We couldn’t live with our hotch-potch, partly-removed 1960s kitchen anymore. I loved the colour, the look and our industrial worktop with integrated sink, but the layout and cupboard spaces were driving me crazy. Taking out or putting away plates and cups became the task of us taller ones …the kids regressed in their dishwasher emptying duties. We needed a new small, but highly functional family kitchen!
Read about the Small Family Apartment renovations thus far
Our small kitchen design went through at least 15 iterations and some changes, thanks to IKEA kitchens’ flexibility and their returns policy, were made during the installation process. (Not something I would recommend!)
The kitchen design process
So how exactly did we go about the design process?
For me it started with the learnings I’ve gathered from designing 2 previous kitchens in relatively challenging spaces- a small kitchen in our mid-terrace Victorian house with 4 doors leading off it and a window; and our family home’s long, narrow, window-less galley kitchen leading to a fabulous family room.
Having lived with a 2 different kitchens as renter too – a small, but very functional kitchen and a large old-style kitchen- helped hone our requirements.
Sources of inspiration
Further to our own experience, our sources of inspiration were mainly Pinterest and Instagram.
We turned to Pinterest for the practical ideas like drawer inserts, appliance garages and quirky details
There is one particular Instagram, which really inspired our kitchen –
Getting design help
Couple of months ago we booked time with a kitchen designer, Julia, in our local IKEA. We took along some inspirational images, room dimensions and we set to work. I was a little apprehensive, as 9 years ago this process with a Howden designer was rather stressful, with him pushing his ideas on me, not listening to my requirements, or telling me what was not possible, instead of working around their cabinets to make my ideas possible. He told me how impractical my ideas were- particularly the tall, shallow larder cupboards in my plan. Afterwards, we went to IKEA at that time and made everything as we had planned, proving him wrong, and making a wonderful family kitchen. Everyone always LOVES my larder cupboards.
It was really refreshing working with Julia: she listened and looked at practical ways of incorporating our ideas. This was a 3-way conversation between Dadonthebrink, me and Julia, really shaping our ideas and evolving them to a practical implementable solution.
At the end of our session with Julia, she printed out the kitchen design we’d come up with and transferred the designs to an account I could login to from home and tweak. We were really happy with the design and the thought process that had gone into it. We were pleasantly surprised by the price coming out 30-50% cheaper than we had expected, even with some top appliances specced in.
Our family kitchen design criteria
From the previous kitchens I’ve lived with I had strong views on the design principles to make this small kitchen have lots of practical space and not just bottomless storage which is difficult to overview. The kitchen needed to be child-friendly to encourage the kids to use it and help in it, so the key principles were.
1) Lots of drawers
Drawers make life easy! Thanks to the advancement of technology and engineering drawers can take a fair bit of weight and open up fully, allowing you to see the full contents of them. Our previous kitchen had shown us how practical low level drawers were for storing crockery and pots and pans.
2) Few deep cupboards with shelves
It was a coincidence of room layout restrictions that helped me learn that shallow cupboards allowed you to be more tidy and efficient with kitchen storage. I saw my friends have to rummage to the back of their deep (60 cm) cupboards to get to things.
If it’s deep, it needs to have a draw to pull out fully.
For drawers above eye level we’ve chosen wire basket drawers, so you can see what’s in them, even from below.
3) No corner units
Corner units are even worse than deep cupboards! Unless you are a minimalist and can stored everything on your rotating lazy susan very neatly, you may find yourself crawling in or have use your broom to fish out things from the far corner of the kitchen unit.
4) An induction hob
Induction hobs are efficient, as responsive as gas and do not stay hot much after they’ve been turned off- rather child-friendly! Most have timers to turn them off after a set time, saving many burned meals or overcooked rice or pasta. For us there was not question really about the sort of hob we wanted in our new kitchen- easy to clean and quick, switched off with a timer… induction.
5) An oven at eye level
Call me lazy, but bending down to check how the cookies or the roast is doing is just old-fashioned. Life is so much simpler with an oven higher up, both for cooking and for cleaning.
This bit is not the most child-friendly, though some say that it stops little ones from burning little hands. True, for old style ovens, but ours is triple glazed and just warm even with it on a 500C pyrolytic clean. To make it a little more child baking friendly, we’ve opted for an oven with easy glide out shelves.
6) Simple spacious and bright look
We like an uncluttered look and this suits our small apartment too. We chose a lovely warm grey for our units fronts, complemented with some white units on top. We choose a matt finish instead of a gloss, so it’s more timeless and shows mucky fingerprints just that little bit less.
Our base units under the counter top are a light grey. I’ve had white units in most of our previous kitchen and I love it. Except for showing up every little spec and drip. The grey is slightly more forgiving.
A huge part of the getting that bright, spacious feeling is getting the lighting right. We’ve chosen to layer lighting to include general lighting, task lighting and mood lighting. The kitchen itself has 3 sources of light and the whole room–23 square meters of kitchen, dining and living area- has an additional 4 light sources.
