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Small Kitchen Cabinets Ultimate Guide

Small Kitchen Cabinets Ultimate Guide

In our last blog post, we took a quick look at ideas for small kitchens. We thought this topic deserved another, more in-depth discussion. A recent article from CNBC reported that the average apartment size is 5% smaller than a decade ago. For studio apartments, where space is already at a premium, this number is closer to 10%. As smaller living spaces seem to be on the rise, we thought it would be helpful to provide a detailed guide with useful resources for those with a small kitchen. To that end, we will begin this guide by discussing some broader topics, such as budget and layout, before moving to specifics like material choice, appliances, and lighting.

The first topic we will be covering is budget planning. Like most financial matters, planning an accurate budget, and sticking to it, can be a difficult task. So, let's take a closer look at what going into planning the budget for a small kitchen project.

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Making a Budget for Your Small Kitchen Cabinets

Even with a small space, there are a lot of components that go into a remodeling or updating project. From cabinetry to appliances, having an accurate budget that covers all of your needs feels like a task of herculean effort. Here at CabinetNow, we put together a template to help you plan effectively. Download our Kitchen Remodel Template here.

The above infographic draws on an article published early this year by HGTV. As you can see, their findings show that the final cost of a kitchen remodel depends on the specifics of the project. If you are looking to keep your small kitchen project as budget-friendly as possible, then you should carefully plan out exactly how much you will spend on each item that you plan to replace. As you are considering how your project will look, don’t forget that a kitchen remodel is one of the best ways to increase your return on investment for the home. 

Published in May of 2020, financial guru Dave Ramsey outlines how remodeling your kitchen can increase the value of your home. For homeowners, this can be a motivating factor in investing in items such as solid wood cabinetry, which can last longer and hold up better than some other material options. It is no secret that a kitchen can sell the home, so keep this in mind if you are planning to sell soon. 

Notes on the Remodel Template

Before we move on, let’s take a quick look at CabinetNow’s remodeling template mentioned earlier. For clarity and convenience, the template is broken down into sections. The sections are scaffolded together so that each one builds into the next. In the opening section, you set the parameters for the project.

The first aspect to consider is how much time are you planning for this project to take. Delays in your project timeline can take many forms, some of which are unavoidable, such as inclement weather or illness. That is why we recommend considering an upper limit on how much time you could realistically spend on this project if things were to be delayed. Also take into consideration the time of year you plan to execute your project, as this can affect the availability and costs of materials and labor.

Next, how much do you plan to spend on materials? This includes things from cabinetry to hardware and appliances. Again, it is important to be realistic about how much you plan to spend while keeping in mind how much you can afford to spend. Much like with delays, it is important to have a “just in case” plan.

If you are a DIYer, then you can skip the labor costs, unless you want to include the cost of the coffee you will need to see it through. Labor costs can quickly add up, especially if you experience delays or other issues.

Once you have a budget and timeline nailed down, you can begin to fill out the rest of the form. Each section relates to a cabinetry component that you might want to replace during the project. When working in small kitchens, sizes often are not standard and need to be custom dimensions to achieve the desired look. Since you have already worked out a budget, you will have a good idea of what wood types, or other material options, are affordable for your small kitchen project.

Small Kitchen Layouts

After completing the template, you will have a good idea of how much you will be spending and what you are getting. Now it is time to figure out how your new items, particularly your cabinetry, will go into your small kitchen.

For small kitchens, choosing the right floor plan can make or break their usability. If you are not replacing the cabinet boxes and are looking to do a more modest remodel, then you will be limited by the existing space. However, if you are undertaking a larger project, then you can reconfigure your cabinets and appliances to maximize your space. Below, we will take a look at three common small kitchen layouts. The custom floorplans below were made by the sales team at CabinetNow, who can help you create the perfect layout for your small kitchen.

The Galley Small Kitchen Cabinets

Our first diagram is of a galley, or single wall, kitchen. Often found in studio apartments and other small living spaces, the galley kitchen can be difficult to work with, especially if you have a lot of kitchenware. Here, the appliances blend into the cabinetry, which mixes drawers and cabinets for maximum storage. With custom sizing available, we were able to place two slender, tall cabinets between the oven and the sink. This not only offers storage for spices or baking trays but also extends the countertop so that there is no dead space.

Thinking Creative Storage

Regardless of the layout of your kitchen, always be thinking about vertical storage. For small kitchens, this will help you increase storage without taking up valuable floor space. For this kitchen, the far-right upper cabinets could be reduced in size, so that hooks could be mounted underneath. This would be a great space to hang pots and pans, and, in this kitchen, would be conveniently located above the dishwasher. If you have space, you could also consider a small island. Often, these can be found with wheels, so that they can be used as a movable work surface as well as storage.

The “L” Small Kitchen Cabinets

Pictured here is the longer portion of the “L” shaped kitchen. Often found in shotgun-style homes, an “L” shaped kitchen isn’t as wide as other floor plans. This could mean that you only have space to have cabinetry along one side. Incorporating the appliances, as above, creates an unbroken work surface that can help with storage in a small kitchen. For this kitchen, our sales team chose glass-front doors for the upper cabinets, which will give the space more a sense of more depth.

Thinking Creative Storage

Just like with the galley kitchen, under-cabinet hangers can be effective. However, if you plan to keep small appliances on the countertop, such as mixers or coffee pots, then this may create a cluttered, claustrophobic feel to the room. Again, a movable island is an excellent choice to add storage and a work surface. With an “L” shaped kitchen, you will have a bit more space than a galley style, so you could even opt for a larger island.

