7 Ways to Make the Most of a Tiny Kitchen

By Meg Favreau on 28 December 2010 (Updated 1 November 2014) 41 comments

I recently downsized from a rowhome to a small apartment. How small? Let's just say that the kitchen is better defined as an “alcove” than a “room.” There's no dishwasher, an appliance I grew all too accustomed to over the past few years. There's no silverware drawer. And there's literally no counter space, unless you count the two inch strip that runs between the sink and the oven. Heck, when I looked at the apartment, the previous tenant had been keeping his microwave on the floor. Something about having to get down on hands and knees to heat up a Hot Pocket seems really unappealing to me, but hey, maybe that guy really enjoyed the process.

I love to cook, so I was worried about the tiny kitchen. But it's forced me to reconsider what tools I need to cook and how I prepare food, and so far, I'm loving it. Here are some tips on how to make the most of your kitchen if you're short on space:

1. Only Own What You Use

When I moved, I got rid of half of my glasses, some plates, and several rarely used kitchen appliances, among other things. As much as I loved whipping up frozen treats with my ice-cream maker, for example, it was hard to justify keeping something so large that I used maybe three or four times over the summer. And while I thought that not having a dishwasher would be a pain, it has made paring down my kitchen items easier, since before I could allow dirty dishes to pile up in the dishwasher until it was full, and now I immediately wash what's in the sink.

2. Purchase Miniature Versions of Appliances

I have a little Kitchen Aid food processor, and for my purposes, it has served me just as well as a regular-size one. The only real difference is that I have to puree my soups in batches instead of all at once. Similarly, I use a hand mixer for baking instead of a stand mixer. (See also: The 5 Best Mixers)

3. Add Extra Storage Space

As you can see in the picture above, my apartment already had a wall-mounted pot rack installed, which has allowed me to free up the minimal cupboard space I do have for plates and food. (If you don't want to buy a pre-made pot rack, Myscha has suggestions for how to craft your own in her piece on Gourmet Kitchens on a Shoestring.) I also keep non-perishable ingredients on my windowsill and on top of my cupboards, which allows me to both have extra storage space and put interesting items on display. 

4. Make Areas Multi-Purpose

I thought about getting a little kitchen island for prep space, but instead I use my kitchen table for both eating and prep work. Not having the island makes the kitchen feel much less cluttered.

5. Keep It Clean

The messiness of a kitchen is heightened exponentially when there are fewer places for that mess to go. Clean as you cook, and don't let things sit out needing to be put away.

6. Buy the Ingredients You Need

I love buying pantry items in bulk to save money, but in a tiny kitchen, doing so makes my precious cupboard space fill up quickly. Be choosy about what you buy in bulk, and consider buying more fresh fruits and vegetables. They're healthy, and because you have to eat them while they're still good, they won't sit around taking up space.

7. Use the Oven for All Cooking

I got used to browning my bread in the toaster. If I wanted to defrost frozen soup, I popped it in the microwave. But just about anything that can be cooked, unfrozen, toasted, melted, or panini-pressed in a countertop appliance can have the same thing done to it in or on the oven. Sure, it's not always quite as convenient, but your oven's broiler will make your bread just as crispy as a four-slice toaster.  

Do you have a tiny kitchen? If so, how do you cope?

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Guest's picture

do you really NEED an oven? if you are 1 or 2 persons how often do you cook anything larger than a chicken or a loaf of bread? get rid of the oven. replace it with a countertop model and a hot plate you will save on energy too.

Meg Favreau's picture

That's a good point, Erasergirl. Personally, I'm in a rental at the moment where I can't replace the oven, and having one is worth it to me because I bake quite a bit. I've never thought about having a countertop model before though, and it seems like it could definitely be a good space and energy saver, depending on how much you cook. Do you have any recommendations for particular countertop oven models or setups?

Guest's picture

Good advice, Meg. I always find that a disorganized kitchen makes for a smaller kitchen and a less efficient kitchen. Nowadays it seems like no one has much time to prepare food, so making a better-organized kitchen could be a lifesaver.

Guest's picture
Guest

Seriously??? Toasting bread in the oven? Not very green of you nor frugal.

