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9 ways to make a small kitchen feel bigger

Big plans, small kitchen? So how do you make the most out of a cosy culinary quarter? Interior design experts lend their views.

Guest Author
Words by: Kate Hilpern

Compact kitchen and no room to expand? There are plenty of clever tricks to transform small culinary spaces into beautiful, functional areas that look and feel bigger.

Here's how it's done by the interior design experts.

1. Integrate (and shrink down) your appliances 

Streamlining and minimal clutter is key to creating a great look for a small kitchen.

“In smaller kitchens, the fewer things your eyes are drawn to, the better,” says Emily May of Emily May Interiors.

“Integrated appliances are a great way to achieve this, and the market has been flooded with new technologies in this area. 

Take, for instance, the dishwasher drawer. 

“It saves having to open the full depth of the dishwasher door into the floor space, meaning you can place it in the middle of the layout next to the sink where it is most convenient”, she says.

“A compact built-in bin is another good investment. In small kitchen spaces, bins can be both unsightly and untidy, yet we often find clients forget to think about their bin locations.

“Ideally, you can contain them in a single cupboard, with larger bins stored in a utility room or outside.”

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In short, it’s important to shrink down appliances where you can. For example, invest in a double hob instead of a quadruple one. Or a washer-dryer rather than a separate washing machine and tumble dryer. 

Other examples are a boiling water tap, removing the need for a kettle, and a combined microwave oven so you don't need separate spaces for both.

2. Install sliding doors, stable doors and glass-fronted cabinets

"Sliding doors are an instant space saver," points out Melissa Bodie, director of Melissa + Miller Interiors.

"And glass doors, whether sliding or traditional, can offer an optical illusion that the room is larger than it is.

Extend the advice to your cabinetry doors too. If, for example, you have a narrow passage between your wall and island, sliding doors could be your only option. Consider ovens with doors that slide underneath when open – brilliant for compact spaces. 

Meanwhile, upper cabinets with glass fronted doors let the eye travel right through them, especially if lit from the inside (although this only works if they are kept tidy and not too full).

“If you have a back door, consider swapping it for a stable door,” says Elaine Penhaul, owner of Lemon & Lime Interiors.

"This way, when the weather is nice, you can leave the top of the door open and the kitchen will feel aired out and much more spacious."

As for floors, remember flooring shapes and patterns that run parallel with the length of your kitchen will make it feel even longer, while flooring shapes and patterns that run across the width of the room will make it feel wider. 

If you’re using tiles, organise them diagonally to add both width and length. 

Penhaul adds, "Contrary to popular opinion, large format tiles also give the perception of a bigger space – so swap small floor tiles for big ones to help give the impression of a larger kitchen."

3. Lighter colours give the illusion of space

“Using light colours, especially with a subtle glitter or shine to reflect light, is an obvious choice to give the illusion of space,” says Ian Henderson, interior design manager and founder of I Love Wallpaper.

“For a twist, work some contrast into your colour palette,” suggests Henderson. 

“If your cabinets and furniture are light, for example, go for a darker paint or scrubbable wallpaper on the top half of the kitchen. 

“Alternatively, choosing a plain and bright wallpaper or paint allows you to play with a darker cabinet look. The starker the contrast, the greater the depth and overall feel of more space.”

High gloss or high sheen cabinet doors can help maximise space. And cool whites, off-whites, pale greys and light woods make spaces look fresher, bigger and brighter. This is especially good for enclosed kitchens that lack natural light. 

If you add dark colours into a poorly lit or enclosed space, keep them to the base units, with lighter ones above eye level. 

You should also avoid dark colours on work surfaces and floors as horizontal surfaces absorb light more than vertical ones.

4. Zone your space (or get the layout right)

"When planning a small kitchen space, the flow is a vital element to consider," says May.

You may well have heard of the three-zone kitchen concept (also known as the kitchen work triangle) that ensures a logical, seamless flow between cooker, sink and fridge.

