Giovanni Valle is a licensed architect and LEED-accredited professional and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). He is the author and managing editor of various digital publications, including BuilderSpace, Your Own Architect, and Interiors Place.
A galley kitchen is a long kitchen that runs lengthwise through a house. It’s often described as a “hallway” kitchen with counters and cupboards on both sides of the hallway. These kitchens often feel small, but there are tricks you can use to make your galley kitchen look bigger.
A galley kitchen looks bigger when it’s painted white, has open shelving, bright lighting. You can increase the kitchen’s appearance by painting the roof a few shades lighter than the walls, laying a rug with lengthwise stripes, and using glass containers for countertop items.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about making your galley kitchen look bigger, whether you’re looking for design tips from the beginning or simple redecorating tricks you can do on the cheap.
Use Lengthwise Flooring
If you’re doing large renovations on your galley kitchen and you’re looking for ways to make the entire room look bigger, flooring is one of the best ways to do so. If you’re electing for hardwood or laminate flooring, lay the planks lengthwise down the kitchen. This will drive the eye throughout the room, creating natural movement.
If you run the flooring widthwise, it will chop up space and make it seem smaller. With any style of flooring, selecting a unified color will also help the room look larger. Patterns will also break up space, while one color will create a seamless flow.
Purchase a Striped Rug
If redoing your flooring isn’t an option, you can shortcut the lengthwise flooring trick with a long rug with lengthwise stripes. The longer the rug, the more effective the opening effect. A black and white rug is a drastic addition to the room, so electing a less dramatic contrast of colors is more pleasing to the eye.
You can also use other patterns. If your floors are dark, then having a light colored patterned rug will help create contrast and add depth to the room. If you have a light colored floor, then placing a slightly darker rug will have the same effect. Keep the colors neutral if you don’t want the feature to be too dramatic.
Install Open Shelving
Galley kitchens often feel closed in, especially when they have cupboards on the bottom and the top. While you need the storage in your kitchen, you can make this storage stylish by using floating shelves or open cupboards.
Floating shelves will keep the room open and airy, and it will show off your dish and glassware too. You will have to keep your items more organized as they will be on display; however, the payoff is worth it. By installing floating shelves, or even by taking the doors off of your existing cupboards, you essentially move the walls back a foot or two, making the room seem wider than it did before.
Paint Everything White
Another classic designing trick is to paint all of the walls, cupboards, and ceilings white. This will make the entire space larger by eliminating the lines that cut the room into smaller areas. Plus, having white in your kitchen space feels luxurious and will impress your guests with how spotless it is.
You don’t have to use pure white; you can elect an off-white, eggshell white, or light beige. Do try to keep the color as light as possible, reflecting more light and brightening the room.
Place a Few Pops of Color Around the Room
While painting the walls, cupboards, and ceiling white will make the room seem bigger, you can use pops of color throughout the room. This will encourage the eye to travel around the room, expanding the space’s appearance instead of focussing on one thing.
Here are some ideas for ways to introduce pops of color into the kitchen:
- Choose colorful countertop appliances
- Put plants on the windowsill
- Place a rug on the floor
- Buy colorful dish and washcloths
- Chose a bright fruit bowl
- Hang artwork
Use Glossy Paint
While matte finishes can be stylish, using a semi-gloss or gloss paint will make every surface in the room a mildly reflective surface. The light that enters the room will be multiplied, and the bright the room is, the larger it appears.
Paint the Ceiling a Few Shades Lighter
For yet another trick with paint to expand the room, you can paint the ceiling a few shades lighter than the walls. This trick will make the ceiling seem higher, which will make the room feel bigger. The change will also be so subtle that you won’t notice it when you look at it; yet, the change is effective.
Remove the Window Curtains
To make a room feel more open, you can open up space to the outdoors. The window in your kitchen doesn’t need to be agape constantly, but by removing the curtains on the window, you make the flow between the indoors and the outdoors seamless. Whether you have frilly curtains, Venetian blinds, or lengthy drapes, you’ll update your space and make the entire kitchen seem bigger by getting rid of them altogether.
Consider the area around your home and consider the privacy you’ll be losing by doing this, but if you don’t look directly into your neighbor’s house, then losing the curtains could be well worth the sacrifice.
Hang Curtains High
If you choose to hang curtains on your kitchen window, hang them close to the ceiling, and choose as long of curtains as will work in the space. The lengthy pieces of fabric will elongate the walls, making the roof seem higher.
Of course, you don’t want the curtains’ fabric to be hitting a messy counter, so keep the bottom of the fabric below the windowpane but above the countertop.
Avoid using Cafe curtains that are hung mid-height across the window. These curtains create a dramatic line across space and cut the window short, making the whole window, and therefore space, seem smaller.
Choose Light-Colored Curtains
Again, if you decide to choose drapes, hanging light-colored curtains will be the least intrusive. If you can find a sheer light-colored drape that you love, they will be the most helpful when it comes to making your galley kitchen look bigger.
