How big a well-organized yet small kitchen can feel blows my mind.

Spaces like ADUs, RVs, tiny houses, or small apartments with an efficient kitchen do not have the luxury of space.

They are still very capable of a well-maximized space that functions well. After all, space is expensive! Nothing is worse than having a poorly designed kitchen with wasted space where you still can’t find anything.

I see this time and time again when showing houses to buyers. A small kitchen can be overlooked if it is well-organized, and for good reason! It is the organization that creates an illusion of space.

I used to think I needed 30 cabinets plus a huge walking pantry in my kitchen till I realized I was not organizing or using the space correctly. Most people also feel the same. It is just simply not true. I know now that is far from the truth. It is all about the execution.

But how much space do you need, and how the heck do I make an efficient kitchen function like a grand kitchen?

Key Takeaways
  • Maximize kitchen space with efficient layouts.
  • Choose suitable and multi-functional appliances, prioritizing functionality and proximity.
  • Optimize counter space, use kitchen islands, and utilize vertical storage.
  • Implement strategic storage solutions and declutter for an organized kitchen.
  • Design designated spaces for specific tasks and use spice storage solutions.

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I can earn commissions. If you decide to purchase through my links, it is at no cost to you.

Understanding Efficiency Kitchens

When you hear efficiency kitchen, do you think of a small apartment or hotel?

That could be the case, but other spaces use an efficient kitchen, like those living in a camper or RV full-time.

Efficiency kitchen with white cabinets and designated space

You can technically use the word efficiency to describe a large kitchen – so efficiency doesn’t necessarily mean small. It means strategically laid out and organized with workflow and life flow in mind.

The layout of your kitchen plays a significant role in its efficiency. This could be important if you are starting with a blank space and can create your layout.

Kitchen layouts w names

Some of the most popular kitchen layouts are:

  • L-Shaped
  • U-Shaped
  • G-Shaped
  • Galley kitchen or parallel kitchen
  • Single-wall

Working with an Existing Space versus Designing in a Blank Space

But what if your kitchen doesn’t fit these popular layouts? There is no need to worry because design and usage are key. Sometimes, we can modify a layout temporarily to increase the function when needed.

Sound complicated or confusing? Don’t worry because I will share some examples of how to do this.

Choosing the right appliances, optimizing counter space, decluttering, strategic storage, and thoughtful design are your weapons of choice to combat any kitchen size. Size doesn’t always matter.

Understanding who will be Using the Kitchen

Determining who will use the space is probably the key part of the whole article. A person who never cooks versus one who cooks all the time could have very different-looking kitchens. Rental space for short-term use may offer some necessities for the tenant.

  • Is the space for renters or personal use?

  • Will the space be used full-time or occasionally?

  • Will the unit be used for short-term renters or long-term renters?

  • A single person, couple, or a family?

Who will use the area to help you guide your decisions, choices, and the overall budget?

Efficiency Kitchens in ADUs

Perhaps you came across this article because you are adding an ADU (accessory dwelling unit) to your property and need an efficiency kitchen by code. Some codes are open to interpretation and don’t list items you must have; only certain spaces or functions are required.

According to 3C-Ren, in California, those codes (as of 1/2023) require:

(A) A cooking facility with appliances.

The Work Triangle

Perhaps you have heard of the work triangle in the kitchen. This principle is when you maintain proximity between the sink/dishwasher, range top, and fridge. This arrangement, called the ‘working triangle,’ aids optimal space utilization.

Working kitchen triangle
Image Source: Compusoftgroup

No one wants to run halfway across the room to grab a pot holder when they could be located near the stove instead. Of course, the more efficient a kitchen layout, the less walking around you do and, hence, the fewer calories you burn.


Streamlined Colors and Lighting

Some basics overlooked in a small kitchen are the colors and lighting. A consistent color scheme in wall and cabinet colors can help create a streamlined space and expand the space visually.

