Getting More Kitchen Space

Some kitchens are just too small. Effective, stylish kitchens can be small, sometimes very small, but, at some point they get just so small that they start to lose functionality.

Of course, you can always add space by building an addition, but building on can be costly and not always feasible. For that reason, it pays to consider some less expensive and less intrusive alternatives. After all, What you don't spend on expansion you can contribute to better cabinets, lighting, countertops, fixtures, flooring, and appliances — the things that make remodeling a kitchen fun.

Bumping Out

One option is to bump out an exterior wall by 24 in. Two feet is the most that a floor can be cantilevered in most localities according to current building codes. It may not sound like much, but it can really make a big difference to a small kitchen.

Not all houses are suitable for this option — for one thing, all the floor joists must run the right way. In this scenario, a section of the existing wall is cut out and replaced by a laminated header to support the roof. The old floor is then cantilevered outward and new exterior walls are built along the perimeter of the new floor. The whole extension is covered with a small roof and you have a lot of extra space without paying for a foundation.

Assuming a 24in. bump-out, the new space could hold a bank of cabinets and appliances, giving you 2 ft. of wiggle room in front of them.

While it's not possible to fix an exact price, $3,500 to $5,500 might do it, which is one-third the cost of even a modest room addition.

Borrowing from Other Rooms

In some cases, the wall enclosing a small breakfast nook can be removed, extending the length of the kitchen. A breakfast bar over a peninsula cabinet would occupy much less space and might work even better with today's dine-and-dash eating habits.

However, when it comes to creating open space, nothing can compete with removing a wall between your kitchen and another, little-used room. A formal dining room, adjacent mudroom, or enclosed porch are all prime candidates.

This sounds like it might be expensive, but typically it's not. The cost can be pretty reasonable, often as little as a few hundred dollars, and the results are nothing short of dramatic.

But, it pays to hire an experienced contractor for this work. Interior walls can be structural, that is, intended to hold up the roof and any upper floors. If removed, these walls have to be replaced with an engineered beam. Even non-structural ("partition") walls may conceal plumbing, heating, and electrical equipment that must be moved requiring the assistance of a plumber, electrician, and heating contractor. This can easily prove to be a bigger challenge than you might want to take on yourself.

Other possibilities include using the space under the stairs adjacent to your kitchen for pantry storage; realigning doorways for better traffic flow and more usable space; and relocating windows that intrude into cabinet space, even replacing windows with skylights.

If there just is not enough floor space for easy movement around the kitchen, one bank of cabinets can be made narrower than normal to increase walking space. If the issue is plenty of floor space, but not enough countertop, countertops can be made deeper than the normal 24" — up to the 30" practical limit. This results in a surprising increase in usable counter space.

(For more information on adjusting the depth of base cabinets to fit your kitchen and work style, see Off the Wall Cabinets: Living Without Upper Cabinets.)

Kitchen Addition

When there is just no other place to get more space, the only option may be an addition. Often the more expensive option, sometimes an addition is the only one.

We can build an addition for you, and design the kitchen into it, all at the same time. The nice thing about an addition is that we can build it to fit the kitchen rather than having to design the kitchen to fit the available space. The only restrictions are lot size and setback requirements, and, of course, your budget.

(For more information on designing and building an addition, start with Planning Your House Addition.)

Creating an Illusion of More Space

If you simply have no way of getting more space, you can work with the available space to make it seem larger than it really is, and in the process make it work better.

Exterminate Clutter

The very first thing to do is unclutter. Clutter makes any space seem smaller. Small kitchens seem to accumulate stuff sitting on the countertops because there often is no other place to conveniently store it. This clutter breaks up sightlines and contributes to making the room seem smaller.

Learning the secrets (which are not that secret) to effective kitchen storage can be a big part of the solution to the smallness problem.

You may want to invest in fixtures and cabinets that make existing storage more efficient such as rollout shelves, tilt-out bins, and lazy susans. Hanging cabinets and cabinets under the counters will help provide you extra storage space where you can hide items away.

