WARNING: After some pretty, beautifully lit photos, this post contains some ugly, kind of poorly lit photos of the guts of my kitchen. Viewer discretion is advised…
I have a pretty small kitchen. It has a humble little footprint with only four lower cabinets and two of them are corner cabinets, which I loathe. When we renovate for real I plan to reconfigure things for smarter storage, but for now I’ve done my best to work with the space I have. I used to batch cook and coast on leftovers but Hubby and I have been cooking more than ever before – sometimes we cook all three meals in a day from scratch, with nary a leftover to be had. No matter how much we use it, this kitchen puts the FUN in functional.
If you’ve ever been curious about where I keep my stuff, here’s how I organize things in my small kitchen – and how we make this small space work for us.
Step One: I Changed My Outlook
It makes me laugh that some of the bloggers who renovate reasonably sized kitchens into epic, commercial-grade kitchens, with miles of cabinetry, are sponsored by those mail order dinner prep services. I really can’t judge though, because if I could have a massive kitchen I totally would and I’d hoard all of the world’s best vintage Pyrex and Cathrineholm. Mwahahaha.
Instead, I have a small space, but I have totally embraced it. The BEST cooks in my family prepared delicious meals in tiny kitchens. When I traveled to Hungary, where many of my relatives grew their own food and prepared amazing meals from scratch, I couldn’t believe what their kitchens looked like! Kitchen cabinetry like what we have in North America isn’t the norm in other parts of the world. Many of the kitchens I saw were a combination of old appliances, a hodgepodge of antique hutches and a tiny stretch of counter space. My friend Dora would whip up delicious crepes before we went out to the bars (she’s European – guests must always be fed!) out of a kitchen that was barely larger than my powder room. Comparatively, my kitchen is massive and I’ve learned to appreciate the space I have and focus on what I love: the view, the openness, the easy work triangle and the way it just beckons people – it’s always the hub of any get together. Hubby and I have also learned how to work effectively in here: one of us does sous-cheffing on the end on the counter, which is wide and spacious – with a great view of the lake – while the other bustles within the U-shape.
Step Two: I Pared Down the Clutter
When we moved, I really de-cluttered – including bulky kitchen gadgets and glass serving ware. It was amazing how many things I wasn’t using but was hanging on to, just because I thought I should, like the ice cream maker, bread machine – even the microwave. I get a lot of flak online for not having a microwave but we literally never turned it on, so it made no sense to keep it. Rarely used items we couldn’t part with are stored in the basement. The kitchen is now filled with things we use and love on the regular, but I continually re-assess and pare down (especially because I do add things every now and then, like my Veggetti). I also love items that do double duty, like vintage Pyrex that is hardy and cute enough for baking/cooking, serving, and storing leftovers. That glass cake stand turns into a punch bowl and I have pretty cutting boards that double as trivets and serving pieces.
We even pared down our food staples! I used to have so many kinds of flour and snacks and miscellaneous dry goods. Now, instead of five kinds of cereal, we have one. Instead of a million boxes of flavored oatmeal, we have one canister of plain oatmeal that we add fruit and nuts to ourselves. By paring down the selection, we no longer forget about random stuff that goes stale, which was an added benefit (I always stress about throwing away food).
Streamlining was the first step, but after that I needed to figure out how to store the stuff I did keep.
Step Three: I Turned Cabinets into Drawers
Here’s the BIGGEST change we made, that’s been the biggest eye opener for us: we turned the cabinet to the left of the stove into two “drawers”! These new drawers help us access things in the back so much more easily now. I am obsessed with kitchen drawers! You can get these pull out drawer organizers in different sizes and finishes and they are so easy to install.
Instead of rooting around for things, I can just open one of my new drawers and easily see/access everything. It’s helped maximize 100% of the tiny amount of cabinet space we have.
Step Four: I De-canted Dry Goods into Glass Jars
You might have noticed that my drawers have neatly lined rows of Mason jars. Oddly sized boxes
and bags of dry goods were so awkward to store so I started decanting anything I could into the same size jars. It makes it easier to pack more into our cupboards, plus everything is sealed really well to deter little buggies and keep everything fresher, longer.
Step Five: I Created Makeshift “Drawers” From Bins
Across from these new “drawers” I have another cabinet and that’s where I keep spices, canned goods, cooking oils, etc. I use two plastic bins for spices and baking stuff which act like mini “drawers” and makes accessing that jumble so easy.
I keep my cooking oils, pepper mill, etc., on a plastic tray to save the inside of my cabinets from drips and make cooking easier. (This tray is cute because it doubles for cooking/baking – it’s oven safe!) I just grab a spice bin
(sorted by “savory” and “baking”), the oil tray and get cracking.
I do the same thing with baking ware (cookie cutters, flour sifter, powder sugar shaker, etc.), hot drinks (tea, tea bag filters, coffee, coffee stuff, what have you), magic bullet stuff, and Tupperware: they all go into big bins so I can slide out a bin and grab what I need without having to sift through mountains of teetering piles while I’m crouched awkwardly in front of these terrible corner cabinets.
I even corral pot lids into bins, so I can stack the pots easily and save space.
Seriously, kitchen drawers (real or fake) are the way of the future. A stackable set of bins, like this one, is another clever way to maximize vertical space in small cabinets.
