How to Keep a Small Kitchen From Cramping Your Style

David Eisen of Abacus Architects + Planners saved on space in the design of this high-end Manhattan kitchen by having flip-down seats -- like in an old-fashioned taxicab -- custom-made and built into the island.
David Eisen of Abacus Architects + Planners saved on space in the design of this high-end Manhattan kitchen by having flip-down seats -- like in an old-fashioned taxicab -- custom-made and built into the island. (Abacus Architects + Planners Via Associated Press)

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By Alan Zibel
Associated Press
Saturday, December 20, 2008

If you love to cook, but are afraid of buying or renting a place with a kitchen the size of a phone booth, fear not. A small kitchen doesn't have to be a big drawback if you use your space creatively.

How to design and outfit a cramped or narrow kitchen is a common quandary for urban dwellers. You can use small appliances, cabinets that extend to the ceiling, multipurpose furniture and simple additions like wall shelves to make use of the limited space you have. In fact, being small can actually be an advantage as it discourages excess.

"Too often kitchens just become bloated," said David Eisen, principal with Abacus Architects + Planners in Boston. "Small kitchens aren't necessarily bad."

Whether you're doing a full-fledged kitchen remodeling project or just trying to make the best use of the space you have, experts say you need to get creative. Use a drop-leaf table if you don't have much room to eat. On the low end, Target sells a drop-leaf table and two mission-style chairs for $240.

Or, you can be more elaborate. One high-end Manhattan kitchen that Eisen designed has an island with flip-down seats like an old-fashioned taxicab that were custom-made by a steel fabricator for around $500.

The most important piece of the kitchen is often the refrigerator. Units sold in the United States, which range in price from $350 to more than $3,000, generally are between 30 and 48 inches wide, are between 24 and 33 inches deep and are 60 to 84 inches high. Which fridge works for you depends on the size of your space and how it is aligned.

One good option for narrow kitchens is a "counter-depth" refrigerator that only extends about 24 inches, creating a built-in appearance. Makers like KitchenAid, General Electric, Whirlpool and LG sell them for about $2,000.

"Once you figure out where you put the refrigerator, then the rest of it falls into place pretty easily," said Byron Buck, owner of National Capital Kitchens in Washington, who specializes in kitchen designs for narrow row houses and small condos.

In one particularly tiny kitchen in a Capitol Hill condominium, Buck removed the wall between the kitchen and living room, replaced 30-inch cabinets with ones that were 36 and 42 inches high and created more countertop space with a peninsula that protrudes into the living room.

Another space-saving option is the microwave drawer oven introduced by Sharp this year. It sells for around $700 and allows the microwave to fit under the counter, saving precious space.

When putting together your kitchen, be sure to keep as much as you can off the counter, because counter space is at a premium in a small space, advises Susan Serra, who runs her own kitchen design business on Long Island, N.Y.

How often do you really need your bread maker or rice cooker? Can you put them away somewhere else? Also, take stock of how much stuff you really need.

"Be tough on yourself. Get rid of what you can get rid of," she said.

A good strategy is to place items you don't use much -- such as your holiday dishes -- up high on shelves or built-ins, so they don't get in the way. Cabinets that go all the way to the ceiling can be a good option.

"You need to really look at the height of the room as well as the width and the length," said Washington architect Ralph Cunningham, who designs kitchens in areas with especially narrow homes, such as Georgetown. "There's usually space to be found up in the air."


© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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