Published on May 6, 2020

The guts of a kitchen are always the same (refrigerator, stove, sink, etc.), but it’s how you work around them with cabinetry that’s up to you. Figuring out the right layout for your space is largely dependent on square footage. Some arrangements are made for rooms with high ceilings and expansive walls, while others lend themselves to awkward, tight quarters. But there are plenty of other factors that come into play, like how much you entertain, whether or not your dishes are display-worthy, and, generally, how you move about a room in the thick of cooking. When you’re starting from scratch, it’s easy to get lost in all the different configurations (uppers here, a peninsula there, open shelving everywhere), so we compiled a short-and-sweet guide to the six most popular kitchen cabinet layout designs, plus one that’ll get you thinking outside the box. 

L-Shaped

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Courtesy of Space Exploration

This classic layout offers a ton of flexibility in terms of design choices. It leaves plenty of space for a large center island with seating and storage, but it can also adapt to any size room (as long as you have two walls to work with, you’re set). Make the most of it by taking the upper cabinets up to the ceiling. You can always maintain an open and airy feeling with glass door fronts. 

Galley

galley kitchen with checkered floorsPin It
Photography by Tessa Neustadt; Design by Brady Tolbert for Emily Henderson Design

City dwellers will be familiar with this setup, which works wonders in small spaces. To avoid feeling cramped, divide the hall into two parts: the dish area and the cooking zone. Designer Brady Tolbert did this in his space by putting his Smeg refrigerator, stove, and coffee station on one side and floating shelves stocked with glasses and cutting boards on the other. Divvying up the nook according to function makes for a less chaotic scene come dinnertime.  

U-Shaped 

wood open shelvesPin It
Photography by Jason Frank Rothenberg; Styling by Rachel Craven

This arrangement can feel boxy if you have upper cabinets, so it usually works to your advantage to embrace open shelving. The key to having enough storage is taking the planks as far as they can go. General Store founder Serena Mitnik-Miller’s extra-long, sustainably harvested cypress-wood shelves house everything from mixing bowls to decanted dry goods. In an open-concept setting, the appliances (like a mini half fridge) can be tucked under the counter. 

One Wall 

black and white kitchenPin It
Photography by Nicole Mlakar; Design by Allison Crawford

Funky design choices (in this case, an antique mirror backsplash) really start to matter when you’ve only got 10 or so feet of wall space to work with. An island or dining table keeps the cabinets from feeling like they’re just floating out there in space, while dark lowers and bright white uppers ground the room and draw the eye up. 

G-Shaped 

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Photography by Douglas Friedman

Kitchen islands have become the pinnacle of modern design, but there’s a lot to be said for a peninsula. First off, they deliver what you really need: a place to prep food. Also, the length of these three-sided structures can be adjusted to fit in tight spaces, which is a plus when you’re refurbishing an older home with a cozy footprint.

Open Concept

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Photography by Wynn Meyers

Take the one-wall configuration a step further with an eat-in island that runs the length of the room. These structures are great for hiding microwave drawers and trash cans, but more important, this entertaining-approved setup allows you to see into the next room. 

The Wild Card 

mustared yellow beaded cabinetsPin It
Photography by Laure Joliet; Design by Reath Design

When no arrangement seems right, get creative. This example by Reath Design draws on elements of a galley and peppers in a breakfast bar and floor-to-ceiling pantry with an integrated refrigerator. There’s no one right way to carve out your dream space. 

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