Home Renovation

A Custom Kitchen Redesign That's Making Us Rethink Our Cabinetry

February 11, 2016

All too often these days, kitchen renovations seem to favor a wide open approach: massive "islands" that offer precious extra counter space; main storage that's relegated to dusty open shelves above the sink; and color schemes that are so dependent on white paint that you don't feel comfortable drinking red wine (or cooking!).

Refreshing, no?

But when we talk about smarter kitchen design, especially in spaces that aren't very large, what we want is clever, bespoke solutions. We want a room that makes sense for our lives, not false impressions of more space, not endless countertop corners that fill easily with clutter, not pallor when we want brightness.

The following three cabinetry solutions were actually designed by the homeowners—a couple who makes up local design firm Studio Miller Atre. Their leg up? They were matched with a general contractor through a start up called Sweeten, which pairs homeowners planning their renovations with professionals who can help. The result is a kitchen that's realistic for the family who lives with it, but also rife with innovative small space solutions we'd all do well to keep in mind.

1. Open up the wall above the counter.

Small but efficient—and not cramped at all.

In this small kitchen that's really just a nook off the living room (hello, Brooklyn-dwellers), one family got rid of overhead cabinetry altogether. They left the upper half of the main wall storage-free—no open shelves, no hulking closed cabinets—and opted for only a single shallow display shelf that's really a top lip of the backsplash: It's too narrow to hold more than small personal objects, which keeps sight lines clear across the room, and prevents any distracting stacks of dishes from upstaging the awesome decorative stone.

Shop the Story

The lower line of cabinets are custom woodwork, which conceals hardware (like any other cabinets), but also acts as a piece of furniture.

2. Reclaim adjacent square-footage for floor-to-ceiling storage.

Having skipped the usual arrangement of cabinets stacked on either side of the counter, this family instead dedicated a full adjacent wall to very subtle, but expansive, storage that can be used to house appliances and even pantry space. The square doors and minimalist pulls manage to make a generous storage wall feel understated and even austere; it actually appears to open up—rather than cramp—the kitchen's workspace.

Opting for custom millwork, a design made to fit their favorite appliances easily and exactly, is money well spent when space is tight—and it's a design that keeps on giving, right down to a sleek pull-out prep station.

Extra counter space with no chance of getting cluttered.

The obvious alternative would have been to forgo these custom cabinets in favor of another few feet of counter space along the main wall (a tempting proposal when your kitchen's footprint is that tiny) but by instead dedicating that square-footage to a storage wall, the entire room is actually opened up—and a cramped walk-in pantry is avoided.

3. Break off a section of cabinetry to conceal appliances.

You might have noticed by now that the fridge is nowhere to be found! True, they could have opted for an undercounter refrigerator that would be housed by the stove (a recently common fix for sidestepping a space-hogging full-sized refrigerator), but it would have been a tight squeeze, not to mention very appliance-heavy visually.

Enter: the third major element in their storage solutions.

The fridge and freezer, right next to a slender extra pantry. Photo by Sweeten

Between the kitchen and the living room, the family had an integrated column unit designed to conceal a fridge and add even more pantry space. Custom panels that match the other storage wall keep the fridge from interrupting the overall design.

For more on this original design by Kumar Atre and Casey Leigh Miller Atre, of Studio Miller Atre, check out the full apartment renovation on the Sweeten blog.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Stacy Isabel
    Stacy Isabel
  • Casey
  • LeBec Fin
    LeBec Fin
  • horseradish
  • Mrs Beryl Patmore
    Mrs Beryl Patmore
Amanda Sims

Written by: Amanda Sims

Professional trespasser.


Stacy I. January 16, 2018
where is the range hood? how on earth are they venting the cooking grease/smoke/smells?
Casey April 13, 2016
The cabinet to the left of the range is the dw, so a below counter fridge would not fit there. Le Bec Fin, the antique table is less than 4' from the fridge, so it's very easy to use that as the counter. We were thinking practically in that the kitchen and dining/ living room space are always in eye shot of the kitchen area, so we wanted it to be functional but also presentable. I didn't want light from the window to be blocked by cabinets. What it does feel like we gave up, but I'm glad we did, was counter space where the full height cabinets are. That was a harder decision than deciding against upper cabinets. Mr Beryl, the images above the range and counter haven't suffered any damage so far, but time will tell. They're inexpensive frames and prints of my own artwork, so easily replaceable.
Thanks for the comments!
LeBec F. February 12, 2016
i can't recommend a frig that has no adjacent counter. crazy. And when I see the choices made in this kitchen, I see Aesthetic ruling all, not practicality (i.e. storage and display space are scarce in this tiny kitchen, yet they choose to leave the entire wall above the counter- for 3 pictures?) For me, Practicality must have equal standing on a team with Aesthetic Appeal.
horseradish February 11, 2016
What are the counters/backsplash - soapstone?
Mrs B. February 11, 2016
It's nice to see someone finally taking a stand against open shelving (a bad idea and a bad look, if you ask me), although those framed pieces right above the stove make no sense whatsoever, unless (i) your housekeeper comes every day and remembers to wipe them off and (ii) you don't mind damaging both the frame and whatever is in the frame with the heat. I find that "big credenza" look of the wood "furniture" under the counters to be quite heavy and oddly out of place with the light approach to the rest of the space. I'd have gone for lighter wood and more vertical lines, to bring the eye upward.
Otherwise, nicely done.
Samantha W. February 11, 2016
That slender extra pantry is genius!