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Help with tiny kitchen layout puzzle

Lisa WJ
3 years ago

We bought our house knowing the kitchen would need to be renovated, and almost a year later, we've made progress on the design and have options priced out. I like the space efficiency of tiny houses and went into it as a fun challenge, but I've become paralyzed and depressed about the tradeoffs we have to make with the rest of the house. I'm sorry for including so much info — any ideas and feedback are welcome, or anything to remind me why this was a fun puzzle at the beginning!

The house: It's essentially an apartment with a yard and a low-ceilinged basement — one level, 1080 sq ft, 2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom. We were told it was built in 1926, but it appears to exist in an aerial photo of the area from 1921, and the address exists in the 1920 census. (It could have been rebuilt, of course.) We're in a college town that's built progressively outward from campus, so many of the older homes have suffered from decades of student tenants, and most homes in our immediate neighborhood were built during a boom following WWII. We chose this house for its location, small size, large main room and general character.

The kitchen: The kitchen is tiny, less than 100 sq ft, with a super dysfunctional layout. There is a small dishwasher that doesn't work, and no range/stove, but the main problems layout-wise are the narrow space and an exterior door, which goes to a small enclosed porch and our backyard. Adjacent to the kitchen is a breakfast nook, which has built-in benches and a bank of built-in cupboards at the back.

About us: Married with baby. We cook a lot, but nothing too fancy. We've always had tiny, dysfunctional kitchens in our previous apartments/houses and managed to cook a lot anyway, so this situation wasn't very intimidating. (No one should dread cooking with a hot plate, slow cooker and toaster oven during a renovation — we've been doing it for a year, no issues except Christmas cookies.) We don't entertain with big parties very often, but we frequently host family/friends from out of town.

Layout and options...

Bigger version of image here:

House layout: Yep, this is it. The main room and features are all entirely to scale; the bedrooms and back side of the house aren't precise. (The orange area corresponds with the kitchen expansion pictured above.)

Bigger version of image here:

House photos: Before we moved in and put our crap everywhere...


  • Open up wall to the living room in some way
  • Move oven/range to exterior wall for venting purposes
  • Keep breakfast nook as tucked-away seating area
  • Keep enough space in the main room for a dining table
  • Avoid small or custom appliances
  • Avoid moving plumbing, etc.

Obviously the exterior door placement is a big issue. However, moving it means losing the breakfast nook, which we love a lot. We've also found the nook very useful in such a small house, because it's a tucked-away space to take a phone call or talk while the baby's napping.

We're also concerned that moving the interior kitchen wall to get more kitchen space cuts into the main room so much that there won't be room for a dining table.

We're also concerned about maintaining the symmetry and character of the house as much as possible. We also need to remain realistic about the fact that this is a one-bathroom house with limited resale value regardless of how much we put into the kitchen.

Do you see any layout options that would work without moving the interior wall?

Do you see any ways to get a decent layout without losing the breakfast nook?

Any feedback is much appreciated!

Comments (75)

  • weedyacres

    I think we've got your almost-twin house: 940 sf, built in 1920, with nearly identical layout, except front door placement. Our kitchen is 9x13 and we made it into a much more functional galley. Here are more details/photos.

    I'm in the "don't open up the wall to the dining/living room" camp. It'll mar the character of the old home and eliminate scarce storage.

    The nook is adorable, but I'd argue not critical to have a 2nd eating area in a small house. Could it be pushed back into the master bedroom closet area and the master nook be converted to a closet? (I'm jealous of your closet space; you've got our house beat there.)

  • herbflavor

    you are using the nook because it is there. It should be removed but the elements re-used elsewhere. Bring your kitchen forward to modern times with better elements and appropriate, comfortable seating somewhere else . Removing the nook doesn't ruin anything.

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  • benjesbride_misses_sophie

    What is to be gained by removing the nook? It's a perfect place for a kiddo to do a craft or school work while mom's working in the kitchen. It's charming. It has storage. It has seating. It has an outlet for a laptop. Lose all that to create an entry that she already has outside the kitchen with the entry porch? I don't see the benefit.