Electric oven 350° @ 1 hr. = $0.24

Toaster oven 350° @ 1 hr. = $0.04

Guest's picture
catastrophegirl

i make toast under my oven's broiler. it takes about three minutes. the toaster oven i used to have took about 5. by your hourly calculations [which i am accepting as accurate since i don't actually know what my oven costs to make toast] that's a difference of fractions of cents. the broiler is not the most cost effective or green, but i weighed it against buying another appliance i didn't really need when my secondhand toaster oven died and realized i could save the cost of a whole toaster oven because i didn't actually need it. then there's the energy cost of the manufacture of the toaster oven i didn't buy.
if someone wants to give me one they are throwing out someday, i'll accept it, but it's a case of need vs want
but in this case, i think meg's point is that she doesn't have anywhere to put a toaster or toaster oven anyway

Guest's picture
Ashley

One word: Organization.

Guest's picture
Olivia

My first (non-roomate) apartment was much like your own. An L-shaped studio with an in-line kitchen in a converted Brooklyn brownstone. Space was so tight my landlady sat the fridge in the "living room". I put a large cutting board over the sink for food prep. That place brings back some really fond memories. Hope you enjoy yours.

Meg Favreau's picture

A friend who stopped by to check out my new digs recently recommended the cutting-board method as well, although she uses hers on her stove (when it's off, of course). Whether over the sink or oven, it sounds like a great way to add counter space, and I look forward to trying it out.

Guest's picture
Kelly

I have a studio apartment, and my kitchen is fairly small. I have no silverware drawer, so I use a mug and large glass jar to store my forks, stirring spoons, knives, etc. I keep both in a little corner of my counter, and that's all I really need. I also keep my pots and pans in a bottom shelf of my pantry, as my cupboard space is quite limited. My apartment also came with a microwave, and the previous owners bolted it to the bottom of the cupboard in order to free up more counter space, which is very handy. Amazing what you can do with small spaces - it makes you consider what you own, and what's really necessary or what might just be decorative. :)

Guest's picture
Melo

Agreed, especially with the "Appliances" suggestion. My Cuisinart Hand Blender [with Whisk and Chopper Attachments] is a blender, a food processor, a chopper, a mixer and much more, and it takes very little space. It looks very pretty, too! We also got a Hamilton-Beach 3-in-1 slowcooker that it's very versatile. Not so much the ice-cream maker, though...

Here are some other tips:
- Use your oven as storage (for pots and pans);
- Get cupboard dividers so you can use all vertical space in it;
- Schedule quarterly reviews with your kitchen to donate all unused items (after 2 or 3 quarters you should have a clear handle on what you truly need);
- Unless you bake often, don't get assortment of baking pans -the aluminum dispossable ones will do;
- Get rid of the knife block;
- Put a chopping board on top of half of your range, and it becomes a temporary counter top;
- On bottom cupboards, place everything on trays that can be pulled if you need to reach what's in the back;
- Above all, reduce clutter.

Meg Favreau's picture

I love the quarterly review idea, Melo. I can be a bit of a pack rat, and forcing myself to go through my belongings four times a year (not just when I move) is a great idea in general.

Guest's picture
Deb

Great information. I moved from a house with a large kitchen (it had an island that was 4' x 12' with cabinets on both sides) to a house with a kitchen that is about 25% in size of the old one. Thankfully it had a pantry to store all my food in. Like you I had to decide what was really used and what was not. I have adjusted better than I thought I would, though I would still like a slightly bigger kitchen.

Guest's picture
Guest

I am so incredibly jealous. The size of your kitchen island is bigger than my entire kitchen/living/office.

Guest's picture
Elizabeth

I used to have a similar setup, where the kitchen was directly across the living room. I wanted to have a small kitchen area that was separate from the living room, so I mounted a long curtain rod from the ceiling and put up four panels of long curtains. I put the futon on living room side in front of the curtain. On the kitchen side, I placed a baker's rack against the curtain. I was able to have a prep space and an area to put canisters, etc.

Guest's picture
Melyssa

Oh yes!

I got rid of all but 3 plastic containers. I bought a 6 piece set of glassware to replace them and it has worked wonders. Less to clean, and we actually use all of the pieces.

I actually have quite a bit of cabinet space which I just like to leave bare. I have no need or desire to fill them up.

I bought a small toaster oven so we don't have to use our big oven for baking small meals. Personal pizzas, fish sticks and garlic bread fit in there perfectly.

Guest's picture
Guest

Cast Iron. Put in the effort to learn how to use it and two skillets will make most other cookware obsolete. I have a very small kitchen (9x9) and feed a family of 6 with the following cookware:

1 10" cast iron skillet
1 12" cast iron skillet
1 6qt stainless steel dutch oven
2 3qt sauce pans

That's it. Doesn't take up much space and offers tons of options.

