Published on December 8, 2020

In the small but mighty kitchen, Mom’s tried-and-true “waste not, want not” adage applies to more than what’s on your plate. (You know the one, filed right next to “eat your greens.”) In this case, it’s a north-star design principle you can apply to every last inch of potential storage space and functional surface area. That dead zone you can’t reach without a ladder, those waaay-back-of-the-corner-cabinet blind spots, the awkward nooks and crannies—they can all be more functional than you think.

From teeny galleys to studio kitchenettes, there’s a clear constant among small kitchen setups: maximizing space often means getting creative. We rounded up seven small kitchen cabinet ideas that turn a little space into a happy place.

Steal the (Slide) Show

Small kitchen with sliding cabinet door. Pin It
PHOTOGRAPHY BY COLLEEN SCOTT

When space is of the essence, it pays to make use of even the narrowest slivers for potential storage. Integrate a shelved rack and sliding mechanism into vertical dead space to keep baking sheets, pot lids, water bottles, and more at the ready. While renovating her Houston kitchen, professional organizer Meggie Mangione transformed a tricky blind spot corner into a souped-up cooking arsenal. Outfitted with a double-tier Rev-a-Shelf pull-out, this formerly unused space now handily keeps cooking oils right where she wants them. 

Gloss Over It

Small kitchen with blue and white cabinet doors. Pin It
PHOTOGRAPHY BY CODY GUILFOYLE

Shiny high-gloss kitchen cabinets make a cramped nook feel less so. Try high-gloss paint or easy-to-clean acrylic to reflect light, open up a tight space, and create the illusion of a bigger and brighter room. The kitchen in designer Emily Simms’s 900-square-foot Brooklyn apartment takes it to the next level with a high-gloss ombré, a bold design move already in place when she moved into the rental. To create the effect yourself, first choose a color that ties into nearby rooms for cohesion, then choose two more hues: one a shade lighter and another that’s more of a complementary neutral.

Go Unhinged

Small kitchen with cobalt blue painted shelves. Pin It
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF STILLEBEN ARCHITECTS

In a tight corner, cabinet doors quickly become a hindrance with panels and their hardware knocking into one another and, frankly, getting in the way. Try removing a cabinet door or two to open up your space and create some DIY open shelving. Paint the inside for a pop of personality. (This further grounds the move as an intentional design decision.) We love how this electric blue open cupboard contrasts with its tonal beige cabinetry by Stilleben ArchitectsBonus points if your statement color nods to another focal point in your kitchen, like a backsplash, favorite vase, or wall clock.

Opt for Optical Illusions

Kitchen with pale gray cabinet doors. Pin It
PHOTOGRAPHY BY DYLAN JAMES

Interior designer Alison Lewis’s Melbourne kitchen is chock-full of clever cabinet hacks for enlarging a small kitchen. First, to make it appear taller, Lewis installed cabinet doors that rise clear to the ceiling and paired them with a vertical backsplash by Academy Tiles. “The lesser-used items go up high, while the everyday items remain low and easily accessible,” explains Lewis.

Another lightbulb moment solves an inevitable when it comes to small kitchen territory: limited counter space. She laid out her cabinets so that her go-to appliances fit inside and ran wiring straight to them, so outlets and cords stay out of sight. The result frees up the countertops for more room to cook and display pieces she loves.

Cut the Corners

Small kitchen with blue corner drawers. Pin It
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF KENT & LONDON

Less clunky than their corner cabinet counterpart—which often results in far-back space that’s hard to see and reach—corner drawers make an awkward area more accessible and usable. Pairing ergonomic efficiency with aesthetics, corner drawers help streamline a tight space and make for a hardworking L-shaped workstation. Go sans hardware and opt for push-to-open drawer slides to create an even cleaner look, and add organizing containers or partitions inside to keep things neat and clutter-free.

Think Ahead

Small kitchen cabinets - plywood kitchenPin It
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MEGAN PFLUG

To really lighten up a tiny kitchen, consider open storage. When kept organized and minimal, open shelving omits the visual weight that cabinetry creates—which can sometimes overpower a small space. Case in point: this upstate New York kitchen, custom-built by designer Megan Pflug. Thinking through how they’d be using the space, she and her husband chose to make things visible and easily accessible on top, while taking a clean-lined approach below with closed storage and discreet drawer pulls. Predetermining their storage setup led Pflug to another idea: a hidden trash can under the sink. “The facade has the look of a drawer and cabinet, but instead it’s just one big pull-out unit,” says Pflug. “Every day I walk by this kitchen and I’m glad there’s not a trash bin sitting on the floor.”

Make It Your Own

Small Kitchen Cabinet Ideas: two-tone cabinets with narrow uppers. Pin It
PHOTOGRAPHY & DESIGN BY STUDIO LALOC

Most important, don’t shy away from customizing your cabinet configuration—possibilities are endless, even in a rental. This kitchenette gets a lot of jobs done in its tiny footprint. A curtain replaces under-counter cabinet doors for easy access and an unexpected texture that softens an otherwise wood-heavy build-out. Open shelving offers a place to infuse your personal style with small vignettes, while keeping cooking essentials hidden in closed storage with subtle hardware. Lastly, woven baskets atop the uppers infuse rustic charm while doubling as organized storage—our kind of multitasking.

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