Playing Tetris with dishes and glasses in a tiny kitchen cabinet can be a nerve-wracking experience, especially when you feel like everything could topple over at any moment. That’s why it’s so important to have smart design in your small kitchen, so you can at least feel like the space has a sense of order, even if you only have one cabinet and a square-foot of counter space. I spoke with two New York City–based experts — Sharon Lowenheim, a certified professional organizer with her company Organizing Goddess, and Emma Beryl, senior interior designer at Homepolish — for space-saving swaps that’ll make your small kitchen feel as spacious as possible.
You don’t need countertop organizers to make more space in your little kitchen; you just need to clear off your countertops. “The more items you can store off of the countertop, the better, so that you can keep your kitchen feeling more open and clear,” explains Beryl, adding, “If you’ve already moved as many items as you can off of the counter and you still don’t feel like you have enough space, you can use a cutting board or tray on top of the stove or over the sink to give yourself extra surface area.” But as Lowenheim notes, be sure to get a wood cutting board, not plastic, so it doesn’t accidentally melt on a hot surface.
If you don’t have a dishwasher (as many small kitchens don’t) and use a drying rack for your dishes, one easy space-saving swap is replacing a standard, stand-alone dishrack with a collapsible one. That way “it doesn’t have to be out on the counter taking up valuable counter space when you’re not washing and draining dishes,” Lowenheim explains.
The under-sink cabinet is “a great spot for cleaning supplies and extra garbage bags,” says Beryl, but without an organizing system, it’s easy to lose things in there. Lowenheim recommends this expandable organizer to maximize under-sink storage. And no need to worry if you’ve got an oddly sized cabinet or a mess of pipes under there. “What’s kind of cool about that one is that it expands, it gets wider and narrower as you need to,” depending on the size of your cabinet, says Lowenheim, “and it will fit right around your pipes, because the top section has a split in it.”
Once your counter is clear, it’s time to tackle your small kitchen cabinets. Lowenheim likes using what she calls “shelf extenders,” which are essentially little tables that you can put in your cabinets to create more shelves. “Having everything stacked is often a problem, so if you can create different levels in your cabinet, it makes things so much easier.”
Another way to maximize cabinet storage is to install drawers. Though Lowenheim recommended these Madesmart storage baskets for under-sink storage, they’re versatile enough to put in a cabinet, too. “It’ll fit around whatever you have under the bottom,” she says but adds, “The only caveat is that on the bottom tray, you have to put shorter things, because it’s got another tray on top of it.” This would be good for spices, baking goods, or any other pantry odds and ends.
If you have more wall space than cabinets in your tiny kitchen, it’s a no-brainer to add more hanging, vertical storage. “If you only have one or two cabinets, you can hang your pots from the wall,” says Lowenheim. She likes the Calphalon pot rack since it hangs flat against the wall, so you don’t need too much clearance.
If you want to get really fancy, you can also hang pots and pans from hooks on the ceiling or beams, says Beryl. It’s the same basic principle as the wall rack: taking the pots and pans out of the cabinet and onto a different storage system. However, you need a tall-enough-ceiling in your kitchen so you don’t feel crowded, right over your head — so this definitely isn’t a small-kitchen design idea for everyone.
Another way to clear up counter space, clean out your utensils drawer, and maximize wall space is with a wall rack for your utensils, like spatulas, spoons, and tongs. Hang it up near your stove, so that everything you need when you’re cooking is within close reach.
Same goes for a magnetic knife holder, which is the chef-approved way to keep sharp knives sharp and free from damage while you’re storing them.
For any other bits and bobs, like pot holders or dish towels, that are light enough to be hung but maybe don’t necessitate a whole rack, Lowenheim recommends using Command hooks, especially since they don’t damage rental walls.
For fancy glasses and bowls that you don’t use on an everyday basis, but are too nice to give away or donate, consider setting up some floating shelves. It’s a way both to display the most aesthetically-pleasing items in your kitchen and keep them out of the way when they’re not in use. “Just make sure to dust these if your space tends to get dusty or you haven’t used an item in a while since they won’t have the added protection of cabinet doors,” notes Beryl. Though designed for the bathroom, this aluminum shelf will also be easy to clean.
Don’t be weird about keeping kitchen gear outside of the kitchen, either. For instance, if you have limited drawer space, Lowenheim suggests throwing out your in-drawer utensil organizer for a flatware caddy that you can keep on your kitchen table, right where you eat. “One of my basic organizing principles is store things where you use them, so this is a great example of that,” says Lowenheim, adding, “You really don’t need them in the kitchen, most of the time you just use them at the table.”
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