5 Tips for Making Tiny Kitchens Work

The 36-square-foot kitchen in Katie and Martin Clemons’ 480-square-foot apartment in Berlin, Germany, was a disaster when they first saw it. It was claustrophobic and had no drawers, counter space, dishwasher or storage. The previous tenants had kept a refrigerator and freezer, with dishes stacked on top, in the living room.

Through hard work and smart design, Katie and Martin turned a nightmare into a dream—the best kitchen they’ve ever had. Katie and Martin knocked down walls to open up their kitchen space and disassembled the entire kitchen. They rebuilt cabinets and polished them with natural, environmentally friendly varnish. “Using natural varnish does cost more than the ‘standard’ stuff filled with toxins,” Katie says. “However, standard varnish releases a serious amount of toxins. There’s absolutely no way we could have lived in our little apartment. Oh, it’s heaven when going green saves you a load of cash—like nights and nights at a nearby hotel.”

Katie and Martin Clemons turned a cramped, inefficient semi-kitchen (left) into a dream space with tons of storage (right).

The following tips are borrowed from a great post on Katie’s blog, Making This Home, in which she shares renovation details and the tricks they’ve learned about making use of a tiny kitchen’s every inch. How much appliance do we really need?

1. Build up. Katie and Martin utilized every inch of vertical space in the back of the kitchen by extending the cabinets to the ceiling.

2. Question authority. “We had to question a lot about what society generally thinks a kitchen should have versus what we actually needed in this space,” Katie says. “Turns out we hardly ever use more than two or three burners. So why fill the entire counter with stovetop?”


3. Choose small applicances. The two-burner stove that Katie and Martin bought was half the price of a full-size one. Because they don’t cook a lot, a half-oven is sufficient. And with a half-size dishwasher, crusty dinner dishes aren’t left sitting in the machine overnight, waiting for it to be filled. They chose a standard German refrigerator, which is the same tiny size that Americans have in college dorms.

4. Create a super-compact recycling system. Katie and Martin’s system provides an efficient way to sort recycling, which in Germany requires 10 separate recycling piles.

5. Keep dishes and food in a drawer. Katie doesn’t like cupboards because she can’t stack things high and reach them. Storing dishes in a drawer means she can stack more in less vertical space, and it’s easier to access things in the back.

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San Matajs
San Matajs3 years ago


sr G.
s groves3 years ago

I also have a small kitchen, and the benefit of DRAWERS rather than cabinets is just incredible. I'm old, so never having to get down on my busted up knees to feel around in the dark rear recesses of a cabinet to find that last darn pot lid is a real help!

sr G.
s groves3 years ago

As I live in Germany now (Frankfurt-Wiesbaden area), i'm confused about the 10 separate recycling piles you say are required. Is that only for the Berlin area? Here we separate paper, glass (i guess because glass is grouped by color you're considering that separate categories?), packing materials (cans, styrofoam,non-CFL lightbulbs & electronics, plastics), mixed waste (kitchen waste, tissues,cottonballs, dental floss), batteries and CFL's go back to the store you bought them from. You do also return your glass and plastic food containers (beer bottles, etc, but you pay a pfand (deposit) for them anyway, are those included in your count? Some areas also allow you to dispose of organic material separately, which is then turned into compost by the city/state govt and used in municipal projects. It's not hard to do, and it's not complicated. It took more time for me to explain it than it does to do.

Loo Samantha
Loo sam3 years ago


Donna Hamilton
Donna Hamilton3 years ago


May Howie
may Howie4 years ago


Michele Wilkinson

Thank you

Eternal Gardener
Eternal Gardener4 years ago

The smaller the better... less cleaning ;)

Lynn Marie M.
Lynn Marie M.4 years ago


Bernadette P.
Berny p.4 years ago

Thanks for this