From the April/May 2012 Issue:

Small Kitchens, Great Expectations

    Writer: Robin Amster |

Expert design allows for function and beauty

Article Photo
enlarge | Rose Marie Carr won a second-place 2011 Small Kitchen Design Award from the National Kitchen & Bath Associa­tion for this project. She managed to fit full-size appliances in the kitchen’s 145 square feet, including a 36-inch range and 36-inch refrigerator. She used space-saving dishwasher drawers next to the apron sink and a drawer microwave tucked into a cabinet (not shown in photo) to free up counter space. To create a space authentic to the 1905 house, there’s a hammered copper apron sink, maple bead-board backsplash, distressed maple and hickory cabinetry and black granite countertops. Carr removed linoleum and restored the original pine floors. Photography
“Less is more” may not apply when it comes to small kitchens.

But with a thoughtfully and efficiently designed small kitchen, “less” can certainly be as good as “more.” Despite the challenges, a small kitchen can be every bit as beautiful and functional as a large one, designers say.

The National Kitchen & Bath Association defines a small kitchen as 150 square feet or less for its small-kitchen design competition. Of course there are no hard and fast rules for the size of a small kitchen—one homeowner’s “small” kitchen may seem positively large compared with a condo dweller’s galley version.

But apart from exact size, all small kitchens present a host of design challenges, including selecting the appliances, finding storage solutions, installing effective lighting, creating the right style and, sometimes, reconfiguring the available space.
“As space is quite limited, every inch needs to be thoughtfully maximized,” says Heidi Piron of Heidi Piron Design & Cabinetry in Summit. “The point is that dreams can come true in a small kitchen.”

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enlarge | Because of the economy, the owners of a 70-year-old colonial-style home in Summit put aside their desire for a larger kitchen and decided to work with the 110-square-foot original. Designer Heidi Piron began by relocating a door to the garage from where the range is now to the rear of the space (not pictured). She chose a 30-inch range and an over-the-range microwave convection oven, but was able to swap out a 36-inch refrigerator for the 42-inch model the homeowners wanted. Piron incorporated a small peninsula to accommodate two diners. She achieved a clean, transitional style with classic white beaded-inset cabinetry, white granite countertops, a backsplash of glass veneer subway tile and oak flooring. Photo by Wing Wong
“The first step in designing a small kitchen is to look at the available space and then anchor the appliances so they work efficiently in designated work zones,” Piron says. “Appliances are not like cabinetry; you can’t increase or decrease their number.”

You can, however, use smaller appliances. Many manufacturers offer compact, space-saving models, including 30-inch ranges that are often more practical for a small kitchen than the more typical 36-inch range as well as 24-inch-deep refrigerators rather than the standard 30 inches deep.

Dot Taccarino, president of Asbury Kitchen and Bath Gallery in Ocean City, says when a traditional refrigerator won’t work, under-counter refrigerator and freezer drawers can be the answer. Other space-savvy options include under-counter dishwasher drawers instead of a full-sized dishwasher, a cooktop and wall oven instead of a regular range, and a combination microwave convection oven in place of a separate oven and microwave, Taccarino says.

“I always try to do full-size appliances but when I can’t, I downsize everything,” she says.

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enlarge | Dot Taccarino designed this kitchen for the Show House at the Shore in Atlantic City in 2010. She removed a wall between a former maid’s room and an even tinier kitchen to create a new 200-square-foot space. The designer always tries to use full-size appliances and, in this case, was able to do so. The kitchen has a 36-inch paneled refrigerator, a full-size paneled dishwasher, a 36-inch range and a 24-inch under-counter microwave convection oven. Taccarino also fit in a wet bar with wine cooler and bar sink. A two-level snack bar accom­modates two. To complement the home’s Craftsman style, Taccarino used cabinetry with a squared inset finished in a cream and bronze shade. The countertops are antique black granite, and the flooring is a walnut tumbled marble. An antique bronze range hood is surrounded by a run of stained alder cabinetry. Photo by Rosemary Carroll
Providing adequate storage in a small kitchen is a “huge challenge,” says Rose Marie Carr of Kitchens by Rose in Ramsey. “You have to get creative.”

Carr says new options are available to make the task easier. These include pullout shelves, rotating inserts and tilt-out bins that increase storage and accessibility within cabinets. There also are rollout pantry systems featuring a shelving unit that pulls out of—and back into—the pantry.

Using frameless cabinets will also save 11/2 inches or so of space per cabinet, Carr says. “In a small space, that little bit helps.”

A good lighting plan is key and it includes under-counter or under-cabinet, task and ambient lighting, Carr says. “Lighting a kitchen is completely different than lighting other areas of the home. In a kitchen the work space is some 36 inches off the floor; you need to illuminate that.”

Piron often uses recessed ceiling cans for overall lighting, a task light over the sink and under-cabinet lighting. But there will be some restrictions in a small kitchen. “No big decorative chandeliers,” she says. “The space won’t allow for that.”

Space Configuration
Making some structural changes, including moving openings, can often rework space in a small kitchen. “A lot of small spaces are broken up by doors to a hallway, a dining room, a basement,” Carr says. “See if that opening can be moved or closed up to create a better working space.”

In redesigning her daughter’s small kitchen, for example, Taccarino eliminated doors and windows to provide more counter space and storage. She also took down a wall between the kitchen and dining room. “The kitchen is the same size as it was, but by taking down that one wall, it appears larger,” she says.

“A classic, simple, timeless kitchen is the best investment” in terms of style, Piron says. “That means simple, clean lines without a lot of ornamentation where the eye doesn’t know what to grab.”

She notes that in most small kitchens there will be no focal point. “In larger kitchens you have the luxury of creating a focal point like a fabulous farm sink or a decorative range hood,” Piron says. “When you walk into a small kitchen, however, you see the entire space. It needs to be practical.”

Taccarino says she usually suggests light or medium color cabinetry for a small kitchen, especially when there isn’t a lot of natural light. If the homeowner does want dark cabinetry, the designer can combine it with lighter countertops.

“In general lighter and brighter is best,” Piron says. “But I wouldn’t be afraid of darker elements, such as cabinetry, if the architecture of the space allows for it. If you’re going with darker cabinets, then I’d use them with a light-reflecting countertop.”

Certain stylistic touches such as a few glass-fronted cabinets and paneled appliances will open up the space also.

Robin Amster, a Madison-based freelance writer, is a frequent contributor to Design NJ.


Kitchens by Rose Project: cabinetry, Christiana Cabinetry in Atglen, Pennsylvania, through Kitchens by Rose; countertops, Artistic Marble & Granite in Hawthorne; Bertazzoni range, Jenn-Air refrigerator, Fisher & Paykel dishwasher drawers and Sharp drawer microwave, all from Karl’s Appliance in Fairfield. Heidi Piron Design & Cabinetry Project: contractor, DRV Renovations in Chatham; cabinetry, Prevo Cabinetry in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, through Heidi Piron Design & Cabinetry; countertops, Atlas Marble & Granite in Newark; backsplash, Waterworks; Viking range and convection microwave, KitchenAid refrigerator and Bosch dishwasher, all through Karl’s Appliance. Asbury Kitchen and Bath Gallery Project:cabinetry, Christiana Cabinetry through Asbury Kitchen and Bath Gallery in Ocean City; countertops, Stone Crafters in Egg Harbor; backsplash and flooring, Avalon Carpet & Tile in Eatontown; Sub-Zero refrigerator, Miele dishwasher and Wolf range, microwave convection oven and wine cooler, all from Johnson’s Appliances in Ocean City.

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