Why a Galley Kitchen Rules in Small Spaces

Renovate this galley kitchen layout into a modern and organized space

galley kitchen

While small kitchen spaces in general might seem limiting, a galley kitchen can be configured in a variety of ways that pack a punch in efficiency and storage. By definition, it consists of two parallel sides with a central aisle in the center to walk and move around. Working best in small and medium spaces, a narrow footprint highlights this kitchen style’s efficiency—making all points of the work triangle equally accessible. The least amount of shimmying between refrigerator, range, and sink is ideal while cooking. With two opposing walls, a galley outfits an abundance of storage options in a limited amount of space. Here are some examples of how a small-space kitchen can work for you.

Evaluate your space

To optimize the benefits of a galley kitchen, you need a small footprint. (Sorry, huge kitchens, we’ll find you a layout in another post.) Opposing walls that are separated too far apart will lose its efficiency. The best distance between them are four to six feet. One other characteristic to note: this layout contains the kitchen in its own enclosed room, which makes socializing difficult. Consider the option of connecting the kitchen to a larger social space or building in a through window.

galley kitchen

(Above) The galley kitchen in Emily’s prewar apartment was cut off from the living room. To solve this antisocial sore point, a pass-through was created complete with a counter extended and two stools—ideal for breakfast or a chat.

galley kitchen

(Above) Joel and Eric’s kitchen is brought into the social fold with the adjacent living room by building a countertop that unifies both spaces—a work and prep station on the kitchen side, and a buffet surface in the living area. Park yourself at the end of the peninsula and it’s one large entertaining space. The spot where the two sides meet functions as a service and conversational area during dinner parties, blurring the line between the two rooms.

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(Above) Rethinking the walls surrounding their kitchen gave Jill and Aaron the idea to open one side up and close off another. Closing off the doorway between the galley kitchen and dining room—and opening up the wall between the kitchen and living room—allowed them to create a much more open and functional space. The new layout feels extra roomy and is ideal for entertaining.

galley kitchen

(Above) A full line of cabinets dominate one wall in this galley, while the windowed wall is kept fairly open. The right windowsill was eliminated, and a base cabinet extends out into the dining room. Thankfully, this not only offers added storage but allows the kitchen to feel like part of the dining area.

Consider a balanced look—or not

When it comes to a galley kitchen, there is no right answer, and the options are open to your style preference. An even look with both walls mirroring each other will double your storage with upper and lower cabinets. Keep in mind, congestion is a factor. A double run of upper cabinets may begin to feel overcrowded. A wider aisle will fit best when people are congregating or cabinet and appliance doors need to open without hitting the other side.

A non-symmetrical layout can have one side concentrated with tall cabinets, while the opposite contains base and upper cabinets. If there’s a narrow space between the runs, a good option is a mix of upper and base cabinets on one side with base cabinets and floating shelves on the other. This will allow a more open and airy feel. And if even that feels congested, another smart configuration is leaving one wall clear.

galley kitchen

To maximize Jenna’s narrow corridor (above), a run of upper and base cabinets sit along one wall, and faces a flush refrigerator and uncluttered wall. Although she admits, “I’m in the process of creating a “bucket list” installation for the remaining wall, though I’m enjoying the space the empty wall creates.” With only the width of a range to work in, this layout presents an efficient way to navigate this space.

galley kitchen

Open shelving takes the place of upper cabinets along half of the wall in Daniel’s kitchen (above), eliminating the feeling of claustrophobia that plagued the old kitchen. Moving the fridge away from the entryway, where it had made entering the kitchen difficult, to a spot at the opposite end creates symmetry and allows ease of movement through the space.

Move the fridge out of the galley

Fridges take up a lot of space which is a challenge in a small kitchen. Moving your fridge outside of the kitchen proper can help solve layout issues and increase counterspace. It can also serve as an alternative to taking down walls, making the space feel much more open while preserving the existing layout.

galley kitchen

(Above) In Hari and Kaity’s kitchen, the placement of the fridge minimized counterspace and the surrounding walls made the whole space feel tight. Relocating it to a spot a few feet outside of the kitchen walls allowed them to expand storage and counterspace. A cutout in the wall at the entrance also helps free up space for a lighter feeling.

galley kitchen

The stove and fridge in Kelly’s kitchen (above) were both tiny, but she wasn’t sure if she could make room for full-sized versions. Moving the placement of the fridge to a spot outside of the galley allowed her to upgrade to the standard size for both appliances without sacrificing prep or cabinet space.

A style note

A menagerie of materials and colors can start feeling chaotic in a small area. Unifying the look under a single color or finish will help tie it all together. Another good way to achieve this is outfitting a refrigerator and dishwasher behind cabinetry panels for a streamlined look.

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(Above) Claudia prioritized storage space, so a mix of custom upper, lower, and tall cabinets face each other off. And despite the tight fit, she managed to fit an exhaust fan over a new cooktop. By having matching cabinetry panels made to hide the refrigerator and hood, she avoided a hodgepodge of different kitchen elements and pulled it together a unified and clean-cut look.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published February 2017 and has been updated.

Preserve prep space by moving small appliances off the counter and out of sight with this smart storage trick.

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