  • writersblock (9b/10a)

    I have to say I don't understand these posts about hanging onto the bits of the nook, redesigning the nook and so on. It's either a nook or it's not. If you decide to get rid of it, there's no point in saving the bits of the carcass, unless you have a pressing need for them elsewhere. Once an old kitchen like that is torn up, it's gone and that's that.

    A future buyer who wants a really authentic old house would just pass by and the people who aren't bothered by a 21st century kitchen in an early 20th century house are certainly not going to reconstruct it.

    Lisa, my main suggestion at this point is that since you don't really seem to feel what you and the kitchen want to do, just think about it for a while and cook in the kitchen for a bit longer. Eventually it will become clear to you what is best to do. Don't force it. You may find that you're like my mom ("To heck with charm; I want a dishwasher"), or you may see a way that isn't apparent to anyone here to combine what you have with what you want.

  • benjesbride_misses_sophie

    Lisa - what is the length of the wall between the corner of the kitchen and the corner of the porch? I have an idea I'd like to draw up for you. Thanks!

  • mama goose_gw zn6OH

    The OP indicated she wants to keep the built in cabinets in the nook, and wants a bench across from the new door, so why wouldn't she keep those components? (Unless they are falling apart, and she hasn't stated that.)

    LisaWJ, it doesn't need to be all or nothing--I used a combination of vintage cabinets from the 30s or 40s, some custom built by the PO in the 80s, and some new drawer bases, to make my kitchen more functional, but retain the vintage vibe. The vintage cabinets were re-inforced and rebuilt where necessary. The custom built cabinets were/are very sturdy--they'll be here when the house falls down around them.

    ETA a link to one of my favorite kitchen reveals--she has a Hoosier wall that reminds me of your nook cabinets: crl's lovely kitchen reveal

  • cpartist

    I agree 100% with flaming fish!

  • Lisa WJ

    benjebride – here are dimensions along that wall. I measured everything again to make sure. It looks like 10'6" from the corner of the kitchen to the far corner of the porch.

  • dan1888

    cpartist- I haven't criticized your ideas or the ideas of the old housers like you. My recommendation was aimed at removing as many compromises as possible and creating what I feel is the best current use of the space. An old fireplace can be rebuilt to match or in any number of improved versions at another spot. It's about priorities that Lisa and her family have not what you want to preserve. Lisa can make her mind up. I'm offering another alternative. One with a master bath and spacious kitchen within the footprint of the house.

    My question asks which of two houses would Lisa choose to buy if they were side by side. The one you would like to live in doesn't make any difference here..

  • cpartist

    An old fireplace can be rebuilt to match or in any number of improved versions at another spot. It's about priorities that Lisa and her family have not what you want to preserve. Lisa can make her mind up. I'm offering another alternative. One with a master bath and spacious kitchen within the footprint of the house.

    Actually no you can't recreate the old fireplace and built ins in another spot. You can't recreate the way the wood was finished or the old growth wood. And if it's handmade tiles, you can't recreate the tiles the same. And sorry, but new is not always improved!

    The problem with too many people nowadays is they come into these gorgeous old houses and take out whatever makes them charming. I know. I looked for an old house for over 2 years and couldn't find a single one in my area of FL that hadn't been ruined by people thinking it would be better to make the space "improved". Trouble is in most cases it wasn't improved.

    If you want a house with modern flow, then build one or get a new house. If you buy a house with character and the wood work of one like Lisa's then please leave it be.

    Nothing is worse for an old house lover than expecting to see the beauty of an old house interior and seeing it made into something it is not. Old houses are not for everyone. Nor should they be. But don't turn a craftsman house into a contemporary box because the space isn't exactly as you want.

  • lharpie

    Yes, that!

  • benjesbride_misses_sophie

    I tried my idea and it didn't work well, so...

    Have you considered a big 24" farmhouse type sink so you can have more counter space? Here's a version of Mama's plan; it's in the Ikea planner, so the cabinet options are limited. The space behind the door is a good spot for a step stool to reach the top shelf easier and make full use of your cabinets.

  • sena01

    I have 3 alternatives where nook stays and the door moves inside the covered porch. I'm not loving any of them but hope it may spark an idea and somebody may suggest something better.

    Here's the first. I like this better than the others, but even with a counter depth fridge I'not sure you can move the nook table as easily as you can now.

