Petite & Pro-Style

Small-footprint kitchens can be challenging to design because of their limited size. However, these designers don’t shy away from the task of creating functional, luxurious spaces.

authors Kim Berndtson | September 24, 2020

Ah…the dream kitchen wish list. Every client has one. For those with petite kitchens, it can be particularly challenging to incorporate everything on the list, so sometimes there are, admittedly, compromises.

However, limited space needn’t squelch creativity for meeting the needs of the homeowner.

This month, KBDN asked designers to share projects that, although short on space, are not short on functionality, creativity or even a few luxurious splurges.

Aesthetic Coexistence with Pizazz

Although this kitchen is far from the smallest Amy Cuker has designed, it does illustrate some of the same principles she uses in small kitchens. For one, it is open to an adjacent room.

Jason Hoppe’s clients’ wish list was relatively simple…a kitchen that focused on function. However, a few luxuries include quartersawn oak wall cabinets and island – to satisfy their love of wood – accented with navy blue base cabinetry. Hoppe repeated the navy blue for the butler’s pantry, which serves as a fun and bold statement piece for the kitchen.
Photos: Justin Jordan, J.L. Jordan Photography

“I often like to contemplate whether we can demolish a wall between the kitchen and an adjacent space so we can get a little more square footage,” says the design director/owner of down2earth in Elkins Park, PA. “Or, I investigate whether we can at least store some kitchen items in an adjacent space.”

Since this kitchen is open to the rest of the first floor, it needed to aesthetically coexist with the rest of the house.

“But we also wanted it to have its own pizazz,” stresses Cuker.

As such, the designer balanced pale colors and warm woods with mixed metals, including the black and gold kitchen faucet and light fixtures and the stainless steel appliances.

“Mixed metals can be done well as long as you figure out the rules, and stick to them,” she reports.

The homeowner also loves the added interest of the red knobs that draw attention to the high-end cooktop.

“They energize the space,” she explains. “The white cabinetry, marble-look porcelain tile backsplash and wood shelves are calm and neutral, but we wanted to add something that was bold and eye catching. The knobs were a fun way to do that, and a little bit of color really goes a long way.”

Cuker also kept the space visually light via the open shelves around the perimeter as well as the island.

“The homeowner really embraced the idea and I’m glad she did because it keeps some of those elements from becoming visually heavy, as they might in a small kitchen,” she continues, adding that the shelves also serve as great functional space where dishes are stored and easily reached. “She also has a commitment to neatness and doesn’t let dirty dishes build up, even though she has three young kids.”

Because a kitchen with open storage can look cluttered, the designer encourages clients to pare down countertop appliances to only what is needed, and to use clear or white dishes and glassware.

“Many people are not that disciplined about keeping their dishes neat and unified in appearance,” she notes, “but if you have a kitchen where all of these elements are on display, you really need to edit selections.”

Pretty & Practical

Although this kitchen doubled in size from its original footprint when Jason Hoppe removed a wall, he was still challenged to fit all of his clients’ wish list items into the new dimensions, without sacrificing flow and function.

Andrea Kralj Lagow channeled Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis for the design of this townhome kitchen, where she selected materials with a classic design style and refined elegance that will never go out of style.
Photos: Karen Dorsey

“Smaller spaces force us to be more efficient with the design,” says the owner/designer, JH Designs in Louisville, KY. “Once you include large items like a refrigerator, a range or cooktop and double ovens, a sink, a dishwasher, etc., it can be difficult to get it all to fit…without feeling like you’ve jammed everything in. We don’t have the luxury of extra breathing room.”

Fortunately, his clients’ wish list was relatively simple.

“They’re pretty laid back,” he states. “They didn’t want anything flashy or opulent. For them, focusing on function was more their flavor.”

As such, Hoppe designed a new space that included a narrow island, positioned so as not to impede flow throughout the kitchen or from the nearby exterior door.

“The door adjacent to the refrigerator is my clients’ main entry into the home,” he explains. “I wanted to create an easy way for them to access the kitchen if they had groceries to drop off, or to bypass the main part of the kitchen if they just wanted to get to other parts of the home.”

The island is also designed to resemble antique furniture.

“We couldn’t find any ‘found’ piece that fit the dimensions we needed, so we created a new one that is meant to look repurposed,” he reports, adding that its turned corner posts mimic farm table legs.

Crafted from quartersawn oak, the island also underscores the clients’ love of wood.

“He likes to do woodworking, and they always wanted to have the warmth of wood in their kitchen,” Hoppe states, adding that it also serves as a luxury item that doesn’t take up any space. “Quartersawn oak isn’t your standard wood, so it feels like the jewel in the space.”

Hoppe mixed the wood with navy base cabinets as a complement, repeating it for the butler’s pantry/bar at the opposite end of the kitchen.

“It’s a fun piece for the kitchen that makes a ‘wow’ statement,” he adds, noting the addition of an antique mirror backsplash and quartersawn oak countertop. “She wanted something fun and bold…and it works in the space!”

Channeling Jackie-O

Andrea Kralj Lagow, RID, ASID, CGR, CAPS, channeled Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis for the design of this townhome kitchen, where she selected materials with a classic design style and refined elegance that will never go out of style.

“A timeless kitchen was very important to the homeowner because it is a reflection of herself, her style and where she is in her life,” says the designer/owner of 329 Design & Renovation in Houston, TX.

Case in point are the quartz countertops and backsplash that resemble highly sought-after Calacatta Oro marble…without the extra care.

“She enjoys a glass of red wine when she comes home from a long day at work,” remarks Lagow. “With quartz she doesn’t have to be concerned about staining or sealing the material to keep it looking pristine.”

