Our kitchen is a little rabbit hole, or perhaps more appropriately, the entrance to a rabbit hole, tucked away below ground in the basement. It is hidden at the bottom of a flight of pokey stairs, indirectly lit by a skylight; at 70 square feet, there is neither room for a table nor for chairs. When there's more than two grown-ups down there at a time, we dance inelegantly around cupboard doors. It's cosy. Add three little ones into the mix, and our dance is more of a bump as small people weave between our legs. Our slim fridge with its barely-there freezer compartment squeezes into an alcove - perfect for the food shop of a young couple, perhaps. Not quite what you'd expect for a growing family of five with very hungry children.
I have dreams of a large, light filled kitchen full of windows, perhaps overlooking a garden or a sun room. There'd be a big table and a bench where the kids could do homework or paint or drink milk after school. In these dreams though, it's not more storage space I'm hankering after (the idea of more space, more storage and more things makes me itch); it's mostly just the light I dream of, and the room for us all to move and flow comfortably enough in the same space at the same time. Oh, but I've seen these kitchens! I tell myself we'll have one, one day.
Meanwhile, I don't hate my kitchen either (for what would be the point in that?). She is petite, but she is neat and she is all we have. On the best of days, we high-five and we tell each other we don't need a bigger place at all. This is how we make it work and how perhaps you can too, if you face the same challenges of small dimensions too.
How to maximise space in a tiny kitchen:
Keep it simple but meaningful
There is not much by way of decor in the kitchen. A simple black Newgate clock hangs on the wall but that is about it. But this doesn't mean our kitchen feels stark or soulless. There is something about a white farmhouse sink that will always make a kitchen feel like a home. And there is still space for this tiny kitchen to be, if not quite the heart of our home, then a strong, vital artery.
By doing away with kitchen extras, as you'll see below, we have made room for our children to still come down here and partake in the preparation of meals or simply keep us company. Small stacking stools kept in a corner help them reach the counters. A tiny set of wooden fruit in a little crate keeps Jude amused as he crawls between my feet. A chalkboard door hides the fridge, so there is somewhere they can draw. While wall space is limited down here, we've turned a little corner of the kitchen stairway into their art wall, bringing an otherwise empty corner alive.
Taking the time to truly consider even the most practical of things has made this small space all the more special. We eat daily off hand-painted Italian plates we chose together when we got married. The children call them our wedding plates, and they use them too (not for us, saving pretty things for just- in-case days). An act as dull as doing the dishes suddenly becomes more contemplative than chore because my implements alone remind me of one summer; a foraged vase found on holiday which holds a wooden washing brush bought from a little shop near the beach; soap that smells of sand and sea. That's what I call simple, thoughtful living; finding meaning in the most ordinary of things.
Keep it organised
Our tiny kitchen would be a calamity were it not for our very useful walk-in larder. To clarify, the larder is still within the 70 square feet I have already mentioned and while you can walk in, it's more of a single sidestep manoeuvre than a leisurely stroll in and out. Without it, we'd have no storage for food whatsoever so I am grateful to whoever planned it in the original design of our Edwardian conversion. It is lined with four long shelves and this is where we keep our canned goods, dried foods, baking ingredients, nuts and so on. It's also where we store extra out-of-sight dull yet necessary appliances like the vacuum cleaner, iron and ironing board.
We've learnt that the best way to make use of our sidestep larder is not to fill it up to bursting, which can be tempting, but rather to keep its contents modest, so we can see what there is and where it is.
We keep tinned goods stacked as though in a store, like with like, but only as much of each as we need, as we can see, as we can fit on a shelf. We decant dried goods into Kilner jars and they too are grouped together - baking ingredients on one shelf, grains, nuts and seeds on another. We label with our Dymo, not for aesthetics sake but for practicality. We also keep plain white washi tape and a pen to hand in a kitchen drawer so we can note down best before dates (also handy for remembering what leftovers are in which container in the fridge).
