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Your Favorite Tiny Kitchen ideas

My husband and I just went into contract on our first apartment (!)

I know I'm counting my chickens before they hatch, but the kitchen needs to be completely gutted and I'm secretly super excited that it means I'll have free reign to do what I wish.

The downside is, it's an extremely small galley kitchen. If you think you've seen small, think smaller. We live in SF, but this kitchen is small enough to be worthy of Tokyo. Or Lilliputia. There's some debate over whether will actually be able to install a dishwasher if it has a pull-down front, because the door might not open all the way down.

So, dear hounds, what are your favorite tiny kitchen tips? I'm already planning cabinets all the way to the ceiling and drawers down to the floorboards. I will be able to have a full size stove, but am starting a hunt for a tiny dishwasher and as shallow a fridge as possible (under 20" deep if possible).

If some of you are into home design and know good websites about tiny spaces (Apartment Therapy, etc.) I'd really appreciate a push in the right direction.

I will be measuring the space tomorrow.

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  1. I'm hoping MMRuth, who live in Manhattan, will offer some advice. She has a small kitchen, I believe.

    1. Pei,

      "I'm secretly super excited that it means I'll have free reign to do what I wish". Maybe I know your husband's email address? :)

      I lived in an apartment with small kitchen when I was in graduate school in Berkeley. I know SF apartments are small. Make sure you don't buy cookware you don't need. Combine cookware. You cannot have a 10" skillet, a 10" saute pan, 12" skillet, and 12" saute pan. You will need to just pick one. If you rarely use your oven, then use it as a storage space, espcially for cookware. Kitchen tools do not have to be store in kitchen, especially the one you don't use very often. For example, I store my my food processor, dry pasta, flour sifter.... in a cabinet outside of my current kitchen and it is not a super tiny kitchen. Always makes sure you have a open counter to work with. You don't have to have no open space in the kitchen.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

        My husband's identity is top secret! :)

        Luckily, we already live in a very small apartment, so over the years we've kept things very minimal in terms of limiting equipment and keep the pantry lightly stocked. I'm looking more for ideas about what's new in streamline appliances, and websites with photos about kitchen layouts or smart new space saving cabinet designs. Another concern is wanting to update the kitchen without making things look too modern. I know a lot of the most reasonably priced cabinetry is priced low because they are too modern and trendy, made of cheap materials, and buyers realize it's not a smart long term style choice.

        Mostly, I'd just like to start browsing other people's kitchens for ideas.

        1. re: Pei

          Not specifically about tiny kitchens, but these people have great ideas about all things kitchen related:


          1. re: pothead

            On a related note, once people finish their kitchens, a lot of people post them in the Finished Kitchens Blog:


          2. re: Pei

            Hmm, well most of the small kitchen design I see is about building a lot of cabinets, small and tall refrigerator. Maybe the website below will help inspire a few ideas.


            Some people like immersion blenders because it is small and you can blend almost anything in any container. You no longer need to transfer foods from one container to another just for blending.


            I have never own one, so I am throwing this one as an idea.

          1. re: E_M

            Wow, that is incredible, and exactly what I mean. Thanks!

            1. re: Pei

              that one was also on apartment therapy a little while back. they had a kitchen month which you might find useful.

              there is also some other thread around here about small space kitchens and people's tricks but i think it was mostly geared towards renters making do.

              i've never owned so can't provide an iota of assistance when it comes to the large appliances but can offer a couple suggestions. one thing i've liked is that some people are making uses of the toe-kick area under the cabinets and the most nifty idea is that it can be a spot to hide a step ladder (very handy for cabinets going to the ceiling) or low profile cookware like cookie sheets. drawers in the bottom cabinets are really great but make sure they're not always too deep.

              one thing i've been thinking about is a modified "walk-in" pantry. it would work best with a galley kitchen and fits just on the other side of the wall that hems in your kitchen. you could mount a shallow narrow but tall bookshelf on the wall and hinge it with a second bookshelf that has casters underneath so that you can roll it open to expose a pantry and when it's closed it just looks like a tall shallow cabinet. it could be embellished with a third shelf facing outward so that there is something to look at since it could serve as a display space. i hope i'm describing it properly... it's not new tech but could be helpful. of course this means you'd need enough swing room just outside of the kitchen, but if narrow enough shouldn't be a problem.alternatively it could open up with double doors too. i guess this is sort of what i'm thinking of: http://www.yorktownecabinetry.com/ima...

              i am all for cabinets cabinets and lots of cabinets... i prefer a clean open worktop and so no hanging pots/pans, knife blocks, etc if possible.

              1. re: pinstripeprincess

                Uncanny: the link you posted is a photo of the exact same pantry closet I grew up with. I love it. I don't know if we have enough depth anywhere to do the same thing, but I'll keep that design in mind.