The “U” Small Kitchen Cabinets

The “U” shaped small kitchen offers the most wall space for cabinets of the three common floor plans we have talked about in this guide. Having the space to add cabinets that wrap around all three walls, broken up by appliances, can eliminate your storage woes.

With wrap-around upper and lower cabinets, it will best to keep your countertops clean and cleared, so as to not create an overwhelming, cluttered mess. This should not be an issue if you have cabinet space similar to our model. Additionally, our model features subtle flat panel doors, which create clean lines throughout the space. Avoiding overly ornate designs keeps this small kitchen from feeling smaller than it actually is.

While a “U” shaped kitchen can offer lots of cabinet storage, it is not particularly conducive to a movable island. However, if you have space against the wall just outside the kitchen, the moveable island can be a great addition. Outside the kitchen, your island could function as a bar cart or a catch-all. When cleared off, it could be rolled into the doorway to provide an additional work surface.

Thinking Creative Storage

As with the other two layouts, vertical storage is not just a must, but it is likely one of your only options. Shelves, ceiling-mounted hangers, and tall pantries are staples for vertical storage, and with custom sizing, can be made to work in any space.

If you are looking for ideas for how to set up your small kitchen space, Architecture Digest has two wonderful posts chock-full of ideas: 11 Tiny Kitchen Ideas and 51 design concepts.

Colors and Materials for Your Small Kitchen

The National Kitchen and Bathroom Association (NKBA) released a study in 2016 that found the average new single-family home has a kitchen of around 160 square feet. As we saw above, this is a trend shared with newly built apartments. In this section, we will cover some ways to make your space feel more open, without doing a complete remodel.

Material Choice

If your cabinet boxes are in good shape, or if replacing them is not an option, then refacing them can be a great way to not only freshen up your space but also can make a small kitchen feel more open. When refacing your kitchen, you will need to select a material, such as wood types, for the new cabinet doors and drawer fronts. As you explore options, don’t forget to keep your budget template handy, so that you know what is within your price range.

Wood Cabinet Doors and Drawer Fronts

Solid wood cabinet doors and drawer fronts can be an excellent investment, and they will likely increase your ROI. For a small kitchen, avoid darker colored woods, as this will make your already small space smaller. If you plan to paint your cabinet doors, MDF, or medium-density fiberboard, can be a strong, budget-friendly option. The best part is, once it is painted, you won’t really be able to tell the difference.

Thermofoil Cabinet Doors and Drawer Fronts

Aside from wood options, at CabinetNow we also offer thermofoil cabinet doors and drawer fronts. Thermofoil is a vinyl laminate that is heated and pressurized onto an MDF core. Our thermofoil cabinets come in a wide variety of colors and textures, so finding something you like won’t be too hard. The downside, however, is that thermofoil cabinets do not last as long as solid wood, nor do they have the same impact on your ROI.

Color Choices

Whether they are new doors or doors you already have, a fresh coat of paint can go a long way. It can be a great way to update your kitchen to a more modern look, and it can even make your small kitchen feel bigger. The best way to achieve the latter effect is to choose bright colors for your cabinets like whites, yellows, or reds. Brighter colors will help reflect light throughout your space, which will give it the effect of feeling larger.

Go For a Trendy Two-Toned Paint Job

If you are interested in adding space and creating a trendy, modern look, then a two-tone paint job is for you. You can accomplish this by painting your lower cabinets a darker color than the upper cabinets. This will help add depth to your small kitchen, and it looks stunning.

As you get ready to paint your cabinets, be sure to check out our guide on preparing your cabinets for painting. If it is your first time painting cabinets, you may also benefit from Good Housekeeping’s guide on 13 mistakes to avoid as you work.

Make the Most of Your Small Kitchen

If remodeling and refacing are out of your comfort level, there are other ways to improve the functionality of your small kitchen. We will look at 3 areas where you can make upgrades to maximize your space:

1. Lighting

Without proper lighting, your small kitchen will feel even smaller. If you have lots of natural light, this might not be a concern for you. However, if your kitchen lacks windows and you aren’t able to install them, then you will need to explore lighting options. Under-cabinet lights can be a budget-friendly option that will not only improve visibility, but it will also make your small kitchen feel bigger. This effect could also be achieved with properly placed lamps.

2. Appliances

When space is at a premium, you have to carefully choose not only your cabinets and layout but also your appliances. While in the past this was more difficult, today many companies are producing compact appliances that don’t sacrifice performance. When browsing, take note not only of the dimensions of the product, but also its possible uses. Many appliances today are not made to serve just one purpose, but rather can be used for a variety of tasks, such as an air fryer that is also a dehydrator, toaster, and proofing oven. Check out this recent Forbes article on compact appliances and the companies making them!

3. Odds and Ends

Beyond lighting and appliances, there are other products that can help make life easy in a small kitchen. Things like hanging fruit baskets, stackable plate and bowl sets, and collapsable work surfaces can provide you with the storage you need, without making the space too cramped to move. Check out this great Buzzfeed article on 27 products that work perfectly for small kitchens.

Final Thoughts on Small Kitchens

Despite being small in size, there are many factors that go into creating a small kitchen that is both functional and comfortable. However, if you start your project with careful planning and thorough research, then you will no doubt be able to create the small kitchen of your dreams. Don’t forget that every chef has their own style, so don’t be afraid to mix and match to find a combination that works best for you. If you are having trouble or would like some help with planning, please feel free to give us a call at 1-855-669-5222 or an email to We look forward to working with you!

Don’t forget to download our Kitchen Remodel Template!