Add Character to a Small Kitchen

Cabinetry tweaks, smart storage, and colorful solutions can add big character to small kitchens.

By Debra Wittrup


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Paneled kitchen with open shelves
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Open Shelving

    For a low-cost, high-style backdrop for showcasing your pottery and dishes, consider replacing wall cabinets with shelves. The open wall draws the eye upward, stretching the visual dimensions of a small kitchen. Paint the wall or beaded board an accent color to make the shelving and dishware stand out.

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Tiled Backsplash

    Create an eye-catching focal point in a small kitchen without spending a lot by lining the wall behind the range with decorative tile. Most 1x1-inch tiles come already attached to a 12x12 mesh sheets, making installation and custom-fitting easier. Slab cabinetry doors on base units and frosted glass doors above contribute to the clean, and streamlined look of this small kitchen.

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Versatile Island Option

    A rolling kitchen cart becomes a versatile island in this small space. In a modest footprint, the cart offers extra storage and can be wheeled to any corner when not in use. The finish mimics the stainless appliances. White cabinetry, open shelving, black countertops, and a deep stainless-steel sink give the small kitchen a tailored look.

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Cabinetry Makeover

    Give outdated cabinetry a new lease on life with paint, your simplest and most affordable tool in a small kitchen update. Sanded, primed, and painted, the cabinets in this kitchen now gleam apple green on base cabinets and soft teal on upper wall cabinets. Appliances and storage bins in yellow add a citrus pop to the kitchen.

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Vertical Wall Storage

    Avoid a monotonous row of boxy cabinetry by installing upper wall units with varying heights and widths. A variety of tall cabinets provides much-needed storage space in this small kitchen. A wire storage system hangs on the backsplash, organizing spices, seasonings, and utensils. Versatile folding barstools at the peninsula tucks snugly under the bar-height counter.

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Open to Color

    Open shelving adds a sense of spaciousness to this small kitchen. Getting the look can be as easy as removing doors from existing cabinetry. Paint the inside of the cabinets a favorite hue to create a pretty backdrop for dishes, glassware, and storage baskets.

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Add Storage Overhead

    Pots and pans are notorious space hogs. To free up valuable cabinet space, hang pieces from a pot rack. In kitchens without an island hang a narrow pot rack from any horizontal space, such as a back wall. Narrow plate rails on the vent hood allow collections to be displayed, adding another decorative element to this space-challenged kitchen.

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Simple Cabinet Configuration

    Sometimes it's more effective to reorganize existing cabinetry than to gut a small kitchen. Replacing the upper cabinets flanking each side of this window with open shelving makes it feel more open and inviting. Extending the countertop in an L-shape to the refrigerator boosts prep room and storage.

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Reach for the Ceiling

    Stretch the limits of a small kitchen by extending storage above the windows and doors for less frequently used items such as champagne flutes or serving dishes. Cabinets wrap around the ceiling, lining this small kitchen like a decorative border. Open shelving above the windows is a less expensive version of the same idea.

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Open a Wall

    Open a boxy small kitchen to the rest of the house without a major remodel by cutting a window out of a partition wall. Frame the window in substantial molding, attach a small matching countertop, and slide in two barstools to turn this pass-through into a breakfast nook. Set it off with a display of pretty collectible plates on the wall above the opening.

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Open to Change

    To maximize perimeter storage yet still squeeze in a dedicated prep island and informal seating area, this kitchen looked to its center. A half-wall anchors an island and a banquette without blocking sightlines into the adjacent living room. Pullout drawers on both ends of the banquette provide extra storage space.

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Behind Glass Doors

    Glass cabinet doors help to visually open up a small kitchen, but if you're not the type to keep things looking neat and tidy, consider frosted glass. It adds an opaque quality while still brightening the space. If you'd rather hide the contents of your cabinets, suspend shirred fabric inside traditional glass doors to achieve the same effect and inject a bit of color and pattern at the same time.

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Rethink Your Space

    Maximize your counter space by rethinking the position of the sink. Tucked into angled corner of this kitchen's peninsula counter, the sink occupies awkward space that might have been difficult to utilize otherwise. That leaves a long stretch of countertop adjacent to the sink open for prep space or drying dishes.

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Slimmed-Down Appliances

    Opting for a narrower range netted more counter and shelf space in this compact apartment kitchen. Glass doors on cabinetry opens up the space visually, while a band of decorative ceramic tile adds color and style.

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Add an Island

    An antique table injects instant charm and serves as an island in this kitchen. It acts as a rustic counterpart to the new cabinetry. The table introduces valuable prep space where a cook can work without the worry of overhead cabinets getting in the way.

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Double-Duty Kitchen Table

    Looking for extra prep room and seating? Try anchoring a cozy kitchen with a small-scale dining set instead of an island. In this kitchen, a butcher-block tabletop paired with a pedestal base provides an ideal work surface or dining area. The bentwood ice cream parlor-style chairs fit perfectly into this small space.

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Hide Kitchen Clutter

    Try a nifty panel system in an open floor plan. There's nothing relaxing about sitting down to dinner with a stack of dirty pots and pans staring back at you. But when dining or living space opens directly off a small kitchen, what choice do you have? Stain-resistant all-weather fabric easily slides closed to hide this kitchen's prep area while leaving the oversize island open for dining.

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Color-Coordinated Cabinetry

    Selecting a different hue for upper and lower cabinets is a great way to help a small kitchen break out of its boxy mold. A sunny yellow keeps the wall cabinets in this kitchen feeling light and airy, while blue base cabinets anchor the room. A yellow island helps balance the color-blocking scheme. Painted crown molding takes the color scheme right up to the ceiling.

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