Is it time to rethink the size of your kitchen? Top interior designers debate the rise of the micro kitchen

Is it time to rethink the size of your kitchen? Top interior designers debate the rise of the micro kitchen
Is it time to rethink the size of your kitchen? Top interior designers debate the rise of the micro kitchen

Is it time to rethink the size of your kitchen? Studio Peake

‘We call it the Jamie Oliver phenomenon,’ says Maria Speake, founder of interiors and reclamation firm Retrouvius, describing the big, open-plan shrines to cookery that have been the default dream of many homeowners in recent decades.

‘It’s all about the chef on show, behind a big island, handing out little bites of deliciousness.’ But Speake has been noticing a shift away from this type of performative space. ‘Smaller kitchens,’ she says, ‘are definitely coming back into favour.’

It’s true: small (sometimes seriously tiny) kitchens are ever more popular.

There are certainly socioeconomic reasons why, with the rising cost of housing and, especially in urban areas, people increasingly finding themselves in compact apartments, but it’s not all about necessity. For many, a kitchen downsize is a choice. Maybe the space it once took up could be better used for working from home or exercise, or perhaps you’ve realised that your cupboards are filled with takeaway menus rather than ingredients and utensils.

If your heart’s not in it, why make it the heart of your home? As Marianne Evennou, French interior designer and queen of stylish small-space living, puts it: ‘Tiny doesn’t mean ugly. Charm and quality are not the prerogatives of large kitchens.’

a kitchen with a large mirrora kitchen with a large mirror

Retrouvius co-founder Maria Speake’s kitchen, with reclaimed cupboards and reflective brass detailsTheo Tennant

For Speake, an affinity for bijou kitchens was something she noticed in her first flat in Glasgow, which she shared with her husband and business partner Adam Hills. ‘Its doorway was very narrow (no more than 60 centimetres wide), which was brilliant as it meant that nobody felt they could come in,’ she recalls. ‘You know how everyone wants to hang out in the kitchen? Personally, if I am trying to cook, I get distracted – I don’t really want people there as I peer into the oven and go, “Oh fuck!”’

That experience inspired the approach in her current home, where a renovation moved the kitchen into what was once her dressing room. Open-plan kitchens are great, Speake concedes, when you have small children and need to keep an eye on them or make sure they’re stimulated, but as her own kids grew older, the desire to retreat back into a small galley space grew strong.

Marlena Banaszewska, one half of Polish interior-design duo La Fala Studio, adds that there are practical benefits to having a more contained kitchen. ‘It allows for a bit more privacy, especially when someone is cooking or tidying up the space while others are in the living area,’ she says. ‘Plus, it can help to limit the transfer of cooking odours and sounds.’

samll yellow metal kitchen cabinet with monochrome marble striped splashbacksamll yellow metal kitchen cabinet with monochrome marble striped splashback

Very Simple Kitchens brings the colour, and a two-tone marble worktop designed in collaboration with TeklanVery Simple Kitchen

No more deafening noise from clattering pans drowning out your favourite TV show or a pungent pong of fried onions seeping into laundry. Of course, not everyone agrees. Very Simple Kitchens is known for making small kitchens sexy with its metallic and often colourful modular designs but, as an Italian brand, it believes that ‘cooking has always been synonymous with conviviality and sharing,’ says its communication specialist Barbara Borghi. Its mission is to provide a design that can grow with cooks as their circumstances change.

Indeed, freestanding cabinetry or islands, like Very Simple Kitchens’ ‘Island Kitchen’ – a design that includes all of the essentials (oven, sink, storage) and adds wheels – are stylish and a smart, sustainable choice, enabling you to take your kitchen with you when you move.

This idea is something that Dimas Satria and Ardy Hartono, the pair behind Jakarta-based Dua Studio, landed on when creating their compact ‘box with possibilities’ while renovating a friend’s small home. They admit their design is not functionally perfect, but hope it ‘presents new ideas about how people can interact with a kitchen’. The same thought has occurred to the designers at innovative brand Falper, whose ‘Small Living Kitchens’ condense a high-end, luxurious cook’s paradise (think marble, wood and stainless steel) into a unit of just two-and-a-half square metres.

compact stainless steel kitchencompact stainless steel kitchen

The compact, stainless-steel ‘Small Living Kitchen’ by Italian brand FalperCourtesy photo Falper

Whether through choice or necessity, tiny kitchens are definitely a trend – but how do you make the most of one? Perhaps the most important consideration, according to Studio Peake founder Sarah Peake (the designer of the project in this feature’s main image), is to avoid clutter.

‘Everything should have its place – a hanging rail with S hooks can keep pans and utensils out of the way, while appliances should be kept to a minimum and integrated to keep the space as simple as possible.’ Her advice? ‘Get a boiling-water tap and you won’t need a kettle.’

‘It’s about being honest with yourself about what type of person you are from a tidiness front,’ adds Maria Speake. ‘Lots of people fantasise about open shelves, but not everyone can curate them well. If you can’t, then hiding it all away is the best bet!’

Order attained, the next thing to consider is bringing some personality into the space. Just because a kitchen is small, it does not need to be boring – quite the opposite! ‘Be daring and choose brighter colours, rather than classic shades, to make the kitchen stand out,’ advises Very Simple Kitchen’s Borghi. ‘By doing so, the focus will be on the design rather than the size of the room.’

a kitchen with white cabinetsa kitchen with white cabinets

A tiny yet decorative kitchen in Marianne Evennou’s ‘Miss Rose’ apartmentGrégory Timsit

The bonus of having less space to play with is that you can be more extravagant in your choices. Peake suggests choosing marble worksurfaces, a more affordable choice in a compact kitchen, while Evennou encourages treating yourself on every level. ‘The most efficient way to combat limited space,’ she advises, ‘is by choosing what seems most beautiful to you (nice tiles, a gorgeous tap and sink) and treating all the details (doorknobs, switches, sockets) generously.’

Alternatively, Speake points out that the need to use less can open the door to a more sustainable approach. For a splashback, where fewer tiles than normal are required, she suggests using leftovers (from a reclamation site or even a past DIY project), or thinking outside of the box entirely. In her kitchen, she has arranged a selection of old brass trays that, she says, ‘give off a very nice glowing twinkle at night’.

‘Before you even start to cook, looking at a kitchen must whet your appetite and make you feel joyful, ready to take action. This is the secret to a great room, whatever size it is,’ concludes Evennou. ‘Define what you really need, be practical and efficient, but give space to fantasy. Do not think of a small kitchen as an exercise in constraint but rather as a reflection on what is truly essential. Let your imagination run wild – infuse poetry, add works of art and make the space unique to you.’