How to Build a Dream Small Kitchen

MasterBrand Cabinets | Big Girls Small Kitchen

One of the oddities about doing the big girl/small kitchen life in New York City is how long you live as a renter. Though it feels like being socked in the gut when you think too deeply about real estate value vis-à-vis ever growing up and owning an apartment, there’s a lot to be said for renting once you get into the rhythm and find a good landlord. You have less responsibility, less stress, less fear of commitment in your daily life. This can be a good thing.

Of course, then again we renters have to face a lack of flexibility in decoration. We’re not going to tear down our walls or redo our kitchens. And so we make do with what we have (which is really not so bad!), and we dream.

Except, honestly, I never dreamed all that much about my perfect small kitchen. I’ve worked in studio kitchens and suburban kitchens, my mom’s kitchen and strangers’ kitchens. At the end of the day, I like my space best, even though it’s small and hardly customized to me. So, when it came to envisioning the perfect small kitchen, I needed some help with the dreaming part, not to mention the design.

Leslie, a designer from MasterBrand Cabinets – the largest cabinet manufacturer in the country, whose variously budgeted and styled cabinets are sold through dealers around the country – helped me run through the features that could transform my small kitchen from functional to, well, perfect: organized, comfortable, and beautiful. You know, in my dreams.

If a small kitchen were ever mine to renovate, here are the design guidelines I’d keep in mind:

Pull down spice rack.

Hide a lot of things.
Visual clutter can make a small kitchen seem smaller. Anything that can’t be ordered neatly or arranged into a messy but appealing still life—in the dream kitchen, we keep that behind closed doors. “When designing for a small space kitchen,” says Leslie, “Storage is everything.” That means room for storing spice jars, sundry pantry items, mismatched dishware, and unwieldy pots and pans. In particular, Leslie recommended a pull-down spice rack that “makes it easy to access all of your spices rather than having to sift through a regular wall cabinet where spices might get lost in the back” and a pull-out cookware organizer cabinet to keep unruly things tidy.”

Brenner door style in maple.

But display some. One of the surprising things I love in our current kitchen is that half the cabinets don’t have doors. Long story short, the kitchen still had its original and terrible cabinets, and our landlords removed some of them without replacing them. And so, we see our dishes on the shelves. And our books. Hearing that, Leslie suggested open maple cabinets from the Homecrest brand, with a warm gray finish and a flat panel door that–most excellent of all–won’t collect dust or grime.

Homecrest’s appliance garage keeps gadgets in easy-to-reach cubbies.

Add cubbies. Some gadgets and gizmos do need to be out. For us right now, that’s a toaster, mini food processor, electric kettle, and coffee grinder. If we were designing the kitchen from scratch, we could install little cubbies in parts of the backsplash so we could push some of these appliances off the precious surface of the counter while keeping them available for everyday use (that’s why we keep them out in the first place!) “If you love to cook, you need as much countertop space as possible,” says Leslie. Yes!

An easily hidden tablet holder makes rote cooking tasks more entertaining.

Install a tablet holder. I used to be hesitant about admitting how I stream TV shows when I’m on a cooking bender. I think part of me wishes that cooking were always so purely meditative that I didn’t need entertaining. But honestly, why not pair something functional (cooking) with something indulgent (binge watching)? To make this duo seamless, you can install an easily collapsible tablet holder beneath one of the cabinets. When you’re watching, it secures the iPad so it doesn’t fall into the frying pan. When you’re not, it folds up. Best of all you can win your own tablet holder along with a brand new iPad. Read to the bottom to find out how!

The Cooking Utensil Divider prevents a junk drawer from forming.

Divide and conquer.
Within cabinets, on counters, in open shelving, one trick for serious organization is to customize dividers and compartments so they fit with the stuff you own. That means that cutting boards, platters, and silverware can be placed in compartments that fit them perfectly, giving every small kitchen possession a precise and comfy home.

Dreaming of the ideal small kitchen? To start, you can enter to win a Diamond Tablet Holder and an iPad Air (!) by entering the sweepstakes here by June 17.

This post was sponsored by MasterBrand. Check out their dealer locator here. Thanks for supporting the sponsors that keep Big Girls Small Kitchen delicious!

Posted in: How To
  • caitlin

    I love this!

  • Megan and Joe

    Love that drawer with the diagonal dividers to fit utensils of different sizes.

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