Amazing things happen when you embrace the possibilities. Imagine soffits removed so new cabinets can stretch to the ceiling, making your kitchen seem grander. Consider how a short peninsula could substitute for the island you simply can’t fit into the room. Think about how a built-in can bring function to an awkward nook, or how toe-kick drawers could eke out an extra bit of storage on base cabinets. The kitchens on the following pages incorporate those design-smart features and more. They’re glass-half-full kinds of spaces.
Getting your kitchen to reach its full potential starts by looking beyond what it is to what it could be. List—and rank—your priorities. Then let those priorities guide your makeover and inspire clever ways to work them in. Remember, it’s not the size of the room that matters, but what you do with it. Even in a small kitchen, you can do a lot.
Floor to ceiling, this kitchen brims with vintage style and space-stretching savvy.
Living in an old house usually means learning to compromise. In exchange for charm and character, the owners get small rooms and limited storage. Such was the case in this 1916 home—originally built as a one-room cabin—in Mill Valley, California. When architectural designer David Rivera signed on to remodel the kitchen, he knew that restoring the charm would be easy. The trickier part was how to make the small space seem larger and give it adequate storage without adding on.
For Rivera, the ceiling was an obvious starting point to mine space—or at least to visually mine it. Removing the low ceiling stretched the room upward. The new slanted ceiling that allowed Rivera to work in the extra height adds to the charm—or quirk—of the home. While the ceiling went up, a half-wall that hemmed in the work core came down, instantly making the kitchen seem larger.
New skylights, a wall of windows, and a glass door also help visually expand the room. “They bring the outside in,” Rivera says. So, too, does a wide window over the sink. It looks out to a colorfully landscaped yard—a calming view that makes doing dishes seem less of a chore.
In keeping with the don’t-close-it-in strategy, Rivera choose classic white cabinetry over stained cabinets. “The cabinet style is consistent with the cottage style of the house,” he says. He also took inspiration from features common to old homes: built-ins. Here, built-ins streamline the space and fill in a few awkward gaps. The microwave integrates into upper cabinetry near the refrigerator, freeing up ountertop space. At the back of the kitchen, cabinets fill a nook. With glass doors and beaded-board backing, the cabinets resemble a china hutch and create a charming point of interest visible from the exterior door on the opposite wall.
Without doubt, the most prominent built-in is the cushioned bench that stretches along the exterior wall, making efficient use of space below all the windows. The bench is multifunctional: It provides sunny seating and also incorporates storage. The homeowners use it store their recyclables. Across from it, a built-in bookcase holds cookbooks and provides an out-of-the-cooking-zone counter for keys and mail.
Because the kitchen isn’t large, Rivera limited surfaces to just a few colors so as not to overwhelm the room. Surfaces are essentially black or white, creating a timeless scheme. Gray honed limestone countertops are a shade up from black to ensure they don’t eat up the light. Although the ceiling received the initial attention, it’s the checkerboard floor that steals the show. Oversize black and white squares painted on the existing wood create a budget-friendly floor that’s the room’s eye-catcher. As one of the homeowners put it, “You can have a smaller, simple kitchen that still has a wow factor to it.”