With careful planning, out-of-sight storage can be designed to hide all the mess and keep the lines of the kitchen sleek, straight and unencumbered. If there is more stuff to put away than there are places to put the stuff, it's time to reevaluate what you really need in your kitchen and what can be reassigned to the basement, attic, or garage.

Make Bold Use of Not-So-Bold Color

Color plays a very important role when it comes to creating the illusion of more space. Light tones will work better for your small kitchen. You can safely complement these with touches of darker hues, but avoid overdoing it.

The more monochromatic a space, the larger it looks. A space that is broken up by abruptly changing colors looks smaller.

For wood cabinets, lighter woods and finishes are preferable to darker woods. Maple and birch are the best woods for small kitchens. Cherry, alder, and oak in natural finishes also work well.

Glass upper cabinet doors are particularly useful. They make the cabinets seem less bulky and expand the perceived depth of the kitchen. They also add a very nice decorative element and give you a place to display your fine china and collectibles.

Use horizontal lines effectively. A wainscot built up to the bottom of the upper cabinets adds a bold horizontal aspect to the kitchen, making it seem larger.

(Learn how Arts & Crafts designers cleverly used bold horizontal lines to make their small houses look much larger at Arts & Crafts Interiors.)

Use Lighting to Increase the Apparent Size of the Room

A better design for the room's lighting can make it seem much larger. Most small kitchens are also old kitchens, and most have the original lighting. It was not sufficient then, and it is woefully deficient now.

Use natural light as much as possible. Open up the room to the outdoors and let the sunshine in. Replace small windows with larger ones, even add windows if possible, and eliminate heavy window treatments (use textured glass, if necessary, for privacy). Install a skylight or a light tube. One 12" light tube admits as much daylight as a 36" window. Well worth considering.

Once all of the possibilities for natural light are exhausted, closely examine the electric lighting in the kitchen. The artful use of artificial lighting eliminates shadows and gives your kitchen more visual depth without actually making it bigger.

One of the very effective methods of using lighting to make a room appear larger is to light up the toe-kick space under your cabinets and the space above your cabinets. Over cabinet lighting is usually called "cove" lighting. By highlighting what are essentially the edges of the room, these edges appear to recede, which makes the room seem larger.

Open Up to Adjacent Spaces

Open the room up to adjacent spaces. It does not expand the room, but it does expand the view, which makes to room seem larger.

Sometimes merely cutting an opening in the top half of the wall that separates a kitchen and living or dining room will help. At the very least, it will allow the cook to feel less confined. Anyone who has ever thrown a party knows that cooking is a spectator sport, so open it up and invite the audience in.

Ax Upper Cabinets

One excellent way to make a small kitchen seem larger is to eliminate upper cabinets. Your brain subconsciously judges how big a space is by what it can see at eye level. Lower cabinets don't figure into the equation, but upper cabinets appear to the subconscious brain as a wall within a wall, creating the feeling of a more confined space.

In addition, if your walls are no longer needed to hang upper cabinets, you can add windows. Adding windows not only increases natural light but also visually expands the room.

You lose a lot of good storage by eliminating upper cabinets, but it can be done with a little storage creativity. If it just can't be done, however, consider replacing upper cabinet doors with glass panel doors. Just this little change pays big dividends in making the kitchen seem larger, especially if you light the cabinets behind the doors. See, Off the Wall Kitchens: Living Without Upper Cabinets for much more information on the trade-offs involved.

Mix and Merge

Most often it is a combination of techniques that produces the best result. A small expansion combined with carefully arranged cabinets and appliances merged with space-enlarging lighting and an emphasis on strong horizontal lines can not only make a small kitchen more functional but make it appear larger and more spacious than it actually is.

To learn more about how we do it, contact us and we'll discuss your kitchen plans.

Rev. 10/13/20