These 14 Compact Kitchen Renovations Start With the Best Ingredients

When space is at a premium, a tastefully designed kitchen boils down to clever design solutions—like innovative storage, multifunctional surfaces, and retractable cooktops.

From converted Airstreams to accessory dwelling units, many homes simply lack room for all the bells and whistles of a so-called "dream kitchen"—oversized islands, six-burner cooktops, or dishwashers are out of the question. In spite of their size constraints, the projects below prove that those features aren’t always necessary when designing a really great space for whipping up meals or just making coffee. In fact, sometimes having to pare back is a blessing in disguise.

A Globetrotting Architect Maximizes Space in the Kitchen of Her Tiny Warsaw Flat

Warsaw-born Karolina Howorko, director and founder of the design firm Studio Hoka, is based in Amsterdam—but she spends ample time in her homeland, too. When she does, it’s at Studio H, a compact flat in Warsaw’s Old Town that she transformed to feel light and spacious. When designing the kitchen, she reflected on her experiences living in other spaces. "I didn’t like having images of food in my head while trying to work," she explained, "so, I visually cut off the kitchen from the main space with a curtain." Beside the kitchen is a sculptural block staircase, and a table pulls out for a quick breakfast or impromptu glass of wine. A refrigerator, drawers, and storage space are also cleverly tucked into the side of the staircase.

Warsaw-born Karolina Howorko, director and founder of the design firm Studio Hoka, is based in Amsterdam—but she spends ample time in her homeland, too. When she does, it’s at Studio H, a compact flat in Warsaw’s Old Town that she transformed to feel light and spacious. When designing the kitchen, she reflected on her experiences living in other spaces. "I didn’t like having images of food in my head while trying to work," she explained, "so, I visually cut off the kitchen from the main space with a curtain." Beside the kitchen is a sculptural block staircase, and a table pulls out for a quick breakfast or impromptu glass of wine. A refrigerator, drawers, and storage space are also cleverly tucked into the side of the staircase.

For years, architect Aimée O’Carroll had kept an eye on her current building in Seattle, hoping one of the units would come up for sale. After viewing several units in the building that weren’t quite right, Aimée had nearly given up when something caught her eye—a friend eventually posted a photo of his condo for sale. As luck would have it, it was the same unit Aimée’s parents had rented several years earlier. She took the plunge, and after giving the fifth-floor apartment a new coat of paint and refinishing the parquet wood floors, she set her sights on updating the kitchen. Despite it being a small space—it’s an eight-by-eight-foot galley kitchen—Aimée liked the existing flow to the main living areas and didn’t want to knock down any walls. "I’m a bit over the idea of total open-plan living," she says. "Having these little zones actually feels pretty good." Instead, Aimée selectively updated appliances, fixtures, finishes, and flooring. She also flipped the oven placement for more usable counter space.

For years, architect Aimée O’Carroll had kept an eye on her current building in Seattle, hoping one of the units would come up for sale. After viewing several units in the building that weren’t quite right, Aimée had nearly given up when something caught her eye—a friend eventually posted a photo of his condo for sale. As luck would have it, it was the same unit Aimée’s parents had rented several years earlier. She took the plunge, and after giving the fifth-floor apartment a new coat of paint and refinishing the parquet wood floors, she set her sights on updating the kitchen. Despite it being a small space—it’s an eight-by-eight-foot galley kitchen—Aimée liked the existing flow to the main living areas and didn’t want to knock down any walls. "I’m a bit over the idea of total open-plan living," she says. "Having these little zones actually feels pretty good." Instead, Aimée selectively updated appliances, fixtures, finishes, and flooring. She also flipped the oven placement for more usable counter space.

For a nine-year-old who loves pirates and science fiction, Jonah Finger thinks of his family’s apartment as make-believe come true. His parents, Michael Finger and Joanne Kennedy, completed the renovation of their 640-square-foot walk-up in Manhattan’s East Village in May of 2008. The kitchen sits along one wall of the connective passage between the living room and the rear of the apartment. Finger had initially envisioned an all-black, showroom-style kitchen, but ultimately they went with CaesarStone and a gray color scheme, which kept the kitchen from dominating. Though the area is narrow, there’s still enough room for Jonah to set up a battleground for several  brigades of army figurines near his father’s collection of lime green Le Creuset pots. Pantry goods are stored in a narrow sliding shelving unit that doubles as a screen when extended fully.

