No matter how big or small a kitchen may be, it seems that everyone is looking for more space. Ever since kitchens became “the” place to be, finding enough space to accommodate all the activities homeowners want can be a challenge for designers. Kitchens have morphed into multi-function rooms by taking over the dining area, breakfast nook and living areas. Plus, people want to use their kitchen as a gathering spot.
The problem is that kitchens don’t always have any extra square footage to provide for the additional demands.
Even kitchens that aren’t necessarily considered “small” have space challenges. Just because they’re big doesn’t mean they were designed with efficiency in mind. Even these large kitchens can benefit from space-saving techniques since they can improve the room’s efficiency and workability.
Kitchens with open layouts create their own set of problems. First of all, you lose a wall for cabinetry. Then homeowners say they don’t want their views blocked by cabinets over an island or peninsula, for example, so other places must be found for storage.
Designers have reported that they consider where everything will be stored and how to maximize every available inch when they start working on the layout of a new kitchen, right after the basic work triangle. And the designers are challenged to find room for more storage, in the same footprint and keep costs down.
Borrow from the Europeans
Some space saving techniques used by designers in the US have been adapted from or taken directly from Europe products and ideas. Take, for example, frameless cabinets. They provide easier access to cabinet contents with the face frame eliminated and provide some extra interior storage space.
The style in cabinets now is more streamlined with clean lines, less ornamentation and fewer details. Again, this look was borrowed from the Europeans and is sometimes even called “European style”.
The Old World trend in kitchen design back in the 90s with turned posts, ornate corbels and fancy carved columns took up and – truthfully -- wasted a lot of space. Design trends in the new century have moved away from the ornate because people realized that they wanted to do away with clutter. And the desire for clean countertops and open space gave rise to the need for more storage.
The Island: Good or Bad Use of Space?
Everyone thinks they need an island in their kitchen, but often it’s not the best use of space in a small kitchen. An island must have walking space on all sides. Instead of an island, a U-shaped kitchen or a peninsula may provide significantly more counter and storage space than an island. Islands offer base cabinet storage, yes, but having one means traffic must move around it.
An island is a great place to include storage, but sometimes items can get lost in the back of the deep, low cabinets that make up an island. Cabinets that open from both sides or back-to-back shallow cabinets allow storage within easy reach on each side and prevents items from getting buried.
Multi-tasking is a great way to save space. Islands offer a great example of the multi-tasking concept.
For example, if clients currently have a small kitchen table paired with a small island, or even no island, they can feel crowded and claustrophobic. There’s no real place for working, and there isn’t any space for people to come into the kitchen and mingle. If the table is removed and replaced with an island that includes seating, counter and work space can be increased, with the added benefit of base cabinet storage. It’s also more inviting and easier for people to come in and visit.
Another example is to keep seating at the island at counter height instead of bar height. That way, the island can be used as countertop work space as well as seating.
Another multi-tasking idea is to create a bar area that can be used for mixing and serving drinks during a party and as a spot for collecting mail, charging electronics and managing family communication the rest of the time. Bar areas can have wall cabinets with glass doors for displaying barware and base cabinets that can be used for storing paper plates, cocktail napkins and other things that accumulate.
Multi-tasking can be applied to appliances as well. Since appliances take up a huge amount of space in a kitchen, a favorite space-saving tip is to use appliances that take up only one footprint. The quintessential dual function appliance is the stove or range that combines a cooktop with a built-in oven. This appliance has been around forever with a standard width of 30”. The 21st century take on this classic is reduced width for smaller kitchens. It’s now possible to get one 24” wide.
A Microwave/convection oven is an appliance that does several functions. Steam/convection ovens and/or speed ovens are great multi-functional pieces where space saving is needed. Many people say they want two ovens, but they really only use the second oven a few times a year. A combination oven fills the need for a microwave and also works as the desired second oven. Speed ovens are so functional and easy to use that they become the main oven, and the full-sized oven is the one that gets used only a few times per year.