The designer also used the cabinetry to make a statement, in particular the metal mesh inserts tucked into the upper cabinet doors that flank the ventilation hood.

“They are such beautiful focal points,” she emphasizes. “Their crisscross details elevate the overall look from usual glass front doors or plain mesh options you typically see.”

Choosing custom, full overlay cabinetry also maximized function via integrated spice pullouts on each side of the range, tray dividers over the refrigerator, a blind corner lazy Susan, pull-out trash and recycling and plenty of drawer dividers. A second set of cabinets in the island provides additional storage.

“We gave her a place for everything, so everything can be in its place,” she stresses. “While the fundamentals of designing a small space are the same as a large space, I take extra care to get an inventory list to make sure we’re using every inch of space available. My goal is to make it so functional that they have storage to spare.”

To further support the classic, elegant aesthetic, Lagow added a bridge faucet in a polished nickel finish and sophisticated cabinetry hardware that serves as the finishing jewelry.

“I love to make even small spaces feel special and give them personality,” she continues. “I think it’s important to spend a little extra on some of your biggest elements. For example, choose an amazing faucet, upgrade the countertops or install a range that is a bright color. Adding a bit of luxury sends the message that someone took the time to make it special.”

Period-Sensitive Details

Since there wasn’t an opportunity to add any additional square footage to this petite kitchen’s footprint, the design team at COOPER Design Build in Portland, OR needed to focus on improving the efficiency and function of the space they did have, while also evaluating opportunities for capturing any hidden interior space.

The kitchen renovation, completed by COOPER Design Build, needed to be period sensitive to be cohesive with the rest of the home, so the design team chose rich, mustard yellow custom cabinetry, which is befitting of the home’s jewel-box palette as well as its time period. One valuable addition is the butcher block-topped island, which although small in size nearly doubled the available countertop space.
Photo: Courtesy of COOPER Design Build

In small kitchens, every area – from the floor to ceiling – becomes a critical element to maximizing efficiency and storage, the team indicates.

In this kitchen, they found a bit of extra space when they took down an unused chimney flue. Including a small butler’s pantry along one wall and double-stacking the upper cabinets – several of which are glass paned – gave their client much-needed storage space. The latter also supports the original aesthetic of the 1920’s Craftsman-era home.

The kitchen renovation needed to be period sensitive to be cohesive with the rest of the home, which in large part has retained its native character, note the designers, who add that the rich, mustard yellow custom cabinetry is befitting of the home’s jewel-box palette as well as its time period.

Another valuable addition is the butcher block-topped island, which although small in size nearly doubled the available countertop space. Being able to include a small island or peninsula is critical to adding 20-50% more countertop space, depending on the kitchen, the team says, noting that the extra depth that typically comes with them is important for a cook or baker.

In the case of this kitchen, the island also gave them a place to tuck away the microwave. Undercabinet microwaves are nice to have because they can ‘disappear,’ they note, adding that it was located on the less visible side of the island. This less obvious placement, as opposed to above the range, allows for a larger range or cooktop and possibly a more decorative hood, which lends a better weight, utility and luxury to this important element in the kitchen.

The team also encourages clients with small kitchens to incorporate a few elements they love, such as a pop of color or texture that can add personality to an otherwise neutral, simple space. For this client, it’s the Motawi tile behind the range, which evokes a bit of whimsy and nonlinear moments. Plus, it is quite resonant of the Craftsman era of the home.

Sustainable Zen

Madelene Ross often encourages her clients with small kitchens to splurge on special materials and finishes, such as a fabulous handmade tile or lavish countertop, for their new space.

Madelene Ross’ client splurged on White Macaubas quartzite for her countertops and backsplashes, which contrast with the darker tones of the cherry cabinetry to create a timeless design.
Photos: Loryelle De La Pena

“It may be expensive relative to other options, but you don’t need a lot of it, and it might not add a lot to the total project cost,” says the owner/designer, Madelene Ross Design Studio in San Diego, CA. “And, splurging on a more luxurious item makes a space feel more special and personal. I’ve found that most people don’t regret a splurge. More often, they regret not doing it.”

Such was the case in this kitchen, where her client splurged on White Macaubas quartzite for her countertops and backsplashes, which she found reasonably priced from a vendor that was relocating.

“I love its movement,” she states, adding that sheathing the wall from countertop to ceiling behind the ventilation hood and range promotes a modern vibe. “It has an organic quality that brings a bit of nature into the space.”

Her client also appreciates the contrast between the light and dark tones of the natural stone and darker cherry cabinets, which were sustainably sourced as a preowned find that originated from a local showroom.

“It all feels very timeless,” she explains, noting that swapping the original curvy stainless hardware with more linear matte black pulls better matches the Asian design aesthetic her client wanted.

Open niches and glass cabinet doors that reveal white interiors make the space feel visually lighter and provide an opportunity to display personal items. The designer also repurposed a set of base cabinetry into a personalized tea station. It features a shallow drawer for supplies and an open countertop area where the client can prep the beverage.

“Tea is important to her, and she loves to sit and drink it with her friends,” remarks Ross. “We located it in an area where she can easily access it without having to go all the way into the kitchen.”

The designer often promotes specialized storage and organization to her clients, which can be very beneficial to those with small spaces.

“Cabinet optimizers can make a kitchen work so much better,” she says. “Even the tiniest bit of space can be utilized.” ▪

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1 review on “Petite & Pro-Style”

  1. Steve James Steve James says:

    Great ideas, here, for everyone looking to brighten up their smaller kitchens. Plus…don’t these examples feature huge cabinets?


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