For a nine-year-old who loves pirates and science fiction, Jonah Finger thinks of his family’s apartment as make-believe come true. His parents, Michael Finger and Joanne Kennedy, completed the renovation of their 640-square-foot walk-up in Manhattan’s East Village in May of 2008. The kitchen sits along one wall of the connective passage between the living room and the rear of the apartment. Finger had initially envisioned an all-black, showroom-style kitchen, but ultimately they went with CaesarStone and a gray color scheme, which kept the kitchen from dominating. Though the area is narrow, there’s still enough room for Jonah to set up a battleground for several brigades of army figurines near his father’s collection of lime green Le Creuset pots. Pantry goods are stored in a narrow sliding shelving unit that doubles as a screen when extended fully.

When Barbara, a corporate lawyer, bought this property in Los Angeles, California, in 2017, the main house held all the glamour that you might expect from the neighborhood. That charm, however, did not extend to the attached, 280-square-foot guest suite, which had a bedroom and bathroom, and not much else to lure guests to stay. Former renters brought in a hot plate, but Barbara wanted to make it more functional and comfortable for long-term rentals. The new kitchen features a full-sized refrigerator behind the paneling, a multi-functional oven and induction cooktop, and a stainless-steel sink with integrated cutting boards. "The induction stove top was carefully chosen because it's a durable glass top and it's very efficient," says Jones. "It's also spatially efficient because you can put a cutting board on top of it, or prepare food on top of it."

When Barbara, a corporate lawyer, bought this property in Los Angeles, California, in 2017, the main house held all the glamour that you might expect from the neighborhood. That charm, however, did not extend to the attached, 280-square-foot guest suite, which had a bedroom and bathroom, and not much else to lure guests to stay. Former renters brought in a hot plate, but Barbara wanted to make it more functional and comfortable for long-term rentals. The new kitchen features a full-sized refrigerator behind the paneling, a multi-functional oven and induction cooktop, and a stainless-steel sink with integrated cutting boards. "The induction stove top was carefully chosen because it's a durable glass top and it's very efficient," says Jones. "It's also spatially efficient because you can put a cutting board on top of it, or prepare food on top of it."

In Chicago’s Lower West Side, editorial director Chelsea Jackson and and her chef husband Arthur renovated their fourth-floor condominium to include a custom Bulthaup kitchen. "We wanted to find a kitchen island that would be light enough to make the room seem large while still standing up to heavy-duty cooking," Chelsea notes. Calls to kitchen retailers were fruitless until Arthur reached the Bulthaup showroom, where the staff suggested he come check out a floor model of the discontinued System 20 kitchen. The stainless steel island, with its precise profile and gas cooktop, was exactly what the couple was after, and they bought it on the spot. A full Bulthaup kitchen—completed with components from the B3 range—would soon become the centerpiece of their new home.

In Chicago’s Lower West Side, editorial director Chelsea Jackson and and her chef husband Arthur renovated their fourth-floor condominium to include a custom Bulthaup kitchen. "We wanted to find a kitchen island that would be light enough to make the room seem large while still standing up to heavy-duty cooking," Chelsea notes. Calls to kitchen retailers were fruitless until Arthur reached the Bulthaup showroom, where the staff suggested he come check out a floor model of the discontinued System 20 kitchen. The stainless steel island, with its precise profile and gas cooktop, was exactly what the couple was after, and they bought it on the spot. A full Bulthaup kitchen—completed with components from the B3 range—would soon become the centerpiece of their new home.

