Designing a Small Kitchen? Here are 6 Outdated Rules You Can Safely Ignore!

Designing a small kitchen can be a daunting task as you may come across numerous ‘rules’ that you should be following to optimize the space. From color choices to layout options, there are several guidelines to make the most of the available area. However, some of these rules may not be applicable to every small kitchen and can be considered outdated.

While it is recommended to stick to useful rules, breaking traditional approaches can lead to more exciting outcomes. Therefore, we have consulted with kitchen designers to identify the outdated kitchen rules that can be ignored when designing a small kitchen. Instead, we recommend defying tradition and experimenting with unique design concepts.

In addition to ignoring outdated rules, it’s important to consider unusual rules that can enhance the functionality and aesthetics of a small kitchen. By combining creativity with practicality, you can create a kitchen that is not only functional but also visually appealing.

So, when it comes to designing a small kitchen, don’t be afraid to think outside the box and try something new. After all, breaking the rules can lead to more interesting and innovative designs.

1. The golden triangle is the only layout option

golden triangle

In the world of kitchen design, the ‘golden triangle’ has been a longstanding traditional layout option for over a century. It involves placing the stove, sink, and fridge in a triangle formation to make movement between them as easy and efficient as possible. However, it’s not the only option out there, and sometimes it may not work in a small kitchen.

Leanne Kilroy, the founder of Bird & Bone, notes that the ‘holy fridge-sink-range triangle’ is a dated rule that needs debunking. It can be impossible to implement in small spaces and awkward in larger ones. Moreover, it overemphasizes the importance of the fridge, which is not frequently used, and underemphasizes the importance of other things like the placement of the dishwasher, bins, plates, and utensils. So, in a small kitchen, you should feel free to break this rule and explore other layout options that suit your needs better.

According to kitchen designer Sharon Sherman, the concept of the “work triangle” in kitchen design is outdated. Instead, she suggests that kitchens today, whether large or small, should be designed with distinct zones for preparation, cleaning, and storage, which may overlap in some cases. One wall and galley kitchens can be designed to work just as well as larger kitchens, provided that they are designed with focus.

Alex Main, founder of The Main Company, also recommends creating separate zones for cooking, food preparation, and washing up, even if the golden triangle layout isn’t feasible for a small kitchen. In such cases, it may be more convenient to position the stove and sink closer together, while placing the fridge in a separate corner to simplify the washing up process and minimize mess.

2. Adding wall cupboards

adding wall cupboards

Incorporating open shelving instead of wall cupboards is not only a popular interior design trend but can also be a more practical approach for a small kitchen compared to cramming it with cabinetry.

According to Ash McCullough, Lead Designer at Blakes London, “Instead, keep it open. Remove wall cupboards and opt for shelving if possible to give a feeling of space and light. A shelf is a nice alternative that allows space for decorative elements; leaning paintings, objects, etc. Or even incorporate an oversized mirror instead to maximize the feeling of space and light.”

While open shelving in a kitchen can sometimes appear cluttered, it can be a great way to store everyday kitchen items and add to the feeling of space and depth in a small kitchen, as long as they are streamlined and not overcrowded. “In a small kitchen, installing large upper cabinets can actually make the space feel smaller, so adding open shelving is a great way to store your everyday kitchen items but it also adds to the feeling of space and depth,” adds Alex Main.

3. The sink must be placed under a window

placed under a window

Although having a sink centered under a window is a traditional kitchen layout, it might not work for everyone, especially in small spaces or galley kitchens where it might not fit in the design. Instead, you can add openness to your kitchen by incorporating shelving and a light-reflecting backsplash to brighten up the space.

According to Raine Henderson, a designer, “In small kitchens, having a sink under a window isn’t always functional for the best layout. By ensuring we had ample task lighting and display space, a window was never missed in this space.” So, if you’re tight on space, consider using these alternatives to still achieve a bright and open kitchen.

4. Backsplashes are a must

Backsplashes are a must

The traditional kitchen design rule that requires a backsplash behind the sink and range is outdated, according to Leanne Kilroy, founder of Bird & Bone. While a stone, tile, or mirrored backsplash can look beautiful, it can also be an expensive afterthought that doesn’t blend well with the rest of the kitchen. Kilroy suggests that using eggshell paint is a wonderful and effective way to protect the wall from cooking stains and water damage without cluttering up a small kitchen.

Kitchen design trends now include kitchens without backsplashes, which can help create a modern and uncluttered look. This style can work well in small kitchens, where the absence of grout lines can create a more spacious feel. Adding an upstand can make the meeting between the worktop and the wall more seamless while also protecting the lower part of the wall, which is more likely to get dirty.

5. Lighter colors work best in a small kitchen

Lighter colors work best

While it’s often recommended to use lighter colors in smaller spaces, don’t be afraid to experiment with darker or bolder colors in your small kitchen. Darker shades can create an illusion of a larger space by blurring the room’s dimensions. “You can use any color you like if the design is smart and the materials and finishes are right,” says Jane Stewart of Mowlem & Co. For instance, a discreet sheen or luster to the materials used can reflect back the light, making the space feel brighter.

According to Simon Temprell, Interior Design Manager at Neptune, “A small kitchen does not have to be all-white to compensate for the lack of space. Color can be used successfully to elevate the design or to distract the eye from problematic areas.” He also advises against painting the ceiling white, as it can visually limit the space. Instead, continue your wall color across the ceiling to blur the sight lines between wall and ceiling.

6. Designing a larger kitchen on a smaller scale

Designing a larger kitchen

When designing a small kitchen, don’t feel like you have to cram in all the essentials. It’s important to take a different approach rather than simply scaling down a larger kitchen design. Instead, consider how you will be using the space and what is essential. You can also get creative with storage and appliances to maximize the available space.

“Many older kitchen designs didn’t think about what’s essential in a kitchen and how to apply it to a smaller size kitchen. They just tried to cram everything in without regard to layout and functionality,” explains Victoria Holly, Principal and Founder of Victoria Holly Interiors.

For smaller kitchens, consider incorporating appliances like smaller-scale dishwashers, fridges, and freezer drawers. Utilize cabinetry that extends to the ceiling and incorporate hidden, shallow storage on the other side of the island. It’s also important to be cohesive in design choices, as this can make a smaller space feel larger and more put-together.

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