Guest's picture
Melyssa

Actually my only pan is a 10" cast iron pan. I plan to get a smaller one also. It forces me to use it, remove the food and wash it right away.

Guest's picture
catastrophegirl

i have a few pots and pans i use for specialty things but the two that sit on top of my stove waiting for daily use are actually one pot/pan officially. the lodge combo cooker. cast iron deep skillet and the lid doubles as a standard skillet. i actually have a lot of other cast iron that people gave me when they thought it was trashed [sand it and reseason and it's fine!] but since i got the combo cooker, i only ever also use my 20 inch cast iron skillet. i use the 20 inch as a baking/roasting pan mostly, it fits a whole turkey.

Guest's picture
Guest

One thing not mentioned in this article is pantry space. Even if your home does not have an official pantry, you can create one just about anywhere. Hutch with drawers in the living room? Top shelf of the coat closet? A few under the bed storage boxes?

My husband and I installed a closet organizer in the laundry room and use half of it for food storage. Also, if you have a basement, one set of shelves will dramatically improve your storage options and allow you to save $ by buying in bulk.

Guest's picture

I built a pretty slick pot rack for my wife for Christmas. She is a trained chef and we have a low ceiling and a general lack of storage Space. I built the rack out of plumbing pipe from HOME DEPOT. Here is a link to my blog with photos and instructions if you want to build one...Ed

Description and photos:
http://palmarescycles.blogspot.com/2010/12/latest-project.html

Materials List:
http://palmarescycles.blogspot.com/2010/12/home-made-pot-and-pan-rack.html

Guest's picture
Guest

We have a small kitchen in our place as well. What I use for storage is part of my linen closet. 1/2 the closet goes towards towels and sheets, the other 1/2 of the linen closet is used for gadgets that I do use, just not very often (blender, hand mixer, waffle iron, etc.). It has freed up alot of kitchen cupboard space!

Guest's picture

I have the tiniest kitchen I have ever seen. I love to cook and bake, so I had a lot of adjustments to make! I did a lot of the things you describe-- I have only 4 place settings, limited pots and pans, etc. The best thing I did was turn a bookshelf into a pantry! I hung curtains from a cafe rod so that all my food isn't out in the open.

Also, got several wall-mounted rods and racks from IKEA, so I have a hanging dishrack, and also hanging holders for silverware, utensils, etc. A huge help with no counters and no drawers! It takes a bit of creativity, but cooking in a small space can be done!

Guest's picture

A snow storm is hitting MA tonight, and this makes me wish for a snow day tomorrow so I can stay home and finally clean out my tiny kitchen. Lots of stuff I don't need, and just a few things I need to add. Which also reminds me, some friends offered to give me some used utensils, kitchen tools, etc that I would have bought otherwise.

Meg Favreau's picture

I hope you got your snow day, Albie! And letting friends and family knowing you're looking for kitchen supplies is such a good idea. I'd say about a third of my current kitchen equipment, from mixing bowls to wine stoppers to beautiful handmade mugs, came from my aunt when she cleaned out her kitchen to help me stock my first apartment.

Guest's picture
Allba

I feel you on the small kitchen, I rented a place long ago which had nothing but a corner to call a kitchen. Thankfully nowadays there are all sorts of appliances that combine various functions into one. I have a multi function microwave which besides microwaving also toasts, bakes, broils, rotisseries, and talks (okay so talking is not so helpful and kind of annoying but there is an option to shut her up if you want). It has been a great space saver and I find myself using it more often than the oven.

Guest's picture
Dwight

I don't have a tiny kitchen, but it is on the small side. I find myself running out of space for certain areas so will take your advice and put to good use.

Dwight Anthony
Financially Elite Blog dot Com

Guest's picture
Lillian

I would have love to seen photos of your apartment.

Guest's picture
amy saves

I have no counter space and this huge dish rack sitting there. I hired housekeeper to clean and she suggested getting a smaller dish rack and leaving it in the sink. Genius!!

Guest's picture
Athas

We have a small kitchen in our rental. While not as small as yours, still frustrating. We bought some utensil holders that were meant to hook on to a dry rack, and mounted them on the wall. We bought some that were a little more decorative. It works well. We also have a space rack on the wall as well as the pots and pans that could be hung. Our 'laundry area' is in the kitchen as well, so we have the microwave on top of the washer and the toaster oven on top of the dryer. We do the quartlery review of our stuff and always end up getting rid of several things. And I'm about to add my food processor and blender that I haven't used in a year to the donation box. Thanks for the tips and motivation

Guest's picture
Guest

How do I cope with having a tiny kitchen? I CRY!!!