Kele Dobrinski and Christina Valencia spent a long time searching for a camper with enough sleeping space for their nature-loving family of five. Eventually, they discovered this 2008 Starstream Starcraft for sale on Craigslist for $10K. The camper’s exterior was in good shape, but the interior left much to be desired. For the kitchen, Kele, who previously worked as a graphic designer, designed built-in furniture in Adobe Illustrator and then had the pieces cut from birch plywood using a CNC Router. The couple also brought in a cabinetmaker and hired an upholsterer to make cushions for the dinette.

Kele Dobrinski and Christina Valencia spent a long time searching for a camper with enough sleeping space for their nature-loving family of five. Eventually, they discovered this 2008 Starstream Starcraft for sale on Craigslist for $10K. The camper’s exterior was in good shape, but the interior left much to be desired. For the kitchen, Kele, who previously worked as a graphic designer, designed built-in furniture in Adobe Illustrator and then had the pieces cut from birch plywood using a CNC Router. The couple also brought in a cabinetmaker and hired an upholsterer to make cushions for the dinette.

Sara and Jeremy Imhoff bought their first home, a run-down 1918 bungalow, in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood in 2005. In the spring of the following year, they embarked on an extensive renovation, doing much of the work themselves. They demolished a wall that had separated the old kitchen from a small dining room, leaving behind the old doorframe "as a sculptural memory piece," Sara says. By stripping away drywall, they reclaimed some inches around the old service chimney, which they now use to vent their range hood, and created enough space to squeeze in a 24-inch Liebherr refrigerator.

Sara and Jeremy Imhoff bought their first home, a run-down 1918 bungalow, in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood in 2005. In the spring of the following year, they embarked on an extensive renovation, doing much of the work themselves. They demolished a wall that had separated the old kitchen from a small dining room, leaving behind the old doorframe "as a sculptural memory piece," Sara says. By stripping away drywall, they reclaimed some inches around the old service chimney, which they now use to vent their range hood, and created enough space to squeeze in a 24-inch Liebherr refrigerator.

The acclaimed Italian designers Ludovica and Roberto Palomba carved a serene retreat out of a 17th-century oil mill in Salento, filling it with custom creations and their greatest hits. In the kitchen, the couple artfully adapted to the existing space, combining two of their designs for the Italian cabinetry company Elmar: the EL-01 and Slim, a new system that features a multifunctional, stainless steel island that measures 20 inches deep. An existing ledge provided a home for appliances and tools.

The acclaimed Italian designers Ludovica and Roberto Palomba carved a serene retreat out of a 17th-century oil mill in Salento, filling it with custom creations and their greatest hits. In the kitchen, the couple artfully adapted to the existing space, combining two of their designs for the Italian cabinetry company Elmar: the EL-01 and Slim, a new system that features a multifunctional, stainless steel island that measures 20 inches deep. An existing ledge provided a home for appliances and tools.

Furniture designer Ash Dipert transformed three disused structures behind his parents’ Craftsman home in Bakersfield, California, into a fun and functional accessory dwelling unit. The kitchen includes a long, curved terrazzo counter and a pink-tile backsplash hiding two pull-down compartments: one for an induction cooktop, the other—with a rounded top to match the arch motif—for a knife block and cutting board, complete with an automatic light.

Furniture designer Ash Dipert transformed three disused structures behind his parents’ Craftsman home in Bakersfield, California, into a fun and functional accessory dwelling unit. The kitchen includes a long, curved terrazzo counter and a pink-tile backsplash hiding two pull-down compartments: one for an induction cooktop, the other—with a rounded top to match the arch motif—for a knife block and cutting board, complete with an automatic light.

When their house was in need of a pick-me-up, a London couple turned to the designer of their favorite coffee shop for an industrial-strength renovation. The kitchen features carefully thought-out design decisions, like the inclusion of an induction stove,  derived from Jamie’s relentless pursuit of trade secrets—a quest so thorough that local baristas started sharing hardware tips as they followed every detail of the kitchen build. A mirrored backsplash is a clever move that allows whoever is cooking to be involved in conversation with those at the dining room table. 