In the kitchen area of our room we have overhead spotlights with under-cabinet lighting. To add interest to the space and carry bit of the grey base unit to the wall units we’ve choosen frosted glass doors for a couple of the wall units. These have spotlights added to create a diffused light and play with the shadows of the items inside- glasses and bottles and storage jars.
The dining area has a low hanging light over the table to give the table a gentle light.
The living room has a simple ceiling light and a standing lamp, the windows have hanging lights (a Swedish design thing) in them.
7) Go for practical layout and finishes
Trendy new looks are all good, but, especially, with kids you need to consider the practicalities of your colour and material choices.
A practical worktop
A worktop can be a real mind- and budget blower. Sparkles anyone? What shade of grey?
A simple laminate worktop is the cheapest and one that can be installed by any competent DIYer. Sadly, IKEA only does these in 1800mm lengths, all others need to be ordered and had a longer delivery time than we wanted.
Our local DIY stores only stocked laminate worktops that were 610 mm wide. I wanted at least 25mm overhang, so if liquids dripped from the worktop, they’d be less likely to run down the fronts and into the drawers.
This left us with the option of a solid wood worktops (which weren’t as expensive as we thought they’d be) or waiting for 3-4 weeks for a custom length worktop.
We went with the solid wood worktop, which we needed to treat and oil ourselves. It’s not an ideal solution as its not a maintenance free work surface; standing water quickly leaves marks. Not ideal with kids that’s for sure!
However, sanding and re-oiling isn’t as complicated as I’d initially thought, just a bit fiddly.
In an ideal world, I’d have a composite worktop with a slight upraised lip on the front edge to stop drips, and an integrated sink and drainer.
8) Dare to evolve the family kitchen design
From that initial meeting with the IKEA design consultant we changed some things along the planning and installation process. I think this will be different for everyone, but I’ve learnt that it’s ok to have a wobble about a decision and it’s better to change it immediately than think you’ll get used to it. It can be a costly mistake (both ways actually.)
Our changes included:
Initially, all our tall cupboards along one wall were going to be grey. Living with the space – we changed these to white for bouncing as much light around as possible.
Simplifying the design
The bottom units went through quite a few iterations, as we decided on drawer fronts- 2 or 3- or doors and whether to have hidden drawers inside other drawers. Things look different in real life, however good the visualisation is in the design software and we simplified as we tweaked that initial design.
Design for what you NEED
On that first drawing, I made notes of what goes where in each of the cupboards. Envisaging what was to be stored where helped develop our thinking on the layout of doors and drawers. It also helped us think through the actions of cooking and cleaning in the kitchen, how the work triangle will actually work in our space.
There may be unexpected surprises & services
Once we ripped out the old kitchen we also realised the water and drains were in the way for where we had planned to place the dishwasher. Things needed to be swapped around a little, and with that my desire for symmetry sort of when out the window.
Similarly, we have ventilation junction protruding into the kitchen from the top. Initially, I was insistent on cutting out the cupboards and hiding the pipes inside cupboards. Then I realised, I’d have so little space in front of the piping for storage, that it’s best to buy smaller cupboards (800mm high instead of 1000mm high) and leave the cupboards in tact, hiding the vent pipes with panel above.
Eliminating the corner– how to do it?
One way to NOT have corner units in a kitchen is to totally eliminate the corner in the kitchen itself. In our current kitchen we’ve taken the corner out of the kitchen and added a cupboard that protrudes with it’ back into the kitchen from the other room. That other room uses this space.
This will be our laundry cupboard, eventually housing our washing machine, detergents, ironing things and dirty clothes.
Choosing kitchen appliances is like going down a rabbit warren: so many features and choices, it’s very easy to get lost. We simplified our choices, by sticking to the integrated appliances that IKEA supply. We took this route because of our experience:
- Value for money: IKEA negotiate great deals with their suppliers, so the value for money is usually excellent for the features in appliances. They work with well-know, big brands- Bosch, Whirlpool and Electrolux to manufacture their appliances
- Warranty: IKEA appliances (except for the base models of all their appliances) have 5 years warranty compared to the usual 2 year warranty offered by other retailers. And it really is honoured: our 4 year 9 month old dishwasher was feeling a little ill when we called the helpline. They sent an engineer within a week, who fixed it and made it better than new almost. It’s still going strong 3 years on.
- Limited choice: IKEA have already chosen great options for each price bracket, so we didn’t have to spend ages comparing features and prices.
We chose 3 integrated appliances an IKEA induction hob, a pyrolytic steam oven and a top-range dishwasher.
Partly for environmental, partly for budget reasons , we decided to keep our old fridge, freezer, since it still has some life left in it. As an added bonus, I would love to paint our fridge with a chalkboard paint and make it a huge magnetic chalkbaord… A family kitchen essential, I would say!
The extractor fan we have to source from elsewhere because it needs to be an extra quiet extractor fan, which also integrates with the whole house ventilation in our apartment.
That’s our small, but very family-friendly kitchen ….so far.
Still needed are something for the walls and the floor… that’s the next project.
BTW this post is in no way associated or sponsored by IKEA!
Any hints and tips for others creating a family kitchen in a small space?
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