Mum and I thought we could last six months in the rental - 2.5 years and 2 rent rises later... We're still stuck in the same house due to a less than 0.8% vacancy rate in Sydney!

Oh well, at least it's gas, lol! We need to toss out some tupperware, I think. That'll save a huge amount of space.

Do you have any tips for people in tiny kitchens without dishwashers who work all day, do the washing up from the day before and then have to muster the energy to cook dinner? It's the bane of my life after getting home at 7pm!

Meg Favreau's picture

I agree -- trying to cook when you're exhausted and your kitchen is messy sucks! I have a few suggestions:

- Clean as you go. It's not always easy, but even if you have time to wash just a couple of dishes before work and set them on a drying rack, it'll help your kitchen feel more welcoming when you get home. I'm not always great at this one, but it totally helps my mental state when I do it.

- Make dinner prep as simple as possible. Do prep work ahead of time on the weekends if you can (check out this piece about Sunday cooking: http://www.wisebread.com/make-ahead-food-10-things-to-cook-on-a-sunday and this one on batch cooking: http://www.wisebread.com/the-five-day-freeze-batch-cooking-for-the-rest-...). Make stuff that can stay in the fridge for the week and keep providing leftovers, or homemade meals that just need to be defrosted.

- Have some go-to recipes that you can throw together easily. My two big ones are stir fry and tacos. They come together in 15 minutes or less, and between my freezer and my pantry, I almost always have the ingredients to pull together at least one of them.

- I hesitate to tell you to get another piece of equipment in a tiny kitchen, but a slow-cooker can be a huge boon if you don't feel like cooking when you get home. You toss the ingredients in before you leave in the morning, and dinner is ready when you get back. Plus, you can often find perfectly working slow-cookers at thrift stores.

I hope that helps! Does anybody else have any suggestions?

Guest's picture
Guest

Use cheap "sizzler" pans-they look like small enameled woks- and eat out of the pan. Use the titanium camping spork. Keep a scotchie soaped with anti-bacterial detergent and wash up immediately after cooking. Use a roll-up cutting pad or sink top plastic board.
WalMart online has a combo coffee maker and toaster oven with a small burner on top. Saves space. Buy collapsible bowls, colander, funnel (or use a cut-down water bottle for a disposable funnel. Think square, think stackable. Find that five-ingredient cooking website and have fun.

Guest's picture

I really like the idea of purchasing miniature versions of appliances. However, I will have trouble using my oven for all cooking. I like my microwave too much!

Mikey Rox's picture
Mikey Rox

In the city there's no such thing as a big kitchen. I love to cook, and these are excellent suggestions. Sometimes I think that others tend not to cook because their kitchen is seemingly too small, but as you pointed out there are many ways around that. Thanks for sharing.

Guest's picture
Guest

I am curious why you downsized into such a tiny apartment? Need or want?

Meg Favreau's picture

At the time I wrote this, it was little of both. I was subletting for a while before moving across the country. I didn't need a lot of space, and I wanted to save money before moving.

My new kitchen is a little bit bigger, and I will admit I'm thankful for it -- I cook quite a bit. But I've followed many of the same guidelines, such as not owning extraneous appliances.

Guest's picture
HalfStudio

Hi all. Extremely happy I found this! Im in dire need of advice for my studio kitchen. In my opinion its safe to assume this "kitchen" was originally a closet.
I Moved in last week and Im very happy. However I could use any advice or ideas for my tiny, square block, "hospital" bright white kitchen. The walls are plaster so Im having trouble hanging anything on them, unless it actually hangs from the cealing. It seems like Im going "shopping" every evening searching for anything to make it more fuctional, appear bigger, happier.
Also any tips on designs or colors that could be used to stencil or freehand on the cabinets that wont appear to busy but also tone down the nurses station feeling
If it helps you at all..A door opening off the main room goes into the kit. The actual walking around floor space is 3ft x 3ft. the backwall has a counter 3ft across, 2 wide. 1/2 of counter is taken by a mini sink. Above counter I have 1 set of cabinets (2doors). B/c they go to the celing I dont have storage above them. Under the counter is a small mini fridge and a nice size single cabinet its fairly deep and Im sure its going to come in hand.
If you stand looking at the sink, the wall on left has a door opening for another obvious older closet. It has a counter and thats where I have my toaster oven. below is open floor area, which is being used currently for all of my shoes! Above is a shelf that goes back fairly deep.
I really need to incorporate some office type things..Bag of files, stapler, pens, papers, bills, etc Some clothing or linen items, My tote bag w/ all jewelry making stuff. and a medium tote box I use as a makeup artist.
I love the place and I know it can work. Any Help? PLEASE!!!!
-Sarah

Guest's picture
Guest

Sarah,

You don't say whether this is a rental or your place you can paint so I don't know if my advice will help but here are some thoughts:
1) paint the kitchen some light and cheery color. My favorite for kitchens is somewhere between a warm yellow and a cheery orange. It really makes it feel warm and cozy.

