Small kitchen ideas – advice for getting them right

The smartest small kitchen ideas for when space is tight but style is everything

small kitchen ideas
(Image credit: Naked Kitchens)

Here are the best small kitchen ideas we know, the smartest ways of using space we have in our armoury. It’s all about using every inch and making the room flow. 

Cabinets are still popular as they are capacious – great for hiding stuff you don’t want on show, but shelves come into their own in a small kitchen and can be made to fit whatever space you have. Pull-out shelves fit into tight spaces and are ideal for messy foodstuffs, and drawers within drawers do double duty to save space.  

Don’t be afraid of colour and pattern in a small kitchen, as colour can really add the wow factor, or use pattern on the floor to zone the space, or use accessories to add personality when you don't have room for a wow-factor island.

The best colours to use in a small kitchen

small kitchen ideas

Ladbroke kitchen, £10,000 for a similar kitchen, Naked Kitchens

(Image credit: Naked Kitchens)

Pink has become a new neutral and works well in a kitchen. This pale shade, Meadow Thistle, is teamed with a darker shade, Bramble, both by Naked Kitchens, on the back wall, which allows the wood grain to show through, then a wall of bare ply panelling on the left adds contrast. 

A high-level shelf doesn’t take up much space and is great for displaying accessories. 

The base unit doors open out into the room, another great small kitchen idea because it is saving space in the kitchen on the other side. 

A trio of pendants zones the space and gives the illusion of widening the kitchen.

“Using a clean and simple colour palette really helps to open up a room. Paler shades allow natural light to bounce off the walls and surfaces and the addition of timber adds another dimension.”  Jayne Everett, Design Director, Naked Kitchens.

 Small kitchen storage ideas

small kitchen ideas

Ehnet kitchen £235.50 wall storage solution, £90.50, Swivel shelf, £7.50, Ikea

(Image credit: PR)

You need to be brutal with clutter in a small kitchen and don’t buy more than you need in terms of cookware and gadgets, which take up a lot of space, especially on the worktop. 

Drawers are essential and offer multiple storage options, especially deep drawers with a cutlery or utensil insert in the top part. Tall, thin larder units can fit in to the gaps between units and are great for storing food and spices. If it’s a tiny gap, use it to store trays.

This image is a great example of how to make the most of a tiny space. An open wall unit has an insert for stacking plates, a swivel shelf for spices, and hooks beneath for hanging pods to hold utensils. A matching unit on the opposite wall is used for food storage in stacking glass pots so it’s easy to see what is inside, and a slimline trolley can be wheeled out and put next to the table for an added surface at meal times.

“The open shelf home design trend gives you more storage variety for a smaller price tag than traditional cabinetry. This popular storage solution suits modern and traditional kitchens. Kitchen trolleys can fit in left over spaces in a kitchen," says Bettina Oshiro, Interior Design Leader at IKEA UK and Ireland.

Planning a kitchen in a small space

small kitchen ideas

Pluck kitchens start from £15,000,

(Image credit: Pluck)

The majority of small kitchens are either one run, U or L shaped to maximise the space and storage, and they need small kitchen ideas accordingly. This one is a U shape, and created in a small space next to the living area. 

They can be some of the easiest to plan because there is a finite space, and in this one, the window takes up all of one wall and a section of the side wall which means wall cupboards can’t be used, but it does make it very light. 

Choosing a splashback that is the same colour as the units makes for a cohesive feel, so nothing jars and shelves add a decorative touch for displaying favourite objects. A sliding door is ideal in this situation as it won’t encroach into the room.

'A compact kitchen must be designed to maximise storage and use space efficiently as obviously this is at a premium, but the cabinetry shouldn’t make the room feel claustrophobic,' says Leila Touwen, Co-Founder, Pluck Kitchens. 'It’s not about cramming as many cupboards in as possible, and for this reason shelves can be a good alternative to wall cabinets. Whether you go for cheeky, bold accents or use one hue throughout, you can have fun with colour in a small kitchen as the size means you can make a big impact.'

How to use pattern in a small kitchen

small kitchen ideas

Terracotta Gammon Encaustic Cement tiles, £120 per m2. Otto Tiles

(Image credit: Otto Tiles)

Large patterns can sometimes dominate in a small kitchen, so go for a smaller scale design that will add interest without overpowering. Using colourful accessories on open shelves is a good way to bring pattern, and colour, into a small space and can be changed regularly, or for a striking look use a bold design tile on the floor and walls to define the space and add personality.

“For small kitchens I recommend patterned tiles with no more than two colours, one being a neutral so as to not overwhelm the space" says Damla Turgut, Founder, Otto Tiles. "A single tile that encompasses a whole pattern such as a grid, pyramid or herringbone design, rather than a tile which needs 4-6 tiles to make up a design, is ideal for a small kitchen making the space appear visually larger, by tricking the eye.” 

How to get the best out of a small galley kitchen 

small kitchen ideas

Arbor kitchen from £20,000, Harvey Jones

(Image credit: Harvey Jones)

Galley kitchens sometimes get a bad rep, but this one shows how it can work perfectly. The great thing about them is that everything is within reach. This one has a cooking zone on one side and preparation space on the other. There is plenty of natural light and the kitchen is in a neutral tone but with colourful tiles to add colour and pattern. 

To create a seamless, and less ‘bitty’ look, install integrated appliances, so that the run isn’t broken up. Deep drawers cope with pans and cookware and open shelves on one side can store lots of tableware, displayed in a stylish way, and within easy reach. If the space is narrower, choose sliding or pocket doors so there is more space to move around and people don’t walk into them.

“Galley kitchens offer a simple, practical and efficient layout despite being on the snug side," says Matt Baker, kitchen designer at Harvey Jones. "Positioning your sink on the opposite side to the cooker is a good idea as it avoids worktop conflict. Think about placing your fridge freezer away from the windows and near to the entrance, so that people can access it without coming into the kitchen. Galley kitchens aren’t really designed for more than one person!”

How to have an island in a small kitchen

small kitchen ideas

Kitchens from £25,000, Day True

(Image credit: Day True)

You might not think it’s possible, but see how this island works perfectly in a small space. Work surface is usually in short supply in small kitchens, so this is a great solution, especially if you can add a seating area too  - two problems, solved.  

The key is to make it smaller than a standard island. Determine the space available, leaving enough space between the kitchen and island, 110mm is the minimum, and make an island to fit. This one has the hob in it so it’s the ideal and preparation and cooking zone. 

An overhang at the end and a recess means two stools can tuck underneath. The bi-fold doors and skylight give it a feeling of space too so it doesn’t feel cramped. A kitchen or butcher’s trolley on wheels is another alternative and one you can take with you if you move.

"You can have an island as narrow as a standard unit," says Hayley Robson, Creative Director, Day True. "Often people try to wrap a kitchen around the walls, when actually there is plenty of space for an island. I would say its good to have a flush fitted induction hob that can act as extra work surface/prep space when not in use. An overhang at one end provides a seating area, but also makes the island not to solid or heavy, giving the illusion of more space.” 

Alison Davidson
Alison Davidson

Alison Davidson is well-respected British interiors journalist, who has been the Homes Editor of Woman and Home magazine, and the the Interiors Editor for House Beautiful. She regularly contributes to Livingetc, and many other titles, and often writes about kitchens, extensions, and decor ideas.