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Small kitchen ideas: designs that make them look bigger and function better

Parent and child in a kitchen
gradyreese/Getty Images
Parent and child in a kitchen
gradyreese/Getty Images

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Almost everyone would like their kitchen to be bigger and better, and in fact, 30 percent of the respondents in Angi’s 2022 Home Projects Survey said a kitchen redo was a top priority among their remodeling plans. But what if you can’t literally enlarge your kitchen — due to lack of space, lack of funds, or because you’re renting?

Fear not; there are ways to enhance your kitchen size. Some of them are about appearance: “The more you can do to trick the eye by providing visual cues in your design, the larger it will appear,” remarks Maddy Kozoyed, an interior designer and owner of the blog Whatsoever Things are Lovely. But there are actual space-saving measures you can take, too.

Here are some design ideas for small kitchens — ways to make them both appear bigger and function better.

Implement wall shelves

Open shelves can be a wise alternative to closed-off kitchen cabinets. Their horizontal lines pull the eye across a wall, making it appear wider and longer, and allow more light to penetrate your space. They’ll also enhance functionality as you can grab items easily off the shelf. You can buy pre-cut kitchen wall shelves in diverse textures and colors.

Minimize the colors

The hues of your kitchen affect how it’s perceived. “Use a minimal color palette,” Kozoyed says. “It will allow the eye to perceive the whole space as larger.

“If you’ve got white cabinets and white walls you’re off to a great start. Alternatively, if you have dark cabinets, choose paint or a removable wallpaper pattern that is similar in value (or brightness), allowing your eye to simplify the walls and cabinets into one whole space.

“If you have the option to paint your cabinets, a two-tone option with darker cabinets on the bottom is stylistically fun while visually adding height on top.”

Choose large flooring tiles

Your flooring can do a lot to fool the eye, creating the illusion of spaciousness. Particularly effective: large-format floor tiles, especially light-colored ones. You can even get porcelain ones that simulate wood. They have a long, narrow shape, making the space seem larger and more elongated than it really is.

Position the lights

Shadows and darkness make a space feel confining. You want well-positioned lighting (ideally above the cabinets) that draws attention upwards. Placed properly, lights remove the shadows drawn between the cabinets and the ceiling, creating a sense of expansiveness. Lighting installed beneath upper cabinets and directed onto the countertop has the same effect.

When considering options, “renters can purchase battery-powered LED puck lights that operate with remote controls and have built-in dimmers,” according to kitchen designer/contractor Sean Walsh, CEO of Mansfield, Ohio-based Walcraft Cabinetry. “Homeowners may be able to install LED tape or rope lighting above their cabinets.”

Switch to shallow cabinets

Did you know you can buy cabinets that are super-narrow, only 12- or 15-inch deep? Adding slimmer cabinets achieves multiple benefits: It makes your space appear wider, and it increases functionality — you don’t have to reach as far back to fetch the items you need. You install as best befits your space: There’s no hard and fast rule about all your cabinets being the same depth.

Install slimmer appliances

Your traditional dishwasher runs 24 inches in width. However, there are compact models of only 18 inches available — which alone saves you six inches of cabinet space and makes your kitchen appear larger. Such “slimline” dishwashers are just as powerful as their conventional cousins, though of course the amount of dishes in each load is smaller.

The same applies to refrigerators. A shallower counter-depth fridge (which is flush with counter, instead of sticking out) will do wonders to create more space. Yes, the interior holds less, but that just reduces the likelihood of forgotten leftovers morphing into biology experiments.

Do it with mirrors

Create the illusion of a larger room by installing a mirror on one (or maybe more) of your kitchen walls — a traditional trick with bathrooms. “Mirrors reflect light and make a space feel brighter and bigger,” says Kate Diaz, an interior designer and co-owner of Swanky Den, a design site.

Go with glass

By reflecting light, glass always creates the illusion you have more space than you actually do. Install glass doors on your cabinets, which draws the eye into them, rather than stopping it at a solid door (you can always use opaque panes if you want to conceal the clutter within). Light or white woodwork maximizes glass doors the most.

On the same principle, if your layout allows, install a skylight. A skylight provides a fresh pop of light into your kitchen, making the space appear brighter and larger. The project won’t break the bank either, with an average cost of $1,728, according to HomeAdvisor. And it might enable you to leave the lights off during the day, saving on energy bills.

Written by
Sean Jackson
Contributing Writer
Sean Jackson is a contributing writer at Bankrate. Sean writes about budgeting, saving money and more.
Edited by
Senior homeownership editor