Step Six: I Added Open Shelving and an Open Pantry
The original upper cabinets were terrible: low, awkward, and deceptively small. I couldn’t open the cabinets to the right of the window without climbing onto the counter. Between the wall mounted microwave and the fake cabinet above the stove, it looked like there was way more storage than there really was. To make matters worse, the corner cabinets were really narrow and so I couldn’t fit plates or mixing bowls in there.
Tearing the upper cabinets out and adding open shelving really added functional storage for us because we were left with nice, long shelves for uninterrupted storage of plates, glasses, mixing bowls, and casseroles – although I still wish we could have run the shelf entirely above the stove as planned (stupid building code). That break in the shelving still bugs me.
Open shelving is really polarizing, but I shared my honest thoughts about them – including how I keep them clean – in this older post. Although I will definitely (okay, usually) clean it first, I never style the kitchen for photos. What you see is how it really looks – unless I’m in the middle of cooking, baking, crafting or re-potting
plants, which are all tasks that I tackle here. When I’m mid-task, it will look like a disaster but I always restore it to its tidy state when I’m done. And yes, I use the stuff at the top, although admittedly I have way more Pyrex than I need for day to day. I’m not bizarrely tall, but I guess I’m taller than average so I can grab stuff from the top shelf without a ladder – and I do. Having pretty stuff that I use to cook, serve, and store food made this open shelving thing easy, but I’ve seen really eclectic open shelving that looks great too. One day I’ll have real cabinets again, but only if they go right up to the ceiling and actually offer up some storage.
In addition to swapping awkward cabinets for open shelving, what really gained us space was the floor to ceiling open pantry to the left of the fridge, which houses more serving pieces, our cooler for summer grocery trips, and also 12 massive jars for dry goods like cereal, flour, oatmeal, pasta, rice, quinoa, and marshmallows. All of the staples, haha.
(We finally built a door for that lower cabinet, to hide the cooler, so I no longer have to crop this angle out of photos!)
Even if you don’t want to swap cabinets for open shelving, if you’re struggling with storage, adding a row or two of open shelves for dry goods storage in identical canisters, or putting a shelf under cabinets for plates and cute mugs, can help eek out a little more room in even the tiniest kitchen. Plus it’s so much fun to style and display stuff!
Step Seven: I Make it Pretty
Those massive food jars make cereal and flour look so good! That’s another trick in a small space: making things pretty. Once things look nice, it becomes so much easier to store them in out-of-the-box ways.
Another example: by switching our mismatched and beaten up kitchen utensils for a brand new set of colorful KitchenAid utensils, I was able to put them on the counter in a cheap glass vase, where we can easily access them and free up drawer space. That’s the motivation behind picking as many pretty kitchen things as possible.
In a perfect world, I’d love to put everything away, but for our small space it works really well. There are so many really pretty kitchen staples available these days, things that you used to only be able to get in black or white but that now come in ever color and style (and fancy finishes and materials), like this super cute turquoise drain rack for dishes. Even just investing in a few large canisters for the counter, or setting up a convenient little coffee station and liberating a sweet mug collection from the cupboard, can help ease clutter in overcrowded cabinets and drawers.
Step Eight: I Go Nutty for Small Bins Too
My flatware habit is where I get into trouble with this small kitchen.
I have two sets of flatware, which is such a waste of space. I really want to track down more of the vintage silver set (which belonged to my grandmother) and sell the brass set or keep it with blog props in the basement. I use typical standard cutlery organizing trays plus some extra long and narrow trays from the buck store to keep everything sorted.
There’s one little sentimental vintage bin at the back of one drawer and that’s where I keep random things I couldn’t bear to part with: a pez dispenser, a few serving pieces I rarely use, some forks for road trips.
Bins really let me cram way more in and keep things functional – I even use them in the fridge!
Step Nine: I Gave up the Junk Drawer
I gave up the kitchen junk drawer and bought one of these “Really Useful Box” storage systems, which I stash in the laundry room cupboard. It keeps those odds and ends (like rubber bands, twist ties, random junk) organized and frees up a kitchen drawer, which is where I used to toss stuff like that.
Step Ten: I Make Use of Other Storage
We hung our DIY fauxdenza in the dining room, which is a handy place to keep table linens, candles, napkins, and the plates and glasses we use on the patio. We used to keep stuff like that in the kitchen, but we had to re-think where we keep stuff when we moved here. Leaning on other spaces for storage helps make our small kitchen feel much less small. Just shuffling things around a little and keeping the kitchen storage focus on things we actually use in there helped a lot.
I’ve tried to include a few brand new, up to date photos of the kitchen – and as many shots of my cutie pies as possible – to help counteract those gritty views into my kitchen cabinets.
Hands down my best ideas have been to make dry goods storage pretty by decanting nearly everything into the same size jars and to turn cabinets into drawers – those pull out metal organizers are my favorite purchase ever. Really examining what we need and love, from kitchen gadgets to grocery staples, and only keeping the things we want made such an impact too.
As I think about our kitchen reno (which is all of the time), let me know your BEST kitchen storage tips in the comments! I am always collecting clever ideas for cleaning and organizing – and I know you all have some of your own tips and tricks that I could implement when I get to start this kitchen from scratch…