I am required to frequently visit client's homes for my design practise. During these visits, too many times have I come across kitchen layouts that simply adopt the wrong type of layout for the space that they occupy.

I often see things like impractical, oversized single line kitchens, or galley style kitchens where an island layout would work best.

Because of the wrong choice in layout, the kitchen and living spaces don’t live up to their potential.

Proper use of space means everything in a small home. This is why finding a suitable layout is a critical first step when remodeling or designing your kitchen.

Fortunately, smaller kitchens tend to almost always be more ergonomic and more practical to use than larger, oversized kitchens.

If you can find the correct layout for your space or small home, the rest of the kitchen design will flow easily.

The correct layout will make your kitchen a pleasure to use, and friends and family members will love to congregate in it.

The 5 kitchen layouts most suitable for small spaces


I have curated a list of 5 layouts that work best when dealing with various degrees of limited or small spaces. They are a great starting point to any kitchen design.

While the layouts are generalised, in some cases you can modify and even merge them depending on the conditions you are dealing with (such as the size or layout of the room the kitchen is going in).

I have ordered the list by layouts requiring the least amount of space to those requiring the most amount of space.

I also included pros and cons, which should be factored in when making a decision, and handy tips to help you make the most out of the chosen layout.

1. The single line kitchen


A linear plan is good if you have limited space and if the back wall containing the kitchen is long enough (usually at least 10ft or 3m).

Size Required: 1/5

Tips for small spaces:

  • Place the sink in the centre, with the fridge and hob at either end.
  • Use the full height of the wall to maximise overhead storage, shelving, or full-height storage.
  • Don’t stretch the layout more than 16 feet (5m) wide – otherwise, it becomes impractical.
  • If you have limited space to work with, prioritise bench space over full-height storage.
  • Closed cupboards tend to work better than open shelving with this layout, since you can cram more things in them!

Pros:

  • The most space-saving kitchen layout
  • Can be placed in passageways provided there is enough clear width (4ft or 1.2m absolute minimum)
  • Typically the most affordable layout as it is the simplest and most compact

Cons:

  • Most serious cooks find this layout frustrating, especially when it is extended over a longer area
  • Not ideal when multiple people use the kitchen simultaneously (because of shared common passageways)
  • Tend to provide the least amount of worktop space
Single Line Kitchen Basic Kitchen Layout

2. The parallel (galley) kitchen


The parallel kitchen is highly functional in small spaces when built against a dead end or window.

Size Required: 2/5

Tips for small spaces:

  • It’s usually best to place the fridge at the far end of the kitchen (as well as larger cupboards).
  • Position the sink and refrigerator on one side, with the hob on the opposite side to achieve a good working triangle.
  • The illusion of more space can be provided with mirrored splashbacks on each side of the room.
  • Try to provide a window or view at one end of the kitchen to make the space feel bigger.
  • Concentrate full-height storage on one side of the room, or line it up symmetrically at opposite ends.

Pros:

  • No corner benches means it’s more ergonomic, requiring less bending and reaching than L and U-shape kitchens
  • Compact layout but is also highly functional
  • Can be built within wide passageways to save space and also works well when placed with a window or door at one end

Cons:

  • Above-counter storage may be limited if you require more natural light in the kitchen
  • Can feel claustrophobic if there isn’t enough clear width between benches
  • Not the most accommodating or social kitchen layout for friends and family
Parallel or Galley Kitchen Layout Plan

3. The L-shaped kitchen


L-shape kitchens are always open, easily accessible, and the shorter end of the L can also function as a breakfast counter.

Size Required: 3/5

Tips for small spaces:

  • Works best with a 10x10ft (3x3m) or larger room.
  • Position the sink, fridge or hob away from the corner in the L for maximum efficiency.
  • A dining table or portable kitchen island/butcher’s block can be added to increase bench space.
  • Try to group larger storage units and the fridge on one side of the L, so that you have space for a window above the sink area.
  • The L doesn’t need to be symmetrical, it can be stretched to fit the space you are working with!

