Cramped kitchen? Think big, buy small

Published May 26, 2006

Small kitchens have always been the bane of my domestic existence.

Despite my best efforts, pots, pans and casserole dishes always end up shoved inside the oven.

My cornucopia of spices overflow from shoeboxes; canned goods, pasta, cereal and chips elbow each other for space; the coffeepot gets stowed in a closet with my place mats and linens due to stingy counter space.

Putting away plates and coffee mugs after a spin through the dishwasher proves an exercise in stacking and rearranging. And my silverware now stands upright in a wooden flatware caddy because I refuse to devote one of my three paltry drawers to storing it.

My grandmother always said that people who love to cook the most are often doomed to the tiniest kitchens, yet still manage to turn out masterpieces. My youngest sister, an amazingly talented cook who once owned her own catering business, is a perfect example.

When she lived in a tiny old Florida apartment with a kitchen obviously meant for 1920s tourists, not long-term tenants, she still turned out beautiful food for dinner parties and regular get-togethers.

I'm not quite as talented.

What to do?

The National Kitchen and Bath Association measures a small kitchen with precise accuracy: 150 feet or less. But even a slightly larger but poorly designed space can seem cramped and inefficient.

If you're just moving into a home with a Lilliputian kitchen, take note of the fact that manufacturers are making appliances smaller than ever: Look for 24-inch deep refrigerators vs. the usual 30-inch.

A small, but just-wide-enough kitchen allows for a portable island, a storage boon that also offers more food preparation space.

Tampa interior designer Jay Tenuta, owner of La Bella Interiors, recommends buying an inexpensive metal shelving unit - about three shelves high - at Home Depot or Lowe's, and making it work for you.

"Put it on wheel castors with locks and you can use it as a center storage island and wheel it out of the way when you have company," Tenuta said.

If you have the money, consider having a slab of butcher block cut for the top to give the cook in the family even more cooking space.

Also, consider adding glass-fronted doors to your cabinets to create the illusion of more space (plus, they're a nice looking addition to any kitchen). Tenuta recommends removing the old cabinet doors entirely and opening up your kitchen cabinets, even if you can't afford glass fronts.

"Take the doors off completely," he advises. "It will give you a more open and airy look and you'll have open shelving."

When planning an eating area, think about conserving space as well: vintage bar stools make for practical seating at a kitchen island, which can double as a dining space. Drawers can be built into a banquette bench; small tables and chairs for two work well off to the side or in a corner.

Even better, Tenuta says, check out the IKEA Web site, www.ikea.com, for its plethora of kitchen planning ideas, storage containers and furniture, including foldout tables that can be installed on a wall and folded down - much like an ironing board - "for a quick bowl of cereal while you read the paper in the morning."

Tenuta also recommends not cluttering up the tops of cabinets with aesthetic clutter like plants. Instead, he says, think of the space as bonus storage, and use beautiful wicker baskets and leather boxes to store folded linens and infrequently used silver serving pieces.

"Don't just use the tops of your cabinets for display when you can use them for storage," Tenuta says. "There are all kinds of beautiful baskets and boxes available cheaply at places like Target and TJ Maxx. Put any unused kitchen space to work for you."