How This Design Expert Maximizes Every Inch of Her Galley Kitchen

Resident Design Wiz, Nicole Crowder, gives us a tour of her apartment kitchen—and shares her clever space-making tricks.

July 30, 2021

Follow the Pattern is a monthly column from furniture maker and upholstery expert (and Home52's Resident Design Wiz) Nicole Crowder. Nicole is here to show us how to breathe new life into old furniture, reuse and repurpose materials, take chances with color and pattern—and develop a signature aesthetic. Today, she shares her tips for transforming a galley kitchen into one you love.

For years I wanted the kitchen to be my favorite room in my apartment. It is, after all, where research says people gather and socialize the most in your home. For me personally, it’s also the space I spend the majority of my time in—ya know, as a gal who is forever snacking or mixing a drink. It’s the space I always hope to fill with juicy colors and textile and cookbooks, so it sparks inspiration to cook delicious meals. And yet, it always ends up being the one room that causes me the most frustration.

Enter: the galley kitchen—the ubiquitous kitchen of city apartments all over the world and the only kind I’ve ever had the joy (read: pain) of navigating my entire adult life. To me, the impracticality of its layout has always felt unimaginative and restrictive—its design offering little flexibility. The central frustration for me has been around adapting to the limited counter space, not to mention the arbitrarily high cabinets that have four shelves, two of which are practically inaccessible.

With my current apartment, though, there’s been a shift in possibility. While the kitchen is still a galley, it’s an open-concept galley, meaning it opens to the dining and living room with no wall separating it. And bonus: It has a massive countertop that is both long and wide, and affords me space to prep and serve food, while also doubling as a place to house my cookbooks and plants. Even with these advantages, I’ve had to dip into my creativity and implement a few small hacks to help me maximize space. Here are some of them.

Hang ‘Em Up

In small galley kitchens, counter space is king. The number one thing that I do is try to optimize space by corralling things in drawers and hanging them on my walls. Lifting anything instantly gives the illusion of more space. If you’re short on cabinet space and counter space, a good option may be to suspend your pots and pans from a hanging wrap above your stove from where they are easily accessible

If you’re like me and love to display your cookbooks, put them on a floating shelf. This acts as a great way to put their colorful covers on display (almost like art) but it also frees up your counter space for cooking prep. Floating shelves are also a great way to display large ceramic jars, glass bowls, and serveware.

Rethink staples

Another way to free up some counter space is to eschew a large drying rack for a super absorbent towel or a roll-away rubber mat. If you have a dishwasher, that also can double as a drying rack before you put the dishes away. (And I’m going to keep it real: I use it as a cabinet for storing dishes all on its own when I don’t feel like getting on my step ladder to put them away in that ridiculously high cabinet I mentioned.)

Photo by Nicole Crowder

Open it Up

Another little trick to make a small cooking space feel open and spacious—and this may sound counterintuitive but isn’t—is to add large scale artwork and/or a mirror. Mirrors act as windows to expand a space and give it the illusion of feeling more open. I added one to my counter up against the wall, but you can also put little magnetic mirrors on your cabinets or against the backsplash.

... and add personality

Large scale prints and artwork work in much the same way as mirrors. Stack them on top of each other or use one large print to make a statement. While it won’t add more counter space it’ll certainly make the space itself feel larger.

The Trash Bin Dilemma

As common as galley kitchens are, one unfortunate downside is that the kitchen’s design often leaves very little room to accommodate extras like a trash can—even a small one. Placing a trashcan in the galley kitchen is very limiting because it can get in the way of opening cabinets when you need to access your pots or dried foods.

One solution is to place the trash can in the area underneath your sink. Another is if you can find a half-moon shaped trash can, and place it up against the bar or a flat counter side of your kitchen to prevent it from taking up too much walking space. Short of placing the trash bin in a completely different room, there unfortunately few options for obscuring a trashcan in the open.

Photo by Nicole Crowder

Create Compartments

We all have that one junk drawer in our home where we store bills and sundry items. The Container Store is one of my adult playgrounds for purchasing the bins and baskets I need to corral miscellaneous items. I love to have things be self-contained in the kitchen so that I know where they are and so I don’t have a bunch of small items littering the countertop. One way of doing this with my fruits and vegetables is using a round wooden tray so everything lives in one spot. Similarly, my keys—which always end up on the counter as I walk in the door—go in a little plate monogrammed with my initials.

With a galley kitchen, less space does not have to mean less comfort or flexibility. You can create a kitchen that works with your needs by making storage solutions and space savers a part of the design. And have fun by adding some color and personality as well!

Have ideas for maximizing a galley kitchen? Share them in the comments below.

This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by our editors and writers. Food52 earns an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.

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Nicole Crowder

Written by: Nicole Crowder

Nicole Crowder is a furniture designer and upholsterer creating custom one-of-a-kind pieces. She has a lover of mixing vibrant color and bold textile patterns. Nicole and her work have been featured in design publications, including Architectural Digest, Domino, Martha Stewart Living, and Better Home & Gardens.


virginia August 12, 2021
Love this!
TArt August 9, 2021
This is so stylish and functional! I’d love to see more from this designer!
M July 30, 2021
Design: Excellent. The personalization really makes the space.

Maximization: I have never seen emptier cabinets used in a piece about maximizing space.