Doing More with Less – Kitchen and Bath Design News

Designers discuss creative ideas for saving space in the kitchen, both physically and visually, to accommodate the various tasks that take place there.


Kim Berndtson 

It seems that, regardless of footprint size, everyone is always looking for more space in their kitchens. Oftentimes, it’s about wanting to gain more room for storage, but considering that kitchens have become the ‘it’ place to be, finding enough space to accommodate traditional as well as newfound purposes can be a challenge.

“Kitchens are expanding into multi-function rooms by encompassing dining areas, breakfast rooms and living areas,” says Randy O’Kane, CKD, senior designer at Bilotta Kitchen and Home, with several locations throughout New York. “Thus, the expansion of the kitchen is definitely happening.”

However, kitchens aren’t always given any extra square footage to accommodate the additional demands. That means space saving is often top of mind for designers. Even kitchens that aren’t necessarily considered small can benefit from space-saving principles since they can improve efficiency and workability within the room.

“A number of years ago, it wasn’t that uncommon to do an addition or bump out to a kitchen,” says Gail Bolling, co-owner of The Kitchen Company, in North Haven, CT. “However, more recently, we’ve been doing less of those because they’re expensive. Now, we’re looking for more creative ideas to use the existing space.”

Steve Ptaszek, CKD, agrees, noting the days of the massive homes with colossal kitchens are also going away. “In new construction, kitchens seem to be getting smaller,” says the owner of Imagine That Kitchens + Baths, in Minneapolis, MN. “I do mostly remodeling, and I’m doing more and more smaller kitchens.”

Hannah Hacker’s clients are trending in the direction of petite spaces, too. “On the West Coast, we have been seeing a move toward more condo living and smaller footprints for homes,” says the owner/AKBD of Adapt Design, LLC, in Beaverton, OR.

For Jennifer Austin, RJ Austin Interior Design in Kenwood, CA, kitchens aren’t necessarily scaling down, but space challenges still exist given that many of her clients prefer open kitchen designs. “People seem to be gravitating to larger kitchens that they use as gathering spots,” she says. “They want open kitchens, but one of their drawbacks is that we lose a wall for cabinetry. Clients also don’t want cabinets to come into a space, such as over an island, so we need to find other places for storage, often within the same footprint…all while keeping costs down.”


Designers address space constraints in a multitude of ways, including with design.

“When I approach a kitchen design, I always start with the layout before we even start talking about materials,” says Hacker, who indicates a focus on layout is especially key in small spaces. “It’s important to think about not only the basic work triangle, but also where everything will be stored.”

Walking space in a small kitchen is often an issue as well, she continues. “Islands are a classic example,” Hacker says. “Everyone thinks they need an island in their kitchen, but it’s often not the best use of space in a small kitchen since you need to account for walking space on all sides of it. A u-shaped kitchen or a peninsula may give you significantly more counter and storage space than an island.”

Austin agrees, noting that while islands offer base cabinet storage, their inclusion must accommodate traffic throughout the kitchen. “Everyone wants an island, especially with an open floor plan,” she says. “But, it can disrupt the flow, so there needs to be enough room to move around it.”

Many designers encourage clients to consider multi-tasking as a way to save space. For example, Hacker recommends that seating in the kitchen be kept at counter instead of bar height. “That way, it can be used as countertop work space as well as for seating,” she says.

O’Kane agrees, adding that an island can have a pull-out table for extra seating. The designer applies the multi-tasking concept to appliances as well. “One of my favorite space-saving tips is to use appliances that utilize one footprint, such as ranges that allow for cooking in one spot,” she says. “Microwave/convection/hoods are one appliance that does several functions, and steam ovens and/or speed ovens are great multi-functional pieces for a small kitchen.”

Convertible refrigeration appliances that convert between a refrigerator and freezer based on need – such as an ice cream party where extra freezer space is desired versus keeping drinks cold for daily use – are also a good element when space is limited, O’Kane adds.

Hacker appreciates the space-saving abilities of combination appliances as well, noting that these can help reduce the physical size of an appliance package. “Many of my clients say they have to have two ovens,” she says. “But they really only use the second oven a few times a year. A combination oven checks off the need for a microwave and also the secondary oven. I’ve found that the speed ovens are so easy and quick to use that they become the main oven and the full-sized oven is the one that gets used only a few times a year.”

Bolling also focuses on multi-tasking principles, such as creating a bar area that can be used for mixing and serving drinks during a party and as a spot for collecting mail, charging electronics and managing family communication the rest of the time. “It’s also a great place for storing recipes,” she adds. “There’s no reason why it has to be single purpose. I often design bar areas with wall cabinets that have glass doors for displaying barware and base cabinets that can be used for storing notepads, pens and clutter.”

Islands can benefit from the same thought process, she continues. “People may have a teeny kitchen table and teeny island, or maybe no island,” says Bolling. “It’s crowded for working and there isn’t any good place for people to come into the kitchen and mingle. I suggest getting rid of the table and replacing it with a big island that includes seating, which can maximize counter and work space, plus add base cabinet storage. It’s also more inviting and easier for people to come in and circulate.”

