20+ Tips for Turning Your Small Kitchen Into an Eat-In Kitchen

Do tight kitchen quarters force you to eat meals while standing over the kitchen sink? Nosh in shame no more: Leading design pros share their top tips for adding eat-in functionality to even the smallest of kitchens.

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January 15, 2015
By: Susan Kleinman

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Make Your Kitchen the Hub of the Home

Family and friends naturally gather in the kitchen so what could be more convenient than eating right next to where you cook? Eat-in kitchens give cooks and diners the chance to chat, simplify cleanup and keep the vibe carefree and casual. So what do you do if your kitchen is too cramped for a standard table and chairs? For a work-around that allows you to cook and dine in the same space, check out these smart solutions by creative kitchen designers.

Consider a Banquette

At just 120 square feet, with six openings interrupting the flow, this kitchen didn't offer many options in the way of seating. So kitchen designer Angela Bonfante tucked an L-shaped banquette into a corner, around a tiny table she found in a mail-order catalog. Using ready-made throw pillows from a discount retailer, rather than having custom cushions sewn, helped keep the budget in check too. "Small spaces can be both functional and fun," says Bonfante. "It just takes some ingenuity!"

Or, a Space-Saving Booth

Banquettes needn't be L-shaped to save space. The configuration of this kitchen by designer Marika Meyer better lent itself to a restaurant-style booth with benches facing each other, providing seating for four without blocking the window. Storage above and below the benches makes the most of this small space.
From: Marika Meyer

Get the Custom Look for Less

If you like the idea of banquettes but don't want to have them custom-built, consider these dining benches by the Itsy Bitsy Ritzy furniture shop. Available in several stock length-and-depth combinations, the benches can be used in even the smallest kitchen corners. Bonus: Storage under the flip-up seats supplements scant kitchen cupboard space.

Pull Up a Chair for Bonus Seating

Here, interior designer Karen Soojian, ASID, supplemented banquette seating with two easily movable chairs, leaving room for traffic in and out of the kitchen door. In a tight space, portability is a plus — and so are eye-catching design elements. The table here was made of reclaimed wood from a felled tree found near this Minnesota home while the sculptural base was created by furniture designer Tristan Thiel.

Lucite Chairs: the Clear Choice

When you're selecting chairs for a super-tiny kitchen, consider transparent ones like these chrome and Lucite barstools in a D.C. show house kitchen created by Aidan Design. The refective chrome and clear plastic almost disappear from view, helping the kitchen look and feel larger.

Add Seating With Stools

Low, round stools are another great way to add seating around a small table without gobbling up visual space. The rustic wood pieces chosen by designer Ines Hanl of The Sky is the Limit Design work well with the outdoorsy vibe of this room. In a more formal space, porcelain Chinese garden stools could work very nicely.

Add Casters for an Easily Movable Option

If you want flexible seating, you needn't stick to featherweight chairs and portable stools. The stylishly substantial benches in this apartment by Studio Garneau are on casters, so they can be relocated easily. Quick as you can say "after-dinner drinks," they're in the living room, offering a comfortable perch for lingering guests.

Add Flexibility With a Folding Tabletop

The 13-foot-wide kitchen in this small home does double duty: It's both the laundry room and cook space. A clever custom table attached to the island creates family dining space and a surface for folding clothes. Design by Wentworth Studio

Folding Tabletop, Extended

Clothes aren't the only thing folded here: The tabletop folds up to provide extra seating for guests.

Or, Build In a Slide-Out Table

When designer Cheryl Daugvila of Cheryl D Design renovated the kitchen in this 100-year-old house, she wanted to update the space but keep the look faithful to the home's heritage. This vintage-look tabletop she designed pulls out like a drawer to accommodate up to five guests when entertaining or slides back into position to free up floor space when it's not needed.

Clever Hidden Features

Can you guess how architect Amy Alper added extra space to this 200-square-foot kitchen's prep/dining surface? (Keep clicking to find out.)

Custom Countertop

When guests come to dine, the homeowners top the island's range with a custom-made walnut cover that transforms the cooktop into a tiered surface for platters and serving bowls.

No Wasted Floor Space

In this 180-square-foot kitchen, Hamilton-Gray Design replaced a built-in breakfast nook with a dining table for two, built around the back and side of the island. Fitting the table-height piece around the counter-height island makes the most of the available space and allows each surface to be at the right height for its designated purpose.

Make Multipurpose Pieces Part of Your Design

If you only have room for one prep/dining surface, it's best to place it at counter height, rather than table level. (It's far more comfortable to sit a few inches higher up on a barstool while you eat than to bend over while you chop vegetables.) With sleek lines and a glossy surface, this dining counter by Hong Kong designer Louis Lau looks almost like sculpture — without sacrificing any of its functionality.

Make the Most of the View

The challenge of placing the dining counter in this small apartment kitchen was ensuring that no one sat with their back to the living area — or disrupted the cooking action. "I placed both chairs on one side of the butcher-block table so that both the living and kitchen areas are visible when you're seated," says interior designer Melissa Mascara. "The table's placement offers a good view into the pretty living room."

Don't Interrupt the Traffic Flow

Sometimes, though, the best spot for a counter is right against the wall. Having the dining counter/computer station in this long, narrow kitchen by Affecting Spaces on the edge of the room keeps traffic flowing easily, and the creamy white of the chairs, counters, walls and cabinets gives the space an open and airy feel.

Think Outside the Rectangle

When designing seating for a small space, it helps to think outside the box — or, in this case, beyond the rectangle. In this condominium kitchen by Krieger + Associates Architects, Inc., the prep/dining island is wider at one end to accommodate diners, and narrower at the other to improve traffic flow.

Give a Triangle a Try

Eschewing the usual straight lines maximizes space in this kitchen too. Ines Hanl of The Sky is the Limit Design chose a triangular table that takes up less room than a rectangular one would — and enhances the Atomic Age vibe of the room's fun and funky design.

Add Just the Amount of Dining Space You Need

At first, designer Emily Mackie's clients laughed at the idea of cutting a quarter out of a perfectly good round tabletop. But wrapping the dining surface around the corner provides the perfect place for the retired homeowners to linger over their morning coffee, and this configuration takes up much less floor space than a whole table would.

Up On a Pedestal

If you're selecting a more standard-shaped table for a tiny dining nook, interior designer Gina Fitzsimmons, ASID, advises you choose one with a pedestal base so people can easily slide in and out of their seats. Another tip: "For maximum space efficiency, the table should overlap the seat by just one inch," she recommends.

Add an Easy-to-DIY Bar Top

With no room for a table in her own small kitchen, interior designer Melanie Coddington installed a pine slab counter in an adjacent alcove. The barstools are actually school-laboratory seats that Coddington sanded and spray-painted orange. A mirror over the bar reflects a pretty view of trees outside a sunny window, keeping the tight space from feeling claustrophobic.

Add Dining Space to an Underused Room

Even if you don't have space in or near your kitchen, you needn't eat your dinner hunched over the coffee table or standing over the kitchen sink. With no room to eat in their 6-foot-long kitchen, husband-and-wife design team Jesse Carrier and Mara Miller of Carrier & Company turned a spare bedroom in their New York City apartment into a dining room. Lesson learned: The best kitchen design, indeed the best design for any room, is whatever works with your lifestyle.

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