinets to the ceiling (if eight feet or less). DON’T forget to include a floor-to-ceiling pantry.


8) DON’T choose dark cabinetry but DO add dimension and depth with a darker countertop or backsplash. DO take this advice with a grain of salt because there are ways to use dark cabinetry in a small space.


9) DO limit your color scheme to two colors. This will make for a tight (i.e. good) and disciplined design.


10) DO add drama and DO add a punch of color. DON’T be afraid to do this by covering a key wall with dynamic, graphic wallpaper or a defining paint color. DON’T overlook the opportunity to use the floor or ceiling as a focal point. DON’T have more than one focal point.


11) If using tile on the backsplash or floor, DO keep its scale in mind. DON’T disregard the importance of using the right scale for every element in the space.


12) DO embrace a small kitchen. They can be the little gems of the whole house and the source of many good memories.

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