Bolling also looks for ways to get rid of diagonals and angles. “They waste a lot of space,” she says. “We used to do a lot of diagonal corner cabinets and ranges, but squaring off those corners maximizes counter space, working space and cabinet storage.

“I just remodeled my own kitchen,” she continues. “It had an angled island and diagonal sink. I squared everything off, moved the sink and made a big rectangular island that gives me so much more storage and seating. I didn’t change the footprint at all. I just changed the design and reconfigured the layout. When people walk in now they can’t believe it’s the same kitchen because it looks so much bigger.”

Designers also often add pantries that help save space by providing a lot of storage in a relatively small amount of space. For narrow spaces, Bolling will turn a tall, 12″- or 15″-wide space into pull-out pantries with shelves that can be accessed from both sides. “Since it’s narrow, items don’t get lost and it maximizes space,” she explains.

Austin’s clients often want large walk-in pantries. “But if there isn’t enough room, or if there are budget constraints, I will include a pantry made by the cabinet company that is 24″ deep and 7′ high,” she adds.

Austin likes to eliminate narrow pull-out base cabinets that are frequently located on each side of a range, opting to add that space to adjacent cabinets. “Usually those narrow cabinets are about 9″ wide,” she says, “which means you only have 6″ or less of interior room. By eliminating those narrow cabinets and making the cabinets next to them wider, you’ve gained extra room. It’s about using fewer, wider cabinets to maximize space.”

Hacker turns to non-standard cabinet sizes to utilize all of the available space. “A typical wall cabinet is 12″ deep,” she says. “But there are a lot of items, such as glasses, bowls and pantry items, that can be stored in a shallower cabinet if that is all you have room for.”

O’Kane often helps clients find more storage space by extending wall cabinets to the ceiling and/or to the countertop, which utilizes the backsplash area. “If the cabinet is 13″ deep, you still have 12″-13″ of countertop where small appliances can fit nicely,” she notes.

Additional space-saving ideas O’Kane likes to utilize are to tuck paper towels under the overhang of an island, and to use pot racks instead of pot/pan drawers.


One of most effective ways to find more space is to look inside cabinets. Advancements made in cabinet storage/organization accessories have vastly improved storage efficiency and access, meaning homeowners can store more stuff in less space and have easier access to it.

“Being organized is a great space saver,” says Ptaszek, who indicates he often utilizes double-tiered cutlery dividers and ‘stepped’ inserts for drawers to corral utensils and manage spices.

Bolling adds that clients worried about storage often simply lack space-saving and organizational cabinet accessories. The concern becomes even greater when new floor plans eliminate walls to open up kitchens. “My clients are often surprised to learn about new cabinet features that maximize storage,” she says.

In particular, Bolling appreciates the space-saving capability of vertical tray dividers, which she utilizes in high, hard-to-reach spaces such as above refrigerators and double ovens and also in narrow base cabinets and spaces 12″ or less. “I use them for everything from cookies sheets to roasting pans, serving platters, cutting boards and muffin tins…basically anything that can be stored vertically,” she says. “When these items are stored horizontally, they waste a lot of space in a base cabinet. Plus, they are also stacked on top of each other.”

Hacker and Austin both indicate that corner accessories have been a boon to saving space for their clients.

“I personally stay away from lazy Susans in corner cabinets because they take up too much space,” says Austin. “Instead, I like to use kidney-shaped trays. Each tier works independently and can be pulled out into the room.”

Austin also sees cabinet accessories, such as roll-out shelves, as critical for making base cabinets more functional. “An island offers base cabinet storage,” she says, which can be a space saver. “Making sure that storage is accessible with roll-out trays means people don’t have to bend down to see what is inside the cabinet.”

The availability of smaller appliances, as well as a greater variety of appliances – such as combination appliances and modular cooking appliances – has also helped designers find extra space. “Appliances take up a huge amount of space in a kitchen,” says Hacker. “Selecting an appropriately sized appliance package for the space available is very important. Column-style refrigeration is great for small spaces. They are cabinet depth, come in multiple widths and do not need to be installed side by side. I have done kitchens where the freezer column gets installed in a pantry outside the kitchen.”

Ptaszek agrees, noting that refrigeration advancements in particular have been a game changer. “Appliance sizes used to be pretty standard,” he says. “Ranges were 36″, or maybe 48″. Refrigerators were side-by-sides. But now manufacturers offer 24″ cooktops and ovens, and 18″ dishwashers. Refrigeration options are off the charts – you can have cabinet-depth refrigerators that save space and column refrigerators and freezers that don’t even need to be next to each other. You can also have a refrigerator and/or freezer drawer, which can be great options for clients who don’t want any ‘talls.’ There are a lot of options, and being able to pick and choose elements makes so much sense.” ▪

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