                I like a really clean worktop too.

            1. instead of cupboards, you could consider a bookshelf style thing (a bit like Frasiers apartment in Frasier). I've thought of doing something like this myself, having plates and stuff in the middle, heavy pots at the bottom etc. Food would need a door though.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Soop

                I like wire shelving that mounts on hanging rails. You screw a track to the wall near the ceiling, and hang vertical rails from that. That gives considerable flexibility - not only can the shelves be moved up and down, but the verticals can be shifted.

                A plus to wire shelving that I did not originally consider - it is easy to hang pots below them. Now most of my pans are hanging.

                My only qualm is whether this type of shelving is best in an earthquake zone like SF. But in reality earthquakes are just as much a concern in Seattle.

              2. Miele (always fine quality) makes an 18 inch d/w you might want to consider. A quality toaster oven (Breville makes one that gets excellent reviews) might stand in for a full-sized oven if you usually cook for just 2 or 3.

                Any available wall space can be used to hang pots, pans, utensils etc.

                I love galley kitchens...very efficient & great to work in. Good luck with your new apt & your new kitchen.

                1. I personally love my spice containers, if I do say so myself! They've worked out better than I could have ever imagined. I found a cheap resource for the containers and I ordered super strong magnets, so they never fall off even if you slam the refrigerator door- believe me, we tested it! I just used an epoxy glue to adhere them, which is also really strong. I had great fun picking out pictures for them too. Ginger is my grandma, both her name and her pic on the spice! ;-) I think you'll recognize the jerk seasoning.

                  I've also seen toekicks that are drawers- love that idea.

                  This is a really great book on small houses: http://search.barnesandnoble.com/The-... If I remember correctly, it had some really good ideas for storage.

                  1 Reply
                  1. I have seen ovens with a built in toaster, and dishwashers that install beneath the sink. I would also consider storing the dishes and silverware in the dining area, rather than the kitchen.

                    1. We did a major remodel of our (only) 50 y.o. cabin at Tahoe and deliberately chose NOT to take the cabinets all the way to the ceiling because the room isn't completely "square" an d we were using stock cabinets. We have perhaps 6" between the top of the cabinets and the ceiling and I've been storing shallow baskets, the Food Saver, etc. there.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: c oliver

                        Cabinets to the ceiling will cost a lot more, right? I'm thinking investing in a series of matching boxes will be cheaper even if I get really nice ones from The Container Store or Pottery Barn.

                        1. re: Pei

                          Great idea. I think I'm going to steal that one, ok? Also we got our cabinets from Ikea and we LOVE them. Very well made. A former kitchen designer visited us after we got them and she said they are very highly rated. Ours are not modern at all. And my husband assembled and installed them himself. A pittance compared to anything else we looked at.

                          1. re: c oliver

                            Hi; I want to jump in here if I may. Pei, I am buying new home/redoing small kitchen (relatively) and wondering about cabinets all the way to ceiling. When I met with contractor for some reason last week he disparaged that idea...but I live in rental now with old painted wood cabinets and I HATE the grease and grime that collects on top ... I live in NYC and that only adds to it.....and will probably get this one chance to do things right. thanks!

                            1. re: lichow

                              I can't imagine why he put down the idea. They are great. In my house they go to about 5 inches short of the ceiling then there's a crown molding to cover the rest. I find the top shelf perfect for stuff I don't need all the time; for example, I have two sets of dinner ware, Christmas and regular, so I rotate the out of season stuff up there. In a glass fronted cabinet I have "pretty" things that are more for display than use. The top shelf isn't all that high; on tippy toes I can reach stuff there, barely (and I'm only 5 foot 6).

                              1. re: DGresh

                                I think the point is that, without the molding, stock cabinets aren't going to fit perfectly because older buildings aren't square. So the molding covers up that fact. I have too many priorities for my amount of income. Custom cabinetry was something I can't justify.
                                NB: Our SF house was built in about 1885. It was so crooked that a small ball placed on the kitchen floor rolled quickly across the room ---the cat LOVED that!

                      2. Reporting back...(sort of)

                        Thanks for all the help so far, everyone! There's a lot of good info here. I measured the kitchen yesterday. It's 5x10' with an inch or two to spare all around. Here's what my husband and I envision (yes, I ran it by him).