Think gray cabinets and a similar wall color. The cohesiveness will give the illusion of less separation and, therefore, more space.

kitchenette with similar colors
These kitchen cabinets almost match the wall color. To even further utilize similar colors, the countertops could have been a light color that blended with the wall and cabinet color.

Great lighting is key because bright areas usually look larger. Adding some under-cabinet lighting can add even more light to spaces that could usually be dark. Rope lights are a great addition to the top and bottom of cabinets.

Natural Light

Try to include as much natural light as possible. It is always preferred and can feel like the walls are removed, giving the illusion of more room.

natural light in kitchen
Natural light fills the space, making it feel more open

Choosing the Right Appliances for Your Efficiency Kitchen

Choosing suitable appliances for your efficiency kitchen is your first step. Several factors should be considered when selecting appliances for a small kitchen.

Tips to Choose the Right Appliances

Here are some tips to help you make the right choices:

Assess your available space

What do you have room for? Everything or only a few things? Perhaps you don’t have space for a full range but an induction cooktop or hot plate.

Prioritize Functionality

Do you cook in the oven only two times a year? This may not be a function you want to prioritize. Perhaps a toaster oven would do.

Capitalize on Vertical Space

Certain fridges are taller and narrower to fit smaller spaces better.

Portability & Flexibility of Appliances

If you are traveling in an RV or Tiny house, do you need a hot plate that can be taken and used outside? Some refrigerators are designed to fit inside a cabinet or under a bench seat.

Multi-functional & Compact Appliances

Think toaster ovens with an air fryer or one big enough to bake in instead of having a separate oven. Certain microwaves have a convection feature to replace an oven as well.

Taking Inventory of Your Appliance Needs

Here are a few questions to ask yourself to take inventory of your needed appliances.

  • How often do you cook?

  • Do you use the stove primarily or the oven?

  • Do you mostly cook quick items on a stovetop or microwave oven?

  • How often do you bake?

  • Do you have to have a dishwasher?

  • Will a single sink versus a double sink be sufficient?

  • Do you need more freezer or fridge space?

  • Does your fridge need to fit under a seat or inside a cabinet?

Optimizing Counter Space for Better Workflow

Counter space can be considered prime real estate. Scaling down to essential items, such as small, daily-use appliances, can assist in maximizing your storage space and countertop area in a petite kitchen.

The less clutter on the countertops, the calmer you can feel – a win in a small space. Everything should have a place when it is put away.

White Wooden Cabinets in the Kitchen

Getting things off the countertop can be challenging, but consider the wall behind your counter as an extended usable area. This is the vertical countertop of your kitchen. How can you make that space function to house your items normally on the counter?

  • Perhaps a magnetic knife strip will be used to safely house your collection.

  • Some hooks for measuring cups

  • A rack to store herbs

  • Open Shelves to hold dishes or decor

  • Nice baskets to hide unsightly things
Woven Baskets on a Shelf

Temporary Countertops

Adding a folding countertop extension for an additional prep area can give you more function when you need it but tucked away when not in use.

folding countertop

A countertop insert that serves as a cutting board and fits over the sink can also provide more space when needed. You can also have a folding countertop over the cooking area.

A Versatile Kitchen Island to Maximize Efficiency

A versatile kitchen island can serve multiple purposes, especially in a small kitchen. Here are some benefits of having a kitchen island:

  • It can be shifted to a specified location or even relocated into the dining or living room to serve as a bar when hosting guests.

  • A kitchen island with narrow legs proves highly beneficial in a compact L-shaped kitchen, serving as a bar or breakfast seating.

  • If your kitchen island is on wheels, it can be conveniently moved aside when not in use, providing additional storage.

  • Utilizing a folding countertop on the island is another way to sneak in more room for an occasional culinary project.

Kitchen island to max space

Strategic Storage Solutions for Small Kitchens

Vertical storage solutions for small kitchens

Strategic storage involves intelligent utilization of every inch and corner of your kitchen. Risers, lid organizers, and spice-sorting systems are excellent solutions for optimizing storage and efficiently organizing spices in a compact kitchen.

