Kitchen Little


The size of one’s kitchen is a relative term.  Depending on the particular time in history that we are talking about, what is considered little may be quite different than at other times.  Location is another key factor.

Where I live in the California Central Coast area, these kitchens by Better Homes & Gardens would be considered medium to large. 

bhg small kitchens 1 bhg small kitchens 2 These kitchens by BHG’s Kitchen & Bath Ideas are examples of kitchens that were considered “small” just a couple of years ago. 

Currently, we are living in times where many people are downsizing.  This could be due to the economy, age, empty nesting or lifestyle changes that might include geographic relocation.  If you find yourself moving to any coastal areas of the Continental US from just about any other place that isn’t, then you are likely to find that real estate dollars do not go as far and the footprints of available housing will likely be smaller than what you are used to.  This has been characteristic of metropolitan areas such as New York and San Francisco even in times past.

A survey by the AIA last year ( noted that people are also interested in lowering utility costs.  As you may know, the government supported this renewed interest in energy conservation by implementing the “cash for clunkers” appliance version of incentives at the end of last year. “The era of the ‘McMansion’ could well be over as home sizes have been trending downward recently, with a significantly higher number of architects reporting demand for smaller homes this year,” said AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker, PhD, Hon. AIA. “And as the housing boom has passed there seems to be a renewed interest in investing in properties to make homes more livable, as opposed to real estate that can be resold quickly for a profit.”

Some ideas are just scary! 

Miele Coffee System

I think the key here is to change our thinking about “over building” for the local real estate market in terms of quality rather than size.  In her recent blog, Details and Design (, Cheryl Kees Clendenon encourages remodelers to always purchase the best quality they can afford in certain instances where function and longevity are as important as the resulting look. 
This has not been the practice in kitchens of smallish homes and multi-family housing that have been commonly outfitted by those wanting to flip the real estate for profit with the thinking that the occupant population was transient. 
That the problems created by installing substandard and dated products would be someone else’s crap to deal with down the road when they are no longer in the picture.  And, that transient residents (renters and first-time homeowners) are willing to accept these conditions as they relate to size.  Costs are based on size rather than quality.

Builders and remodelers now need to set their sights on the down-sizing baby boomers that are looking for quality, accessibility and longevity.  Many expect this to be their “last” move and are not willing to give up the comforts and status symbols they’ve become accustomed to and can afford (over other demographic groups). 

Typical apartment kitchens with cheap finishes and fixtures with dated appliances and cabinetry. 
Note the microhood doesn’t seem to vent to the outside so this might be a problem for people who might actually cook in this kitchen.  It’s definitely going to be a challenge to keep clean with the white cabinets and black countertops and stainless appliances that will show fingerprints.  No dirty dishes or clutter will be allowed to languish here.

This beautiful apartment kitchen is in a converted Victorian school building in the Seattle area. Clearly a loft with an open-plan design.  A larger portion of the living space is allocated for the kitchen as part of the public space that accommodates a number of activities besides cooking. 
This is an interesting smallish kitchen (at least they say so).  I like some of the details.  I think this is an example of trying to cram too many good ideas into a space.  If that thing on the island (with the blue blocks) is a cook top, where does it vent?  Also, it’s too shallow and there is a potential for accidents.  This one also runs the risk of looking cluttered.

As tiny kitchens go, I like this one’s use of light fresh materials.  I’m hoping the flooring is tile and not vinyl. The countertop material is a mystery –please let it not be plastic laminate.  I’d really like it to be concrete or quartz. Notice the smaller scale appliances.  I don’t see a dishwasher, but it could be covered with a wood panel.  I dislike the countertop microwave, though I’m stumped regarding where else it might go.  Perhaps inside the pantry would work if an outlet could be added in the back. Notice in all of the examples I’ve shown so far, like this one, the ceiling is raised. To find more storage opportunities –if you can’t go out, then go up.


I find designing smaller kitchens the most challenging.  While clients may have or need smaller spaces, they don’t want to give up any components that they desire for their dream kitchen.  In creating any good design, the toughest part of the process for me is editing.  You CAN have too many ‘good ideas’ that you try to cram into a space.  We live in times when there have never been more choices in materials and styles.  There are new technologies popping up every day.  So whatever new bodacious state-of-the art appliance you install today may be outdated tomorrow. 