But May suggests expanding it to five zones in smaller kitchens so that you can move through preparation, consumables, cooking, serving and cleaning in one smooth journey.

"This method is particularly effective in galley kitchens, where there is little room to walk past open cupboard doors and it also allows for easy collaborative cooking," she says. 

"It means, for example, that one person can easily access dry stores and the fridge at one end of the kitchen while another cooks and serves in a different area, without the need to walk past or bump into each other to get what they need."

5. Flood with as much natural daylight as possible

“Drench the kitchen area with as much natural light as possible,” says Penhaul.

"Take down window dressings," she advises. "And consider skylights too if your kitchen is in a single-storey extension or bungalow."

For artificial lights, use natural daylight bulbs where you can. And always ensure you’ve got task, accent and ambient lighting covered.

"Under-cabinet lighting really helps to boost the impression of a bigger space," says Penhaul.

6. Borrow space from other rooms 

If you can’t store everything you need in your kitchen – a particularly common problem for open-plan corner kitchen areas – borrow space from a nearby room or cupboard. 

“Put lesser-used baking equipment in a lounge cupboard or occasionally-used utensils in a sideboard drawer," says Penhaul. 

"Washing machines are another great way to free up spaces. Moving this bulky appliance to a different part of the house – like a cupboard under the stairs or the garage – can give you access to a huge area of space that wasn’t accessible before.

“You can use this space to add another appliance like a dishwasher, or another storage cupboard for food and utensils. 

“You can also move your freezer to free up more space and downsize your fridge to one that fits under a worktop – removing the need for a lone-standing fridge-freezer." 

7. Tailor your kitchen furniture 

"For a small kitchen, it will always be better to go down the bespoke road, so the kitchen can be designed specifically for the space," says Douglas Sutherland, design director at Koivu Kitchens.

But fear not if that’s out of your price range.

Standard kitchen units can also work well, although do try to keep at least one section of the worktops at a reduced depth.

"Think slimline and skinny for anything and everything, especially when it comes to the likes of bar stools, chairs and breakfast bars," says Sutherland.

Consider deep drawers (especially with secret drawers within) instead of cupboards. Both because they hold more and it’s easier to spot what’s inside and lift them out. 

It's also worth considering handleless cabinetry, which provides clean lines, a minimalist finish and ultimately a greater feeling of space.

8. Build upwards

“Take kitchen cabinets as close to the ceiling as possible,” advises Hayley Robson, creative director at Day True.

"Not only does it look extremely elegant, but it draws the eye up, making the room feel taller, and it maximises storage too."

"Installing a sleek, tall oven unit is one of my favourite ways to make the most of kitchen space," says Penhaul.

"These units are made up of a conventional oven and a combi microwave with a warming drawer – they often include a deep pan storage drawer to increase both your cooking capacity and storage space.

“Although considered to be a more traditional design choice, having a larder cupboard can also help you get the most out of your kitchen.

“They are great places to store appliances like toasters and food mixers – especially if they have accessible sockets."

9. Don’t miss a single storage opportunity

You’ll probably be surprised just how many built-in storage solutions there are - larder cupboards, plinth drawers, magic corner solutions and extra height cupboards, to name a few. 

Look out for any redundant spaces so you do not miss a trick. The area around the fridge, perhaps, or a corner wall.  

Open shelving (floating if possible) can work particularly well in small kitchens. A few rows of them may well provide a feeling of more space than wall cabinets. 

Hooks are also your friend. Attach them to the underside of shelves and the inside of cupboards to hang the likes of mugs and utensils. 

The backs of doors can make great hanging spaces too. 

Remember that a few accessories, especially smaller and brightly coloured ones, can look stunning on your worktops.

You can make a feature out of open shelving for any item, from house plants to cute crockery, all of which adds personality.

Just be sure to keep it minimal to avoid your space looking cluttered.

We try to make sure that the information here is accurate at the time of publishing. But the property market moves fast and some information may now be out of date. Zoopla Property Group accepts no responsibility or liability for any decisions you make based on the information provided.