    The 2nd one. Dw is next to the fridge.

    The last is similar to the 2nd but the DW is in the prep zone.

  • dan1888

    Cpartiste- maybe you can't. But don't set forth gospel for the rest of the world based on your limited capabilities. And don't ascribe some priceless value to a feature, the home as a functioning whole is where a family lives. Tradeoffs to meet needs are necessary in any environment as anyone with a logical thought process knows. This fireplace may have a baby bashing raised hearth with sharp brick edges. Features must fit into family life. That's why Lisa is willing to give up this homes 'priceless' kitchen layout.

    I'm guessing the fireplace isn't an historic Hampton Court one. But if it is then building the kitchen around it will be all the better.

  • writersblock (9b/10a)

    Sorry, dan, but cpartist is 100% correct. I myself recently decided not to make an offer on an older house because I couldn't stand the bathroom tile, but I wouldn't be such a vandal as to destroy it (there's no tile of that caliber nowadays no matter how much you spend) but I couldn't live with the orange and black color scheme. I decided to leave it for someone who liked it as is.

  • cpartist

    Cpartiste- maybe you can't. But don't set forth gospel for the rest of the world based on your limited capabilities.

    My "limited capabilities" as you call it has completely renovated two old homes, (one an 1898 victorian/colonial revival and the second a 1927 craftsman) keeping as much of what made them wonderful as possible. And my "limited capabilities" have now designed my own brand new house that will be built this year. And the only reason we decided to build new, is because there are too many people who do not have my "limited capabilities" who think it's ok to come into an old house with integrity and remove old woodwork, trim, and fireplaces and make them "new".

    In this case we are not talking about a 1960's/70's tract house with no redeeming features. We are talking about built ins and old growth beautiful woodwork. Obviously, my "limited capabilities" feel these old details are worth preserving for the next keeper of the house. Because we don't own houses, we borrow them for the time we live in them.

    Frankly, the only one with "limited capabilities" is yourself because of your need to insult by making comments like that.

  • cpartist

    And hopefully we can now get back to helping the OP create a kitchen that works, while keeping the integrity of her house.

  • dan1888

    I designed and built my home 30 years ago. I did all the woodwork including the knife designs for the Williams molding machine. All doors, cabinets, windows. Including the marble for the fireplace surround. I'm thinking of updating that material and since I'm the craftsman I'm not feeling any remorse. You've never, it appears, built a fireplace. That part of your capabilities are what my comment was directed at. And it stands.

    Remember... you began the negative comments about the option I suggested. Next time maybe you'll allow someone else to express a view different than your own.

    Good luck on your new build. It's one of the most rewarding experiences out there, if you've done your prep work.

    For me, I have 18 elliptical 9' insulated windows. I'll be cutting apart the panes to rebuild them with a better spacer system and changing them to triple paned with safety glass. Nothing to preserve there, except I'm reusing the glass. C.R.Lewis for supplies and tools.

  • bren5kids

    Right on, cpartist!! Some people simply cannot see value in things that have been around for many, many years. I find immense satisfaction in using items or being in a house that has seen years and generations of use, but not everybody has the CAPABILITIES to see that point of view. I feel physically sick in my gut to see a beautiful old house that has been gutted with no thought to preserving anything. Or people painting over gorgeous old wood...shudder!!!

    I think the OP stated that she doesn't want to lose the nook, and wants to maintain the character of the house as much as she is obviously in the "preserving old, original things" camp.

  • herbflavor

    our neighbors completely removed, repositioned and rebuilt a fireplace from a 1960's Norm Carver designed home in Michigan. Be careful with saying things can't be done or should never be done or are impossible to do. The OP owns a home in a college with space...she needs to think of a better situation for all space available and probably have a long term goal for the basement as well. The kitchen with these boundaries [ nook creates the boundaries in a big way] is causing design challenges for her. I believe Lisa should think a little bigger about the whole square footage of the home and the resale capability long term. perhaps wait a bit before just biting off another tight kitchen while some pseudo satisfaction from saving "nook."

  • benjesbride_misses_sophie

    The old house discussion is a good one worthy of its own thread. Could you all start a new thread and stop hijacking Lisa's, please?! She came here hoping to be reminded that her kitchen is a fun puzzle, remember? Let's help her out!

