Why Galley Kitchens Rule in Small Spaces

Renovate this traditional layout into a modern and organized space

While small kitchen spaces in general might seem limiting, galley kitchens 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.


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

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.


(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.

(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 now the kitchen feels 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 this aisle 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.


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.

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.


(Above) Claudia prioritized storage space, so a mix of custom upper, lower  and tall cabinets faced-off of each other. 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 together a unified and clean-cut look.

Keep your countertops clear while you’re cooking. Here’s a clever kitchen storage trick.

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