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In an age when everyone is after an open-concept floor plan, just the words galley kitchen can have you feeling claustrophobic. It’s understandable—these spaces are basically one narrow passage framed by two parallel walls or countertops (one side usually holds the appliances while the other is outfitted with tall cabinets). If you’re renovating, your first inclination is probably to expose the whole thing and plop an eat-in island in the center. But sometimes—and this rings especially true for renters and small-space dwellers—sticking with the corridor is your best bet. It really comes down to making the most of what you’ve got. These eight spaces lead the way with breezy floating shelving, hidden cupboards, and more small-space tricks.  

Take a Seat

Josh Piddock, founder of Studio Merlin, and his girlfriend, Margot, took their 130-square-foot galley kitchen and turned it into the best seat in the house. They built a 2-by-2-foot bench right into the lower cabinets and sandwiched it between the shelves that store their dry goods and cat food stash. Now it’s their favorite place to enjoy a cup of coffee, read a good book, or check emails. 

Opt for Drawers for Days 

A leaky dishwasher was the catalyst for the transformation of Brian Maiorana’s 125-square-foot space. Since the former restaurant worker and current regional vice president of Toast decided to overhaul the whole area, he knew he wanted his vision of a chef’s kitchen to come to fruition. For him, that meant lots of drawers, plenty of open shelving, and a counter that could handle all of his prep work.

Group Your Appliances

Designer Brady Tolbert divided his tiny galley into two parts. On the side with the sink, he installed floating white and brass shelves to display dishware, cutting boards, and personal mementos. Directly across the way is the cooking zone, complete with a black Smeg fridge, his existing stove, and a coffee center. Divvying up the small nook according to function makes for a less chaotic scene come dinnertime. 

Stick to Cosmetic Changes 

Melissa Colgan only gave her Washington, D.C., space a surface-level facelift, not because she couldn’t expand into the living room, but because she found the traditional footprint of the 100-year-old apartment charming. In addition to replacing the cherrywood cabinets with Shaker-style fronts, she refinished the backsplash in a zellige subway tile. Her words of advice: You don’t have to fight a humble layout. It’s the finishes that matter most. 

Tuck Half Underneath the Staircase 

Photography by Tim Van De Velde

Dutch Architect Christ Collaris chose an unexpected location for this Amsterdam home’s galley kitchen. What would have been a hollow gap beneath the stairs is now packed with birchwood cupboards. The clever placement kept costs down (no full build-out required!), as did the strip of countertop opposite, which is made from discarded roof and floor parts from the original house.

Turn Up the Drama 

Semikah Textiles founder Veronica Hamlet knew she wanted to go monochrome in her Michigan home’s galley kitchen, so she opted for a soapstone countertop on both sides of the aisle, a veiny marble farmhouse sink, and matte lower cabinetry. Since there’s less surface area to cover (the perks of not having a giant island), the luxe materials don’t seem like such a splurge. 

Make the Ground the Focus 

No one will be thinking about how cramped the room is with a pattern like this underfoot. Studio McGee shifted the perspective of this narrow galley kitchen using graphic floor tile, which recedes into the distance, giving the illusion that the space is longer and larger than it really is. 

Paint It White 

You don’t have to knock down a bunch of walls for a place to feel bigger and brighter. Color (or lack thereof) can achieve the same sense of openness. After painting this two-sided galley kitchen white, Leanne Ford incorporated salvaged wood shelves and beams and sandy-colored ceramic dishes for warmth. Cooking in close quarters has never looked better.