    LISA-- how are you feeling about the layout ideas so far? Is keeping the sink under the window a priority or are you open to exploring sink-on-the-interior-wall-with-a-passthrough ideas?

  • herbflavor

    I too live in a smallish house......things that have been suggested by friends, friends who are pros , and pros alike range from......"can't do much so put the fridge in the hallway".......Change the staircase location...bump out the entire back of the house......lift the roof and add a 2nd story. I will say that having the finished basement is something greatly appreciated with this home and maybe should not be overlooked in your longterm planning, Lisa. The kitchen could be left and used for a while while you build equity, baby grows and you watch the area with home valuations,etc. Your needs might determine what you wish to do as far as maybe more kids ??.... so the possibility of moving instead of taking on a big project....watching in the area how comparables are increasing in value....etc.

  • Lisa WJ

    Thank you for all the ideas and suggestions! We bought the house knowing we wouldn't have the budget/desire for anything too radical, but I appreciate those ideas, too. We tend to be pretty conservative about major changes (part of why this has taken so long) and all ideas help to get out of that rut. We would never paint the trim or anything... the next project after the kitchen is figuring out what to do with the bathroom, where the woodwork and ceiling were painted black at some point :(

    Herbflavor — we would love to finish the basement, but unfortunately the ceiling is quite low. Our city's housing market is pretty limited, and older homes in good condition are rare, so we are trying to keep resale in mind along with our preferences.

    Sena01 and benjesbride — it's great to see those ideas and that's definitely influencing the options I'm playing around with now! I'm still reluctant to move the sink away from the window, but it's growing on me since I love the pass through.

    The pass throughs and built-in buffets reminded me of an idea I had when we first moved into the house, of recessing the fridge in its current position. At the time I couldn't picture a graceful way to do this, and I still can't quite picture the details, but it would be possible to center the refrigerator along that wall within a cabinet that connects to the door and a passthrough.

    The orange area represents expanding into the main room by 48" inches or 36". After moving furniture around and picturing things, 36" seems like the maximum that still leaves room for a dining table in the main room.

    Sketch 1, with dishwasher next to the fridge:

    Sketch 2, with dishwasher next to the sink:

    I'm not really sure if this concept works at all... here are a couple of sketches (to scale) of how that might look from the main room, theoretically. I'm not sure if it would be too dark, since we wouldn't have the wood painted.

    I need to try some galley options and integrate other ideas that have been suggested, but figured I'd throw that out there for now.

  • sena01

    Here's another idea if you expand to the DR 36".

    I'm thinking 12" pullout pantry b/w the wall and the fridge and a 12" wide cab b/w the range and the wall. If you can live with a 30-33" sink not centered under the window that should give you about 33-36 b/w the sink and the range. You can also consider a kitchen cart for extra prep/counter.

  • practigal

    I still that barncatz photo of the 100 sq ft kitchen is simply gorgeous. Which do you like OP?

  • lharpie

    My concern with either of your two U shaped kitchens is there really is no prep space between sink and stove, which is really where you want to be. You spend most of the time prepping, but there really won't be room to prep in front of the window, and you would likely have to be over the DW which is inconvenient. The bumped out one is definitely better but has the same issue. I like Sena's idea if you want to keep the sink under the window. The exterior door location is really a shame (we thought about getting rid of ours as it kept being in the way of designs too!). I like the options with it pushed all the way over to the nook, but assume this may be prohibitively expensive to do.

  • Lisa WJ

    It's been a while, but I wanted to give an update with where we ended up for a close-to-final design. Thanks to everyone's ideas, we tried out a bunch of options and got updated cost estimates, and decided the sweet spot was with a pretty conservative amount of change.

    This is the layout, though not precisely to scale:

    Here are some of the design views, with notes since a lot of the details don't really show in these (colors and materials are default, not what we're choosing):

    Some things that aren't great:

    • Not a lot of storage (though comparable to what it is now)
    • Minimal work surface between sink and stove
    • Kitchen space is still small for multiple people

    Things I really like about it:

    • Maintains the breakfast nook, and actually features it better by having the exterior door open toward the nook instead of toward the stove
    • Glass cabinets (and passthrough) will help it feel more open even without taking away the whole wall
    • Full-size, standard appliances — essential for our budget
    • The space between the door and the nook will be kept empty for now, as a spot to feature an accent piece and give us some ongoing flexibility if we need additional storage

    We're still making some small adjustments, as well as choosing the exact materials for flooring, countertops, hardware, lighting, etc., which I'm sure will lead to many more questions from me...

