How To Create The Perfect Small Kitchen: Stage One.

Over the last 22 years my hubby, Mr C and I have designed countless kitchens. We’ve learnt on the job, making mistakes along the way. We never set out to do a lot of house renovations, it kind of just happened. But, with every project we have gained more knowledge. We now know what makes a great kitchen, be it large or small. We understand what works and what doesn’t, what to avoid and how to save money. We’re in no way professionals, it was a case of needs must really as finances wouldn’t allow for expensive contractors. In this and next week’s blog post I will concentrate on small kitchens and give you my top design tips.

Our mini prep kitchen in our last house.

Deckhouse Kitchen

As a lot of you will know, we bought a 60s deckhouse on Emsworth Marina last year. We are currently in the process of renovating it from top to bottom. It’s effectively a bungalow on stilts, but it has great views. You can find it on Instagram at @theharbourdeckhouse

The kitchen at the deckhouse is within a 5.8 metre by 4.4 metre room, which incorporates the dining area and the living room. So, space is tight and every centimetre counts. I’m going to use our new design for the kitchen to illustrate my points.

The existing kitchen is actually already in the best place within the room. We’ve looked at all the alternatives and each one had issues, such as door openings, blocking entryways, or no space for the refrigerator. So, we are keeping the new kitchen in the same place. However, we are removing everything and starting again.

Now, I know when you look at the photo above you’ll be thinking that there’s nothing wrong with it and that the space is quite large. Well, first of all, this is an estate agent’s photo using a wide angle, or spoon lense as I call it. In reality the space is much smaller.

The kitchen units were bought in the 90s. All the cupboard doors are wonky and the finish is coming off. The worktop is melamine and there are hardly any drawers. It’s time for it to go!


Just because a kitchen is small doesn’t mean it can’t be beautiful. When starting the design process, don’t sell yourself short or set your sights too low. The photo below shows my inspiration for the deckhouse kitchen and, in fact, the much larger kitchen that we will be creating this year in our new home in Emsworth. We are hoping to complete on that sale next month (the deckhouse will be an Airbnb and a getaway for us). I purposefully want to use elements of a very similar design, so that wherever we are it feels like home. Having things around you that are familiar immediately calms the soul.

My original inspiration for the Deckhouse kitchen from @ahousewebuilt

I also don’t want the kitchen at the deckhouse to feel inferior to the kitchen in our main home. It will just be a smaller version, but just as pretty and just as user-friendly. So, based on the aesthetics of the photograph above, how do we go about designing a much smaller version?

Love that fridge!

Where To Begin

First things first: measure up! If you’re hoping to save money on your kitchen design, then this is so important. Most kitchen companies, whether they be from a D.I.Y store, or top end handmade suppliers, will have a free in-house design service – use this to your advantage. We generally design our own kitchens, but even after all these years, we still take the drawings to our kitchen supplier for their input. In the design you see below, our kitchen company changed a 600mm wide base cupboard to a set of drawers. Not only was it cheaper, but it blended with the other drawers on the peninsula too.

We are using Classic Kitchens Direct (CKD), based in Christchurch, Dorset. We’ve used them before and trust them implicitly. That’s so important by the way. It’s a really good idea to use recommendations from friends and family and people you trust on Instagram.

Measure your floor area first and then the height from floor to ceiling. In older houses, remember that walls may not be true. The length of a wall may be different at floor level that it is at ceiling height. A filler panel may be required to hide walls that aren’t straight.

Write Things Down and Sketch It Out!

Once you have your room dimensions you are ready to draw a basic sketch using graph paper. First you need to decide what shape kitchen you want. Is it going to be U-shaped, a galley kitchen, L-shaped? Very often, kitchen designers want to utilise every inch of the space in a small kitchen and so often create U-shaped kitchens with work surfaces on three sides of a room.

I’m not a fan, I have to say. Nine times out of ten the corner base units are very hard to get into and so kitchen companies have created ingenious pull-out storage to counteract this problem. However, huge amounts of space are still left unused and what you can store is limited to the strange shape of the pull-out unit itself. I totally understand that in some kitchens it is the only positive way forward though.

We nearly always opt for a galley kitchen where the main base units are in two rows parallel with each other. Don’t forget that even if you are having an island or a peninsula, it’s still effectively a galley kitchen, it’s just that the wall has been removed on the other side of the units.

