Before & after: How to make the most of a small kitchen

It may have limited space but that doesn’t mean you can’t make the most of a small kitchen.

A young couple in Ottawa reached out to me last year to help them re‐design and update their less-than-ideal builder-grade kitchen. Over the years, they made some small upgrades such as replacing the sink and faucet and buying a newer, larger refrigerator, but none of these “upgrades” helped them deal with the daily challenges of using a kitchen that just didn’t work for them.

Doing these types of upgrades without addressing the real issues will rarely provide the long-term satisfaction you’re looking for. That said, everyone needs a little “win” sometimes, even if it is short‐lived.


They say the best things come in small packages, and this small package delivered big on storage, functionality and style.

Most of us aren’t fortunate enough to have the luxury of one of those big, bright, beautiful kitchens we fall in love with in design magazines, and for some of us even an addition to the house to add extra space is just not in the cards. But that doesn’t mean your compact space can’t live large — you just have to know how to make the most of a small kitchen. With the right design tweaks and a bit of blending and mixing of the right materials, it’s absolutely possible to have a beautiful and functional small kitchen.


Here’s what I had to work with and some of the issues the clients were dealing with:

  1. Not enough prep space/counter space for two cooks, who kept getting in each other’s way while trying to prepare meals.
  2. Only one bank of drawers (standard offering in new homes).

TIP: Cabinets with one large door are not very practical for base cabinets – most of the time. Use drawer cabinets as much as possible.

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Before: Two cooks in this kitchen kept getting in each other’s way.

  1. Not enough storage, particularly for food items that they like to buy in bulk.
  2. Cabinets that were too deep to access the back of each shelf – so you forget what’s in there and buy more of the same.

Before: A pantry that didn’t work well.

  1. No cabinet organization accessories, which meant everything was jumbled together.


Before: No cabinet organization.

  1. A corner cabinet that was inaccessible, rendering it completely useless (unless you’re an elf).

Before: Inaccessible corner cabinets.

  1. Trash and recycling access that collided with other appliances or cabinet doors, reducing functionality and damaging doors.
  2. The shutters at the kitchen window couldn’t open because of the upgraded faucet, which meant they couldn’t open the window either.

make the most of a small kitchen,

Before: An upgraded faucet blocks the shutters.

  1. Wasted space above cabinets.

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Before: Wasted space above the cabinets.

After several years of frustration with their kitchen layout, they were ready to consider all options to get the space right and a kitchen they could both enjoy working in together.

Of all the changes and improvements to this kitchen, one of the most helpful was addressing the two windows on the east wall. Both look onto the neighbour’s house: one looks at a wall of siding; and the other, over the sink, looks directly into the neighbour’s kitchen. They could actually have a conversation together while doing dishes, which might be great during a party but not so much first thing in the morning. Hence the heavy shutters on the window.


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Before: The breakfast nook window did not have a great view.

The window in the former breakfast area was taken out in favour of more counterspace and storage, while the sink window was moved 18 inches to allow for better cabinet access in the corner. That got the clients excited: seeing all the extra counter space, functional access to a once-lost “cave” of a corner cabinet, and a second pantry!


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While we did not expand the existing footprint of the house, we maximized what we did have to work with by adding extra functionality with interior cabinet accessories such as rollouts and magic corner shelves. We even fit in an island to make the most of a small kitchen.

New undercabinet lighting was also incorporated to add task lighting where you need it – on the countertop. And we changed the dated tile floor to new hardwood to match the flooring in the family room and truly bring these rooms together.


What they gained by knowing how to make the most of a small kitchen,

While they did lose a window, they gained much more:

  1. A better kitchen layout for two cooks.
  2. A new, functional, window over the sink.
  3. Privacy from the neighbours by moving the window over.
  4. A base corner cabinet that they can actually access – with new accessory.

make the most of a small kitchen,

A corner pullout makes the space accessible.

  1. A pullout pantry for cooking oils near the range.

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A pullout by the stove.

  1. Rollout shelves in the deep pantry by the refrigerator.

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Pantry storage.

  1. Additional drawer cabinets.
  2. An island with seating for quick bites.

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  1. Lots of storage.

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After: An inviting, functional space.

  1. And a kitchen they love!


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About the Author

Anne-Marie Brunet

Anne-Marie Brunet, CKBD, CAPS, is the owner of Sheridan Interiors Kitchens + Baths. With more than 20 years in the design industry, she has helped countless clients in Ottawa, Cornwall and northern New York transform their homes. She is certified both as a kitchen & bath designer and an aging-in-place specialist. She is also a frequent contributor to various publications and on Reach her at



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