12 Upgrades That’ll Squeeze More Storage into Your Kitchen—Without Changing Its Size

published Oct 7, 2020
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: Liz Calka

I’ve been a professional organizer for years, and I have never heard anyone say, “I wish I had less storage in my kitchen.”

I am always trying to create more kitchen storage out of thin air. And while it takes some creative thinking, it’s definitely not impossible to squeeze every bit of storage space out of a small kitchen. Take it from design pros, who make it their business to pack as much function into a cook space as possible. Here, 12 of their best tips for making the most of the footprint you’re given and maximizing every last square inch.

1. Use a mix of open shelving and traditional cabinets

When some people hear “more storage,” they immediately think “more cabinets,” but that’s not necessarily the case anymore.

“In the past, it’s been one or the other, but I’m loving the idea of incorporating open shelving to showcase the prettier items, in conjunction with the traditional storage solutions,” says Alyse Eisenberg, Interior Designer and owner of Studio Alyse in Brooklyn.

She says she also likes to incorporate a ribbed glass door, as opposed to a solid wooden upper cabinet.”This makes the space feel more open, but is still opaque enough so that embarrassing mug you love will never be seen!” she says.

Changing out your old cabinet doors is easy, and way cheaper than replacing your cabinets altogether.

2. Utilize quirky, odd, and awkward spaces

For those small 4-inch-gaps or awkward spaces underneath islands that are under-utilized, Kaitlyn Payne, Principal Designer and owner of Basicspace in Brooklyn, suggests adding a small shelf to make sure that space is maximized.

“When in doubt with these weird spaces, put up some open shelving,” says Payne. “I always have the general contractor cut some plywood, match the paint of the cabinet and put them up.”

The tiny spaces might be enough to hold spices, drinking glasses, or other small items, clearing the way in your cabinets for larger ones.

3. Use ‘upper cabinets’ as ‘lower cabinets’ in tiny spaces

Just because you have a smaller space doesn’t mean you have to compromise on storage.

“Particularly when people have a skinny, narrow kitchen that doesn’t have the size for a standard 24-inch-deep bottom cabinet, you can still do a floor to ceiling pantry using just upper cabinets,” says Payne. These are shallower than their lower counterparts, which means you can add cabinetry to an area that doesn’t have much floor space.

Credit: Viv Yapp

4. Add in vertical shelving slots

“If you are a cutting board hoarder like me, adding vertical slots to store your boards is absolutely necessary,” says Chloe Heath, Interior Designer, Branding Strategist, and Art Director in Los Angeles.

This space-saver won’t make it easy to store cutting boards and serving trays, but you’ll also actually be able to see them, so you can quickly find your cutting board while meal-prepping. They’re handy for storing plates, too.

5. Add pull-out shelving within your cabinets

“These days you can find a lot of interior cabinet racks and baskets that can be added inside your cabinets to utilize any space within the shelves along with the backside of doors,” says Tamara Magel, Interior Designer and owner of Tamara Magel Design Build and Interior Design in the Hamptons and Palm Beach.

Heath agrees.b”Pull-out shelving can be a game-changer for making items more accessible. If you are working with existing cabinetry, you can add these in easily for a budget-friendly solution,” she says.

Rev-a-Shelf makes plenty of pull-out cabinet accessories that you can install yourself in an afternoon with just a couple basic tools. After, you’ll be able to access the depths of your cabinets—meaning you can take full advantage of your kitchen’s storage capability.

6. Integrate your appliances

Eisenberg says it may not be a new trend, but getting your appliances off the countertop and incorporating them into your kitchen design is a must. She even recommends matching the cabinet finish to the appliances so that they blend in.

If you don’t have space to integrate your appliances or you’re not interested in doing that, then make sure you have a plan for what exactly is going on your countertop.

“Part of ‘storage’ is actually how you perceive your counter space,” says Payne. “If there’s a lot of stuff out or on the counter, you automatically think ‘I need more storage’ but that might not be true. You might just not be putting the right things in the right spaces.”

Whatever you do, make sure you’re accounting for enough space for your appliances—whether on your counter or in cabinets.

Payne says she had a client who requested that her Vitamix remain on the counter since she uses it every day.  Luckily, Payne knew in advance that a Vitamix is 20 inches tall and the standard gap between a counter and upper cabinets is 18 inches, so she was able to plan accordingly.

“Those things that you use every day that you want on your counter, just make sure that you make space in your layout,” she says.

7. Give yourself an appliance pantry

“This is for those with a larger-size kitchen, but if you have it, I would go for it,” says Eisenberg.

An appliance pantry can be as simple as a dedicated cabinet space that houses your blenders, toasters, really anything with a plug. But you can also get a little more specific with this space.

“I’ve been seeing coffee pantries pop up everywhere,” says Eisenberg. “This is a concealed cabinet that houses a coffee machine, cups, power, and even a water supply so you have everything you need to make the perfect morning cup.”

8. Take your cabinets all the way up to the ceiling

“One of the easiest ways to add storage is by taking your cabinets all the way to the ceiling,” says Magel.

Magel also suggests adding a ladder in the design plan so that you can actually reach that top cabinet space.

9. Invest in a stylish step stool

If you’re not interested in adding more cabinetry, that doesn’t mean that you can’t take advantage of the space above your cabinets for extra storage.

Payne suggests investing in a chic step stool that you don’t mind keeping in your kitchen so that those high-up spaces don’t become unused or forgotten spaces.

“Don’t think of it as unreachable space (which means unusable space). Just get a nice step stool so you can access it,” she says.

Yes, “stylish step stool” might sound like an oxymoron, but there really are cute options out there. Think: colorful aluminum step stools, warm wood craftsman-style step stools, splurgey but sleek lacquered wood, low stools with cool industrial style, or the endlessly customizable IKEA BEKVAM stool.

10. Consider going vintage

Heath says to not be afraid to “think outside the cabinet” when considering your storage options.

“For any space that needs a lot of storage, my first suggestion is to diversify your storage solutions. Not everything needs to be hidden behind cabinet doors,” says Heath.

For example, she says, perhaps you have a vintage hutch you’d love to display your dinnerware on instead of adding more cabinets on a wall.

Eisenberg echoes that. “I look for storage options that will hold everything while aligning with the overall vibe of the space,” she says. “Maybe it’s a vintage wardrobe that fits perfectly into an eclectic style room that houses anything from toys, to extra blankets, to those knick-knacks you love, but don’t want everyone to see when visiting.”

11. Pick free-standing storage items that you actually like to look at

It’s easy to pick up a generic plastic bin, but a little bit of thought here goes a long way. 

“For open storage areas, look for containers that can double as decor,” says Heath. “On my kitchen’s long open shelves, I keep all of my extra dish towels hidden in woven baskets and let some of my favorite serving bowls hold fresh produce.”

12. Add railings for hanging storage

“I love using contemporary iron or brass rails to store some of my most-used kitchen tools,” says Heath. You can find plenty of railing options at IKEA, which also carries accessories like bins and hooks that you can add to them to make the most of the space.

Health’s tip to keep this practical storage looking chic? “Try mixing a variety of materials on the rails like a cast iron pan, wooden spoons, linen towels, or metal measuring cups to create some balance,” she says.

Pot racks, peg boards, and hooks for mugs will also help you take advantage of every last bit of wall (and ceiling) space.