You can see in the initial sketch above for our deckhouse that we have opted for a galley kitchen, using a peninsula to separate the kitchen from the living room area. We won’t have enough space for bar stools, or for it to be two base cupboard units deep, which is a shame. In between the line of base units against the wall and the peninsula will be a single door going out to the deck, another reason we didn’t want a U-shaped kitchen like the existing one. The picture below shows solid doors, but they will all be glass with black frames. Just so you know, there will be more shelves, beautiful pendant lights over the peninsula and much nicer handles too!

The Golden Triangle

This is an old rule that kitchen designers and architects have used for years. I think it’s outdated and it’s time for change! That’s going to be contentious, but I don’t care. Each to their own I say! The rule basically states that the main three work areas: the stove, the sink and the fridge should be no less than four feet and no more than nine feet away from each other. The three work areas create a triangle.

The rule was originally created in the 40s and it was actually designed to save on construction costs, not necessarily to help the cook. In our last kitchen we decided to completely ignore the rule. It doesn’t work for very large kitchens in my opinion and what if you have a very small space like a lot of studio apartments do? Very often there is only room for one line of kitchen units, so good luck with the Golden Triangle there!

It’s a much better idea to concentrate on the important activities within a kitchen and to make sure that everything flows. Imagine yourself in your kitchen with your new design and physically walk out the “journey” from stove to sink, from fridge to prep zone, etc. Do any of the journeys seem overly laborious or convoluted? By actually walking the journeys you can really envisage whether the design you have created is actually convenient and easy to use in real life.

In our last kitchen we actually created a 2/3 height wall around a prep/messy zone. It was effectively a small kitchen. It held a washing up and food prep sink, the dishwasher, drawers and all the breakfast accoutrements like the toaster, etc. We did this because we had learnt from experience that there is nowhere to hide dirty dishes or the kettle, toaster or any mess in fact on an island or peninsula. They look lovely, but there is nowhere to put anything. This solution worked a treat and it also doubled up as a bar at parties. Of course, this entire idea would not have been imaginable using the Golden Triangle rule. By the way, I made up the “Golden” bit. It’s just called the Triangle Rule really!

Ok, that’s it for this week. I’ll be back next Sunday with Stage Two – talking about knocking down walls, the “must haves” and ingenious touches.

JP Clark signature

You may also like: How We Built Our Boot Room/Utility - how to create the perfect small kitchen. - stage One for Pinterest - a small lamp room grey kitchen area


  1. Andrew
    February 21, 2021 / 8:36 am

    What great read, can’t wait for next week JP x

    • JP Clark
      February 22, 2021 / 9:19 am

      Oh wow, thank you Andrew. Glad you enjoyed it.

  2. Anne
    February 21, 2021 / 9:45 am

    Terrific article. Really informative. Can’t wait for the deckhouse refurb.

    • JP Clark
      February 22, 2021 / 9:20 am

      That’s so kind of you, thanks. Working on part two now. X

  3. February 21, 2021 / 7:22 pm

    Love love love this it’s so right! Our kitchen is only 2 metered wide soo we have an L shape at the moment and the golden triangle works soo well as the fridge is free standing on a wall on its own sounds odd but with the way the doors are off the kitchen to other rooms it works well! It wasn’t like the is in our previously rented houses and drove me mad! Xx

    • JP Clark
      February 22, 2021 / 9:21 am

      Thanks so much for reading it. Working on part two now. X

  4. Maureen Irvine
    February 22, 2021 / 1:16 pm

    Such an interesting read JP. We live in a rented apartment with a kitchen which we aren’t allowed to change but (accidentally) the designer ignored the ‘golden triangle’ rule too so it works pretty well for us. At least I can go wild with the decor! 💕

    • JP Clark
      February 27, 2021 / 10:15 am

      We are currently in a rental too and we’re not allowed to decorate! Can’t wait to be able to get a paint brush out!

  5. February 26, 2021 / 2:35 pm

    JP – this is SO timely as my husband has gotten to the tiny galley kitchen on the 1930’s house he’s renovating. This will help him SO much! We both love your style (and I think you’re just all around lovely). Looking forward to Part 2, and watching all unfold with the deckhouse and main house!

    • JP Clark
      February 27, 2021 / 10:14 am

      Ah that’s so great that it’s going to be useful. Thank you so much x

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Deckhouse - Book Now