  • benjesbride_misses_sophie

    Are you accustom to keeping coffee maker, toaster, or other stuff on the counter? Do you know where you'd put them in this design? The area where you're planning a pass through is prime real estate for small appliance, but you can't put them there with the pass through.

  • ascorsonelli

    Could put those on a small cart in the open corner, benjesbride.

  • Lisa WJ

    We don't have many small appliances, but I am a little concerned about how many things like water bottles, produce, towels, etc. seem to linger on our counters. (This is a huge reason I have very little interest in an island, not that one would ever fit here anyway!) I like the little corner to the left of the sink as a possibility for our coffeemaker, though we could also keep that in the breakfast nook.

    One appliance I'm not sure how to deal with is our toaster oven, which has been a lifesaver this past year without a real oven. My husband really likes toaster ovens, particularly this one, which has been with him much longer than I have. Though I appreciate its usefulness, I'm not sure how such a big, hot, unattractive appliance fits well in any kitchen. I'm a strong believer that design can solve most problems, but perhaps not this one...

  • cluelessincolorado

    Can't read through all posts, but why, aside from exterior texture, can't exterior door slide down adjacent to nook? I certainly would NOT want to lose the nook, but I WOULD want to recapture the space the door occupies now.

  • MelEdwards

    To be honest I think the pass through as shown looks strange and costs you a lot of useable space. What about just making the fridge side normal wall, and then doing a craftsman style built in hutch for the other side. Something like this just smaller.

    Sideboard restored · More Info

  • Lisa WJ

    For moving the door closer to the nook: I love this idea, but it would be an expensive structural change because of a small, enclosed porch outside the door. It would require rebuilding that porch and significant exterior work including a portion of the roof. I think we also run into some code issues if we change much on that side of the house because we're very close to the property line. It would certainly help the kitchen layout, but it's just didn't seem realistic with our budget.

  • Lisa WJ

    @MelEdwards This is very close to what I initially envisioned, and I'm still hoping the details will help it feel that way in the end. The small space and our budget is the main constraint, along with not working with an architect. With a wall around the fridge, there wasn't enough space left for a buffet even the width of a doorway, so I felt like that seemed unbalanced. What do you think would make the current pass-through seem better? I've considered a lower set of cabinets or raising a bit of the counter to bar height.

  • cluelessincolorado

    How much could you gain? I saw 18-22" above, is that correct?

  • MelEdwards

    Personally I wouldn't make it a pass through. I was just looking through pics, and most of the inspirations pics were like I have shown, with glass behind the buffet section. And many of them seem to even stick out into the room a bit, like 6". So basically it would be normal depth base cabinet on the kitchen side, with 12 or 18" cabinets facing into the dining room. And I think you can make the back of the fridge side look like plain wall even if it's not really wall. So it wouldn't be a structural wall. But would just LOOK like the cabinets in the pass through section were built in a wall.

  • Lisa WJ

    @clueless Yes, I think that's right. But that was just my measuring estimate for staying within the porch, so I don't know if that's accurate for the all the exterior considerations. Our electrical panel is also right below that area, so I'm not sure if that complicates anything. My impression was just that we wouldn't gain enough to justify the much higher cost.

  • lharpie

    Another vote against the passthrough (sorry!). Your LR has a lovely 1920s feeling, and I have a hard time picturing the new kitchen cabinets and passthrough matching the era. I would also want to be able to use the counter space there for stuff/appliances as others have pointed out.

  • Lisa WJ

    I appreciate the honest opinions, though I don't think we really have the luxury of rethinking it at this point since it desperately needs to get done. The current kitchen is a very real safety hazard for my almost-toddler because the flooring and cabinets are in such poor condition.