If you can't paint (or even if you can and you want to jazz something up) look into the stick-on-the-wall decals from a place like IKEA. There are a ton also online you can get. Posters.com has tons. They are removable and graphic. I got black flowers to put on my daughter's door.

2) Look up at your ceiling. What kind is it? Is that where the light is? You might want to put a pot rack all around it in a small square (this works best if you are super short like me ;-) I put in a pot rack like the one the cycle guy in the above comments did but I used copper piping and copper wire to bend my own hooks. It was fun and saved me a TON of space.

3) I would go to a travel store (or look online) about a rollup kit that can hold all your office type things. These are holders that can be filled up with stuff and then rolled up or opened up and hung on a hook (or over a doorknob).

I would also look into one of those plastic shoe over the door things for maybe all your jewelry making stuff? There are online stores that specialize in that kind of org stuff. Or go to your local storage and things and look around.

Good luck
maureen

Guest's picture
Jess

For the last 2 months (and for the next 3 weeks) my husband and I have been renting a master sweet with private bath & separate dressing area with double sinks. We converted the dressing area & double sinks in to our kitchen area. it is a 8x8 room with the door to the bathroom on the east wall, on the north wall is a sliding glass door to the backyard (and the gate we use for a private entrance), on the west wall are the double sinks, and on the south wall is the door to the bedroom & a linen cupboard. On the north wall with the sliding glass door we put a mini fridge with a microwave and a toaster oven. On the east wall we placed a floor mat with my dog's food and water bowls, on the south wall we turned the linen closet in to a pantry/dish cabinet, and finally on the west wall we chose one "bathroom sink" and one "kitchen sink". We put bathroom stuff under the bathroom sink and kitchen stuff under the kitchen sink :)

We also bought a flat burner and a double burner (Stove top thing) that we stash under our bed in their boxes. We have a small rice cooker, a blender, and a coffee pot as well (all strategically placed).

It works but in 3 weeks we will have a designated kitchen and I can not wait TBH (roughly the same size but it has a stove and a real kitchen sink and cabinets).

Guest's picture
PinkHouse

Hi! I have a tiny kitchen. I , too, use the less is more principle; less glasses, less plates, less coffee mugs... I don't miss them at all. Most people use the same cup everyday anyway. I keep silverware in 3 navy mugs on the counter (the kind that are like a beer stein). They are heavy and just the right size. I have a crock for wooden utensils and pots hang on hooks on the wall over the stove. I cheat by keeping the microwave in the dining room on a cart that also has the coffee pot/coffee jar/salt and pepper shakers on top of it and sometimes fruit. The toaster oven is on a shelf of the same unit (bread fits there, too) with all mixing bowls inside the cabinet. I love my rice cooker and crock pot which are on small shelves in the DR while the rest of the small appliances (George Foreman, blender, stand mixer, waffle maker)are on the dryer in the kitchen. I hang up large cooking utensils and anything that will fit on a hook. I keep cereal boxes on the fridge with the sugar tins. White tin white sugar brown tin brown sugar. We all have our own kitchy sets of salt and pepper shakers in our rooms and the main ones are french fries and a burger. When someone needs the salt you'll hear, "Where are the french fries?" There is a tiny closet in the hall where we keep most cans and dry goods. I use the top of the washer and the sink for food prep using a large cutting board. I built small shelves for spices. It is an 8'x11' room, but has a DW and W/D. I feed the cats under the sink. I removed the under sink cabinets to squeeze in the DW and use a rubbermaid bin for baking/roasting pans. Hope this helps someone! I am happier with less, for sure.

Guest's picture
Guest

The kitchen in my new apartment, although sizable, has no cabinets or counter space only a stove and my refridgerator. The sink, cabinets, counter space and dishwasher are in a separate galley area...what do you do for storage and counter space on a budget.

PLEASE HELP...love the apartment it is fabulous but the kitchen needs work...definitely has potential though because it's very sizable.