Storage extends beyond just cabinets and drawers. Consider innovative storage ideas such as pot racks, magnetic knife strips, and open shelving above the stove to make the most of the room in a petite kitchen.

Think of your wall as a place to display your kitchen art – i.e., those beautiful pots and pans you invested in.

pots hanging

A storage bench in the eating area can also be useful for stashing away bulk items, extra dishes, a rarely used small appliance, oversized serving pieces, or kitchen linens, thus maximizing storage area.

Most RV or tiny house dining spaces will have a flip-up lid to create storage.

organized kitchen

Remember, organized storage optimizes space and enhances the joy of cooking. Drawer dividers maximize efficiency and assign specific areas to store cooking tools, utensils, cutlery, pot holders, and more.

This will ensure everything has its place and maintain organized drawers.

Storage Containers and Design

You can find plenty of storage ideas and containers for very cheap without sacrificing style. Here are some tips on buying and implementing some inexpensive storage pieces:

Measure the room available in each drawer, shelf, or wall area.

Draw out the cabinetry and the rest of the space on a few sheets of paper. Play with the design. Think through your processes.

Think about how you would ideally store things in those areas. For this, you must consider how often you will use some items. If you don’t use them daily, they can be stored in a less convenient place.

What is your cooking workflow? Wouldn’t it be great if you could stand in a small area and reach all the things you may need? A knife or spoon, mixing bowl, spices, and pot holder.

Buy storage items that will fit the space well. If you have 12 inches of space, try to use as close to that space as possible. Sometimes, we have to play Tetris with our storage baskets.

If you have adjustable shelves, use that to your advantage on possible layouts.

Label your storage containers to make it easier to find what you need.

Consider utilizing a basket for certain functions like baking. You can put all your sprinkles, cake-making items, and decorating items in one place to find them all easily.

many baskets

Selecting the Right Storage Containers

There is a huge trend to have everything in your kitchen match if it will be on display in the kitchen.

A nicely labeled, airtight, clear storage container set can create a cohesive look and cleaner look across the kitchen.

These containers can also store the items better so they spoil or spill less. When you use these containers instead of the original packaging, you can ensure the organization you created will remain.

clear storage containers

Things to store in these containers:

  • Dry Goods: Store rice, pasta, quinoa, oats, and other grains. They stay fresh and are easily accessible.

  • Baking Ingredients: Keep flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and cocoa powder handy and moisture-free.

  • Snacks: Nuts, dried fruits, popcorn kernels, and trail mix can be stored for easy snacking.

  • Cereals and Granola: Keep your breakfast cereals and granola fresh and visible.

  • Coffee and Tea: Store coffee beans, grounds, and tea bags or leaves to preserve their flavor.

  • Legumes: Beans, lentils, and chickpeas can be stored for long-term use.

  • Seeds: Chia seeds, flaxseeds, and pumpkin seeds stay fresh and are easy to sprinkle on meals.

  • Pet Food: Keep pet food or treats neatly stored and easily accessible.

  • Bread Crumbs and Croutons: Store them for longer shelf life and easy use in cooking.

  • Homemade Mixes: Store your homemade spice mixes or baking mixes for quick use.

Kitchen Containers on Shelves

Other storage container ideas could include:

  • Colored mason jars for those items that you may not want to have visible

  • Small baskets to hold similar items

  • Decorative Cookie Jars on the counter to hide things

Clear Glass Jars on Table

The Spices of Life & Keeping Them Organized

Is it possible to cook like a chef with only a few spices? For the most part! Consider the spices you actually need.

I can not tell you how often I browse the spice rack and wonder what I should do with some of my spices. Usually, nothing, and then they get old and expired.

Keep it simple, and don’t buy what you need. Throw away those old and hard like a brick spices and see what you are working with.