    For those of you against the pass-through, would you just have it similar but just keep the wall? That's almost exactly what we have now, just expanded two feet, so it's easy for me to picture it, but a huge goal of this project is to make the kitchen feel less claustrophobic without taking too much space from the rest of the house.

  • lharpie

    Yes, otherwise probably just leave as is (I like some of the options involving moving the exterior door better but obviously that is a much more serious undertaking!). It has the downsides you note (biggest one being I'm not quite sure where you are going to prep, I'd consider a sink that you can drop a cutting board into easily). I do think an additional 2 feet will go a long way to making it feel like a bigger space. Of course if you love the pass through then go for it! You know your space better than we do.

  • benjesbride_misses_sophie

    I scrolled up to see some of the previous suggestions. What did you think about making it a galley kitchen? If the sink is on the dining room side, you could make a pass thru above the sink with a 42" sill height to hide any kitchen mess.

  • Lisa WJ

    @benjesbride I really loved the galley suggestion (once I got over my insistence on window-over-sink), especially how that could work with the living room. Ultimately I couldn't justify the estimated increase in plumbing costs because it would have required redoing the laundry and water heater lines that are directly below, especially if it still felt like we were short on lower cupboard storage.

  • smalloldhouse_gw

    Hi from a fellow tiny kitchen person. I won't jump into the layout convo since it sounds like you've already got great advice. But two small things: one, it's totally possible to get rid of the big toaster oven - we did it deliberately to minimize counter clutter and haven't missed it. We do have a small 2-slice toaster and a 2-oven range (smaller oven does all the stuff the toaster oven used to do.)

    Second, I don't know if anyone yet posted this link from a few years ago on Gw. It's bigger than yours and a different layout, but it's such a beautiful example of a traditional space with a nook that was updated and opened up.

    shanghaimom kitchen

  • benjesbride_misses_sophie

    Have you gotten bids for moving the door and moving the water?

    In our last home we put off a kitchen renovation because we really wanted to change an interior door and an exterior door and we assumed it would be beyond budget. When we finally felt ready and got bids, I was surprised at how reasonably priced the changes were.

    if you have not gotten professional estimates, I think it would be wise to do so.its really the best way to determine the best use of your money.

    Personally, I'd put the bulk of my budget into an awesome layout and ease up on the finishes--IKEA Veddinge, IKEA 24" domsjo, laminate counters, Sears outlet appliances, vinyl floors--these are things that you can update later, but more importantly they don't impact your daily cooking experience nearly as much as the layout will.

  • K L

    I'll chime in to say that moving the plumbing in our house was so so much cheaper than I expected -- ended up being really a blip in the budget. I'd price it out.

  • caligirl5

    I'm not a fan of the pass-through plan either. Your space is really challenging! I think the pass-through plan is taking sqft from the dining room (?), but you don't seem to be getting much improvement for the changes.

    I drew a few ideas trying to avoid structural changes, though you'd have to move plumbing. I used the 8'x8'7" size, which I think is the existing kitchen without moving into the dining room, so you could still do cabinets in the dining room for more storage. I'm not completely sure if these ideas work with the dimensions--can you give the measurements for the right of the window and left of the back door? (see blue and green lines below)

    Here's a galley kitchen similar to your pass-through plan. I prefer this option since the range isn't so close to the back door and no corner cabs. Re: range next to the wall, I drew it this way to give you more prep space next to the range and more separation from the door. NKBA recommends at least 12", but the induction range I'm planning to buy only requires 1" from the wall. You could definitely move the range farther out of the corner (and would be required to if you're getting a gas range), just I would want it farther from the door than it appears in your latest plan.

    For the sink wall, I would personally choose a smaller sink and refrigerator to gain more counterspace and storage, but you have room for full-size appliances. I'm assuming you can recess the fridge into the wall.

    I tried an option for an L with a corner sink. I suspect there isn't enough room for the range here without affecting the window, but wanted to share it in case you're open to a 24" range or moving the window. Same issue with range next to the wall.

  • sena01

    I think moving the DR entry woıld give you options with more storage and counter.

  • lharpie

    Ooh I like that better! Adequate prep space and stove isn't in a corner (I hate stoves in corners)!

  • cluelessincolorado

    Looks good sena! I might lose one pantry and bump the door over so that the pass through doesn't hit right at the sink.

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