Pros:

  • They generally have a more compact design than U-shaped layouts
  • Create engaging social spaces for visitors because of their openness and combines well with living areas
  • They allow ample room for small dining tables without interfering with the work triangle

Cons:

  • Using full-height cupboards can severely impact workable bench space in these kitchens
  • May be difficult to establish an efficient work triangle as these layouts can easily become too spread out
  • An island is almost always needed to create enough worktop space, which carries an additional cost and may not suit your cooking style
L shape kitchen basic plan layout

4. The U-shaped kitchen


U-shaped kitchens take up more space, but it is easy to establish a good working triangle.

Space Required: 4/5

Tips for small spaces:

  • Works best with the workstations on each of the 3 sides of the kitchen, with the sink usually in the middle.
  • Try not to place appliances (such as the oven) near the open end of the U, because it can block entry into the kitchen when they’re in use.
  • If possible, use one side of the U as a wider, open breakfast bar with stools. This also makes the kitchen more interactive.
  • Having a window in the middle of the U shape makes the kitchen feel lighter and brighter.
  • If the there is enough space, you can place a moveable or fixed island in the middle of the kitchen for even more bench space. Make sure there is at least 4 feet (1.2m) either side of the island.

Pros:

  • Has the advantage for each of the three zones to have its own work surface area for increased practicality
  • Open end of the layout can allow for a convenient dining table location
  • Can be easily placed adjacent to living areas to create a connection while also having a degree of privacy

Cons:

  • Smaller U-shapes can be frustrating to use for more than one person at a time, and the only point of access can become easily congested
  • Cabinets and storage can be hard to access because of the two corners
  • Only one access point into the kitchen can cause a choke point
U shaped kitchen layout plan

5. The island kitchen


The island kitchen layout can easily become one of the best social hubs in a home by allowing the cook to entertain guests while preparing food.

Space Required: 5/5

Tips for small spaces:

  • Depending on your preference, you can place either the sink or the hob on the island, or even just leave this as a bare countertop.
  • The island doesn’t necessarily need to be much wider than a standard bench. Often 2.4 feet wide (750mm) is wide enough if space is tight.
  • Pendant lights above the island can look great and draw your eye up, creating a sense of spaciousness.
  • Try to make the bench against the wall symmetrical, by putting your pantry at one end and the fridge at the other.
  • Placing windows at either end of the kitchen can greatly improve airflow and light quality.

Pros:

  • Naturally social kitchens that are the best layout for open-plan living rooms
  • Easy access in and out of the kitchen from other areas in the room
  • Creates plenty of storage opportunities and allows the kitchen island to be designed to suit your requirements (eg. meal preparation, entertaining, or cooking)

Cons:

  • Placing the hob on the island requires expensive freestanding extractor hoods
  • Your kitchen is always on display, creating more pressure to keep it clean at all times
  • Needs a large island bench to work successfully, and requires more room than the other layouts
An island kitchen layout plan

A final word on kitchen layouts


If you’re working with an existing house or an apartment with a confined availability of space, a single-line or parallel kitchen layout tends to work best.

On the other hand, if you have a bit more room to play with, an L-shape, U-shape or island kitchen layout is usually your best bet.

When I’m designing a kitchen for a client, I almost always use an island kitchen layout, even for small house designs.

I often recommend this layout to clients because I find that they provide the best connection to the rest of the house. They often look the best, avoid corner cabinets (a pet peeve of mine), and they provide the best social environments. The obvious downside is that they tend to take up the most amount of space, but this trade-off is worth it given how much time most people spend in their kitchens.

Having said this, I often find that L and U-shape layouts work well with existing houses, and single-line or parallel kitchens to work well within apartments.

Consult a professional to help you


If you’re struggling to find a layout that works for your home, do not be afraid to engage a designer earlier on in the process. They may help you to avoid the pitfalls I previously mentioned.

They can also give you advice on which layouts will help you make the most of your space, your priorities and, most importantly, your budget!

Kitchen layouts are only the starting point


Although this is one of the most important steps in the design of a kitchen, it is only the first step!

Very soon I’ll be posting a tutorial to help guide you through the kitchen design process.