Then, you can organize them so they are conveniently available.

So, what is the optimal way to organize spices in a compact kitchen?

Here are some options:

  • A magnetic spice rack effectively utilizes unused areas, such as the sides of your fridge or backsplash area, for spice storage.

  • A revolving or over-the-door spice rack can be procured to conserve counter space. Have you seen the pictures of the shoe organizers that get repurposed for kitchens?

  • Spices can be stored in a shallow drawer near the stove or food prep area for convenient access.

The Art of Decluttering: Removing Unnecessary Items

Decluttered kitchen with optimized storage space

If you’ve only used something once, it might be time to let it go. And don’t forget to get rid of any broken or expired items to keep your kitchen in tip-top shape. I have decluttered a few times when moving.

Some of the things I had to part with were a quesadilla maker, two of my crockpots, a stand mixer, a second rice cooker, a second George Foreman, punch bowls, mix-matched Tupperware, pots and pans that always seemed to allow food to stick, a four-slice toaster and some other random items that I rarely ever used.

I had to ask myself why I wasn’t using these items. Here are some of my reasons:

  • I forgot I had it, honestly.

  • I was able to accomplish the task using another item.

  • It was too cumbersome to take out and set up.

  • Had multiples of the same type of item.

After decluttering, the next step is to organize the remaining items. Here are some strategies to help you get started:

  • Initiate a dedicated area for miscellaneous items. Does anyone else have a junk drawer?

  • Invest in organizing your kitchen to transform your cooking capabilities and save time when prepping meals.

  • Store a few additional trash bags at the base of the trash can for better efficiency.

  • Use wire racks to stack cups, plates, and Tupperware lids, and add an extra row of spices in kitchen cabinets.

  • Use wire racks to organize pot and pan lids in lower cabinets.

The decluttering process extends beyond physical items. Clearing your mind and contemplating the kitchen layout is equally significant.

Allocating specific areas for items will greatly contribute to organizing and enhancing the kitchen’s efficiency.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, creating an efficient kitchen is all about smart planning and thoughtful design. Size should never limit the efficiency of a space.

Efficiency kitchens encompass many elements that contribute to their functionality and appeal. Getting the layout right may take a few times, so don’t be afraid to try a few different layouts.

As you give a layout a chance, note your pain points or problem areas and what is not right. Focus on figuring that piece out and changing it.

Take inspiration from designers who have helped others improve their kitchen efficiency.

So, whether you’re designing a new kitchen or revamping an old one, remember these tips and transform your kitchen into a functional, efficient, and beautiful space where you’ll love to cook.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an efficient kitchen?

An efficiency kitchen is essentially a compact kitchen that typically contains a sink, appliances powered by no more than 120 volts of electricity or gas, countertops for food preparation, and storage cabinets.

What is the most efficient kitchen layout?

An efficient kitchen layout follows the U-Shape design, allowing for maximum storage and countertop space on three walls. This creates an efficient work triangle to easily navigate the kitchen and quickly and efficiently complete food preparation tasks.

What are some clever storage ideas for small kitchens?

Maximizing storage in a small kitchen is achievable with creative solutions such as risers, lid organizers, and spice-sorting systems. These clever ideas will help keep everything organized and easily accessible.

Why is it important to declutter the kitchen?

Decluttering the kitchen creates an organized and efficient environment, making it easier to find items, reducing stress, and increasing overall happiness.

  • Erin Hybart

    Meet Erin, a real estate enthusiast with a wealth of knowledge and an insatiable curiosity for all things Real Estate and living with intention. She passionately advocates for alternative, affordable, and eco-friendly housing solutions. She believes in pushing the industry's innovation boundaries and thinking outside the box. As a licensed real estate agent in Louisiana, Erin dedicates herself to assisting clients in buying and selling properties and mentoring fellow agents to succeed in their own Real Estate businesses. In addition to her professional pursuits, Erin channels her expertise into captivating house-flipping adventures.

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