Small kitchen layouts that work every time

10 ways to plan a compact space: our guide to clever configurations for small kitchens
  • We earn a commission for products purchased through some links in this article.
  • If your aim is to make your small kitchen work with the same ease and efficiency as one that’s much bigger, a carefully planned layout is always the best place to start. Our small kitchen layouts that work every time, include the most space-savvy solutions, no matter how compact your cooking conditions may be.

    While there are plenty of small kitchen ideas to inspire, the most successful spaces balance style and function. This may seem obvious, but it’s all too easy to get obsessed with finding a home for all your favourite appliances, only to realise there’s nowhere left to store an egg cup. Similarly, the trend for open-shelving will certainly add character but are you prepared for all the dusting required to keep them looking #shelfie ready?

    Small kitchen layouts that work every time

    When planning a small kitchen layout that works every time, the best solution is usually determined by the position of existing windows and doors. There’s no single layout that will suit every space, but there are ways every layout can be made to work harder.

    ‘It’s crucial to choose cabinetry that maximises the space inside. For example, deep, wide drawers and pull-out larders are a lot more accessible than cupboards, so you will make use of every inch,’ explains George Forsyth, Director, Drew Forsyth & Co.

    Layouts with corners are often unavoidable in a small kitchen but you can’t afford to lose cupboard space at the back. Invest in space-saving internal fittings like Le Mans and Carousel mechanisms, which will bring everything into view.

    1. Choose U-shape for plenty of prep

    Grey gloss kitchen with white worktops

    Image credit: Future PLC / David Giles

    A U-shape layout is the best way to pack plenty of prep space into a small kitchen. As there’s only a short distance between the three sides, it’s also a great layout for achieving that golden ‘working triangle’ connection between the cooker, sink and fridge that’s at the heart of every good kitchen layout.

    Try to leave at least one elevation of worktop clear of appliances or the sink, so that you can really spread out when baking or dishing up meals. This main prep area will also feel more comfortable to use if there are no wall cabinets or deep shelving looming overhead.

    2. Make the most of an L-shape

    Dark grey Shaker kitchen with white worktops and white brick tiles

    Image credit: Future Plc / Lizzie Orme

    In a small kitchen, an L-shape layout is often about balancing storage versus floor space. If a U-shape or galley layout leaves hardly any space to turn around, drop one elevation. This will give yourself more room to manoeuvre.

    You’ll probably need to include wall cabinets to make up for limited storage. Tuck the units right up to the ceiling to minimise their impact, and swerve any dust gathering gaps, too. Choose a bold geometric floor tile to give the impression of a bigger footprint and introduce plenty of character without overpowering a compact kitchen.

    3. Factor in an island

    Off white slab kitchen with small island and marble splashback

    Image credit: Finkernagel Ross/Anna Stathaki

    If you’ve always assumed island units are solely for large open-plan kitchens, think again. ‘Dismissing an island in a small kitchen is counterintuitive as space is needed more than ever,’ says  Catherine Finkernagel, Director, Finkernagel Ross. ‘Even an island as small as 60cm x 60cm would be useful for prep-work, with vital storage below. Consider putting the island on castors, then you can always move it to one side when it’s not in use.’

    ‘The only real restriction on your island’s dimensions is the available space around it. The minimum walking space we would recommend around a fixed island is 90cm, to allow easy flow through the room. A 1m-width is preferable if at all possible,’ she adds. Check out these kitchen island ideas for inspiration for your own space.

    4. Choose full-size fittings

    cream shaker kitchen with wood floor and cream rangecooker

    Image credit: deVOL

    While it’s tempting to source scaled-down, space-saving appliances and sinks to maximise storage in a tight layout, it can all end up looking rather compromised and Lilliputian. ‘A full-size range cooker and double bowl sink is not only practical but also makes a kitchen feel grand and spacious even though it may be quite small,’ explains deVOL’s Creative Director Helen Parker.

    ‘Here, the wall of floor-to-ceiling storage is so beautifully fitted, it gives a traditional and substantial feel to the kitchen, making the space feel so much more than just a little kitchen,’ adds Parker.

    5. Leave room for a small table

    White gloss kitchen with white subway tiles and white floor

    Image credit: Future PLC/Fiona Walker-Arnott

    If there’s no room for dining elsewhere in your home, choosing an L-shape kitchen layout is a wise move as it will leave one wall free for a compact table. An extendable version will allow extra diners when required, without impacting on the space day-to-day.

    Positioning the fridge at the entrance to the kitchen enables easy access to drinks while the chef is busy cooking up a storm. Fridges tend to be deeper than kitchen cabinets, so you can use it to hide a crockery-filled sink from view! A built-in microwave at eye-level will free-up precious worktop space.

