Ask The Experts: Big ideas for small spaces

Small kitchen

Small is beautiful… so the saying goes. But can a small kitchen also be practical and user friendly? These are the burning questions homeowners need the answer to when considering what to do with their not-so-grand kitchen spaces.

If you have a challenging space to work with, what’s the best way to enhance it, to make it work for you and your family, and to make it look bigger than it actually is?

Looking at the flip side, being small isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Unless you have a large or extended family, or lavishly entertain on a regular basis, you probably don’t need a big kitchen with all the bells and whistles. With many of us choosing to live in smaller homes and apartment living on the rise in our towns and cities, having a smaller, well-equipped and well-thought-out kitchen is often seen as an advantage. So, small can be both beautiful and practical – it just takes good design. And that’s where Mastercraft Kitchens comes in.

We’ve asked three of our Mastercraft Kitchens designers from around New Zealand to come together and offer their collective advice about designing for smaller spaces, and also to answer some of the most common questions we come across when speaking to our clients from up and down the country.

What defines a ‘small space’?

We’ll start by asking our trio, what defines a small space? Gleniss Kehely from Mastercraft Kitchens Waikato says the saying ‘not enough room to swing a cat’ comes to mind, but she thinks maybe the cat should be swapped out for a tea towel. In practical terms that equates to around 3m x 3m, says Emma Matthews from Mastercraft Kitchens Kaitaia; anything less should really be defined as a kitchenette, adds Kristen Reid, from Mastercraft Kitchens North Canterbury.

The challenge of storage

Storage is a huge consideration in any kitchen, but it’s even more of a priority when working with a small space. Where appropriate, Kristen says she would always take units to the ceiling to maximise storage capacity, and drawers in toe-kicks are another great spot to add a little extra space. Emma concurs about the usefulness of toe-kick drawers, adding that Blum corner drawers are fantastic for small kitchens. Although they take up more space than a standard corner cupboard, you end up with twice as much space as you would with a standard corner unit. Pull-out pantry systems maximise the depth of cabinets, and having tall, but shallow pantries mean items stacked are easily found and organised, says Gleniss.

Below is a fine example of a small kitchen packed with features – by Emma Matthews, Mastercraft Kitchens Kaitaia

Clever tricks in small kitchens

Bench space is also very important, says Kristen. If a kitchen is small and lacking in this department, there are fantastic pull-out fittings that can temporarily add worktop space, then slide away after use. Another trick is adding custom-made boards to fit over the sink, to create a temporary worktop.

Clever lighting is another key to good kitchen design. Back-lighting can add a feeling of depth under benches and splashbacks, and task lighting makes being in a small space more comfortable because everything feels lighter and brighter, says Gleniss. Emma also says to consider the colour of the lighting throughout the house – warm white, cool white, and also whether lights are hardwired into a light switch or have a motion sensor.

Are there colour rules?

Although it’s down to personal preference, Emma says lighter colours are more likely to work well in smaller kitchens. Darker colours can make the room feel a lot smaller.

Gleniss agrees, adding that horizontal lines add width to a narrow room. Equally, when cabinetry units are really tall, splitting the height with colour can add balance rather than an overbearing feeling. To make a space feel bigger, Kristen says using reflective surfaces always helps. Fitting a mirrored splashback into a narrow kitchen, it’s amazing how much bigger it makes a space feel, she adds. Flooring patterns play a part as well. Using the shapes of tiles and colour adds to a feeling of spaciousness.

Space-saving appliances

Do the designers have any favourite space-saving appliances? Both Kristen and Gleniss mention using a combination oven/microwave, which helps eliminate one appliance. All three recommend integrating a single F&P Dish-Drawer, with Emma adding that there are now 450mm-wide dishwashers available.

Fridges are different and should be chosen on needs rather than space. Emma says it depends on the amount of people living in the house. If it’s for a family, you are probably better to go for the bigger fridge, but placement is very important. Gleniss says that there is a big movement of people cooking from scratch, which puts more emphasis on the pantry storage. People in cities tend to buy more fresh food, thereby the fridge becomes more important, she says.

Final words from our designers

When it comes to the question of must haves, Kristen has one word – Drawers. Where possible, always use drawers. Internal drawers up to eye level. These ensure every space is used to the max with full accessibility. Emma echoes Kristen’s thoughts regarding drawers, adding that she recommends a Blum Space Tower for pantries, because so much more can be fitted into its five drawers than in a standard pantry.

A final thought from Gleniss is that small kitchens tend to cost a bit more because most things in them are bespoke. Customising each cabinetry unit takes time to draw, build and install, she says. It’s challenging and it’s fun, and you have to think outside the square.