How to Lay Out Your Kitchen, No Matter How Small It Is

Kitchen Layouts — Horseshoe
Elizabeth Roberts

Sure, we'd all love to have a sprawling kitchen with multiple islands and endless prep space, but the reality is that we don't all have the luxury of space that expansive. But no matter how small your kitchen is—even if it's just a few feet of wall space in your studio apartment—it's possible to lay it out for maximum efficiency. The key is to know the basics of kitchen design and to pick the layout that's best for your space and your cooking habits.

The trick to picking the right kitchen layout (or making your current one more efficient) is to first ask yourself what kind of cook you are.

Do you live alone? How often do you cook? Are there regularly multiple people in the kitchen at once? Do you like to watch TV while cooking? Do you prefer eating at the table or the bar? Do you like to keep the kitchen separate from your living area so your guests don't see what a horrible mess you've made?

All these questions can help you better understand what kind of space you need and which layout you should opt for. The second step is to assess your current space and to see what you can realistically fit in it—not all kitchens are made to have islands, and that's okay. Whether you're planning a full gut renovation or you want to enhance your current kitchen layout, we have a solution.

Ahead we break down the most common kitchen layouts for every space, along with pro tips to make them work even better.

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One-Wall Kitchen

Kitchen Layouts — One-Wall
Fantastic Frank

Ideal for studio apartments and small living spaces, the one-wall kitchen is discreet and tucked away. While it may not be ideal for cooking enthusiasts, adding a movable kitchen island on wheels can help create more countertop space. Since this type of kitchen is usually in an open-plan space, opt for higher-end materials like brass, marble, and chic matte black cabinets.

Pro tip: Extend the storage space all the way to the ceiling, and add extra storage with a utensil rod below the upper cabinet.

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Gallery Kitchen

Kitchen Layouts — Galley
Fantastic Frank

The galley (or walk-through) kitchen is great in smaller apartments. Traditionally characterized by two opposing walls with countertops, it can also be reworked to have storage on one side and countertops on the other. Unlike the one-wall kitchen, in a galley, you can achieve the golden standard of kitchen design: the work triangle, where the refrigerator, stove, and sink are placed in a triangular layout for maximum efficiency.

Pro tip: Keep the countertops clear, and pay special attention to the view beyond the kitchen, as it will be more pleasant to look at.

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L-Shaped Kitchen

Kitchen Layouts — L-Shaped
DeVol Kitchens

The L-shaped kitchen is ideal for a smaller-size closed kitchen and is composed of countertops on two adjoining walls. It's also often used in larger studios or small one-bedrooms with an open-plan space, where an island is not possible. This layout can be easier to navigate with multiple cooks in the kitchen than the galley layout. That said, the kitchen work triangle can be harder to achieve with this configuration. Create a unifying look by painting the cabinets the same color as the walls.

Pro tip: Enhance your space by adding an eat-in dining space, a movable island, or a breakfast nook in the room.

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Peninsula Kitchen

Kitchen Layouts — Peninsula
Courtesy of Studio McGee

A blend between the L-shaped or horseshoe kitchen and the option of an island, the peninsula kitchen essentially has an L-shaped layout, but without one wall separating other living areas from the space. The advantages: The peninsula counter can be used as a breakfast bar, and cooks can interact with people in the living or dining area and have a better view while prepping a meal.

Pro tip: If you want to keep a unifying look with the rest of your space but still want your kitchen to look interesting, keep everything white except for the inner lower cabinets, which can be painted a bold color.

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Island Kitchen

Kitchen Layouts — Island
Robson Rak

The island kitchen is the preferred open-plan layout these days, especially in larger spaces. The island not only allows for easy circulation around the kitchen and living areas, but it can also double as a breakfast bar and counter space. It can house appliances like a stove, a dishwasher, or a sink—making it easy to create the ultimate work triangle.

Pro tip: Don't put a stove top on a kitchen island unless you want to invest in a heavy-duty stand-alone range hood. A dishwasher and sink may be the smarter choice here.

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Horseshoe Kitchen

Kitchen Layouts — Horseshoe
Elizabeth Roberts

The U-shaped or horseshoe kitchen can be as small as a galley with a third countertop, or it can be as big as the kitchen above, which consists of three walls of countertops and storage, but with a large island in the middle. This layout provides plenty of countertop space and is ideal for heavy cooks. It's also a fantastic layout to opt for in spaces that don't have enough clearance for an island.

Pro tip: If you prefer open-plan spaces, this layout is ideal as the open area where the fourth wall would be can feed right into a dining room or living space.