                        Tear down one non-load bearing wall so the kitchen isn't so narrow. Doing so will also allow natural light into what is currently a dark cave. The resulting space will be an upside down L with the sink and dishwasher placed on the short side of the L, cabinets and fridge along the long side of the L, and we'll insert an island with range/oven in the space created by knocking down the wall. Overall it does seem pretty logical, right? Now to cost this all out...anyone know where to get cheap cabinets in SF? I'm heading to Floorcraft and Timeless Kitchen this weekend.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: Pei

                          Given the size of your kitchen, I think it is prudent to not go cheap. Custom work, even doing it yourself like the German apt I posted is the way to go in order for you to get every square inch out of that place.

                          One other source for countertops is salvage yards or the junk bin at granite yards. There, you can buy scrap marble or other fancy countertops at ridiculously low prices ($100) which, while scraps to others, will be sufficient to cover your kitchen.

                          Lastly, you may want to consider hiring a kitchen designer who specializes in small spaces. In a kitchen of such small proportions, you really don't have the room to make a mistake. Since you are now removing walls and changing the locations of appliances, you need to make sure that you have the proper electrical/gas hookups and ventilation. And don't forget about the pesky detail of electric sockets!

                          I also strongly advise you to visit: http://ths.gardenweb.com/forums/kitch...
                          They have a wealth of information and are a terrific resource.

                          1. re: E_M

                            ah, knocking down a wall certainly does increase the possibilities! as a personal preference i'm not keen on the island/cooktop combo because of the venting options.

                            not sure what you were thinking for the counter tops but E_Ms suggestion for the granite yards is great. i have a small slab (18"x36") from one that was pretty much only the cost of cutting it to size. it is very handy for pastry and dough things.

                            1. re: E_M

                              I'm calling a few designers and visiting some kitchen stores this weekend to see if the pricing of custom cabinetry is feasible for us. I would love the ease and precision that comes with a good designer, especially since there are so many good small space designers in SF.

                              Do you know if designers usually bundle their design costs into the costs of materials? Sort of how like when you stage a large party at a hotel the room is free because you're paying $100 per person for food? I guess it's kind o fan irrelevant question; my real question is whether top to bottom custom design plus a fridge, stove/range, 18" dishwasher, and new sink can be had for under $20k

                              I considered the ventilation issues, and we're just going to do without. I haven't used my vent in over three years, and I don't think there's currently a vent shaft in that building so I can't build one in anyway.

                              1. re: Pei

                                Certainly. Tell the designer that your budget is $18,500 and that your kitchen is 50 square feet ($370 PSF). Have a list of of necessities (full size stove, convention oven, countertop material, whatever). They will work with you and your budget.

                                Some designers change a fixed design fee, sometimes and hourly fee, sometimes cost + 20%. You need to to negotiate with them.

                                1. re: Pei

                                  A professional can also tell you if you're going to have to have a building permit (we did in NoeValley just for replacing windows) and, if so, will building codes, i.e., venting to the outside be required. Don't want to rain on such an exciting parade but better to know right up front.

                            2. Make use of the inside of your cabinet doors. I have simple nails there, to hang the likes of measuring spoons, potholders, a calendar, and a baggie with copies of oft-used recipes.

                              I enthusiastically recommend a 4qt covered chef's pan, which is as multi-purpose as you can get - everythign from bacon and eggs to soups and stews, even boiling pasta. If I could have only one pan, that would be it, though an enamed cast iron dutch oven would be a close second.

                              Cooks Illustrated had a neat tip for referring to an open cookbook without using up counter space: Cut a wire coat hanger at the midpoind of the straight horizontal wire. Straighten the two bends, then adjust the angle at which the two wires fork from the hook, so that they are 12" apart at the bottom. Then measure 8" or so up from the ends of those two wires. Bend each up and to the front at that point, then hang the original hook of the hanger over the top of a cabinet door and hang the open cookbook onto the wire arms.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: greygarious

                                Yeah, we installed some small rubber coated hooks on the inside of our cabinets for hanging potholders, strainers, dishtowels on the back of. I first started with the stick-on hooks at our apartment and loved them, so then we installed permanent ones at our house.

                                1. re: Katie Nell

                                  Geniuses! You're all geniuses!

                              2. I did have one idea when I re-looked at my kitchen photos. There's one very long concrete post that sticks out of one wall, and it renders the space completely unusable. It's too narrow to put a cabinet or appliance against, but it's too wide to ignore. I'm going to ignore it for now, but one day I envision a tall, narrow wrought iron trellis. Something from a home and garden store, either ornate and leafy or very minimalist with cross hatches or vertical wavy lines. After figuring out how to secure it to cement, I would hang matching S-hooks on it and use it as a place for small pots and pans, aprons, oven mitts, etc. Kind of like a wall pot holder, but more visually interesting.

                                1. I store everything possible (neatly!) on the fridge. I have a nice looking magnetic paper towel roll holder, a basket that holds menus, and clips for potholders. Even my kitchen timer is magnetic and sticks to the fridge.