I’m not suggesting that people need to give up on items they really want just because their space is small.  It may require re-thinking where something is located.  Maybe the Miele Coffee System (above) goes to create a coffee bar in the upstairs landing next to the master suite, rather than in the kitchen.  The least viable reason for not purchasing an item is the risk of out-dated technology.  If that were a worry, you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog because you wouldn’t have a computer.  The one I’m writing this on is three years old, woefully in need of upgrading in terms of speed and memory… but does the job just fine. 

Northland column refrigerator

Miele Combi-set. You can use one or more of these modules.

Fisher & Paykel Taller Dishwasher Drawer

Then there is the question of scale.  Appliances are generally scaled for the medium- to large-size “family” kitchen.  There are several small-scale appliances out there now that will help make an efficiency kitchen more efficient.  For example:  you can get refrigerator and dishwasher drawers, single basin sinks, cook-top modules with only two burners.  There are also appliances that are narrower than standard such as 18” dishwashers and refrigerator “columns”.  Generally, these “downsized” appliances are built in and come with a higher price tag.  It’s no wonder that condo kitchens come with full-sized appliances and very little storage or counter space. 

The first kitchen example (above) made me chuckle.  It reminded me of a recent debate on Paul Anater’s Kitchen and Residential Design blog about the merits of (or lack there of) open shelving instead of wall cabinets.  It seems that this is a common “solution” often incorporated in the remodel of a small-space kitchen.

I’m not sure that it really solves the problem that is intended.  The main thing that is lacking in most small kitchens is storage space.
Posted by James Swan in his blog “101 Things I Hate About Your House”


Circle Kitchen - Kitchen design Ideas

While tearing down walls and clearing the upper areas of storage may seem like a great idea to “open up” the space and make it seem larger, there will be issues if you ever actually plan to cook in that kitchen.  If you opt for open shelving –you will have dust to contend with whether you cook or not.  If you cook, you will also have dust and grease settling on the shelves and the items stored on them –even with a great ventilation system that you occasionally turn on now and again.  Another challenge with open shelving is avoiding the “garage sale” aesthetic with items that should be hidden away instead of displayed because there’s no place else to put them.

Is Circle Kitchen the answer?  This is so Jetsons!  I want to see Rosie the Robot making coffee for George!

The kitchen as furniture:  Circle Kitchen.  Just close the doors when not in use!

Sometimes it’s just not possible to expand the footprint due to structural reasons or impending on adjacent spaces. This is my favorite tiny kitchen remodel (so far).  I discovered it first posted by Paul Anater and later by James Swan on their respective blogs:


Posted by Apartment Therapy—080293
”This is Katie’s tiny kitchen in Berlin, Germany. Her entire apartment is 480 square feet; the kitchen is only 36.”

No Kitchen Little –the sky is not falling.  That’s just the soffits being torn down!


4 responses to “Kitchen Little

  1. Great article on small kitchen design. I too like the challenge of small space design. And as much as I love the idea of open shelving, the reality is no one lives in a model home with "just enough" cups, glasses and dishes in a monochromatic color palette. Relying on open shelving in a small kitchen can be disastrous for the average family. When you open your cabinets and really examine the contents, what items can you see placing on open shelves and what are you willing to part with: anniversary champagne flutes, travel mugs, shot glasses from every vacation, sets of dinnerware, and so on. Hooray for closed cabinets!

  2. Great article Pam – I do like small kitchens for the challenge, and open shelves too – wall to wall cabinets can be so boring. But I’d never suggest they should be the ONLY storage in a kitchen. That 101 things I hate kitchen reminds me of my place when I go away for a week and leave the 3 boys in charge – they know how to get things out of cabinets, but not how to put them back!

  3. Sarah – I have three boys too (husband and two sons)! That kitchen is about the same size as the one I live with (only I have upper cabinets). I also have white cabinets and a hood that doesn’t vent to the outside. Keeping it clean and tidy is a constant struggle that is much more difficult to maintain than previous larger kitchens I have had. Laurie- It seems like the older I get, the more stuff I get. Ironically, my kitchen has shrank proportionately. My 16-year-old complains that I have so many dishes. "Who needs 16 steak plates?!" Well, they belonged to my uncle and I love them and, well, I. can’t. give. them. up… no how!

  4. Great post Pam! Thanks for mentioning our post too! I am with the doing small baths and kitchens..think takes way more talent than doing large spaces in many ways!