Not everyone will have a larder, but you can apply the same logic of order to any cupboard. In our kitchen, tea and coffee are not kept in canisters on the countertop; instead they live inside the cupboard with the mugs and the French press, so that everything that goes together is all in the same place (in a small kitchen, this makes so much sense). Lose the excess and suddenly everything is so much easier to find.
That said, even in our tiny kitchen, we make room for the occasional and not purely the essential. The top shelf of our larder holds a heavy, sturdy set of various Le Creuset ironware pans, gifted to me on my marriage by my mother. She bought these carefully for years, storing them up in the loft of our family home for the time I might need a trousseau. They do not get used daily, but we bring them out on big noisy lunches when we invite more family and friends than we can accommodate, and with each use, I feel less like a little girl playing house and more like a grown-up, welcoming people into our home.
Keep fewer but better appliances
We've not owned a microwave for years, even though everyone thought we were nuts not to, what with babies and bottles to sterilise. In the end they all barely took bottles and when they occasionally did, we made do the old-fashioned, common-sense way, boiling them in pans on the stove. The convenience of a microwave personally does nothing for me so it has never been missed - but if you're short on counter space, you could certainly challenge yourself to living without a large heavy box that beeps noisily. I'm hopeful you'd survive.
In our old home, my husband created a coffee corner in our (larger) kitchen - and a handsome one it was too, with the most beautiful vintage coffee machine, a bean grinder and a small set of simple, heavy white espresso cups I bought him when we first married. But here, he gallantly sacrificed in the name of counter space, despite my insistence we could make it work (he was also ready to give up caffeine). You do what you have to do. (For his birthday last year, we bought him a pleasing, ceramic French press to make up for it. The caffeine sacrifice didn't last quite that long).
There are other appliances we have shed too, passing them along to someone who wants them rather than letting them go to landfill - a baby food steamer that's seen us through three sets of weaning; a too-noisy blender that frightens the boys; barely-touched wedding gifts, like crepe machines and ice cream makers.
These are the kind of things that I suppose in larger homes with garages and lofts, end up being kept forever yet used never. I say, let go of the never things and make more room for the forever things, no matter how big your home.
One corner of our precious workspace is home to a Kitchen Aid mixer that I bought ten years ago myself. I'd saved for it for months. But in the department store, I deliberated; it was still a lot of money. Then an elderly lady, another customer, saw me. She told me she'd passed her very same mixer, bought for her marriage, down to her granddaughter. I bought it, then. That's the sort of story of an everlasting forever thing I like.
Add light where there is none
There are no windows in our kitchen (there, I'll just say it out loud) and what little natural light there is flows down via a skylight at the top of the stairs. You may think this sounds awful, prison-cell like perhaps. That is exactly what I thought, when I first saw the floor plan of our flat before we had even viewed it. But the truth is, while it’s not perfect, it's not so bad. So we compromise on a kitchen window; we gain a wonderfully-light flooded lounge.
We have done our best with this compromise. Strategically placed ceiling lights fill each and every corner. We have kept the walls simple - fresh and white - and chose the same for our cabinets too. We ripped up heavy beige floor tiles and replaced them with whitewashed oak. Then we warmed the whole corner up with a wooden worktop the colour of honey and added copper handles to our simple, white cupboard doors for just a touch of glow.
It's not quite the same as having windows, but the soft whiteness of our walls and floor brings with it a feeling of cleanliness and brightness that I will always associate with the memory of my mother's freshly-mopped, light-flooded, large-windowed kitchen and her smudgeless cupboard doors.
And always wipe the counters down at night
A neat kitchen just gets your day straight. Make the act of spritzing the counters and wiping them down a habit, the last thing you do before you finish up in the kitchen each night (I mix up a spoon of Sal's Suds with water and a few drops of tea tree oil in a spray bottle - I also plan on trying this homemade lemon cleaner too); if you're feeling especially sprightly, you might do the same in the sink. You'll be thankful for it come morning when you could particularly do with the extra, shiny clarity.
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