    6. Hide cooking in plain sight

    Grey kitchen with white worktops and metal bar stools

    Image credit: Future PLC/Tom Meadows

    In open-plan living spaces where the kitchen is essentially in your living room a more discreet layout can help set the mood for relaxation once dinner is done. A low-level lay-out without the traditional wall cabinets that scream ‘kitchen’ will blend into the background when it’s time to Netflix and chill.

    Use a vintage dresser to store crockery, and add Art, lamps and plants to boost the living room look. Keep cabinetry away from architectural features, such as an eye-catching fireplace, to maintain its focal point status.

    7. Swap solid walls for a peninsula

    Small cream shaker kitchen with peninsula unit and wood worktop

    Image credit: Future PLC/Simon Whitmore

    Taking out the wall between the kitchen and dining room is far less expensive than extending and rarely requires planning permission if your home isn’t Listed. A peninsula style layout, which is like an island but with one end connected to the wall, is the perfect solution in this scenario.

    Keeping the heart of the kitchen clearly defined, while boosting the light and sense of space within, it is no wonder the peninsula layout is so popular in small kitchens.

    8. Ease the traffic flow

    Dark blue kitchen with wood worktops and a chandelier

    Image credit: Future PLC/David Woolley

    If your small kitchen is also major thoroughfare – i.e. it has an entrance/exit at either end – you’ll need to think seriously about the traffic flow through the room, especially if there are children running in and out. One trick for maximising floor space is to mix in narrower-depth base units.

    Standard base units are 56cm-deep, which is the size required for integrated appliances. However, for storage you can switch to 30cm-deep units, sometimes called slimline, freeing up floorspace for people to easily pass through. You can also go narrower on the sink elevation by installing a compact sink but don’t forget to allow space at the rear for plumbing.

    9. Get onboard a double galley

    Off white gallery kitchen with grey walls and wood floor and worktops

    Image credit: Heidi Caillier Design/Haris Kenjar

    Named after the ergonomically efficient ship’s kitchen, a galley layout allows you to reach everything you need in just a few short steps. A double galley features units stretching across two opposing walls in parallel runs. Crucially, there are no space-wasting corner cupboards.

    ‘Double galley layouts are just so appealing on a practical level,’ enthuses interior designer Heidi Caillier, of Heidi Caillier Design. ‘They force you to be thoughtful in how you lay out every inch, and I also like the mentality of using ALL of your kitchen versus just that one corner between the range and the sink.’

    10. Embrace single (galley) life

    White gloss kitchen with white chevron tiles

    Image credit: B&Q

    Of all the small kitchen layouts available, a single galley is, well, the smallest! In fact it pays not to go too big, or rather long, with a single galley. The furthest you should ideally walk between sink and hob is 1.8m, to limit the distance when carrying pans of hot liquid between the two.

    But while it may be small, a single galley shares the same ergonomic principles as the double galley and can prove a superior solution if you need to include dining or soft seating in the room. Lack of worktop space is usually the biggest issue. The flat top of an induction hob can also be utilised for prepping, with the addition of a board, before cooking begins and you can also buy specialist sinks with chopping boards that slide over the bowl.

    What’s the best layout for a small kitchen?

    ‘Galley kitchens are usually amongst the most popular small kitchen design layouts,’ says Lizzie Beesley, Head of Design, Magnet. ‘With this layout, you benefit from two rows of cabinets, with an area for cooking and washing up. You often have plenty of kitchen counter space, as well as storage.

    ‘Utilise the space in a small kitchen by creating a breakfast bar area. While it may seem a challenging fit, they are an excellent option if you don’t need a lot of cupboard storage space. However, breakfast bars can double as both a preparation and dining space, creating a multifunctional approach to your kitchen design.’

    How can you keep a small kitchen clutter free?

    Start by having a rigorous cull of non-essentials. If you don’t use something at least once a month, it can probably be stored elsewhere, or sold. ‘Everything you put in a small kitchen should be very carefully chosen, there is no room for nasty appliances or unused pots and pans,’ says Helen Parker, Creative Director, deVOL.

    ‘You don’t have much space so make every vignette and surface look as beautiful as you can. Invest in things that are absolutely perfect, especially items on display. Never settle for ok in a small kitchen as it will end up looking mismatched and messy,’ she adds.

    What appliances are good for a small kitchen layout?

    The best appliances for a small kitchen are multifunctional. If you can get one appliance that does the job of two, it’s worth the investment. Think combination microwaves that can work as a second oven when entertaining, and flexible cooling drawers that can be switched from freezer to fridge depending on demand.

    When shopping for an oven, study the interior capacity; 67 litres is standard for a 60cm-wide single oven but you can get 60cm models that boast interiors up to 80 litres. Also look out for slimline appliances but only if they will work for your family size. A reduced-width dishwasher is 45cm-wide, instead of 60cm, but will only manage nine place settings, which means you could be running it twice a day.


    All the latest from Ideal Home