When their house was in need of a pick-me-up, a London couple turned to the designer of their favorite coffee shop for an industrial-strength renovation. The kitchen features carefully thought-out design decisions, like the inclusion of an induction stove, derived from Jamie’s relentless pursuit of trade secrets—a quest so thorough that local baristas started sharing hardware tips as they followed every detail of the kitchen build. A mirrored backsplash is a clever move that allows whoever is cooking to be involved in conversation with those at the dining room table. 

With clever storage and a retractable skylight, a London apartment designed by metalworker and owner Simone ten Hompel and Roger Hynam of Rogeroger Design Solutions feels larger than its 576 square feet. The team worked in a uniquely collaborative way, with Ullmayer Sylvester planning the space, Hynam creating the built-in storage and the kitchen island, and ten Hompel making models and scrawling on the wall to better envision their proposals. The kitchen island features a compact cooktop by Whirlpool and an integrated drainboard incised into the countertop for easy cleaning.

With clever storage and a retractable skylight, a London apartment designed by metalworker and owner Simone ten Hompel and Roger Hynam of Rogeroger Design Solutions feels larger than its 576 square feet. The team worked in a uniquely collaborative way, with Ullmayer Sylvester planning the space, Hynam creating the built-in storage and the kitchen island, and ten Hompel making models and scrawling on the wall to better envision their proposals. The kitchen island features a compact cooktop by Whirlpool and an integrated drainboard incised into the countertop for easy cleaning.

The founders of Perpetually Devastated Acres are committed to fixing up neglected farmland—and vintage trailers, including a 1973 Ambassador with a sunset-inspired renovation. The brand new (and entirely handmade) kitchen features a 12-inch gas cooktop, birch cabinetry, and a slew of high-end components. "We used all top-end things and then figured out the casework to go around it," says Bolden. To maximize functionality, Bolden custom built the interior structure, offering a mix of concealed storage and open shelving.

The founders of Perpetually Devastated Acres are committed to fixing up neglected farmland—and vintage trailers, including a 1973 Ambassador with a sunset-inspired renovation. The brand new (and entirely handmade) kitchen features a 12-inch gas cooktop, birch cabinetry, and a slew of high-end components. "We used all top-end things and then figured out the casework to go around it," says Bolden. To maximize functionality, Bolden custom built the interior structure, offering a mix of concealed storage and open shelving.

Reimagined by architect Lisa Breeze, this compact semidetached brick home in Melbourne was built by the client’s granduncle in the 1940s and passed down through generations. While the kitchen was updated to fit a modern lifestyle, the pastel color, gentle curves, and preserved Bakelite handles are a nod to the original era.

Reimagined by architect Lisa Breeze, this compact semidetached brick home in Melbourne was built by the client’s granduncle in the 1940s and passed down through generations. While the kitchen was updated to fit a modern lifestyle, the pastel color, gentle curves, and preserved Bakelite handles are a nod to the original era.

When Thomas Hostache and Bertrand Chapus of Hoch Studio reimagined a studio apartment in the 18th arrondissement of Montmartre, Paris, they infused it with plenty of sunlight, rich colors, and geometric forms that make the space feel fresh and chic—and much larger than its 193 square feet. In the kitchen, light wood cabinetry and black-and-white checkerboard flooring create a simple, timeless look. "It’s a classical Parisian floor," Chapus says. "And the black-and-rose gold kitchen tap gives the entire room a contemporary touch that contrasts with the classical elements." Functional elements have been pared back to a bare minimum; there’s a sink and a small amount of cabinetry where hot plates and a microwave are stored.

When Thomas Hostache and Bertrand Chapus of Hoch Studio reimagined a studio apartment in the 18th arrondissement of Montmartre, Paris, they infused it with plenty of sunlight, rich colors, and geometric forms that make the space feel fresh and chic—and much larger than its 193 square feet. In the kitchen, light wood cabinetry and black-and-white checkerboard flooring create a simple, timeless look. "It’s a classical Parisian floor," Chapus says. "And the black-and-rose gold kitchen tap gives the entire room a contemporary touch that contrasts with the classical elements." Functional elements have been pared back to a bare minimum; there’s a sink and a small amount of cabinetry where hot plates and a microwave are stored.

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