7 Decorating Mistakes That Make a Kitchen Look Smaller, According to Interior Designers

published Oct 26, 2022
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Credit: Liz Calka

Kitchens never seem big enough, do they? (Even the giant ones somehow manage to fill up quickly.) While some of this is a result of natural limitations, there’s also a lot that you may be doing — whether it’s a bad optical illusion or a silly use of space — to make your kitchen feel smaller than it is. Luckily, a few design tricks and a bit of organizing can really transform your kitchen

Here are seven things interior designers say are making your kitchen feel small — and what you should do instead.

Credit: Viv Yapp

1. Installing an island that’s too big.

We’ve all seen kitchens with giant <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="islands%20that%20can%20seat%20eight%20to%2010%20and%20thought,%20%E2%80%9CWow,%20that%20would%20be%20amazing,%E2%80%9D%20but%20some%20spaces%20just%20aren%E2%80%99t%20meant%20to%20have%20islands%20that%20big%20%E2%80%94%20especially%20if%20building%20bigger%20means%20sacrificing%20walkway%20space.%20%E2%80%9CWe%20like%20to%20see%20a%20minimum%20of%2042%20inches%20wide%20for%20walkways%20and%20between%20cabinets,%E2%80%9D%20says%20interior%20designer%20Stephanie%20Brown%20of%20<a%20href=" https:>Stephanie Brown Inc.

Anna Franklin of Stone House Collective agrees. “Unfortunately, an island is not ideal for every space and can have more of a negative impact when it comes to functionality in a kitchen. In these cases, it is best to use a movable butcher block island that can be tucked away when not in use,” she says. Another option is to add a peninsula to allow for better flow while still giving you that coveted breakfast bar and cooking space. 

Credit: Ghazalle Badiozamani

2. Storing too many small appliances out in the open.

Yes, you need your air fryer, rice cooker, espresso maker, and stand mixer, but do you need to show them off at all times? These tools can take up a lot of countertop real estate and make the kitchen feel overcrowded. One quick solution is to store these appliances out of sight.

Caron Woolsey of CW Interiors has another handy idea: Build an appliance garage. “This will help streamline surfaces for a clean, organized workspace that is both inviting and calming.” Appliance garages may seem retro but they’re back in style in a big way.

Credit: Cat Meschia/Kitchn

3. Relying on poor lighting.

There are actually a couple of common mistakes people make when it comes to properly lighting their space. For starters: Lights that are too soft can make your canteen feel tiny. “Dim light is the worst offender,” says Killy Scheer of Scheer & Co. Interior Design. “Whether it’s as simple as changing out light bulbs for brighter options or replacing fixtures entirely, lighting is the first step in creating the illusion of more space,” she says.

You should also be careful of the size of your lights. “Going too small on your light fixtures can actually make your kitchen feel smaller,” says McCall Dulkys of Interiors by McCall. “Scale in a kitchen is really important, and selecting oversized pendant lighting over an island can actually make the kitchen feel larger.”

Sometimes there’s also just not enough lighting in the room. Franklin suggests thinking about how you use your space. “Consider how your kitchen is laid out and choose task lighting to properly light your most commonly used work surfaces. You may also want to consider adding lighting to the interior of kitchen cabinet doors if they’re deeper cabinets where it can get dark, or if you want to display decorative items more prominently,” she says. 

And don’t forget about natural light! If you have lots of it, great. But, there are also ways to create some, says Hillary Stamm of HMS Interiors. Two suggestions: Hang sheer shades to let the sun seep through or a mirror to bounce light around.

Credit: Ryan Fung

4. Making the color scheme too dark.

“​​It’s important to remember dark colors can make a kitchen appear smaller,” says Stamm. She likes a dark kitchen, but only when she has lots of space to work with so it will still feel airy and big. Brown echoes that advice, noting that dark finishes can make a kitchen feel tight. “Dark wood or painted cabinets can look great, but consider keeping the dark colors on the lower cabinets and making upper cabinets or shelves a lighter color to give more visual breathing room,” she explains.

5. Surrounding yourself with too much cabinetry.

While we are all looking to get lots of storage out of our spaces, there is such a thing as too much when it comes to kitchen cabinetry. Interior designer Nicole Salceda of Eye for Pretty notes that too many upper cabinets can make a kitchen feel cramped and heavy. “To avoid this, we like to mix in open shelving and cabinets with glass doors to break up the solid cabinets,” she says.

Credit: Sandra Regalado

6. Using tiny compartment sinks.

Scheer suggests adding a larger, single-basin sink to make your kitchen feel more expansive. Having one giant space (instead of tiny compartments) will emphasize the width of your countertops. 

7. Installing a busy backsplash. 

Statement backsplashes are definitely having their moment, but you can’t go wrong with white subway tile. Woolsey recommends keeping the palette neutral and adding visual interest in other unexpected ways, such as with a colorful appliance. “Mix metals for a wow factor that keeps the design from feeling busy and distracting,” she says. 

How do you keep your kitchen from looking small? Share your design strategies in the comments below.