My first apartment in San Francisco was a well-lit 1920s studio on California Street that had a kitchen with capacity for roughly three-fourths of one person at a time. The storage space was virtually nonexistent: I had a single, tiny wall of cabinets abutting the stove (rendering one section of shelf inaccessible), and just one cabinet next to the kitchen sink.
But a decade later, comprising a stint at Williams-Sonoma HQ, a wedding, and two increasingly larger apartments, I’d officially amassed enough kitchen gear to stock a boutique.
When my husband and I downsized to a smaller place in Los Angeles last September, we became reacquainted with the problem of space. Our previous apartment had featured an open kitchen, generous countertops, and three walls of cabinets. The new one is fully functional, but can be swept clean with three strokes of a broom. I got rid of a lot before the move to Southern California, but even my “must-haves” proved to be a tight fit for our cozy new kitchen.
Here are some of the handy tips I’ve learned to optimize our kitchen space, no matter what size.
Kitchen wall space can be used for hanging rails with hooks for utensils, additional shelving, or a magnetic knife strip, which can help free up drawer and counter space. If you have high ceilings, consider installing a pot rack—this makes cookware easy to access and creates an impressive looking display.
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While packing for the move, I discovered that I owned some very specialized items. During my pie-making phase, I’d purchased a cherry pitter and apple corer. Since I can pit cherries and core apples with a knife, these kinds of items had to go. The lesson learned? Sort through your gadgets and make sure any single-task items you keep are truly necessary. (Looking at you, Hario V60.)
Stacking bins and shelf risers can help optimize available space within cabinets. There's also a surprising amount of usable real estate inside all of your cabinet doors: Consider mounting vertical racks to store everything from pot lids to cleaning supplies.
The front and sides of your refrigerator are a perfect spot to store items that you might reach for often, like kitchen timers, measuring spoons, bottle openers, and wine keys. This magnetic rack is designed to store spices, and this one sticks to the fridge to hold paper towels, a dishcloth, oven mitts, and other odds and ends.
A kitchen cart on wheels with a butcher block top can act as a cutting board while you cook, and the shelves underneath can provide additional storage for small appliances. Use it to store dry pantry items in acrylic canisters, or any items that don’t fit in your existing cabinets and drawers.
Do you actually need a juicer or stand mixer? How many times a week do you actually use your microwave? If you do use them, make sure they’re the right size for you and take up the least amount of space possible. For items that only get occasional use, store them out of sight, or consider selling or donating them.
If you don’t use your blender or food processor often, stow them away under a cabinet or atop your refrigerator. Lesser-used specialty cookware and kitchen utensils should go in lower cabinets and shelves, leaving the top drawers and counters for things you reach for every day.
Invest in items like nesting bowls and cookware sets, designed to maximize storage space. For dry goods, a matching set of stackable storage containers will ensure you get the most out of every square inch, instead of playing Tetris with an assortment of odd-sized bags and boxes in your pantry.
Tops of cabinets can provide more storage for lesser-used items, like large serving platters and baking pans (just make sure to wipe them down regularly). We use the top of our refrigerator to house cutting boards when they aren’t in use!
If a kitchen cart is not an option, the space where your sink sits can also act as more counter space with the right addition—try an over-the-sink drying rack or cutting board.
One of the best things we ever did for our small kitchen was to look to adjoining spaces for more storage. We have a dining area next to the kitchen that we set up with two matching bookshelves with drawers on the bottom which now house kitchen linens, tea, and serving trivets. Part of our laundry room also serves as an extension of our pantry, holding extra canned goods, pasta, and other shelf-stable goods.
It’s really easy to make a mess in a small kitchen, so it’s important to constantly edit. Every few months, do an inventory of your kitchenware and get rid of anything you find to be unnecessary.
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