How to Make Small Kitchens Appear Bigger

 After last week’s post, “10 Things I Love About My Small Kitchen,” reactions fell into one of two categories: 1)“Beautiful kitchen!” or 2) “Your kitchen isn’t small!”

To the former, I say, “Thank you!” To the latter, I say, “Is so!”

It’s true: A tiny studio kitchen in Manhattan, mine ain’t. I know it could be worse—way, way worse. To those of you cooking in teeny, tiny kitchens smaller than an airplane bathroom, I salute you.

Nevertheless, 9×13 still ranks on the decidedly small size—especially when compared to the mega-kitchens HGTV tells us we must have if we don’t want the neighbors pointing and laughing. Some of the folks in the “Your kitchen isn’t small!” camp discovered that, when they went and measured their own “small kitchens” and found that their kitchens were roughly the size of mine. But how could that be, they wondered, since mine looked so much bigger than theirs?

The answer? Magic! Or more specifically, the optical kind of magic: Illusion.

Here are some “Before”shots from shortly after I moved into my house in early 2005. And yes, I did buy the house when the kitchen looked that way—cement walls and all. I got a deal!




kitchen built ins

As a refresher, here’s my kitchen now.



So, what “magic” did I work to make my kitchen look and feel bigger?

1.) I painted all the cabinets, woodwork, and furniture in the kitchen a creamy white and put similar hardware on everything with doors and drawers.

The oak color of one set of cabinets, the battleship gray of the stairway, and the “I don’t know what to call it—maybe pinkish?” color of the built-ins, created visual chaos. Just the oak cabinets in that small space would have been enough to make the walls feel like they were closing in. Throw in a bunch of other (ugly!) colors, and well, it was enough to make my claustrophobic heart pound with trepidation.

Lightening everything up, however, and tying it all together, brightened up the space, creating the illusion of size. Admittedly, this means I spend a fair amount of time wiping up spills and fingerprints that are more visible on white than they would be on wood. But that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.

2.) I hid the dishwasher.

Having a continuous, uninterrupted line of cabinets—even if one of those “cabinets” is actually a dishwasher, does something similar to the white paint; it creates the illusion of space. It visually lengthens the wall…although unfortunately, it doesn’t actually lengthen the wall.

SMK2 Dishwasher

3.) I moved the Refrigerator.

Older, humbler spaces were never meant to house ginormous Frigidaires. Many weren’t meant to house any refrigerator at all. They were designed with only an icebox in mind—an icebox that spent its life on the back porch.

So, that’s where mine is.


The other is in the basement laundry room. Tight quarters? Yes. A Bit inconvenient. Yes, again. Worth it? Yes, yes, yes, a hundred times over!

4.) I cleared the countertops of all unnecessary clutter.

Again, it all comes back to the line. The fewer kitchen accoutrements you have sitting on your counters, the longer and deeper they’ll appear. Clutter crowds. It makes spaces feel smaller than they actually are. It also limits your actual usable space. Eliminate the clutter: the papers and magazines, the rarely used appliances, the pretty bowls, all but the essentials. Stick it in cabinets, drawers, closets, hanging organizers, the basement, or, when necessary, rummage sales. Wherever you stash it, clean counters will help your kitchen both look and feel bigger.


5.) I took down the upper cabinets.


This was a luxury made possible by my wall o’cabinets, so I know it’s not an option for everyone. But if it is, it will have an even bigger effect on how big your kitchen feels than moving the fridge. Old house cabinets—like the wall o’cabinets—usually reached to the ceiling. That gave families more usable space and visually drew the eye upwards. Modern cabinets are almost always suspended at least a foot below the actual ceiling, which makes the ceiling feel lower than it is. Removing them, however, lifts the ceiling and opens up the walls, creating a sense of airiness and lightness.

6.) I installed a diamond-patterned floor.


Again, it’s all about tricking the eye. Installing my cheap-o Vinyl Composition Tiles on the diagonal, instead of in plain checkerboard fashion, pulls the eye forward and to the side, keeping it moving, and making the floor seem bigger than it is. I don’t fully get how this works. I just know that it works.

7.) I used an iPhone to take pictures.

I am not a full-time food blogger. I am just a Catholic hack writer. Accordingly, I’ve been wary to invest in fancy camera equipment just yet. For now, all photography for The Catholic Table is done using my handy dandy, all purpose iPhone 5c.

There. The secret is out. Please, don’t judge. Just go take a picture of your kitchen with your iPhone (preferably standing tucked in a corner like I was), and your kitchen will magically double in size.


So there you have it folks. Not all my little illusions will work equally well in your kitchen. But, while you’re saving up the big bucks to knock out walls, something from my bag of tricks should be able to create at least a little breathing space for you.

Even if it’s just in pictures!



5 thoughts on “How to Make Small Kitchens Appear Bigger

  1. Kelly says:

    I have read your first “small kitchen” post quite a handful of times already and now am thankful to have found and read this one as well. I am presently (as in about to finish lunch and get back to it) painting my kitchen white. Your blogpost was a nice kick in the pants to stop bemoaning and start doing something! I am excited about my “new” kitchen. Thank you for sharing with us! Kelly

Leave a Reply