Small Kitchens

Designing small kitchens is a challenging task asked of anyone working in the kitchen and bath industry. In the old economy, large kitchens were in demand, and removing walls and adding square footage allowed for creative solutions that were not as focused on budget as they were on function and oftentimes excess. The new economy finds consumers who want to improve their homes at a lower price point without making any alterations to their existing floor plan.

The first step when designing a smaller kitchen is to determine a budget. Then, choose all the appliances for the design before proposing any design solutions. Go to an appliance store with your clients, and show them a 5-foot range will not fit into their 4-lineal feet of wall space. Still, keep an open mind about specifying larger appliances for a small kitchen. Many people like the space a 42-inch-wide refrigerator provides and want a 36-inch-wide range so they have a nice-sized cooktop to work with. Remember, ventilation must be as wide as the range or cooktop.

Combination appliances can be helpful in smaller spaces. Consider over-the-range microwaves with built-in ventilation and combination convection/microwave ovens if one of the requirements for the design is a second oven. The sink should be considered an appliance; the length, width and depth of it needs to be determined before the planning of the layout begins.

Complete the appliance list and then get back to basics. Look at the layout of the space and create an as-built drawing of the kitchen and surrounding rooms. Adding surrounding rooms will allow you consider traffic flow to these adjacent spaces. With the as-built drawn, look at the space and shape of the room you are working with and determine what shape the kitchen should be. In my opinion, the three most practical and efficient layouts that work for smaller designs are an L shape with an island, a galley style with cabinetry running parallel to a shared work aisle, and a U shape that may or may not have an island.

Once the shape of the kitchen is determined, plan the placement of appliances. Anchor the end of any of the cabinet runs with the refrigerator, and identify the best place for the sink. Hopefully the location of the range will then fall into place. Think about the following during the planning stages of appliance placement:

  • The refrigerator should have 15 inches of countertop landing area on either side of a handle.
  • The sink should have a minimum of 36 inches on one side of it for primary preparation area and at least 18 inches on the other side.
  • The range should have at least 12 inches of space to one side and 15 inches on the other.
  • If any of the appliances share the same landing area, 12 inches should be added to that length of countertop.

Next, consider the width of egress openings adjacent to the kitchen area along with the width of the kitchen work aisles. In my opinion, any doorway leading to an adjacent room should be a minimum of 36-inches wide. The kitchen aisles should be 42-inches wide for a single cook and 48-inches wide for two cooks to work in the aisle at the same time. I acknowledge a loft apartment in an urban environment may not provide enough space for these ideal design suggestions, but they can be used as a guideline to begin your designs. If narrow aisles are incorporated into the design, be very clear when setting expectations of the design and accessibility with the customer.

Although there are challenges to the design of small kitchens, there also are many advantages to working with them. One advantage is there are fewer quantities of materials to specify, which allows for possible upgrades in cabinetry, finishes and storage solutions. Another advantage is there is less countertop square footage, so a higher grade of material can be installed while maintaining the budget.

The design of smaller kitchens can be a welcome relief from the tedious process of integrating multiple work stations and adjacent pieces of furniture from other rooms into the design of large kitchens. Small kitchens typically take less time to install and present fewer problems during the management of the project. They should be welcomed as profit centers and opportunities to showcase your ability to provide thoughtful space planning solutions with aesthetically pleasing designs to the new, more sensible consumer.


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