An air fryer oven that that bakes, broils, roasts, toasts, warms up food and even dehydrates (if you’re into that) can come in handy and eliminates the need for other appliances that do the same tasks. Several companies produce air fryers. GoWise can be purchased from Amazon.
The availability of smaller appliances, as well as a greater variety of modular cooking appliances, like steamers, grills and fryers, has also helped designers find extra space.
Appliance sizes used to be standard. Ranges were 30”, 36” or 48”W. Refrigerators and freezers were side-by-side. Now manufacturers offer 24” cooktops and ovens and the traditional 24” wide dishwasher is now available as an 18” dishwasher.
Column-style refrigeration is great for small spaces. The columns are cabinet depth, come in multiple widths and do not need to be installed side-by-side. For example, the freezer section can be installed in a pantry outside the kitchen, if necessary. You can also have refrigerator and freezer drawers, which can be great options for clients who don’t want any tall cabinets.
There are a lot of options and being able to pick and choose individual appliances makes so much sense.
Give Them the Pantry They Want
People often want large walk-in pantries, but there might not be enough room (or there might not be enough money). A pull-out pantry helps increase storage capacity by providing a lot of storage in a relatively small amount of space. For narrow spaces, a 12” wide or 15” wide space can be turned into a pull-out pantry with shelves that can be accessed from both sides. Cabinet manufacturers can make a pantry that is 24” deep and 7 feet high. Since it’s so narrow, items don’t get lost, and it’s an efficient use of the space.
Look Inside Cabinets
One of the most effective ways to find more space is to look inside the cabinets. Designers report that clients concerned about storage usually don’t have the latest space-saving and organizing cabinet accessories.
The manufacturers of cabinet storage and organization accessories have greatly improved their products over the years. Storage efficiency and ease of access were top priorities. Now home-owners can store more stuff in less space and get to it easier.
What to Eliminate
- Look for ways to get rid of diagonals and angles. Diagonal corner cabinets, angled islands and diagonal sinks used to be popular, but they waste a lot of space. Squaring off those corners maximizes counter space, working space and cabinet storage without increasing the footprint or reconfiguring the layout.
- Narrow pull-out base cabinets that are installed on each side of a range can go. Add that space to adjacent cabs. The pull-outs are 9” wide which means you only have 6” or less of interior room. By eliminating those narrow cabinets and making the cabinets next to them wider, you’ve gained extra room.
- Lazy susans in corner cabinets take up too much space. Designers in the know specify kidney shaped trays, where each works independently, can be pulled out into the room and then silently slid back into its corner.
Tips and Tricks to Find More Space
- Non-standard cabinet sizes can help use all available space. A typical wall cabinet is 12” deep. But there are lots of items like glasses and bowls and pantry items that can be stored in a shallower cabinet if that is all you have room for.
- Help clients find more storage space by extending wall cabinets to the ceiling and/or to the countertop. If the cabinet is 12”D, you still have 12” – 13” of countertop where small appliances can fit easily.
- Use double-tiered cutlery dividers and stepped inserts for drawers to keep utensils and spices organized and out of wall or base cabinets.
- Install vertical tray dividers in hard to reach spaces, such as above the fridge, and in narrow base cabinets and spaces 12” or less. They can store everything from cookie sheets to roasting pans, serving platters, cutting boards and muffin tins, pizza pans, wire racks – basically anything that can be stored vertically. When these items are stored horizontally, they waste precious space.
- Roll-out shelves are critical for making base cabinets more functional.
- Sliding barn doors that don’t open into the room can be installed on a pantry so walkways don’t get obstructed.
- Stemware can be hung under cabinets.
- If extra seating is needed, an island can have a pull-out table.
- To save precious counter space, a paper towel holder can be installed under wall cabinets or in the trash pull out cabinet.
The Value of Being Organized
Ultimately, being organized is the best space saver. As a kitchen designer, you can help your clients get organized, eliminate clutter and increase their efficiency by finding extra space for their things in their remodeled kitchen.