The lighter fabric is also better for making a room look bigger. Light curtains billow in the wind, and their fluid nature helps synchronize the feeling between the indoors and the outdoors. Heavy fabrics create more of a wall than a flexible barrier and should be avoided in small rooms.
Decorate With Light Colors
As with curtains, the best colors to use in your kitchen are light, cheerful colors. Use pale blues, yellows, and pinks instead of bold reds and purples. These soft colors can be made even lighter by choosing translucent materials, like pale blue glass jars or bowls.
Build Another Window
If you can perform some more serious renovations, building another window into your galley kitchen will massively open the space. You will sacrifice the upper cupboard space wherever you install the window, but the light you gain will be worth it.
If possible, install the window directly at the end of the galley kitchen. That placement will create a feeling of flow directly to the outdoors.
Building a door to the outside is even better, but this is, of course, harder to do. Depending on your home’s layout, your galley kitchen could back onto another room instead of the outdoors. You can consider installing a door on one of the kitchen sides as well, but at that point, a window is more realistic.
Hang a Large Piece of Art
Having many small decorations in a room creates a feeling of clutter and even panic. By paring down most of your decor and electing for one large piece of art, you give your galley kitchen a feeling of luxury and simplicity.
If you have a wall at one end of your galley kitchen, this is an excellent place to hang a piece of large artwork. This placement will draw the eye directly to the end of the room and make the entire galley kitchen seem longer.
Install Recessed Lighting
Lighting can affect space in so many ways. It can set the mood, make a room seem more intimate or, in our case, larger. By choosing bright lights in your kitchen, the entire space will seem more open. You’ll chase away any dark shadows or nooks that may shrink the space.
Hanging light fixtures can be impressive in expansive places; however, they can crowd the space in small rooms. Switch out any descending light fixtures for lamps that are flush with the ceiling or walls. If you’re building your kitchen from scratch, installing recessed lighting will save you space and cast light efficiently.
Install Lighting Below the Upper Cupboards
Another way to open up a galley kitchen is to install lighting below the upper cupboards. When these lights are on, the room will be fully brightened, and all shrinking shadows will be diminished. These lights can also give your kitchen a facelift, like giving the space a fresh coat of paint without pulling out the paintbrush.
Choose Stainless Steel
Stainless steel appliances are fantastic in the kitchen, easy to clean, maintain, and stylish. These pieces are specifically great in a galley kitchen because they reflect a lot of light and break up the room. The more light that can be let in the room and bounced around, the bigger the room will feel.
Keep the Counters Free
A cluttered kitchen is a crowded kitchen, so if you can keep your counters as clear as possible, space will feel larger. Try and keep objects in your drawers, lower cupboards, or in a separate pantry.
If you must-have items on the counter, try and have a specific place or container for them. The type of container you use is also important, as we’ll learn below.
Use Glass Containers
Any objects on your counter or shelves become a part of your space; this can be a good and a bad thing. Large objects can weigh a space down, but you also need certain pieces in your kitchen to function as a day to day cooking space.
Whatever objects you do need on your counter, place them in glass or clear containers to minimize the amount of visual space they take up. While an opaque bowl doesn’t take up more space than a translucent bowl, just having the ability to see through it makes the object less of a stopper to the kitchen’s flow.
A glass jar with cooking utensils can almost be a work of art in the kitchen. Select clear jars and containers to match with any design scheme, and take this opportunity to buy some visually appealing spatulas and cooking utensils.
If you want to have a fruit bowl on the counter, then a glass one will not only show off your fresh produce, but it will seem to float in the space. Any solid-colored item on a wall or a counter will create a stopper in the room.
Hang a Mirror
A mirror might not be your first choice for kitchen decor, but the reflective surface is a no-brainer when it comes to making space appear bigger. When you place a mirror in a space, it can have the effect of doubling the room. The mirror doesn’t need to be at head-height either; you can run a mirror along the counter below the cupboard or hang a slim vertical mirror at one end of the kitchen to subtly magnify the room and the light.
Wherever you decide to place a mirror, it will reflect any colors and multiply the space.
Install Push-to-Open Cupboards
Another way to make the galley kitchen more streamlined and seamless is to install push-to-open cupboards and doors. These doors work on pushing magnet mechanisms that allow the doors to pop out after being pushed in.
When you install these types of doors in a galley kitchen, you make the space seem so much larger because you take out any handles that protrude from the sides of the kitchen. Not only does this make the lines of the kitchen much cleaner, but it eliminates any risk of catching your clothing on the handles, which is something that can easily happen in a compact galley kitchen.
Choose Slimmer Cupboards
Instead of struggling to fit everything from a large kitchen into a smaller kitchen, adjust the staple structures’ measurements in your galley kitchen to suit the smaller space. Cabinets are available in all different measurements, and shallower cupboards can save a lot of floor space. By shrinking the cupboards’ depth on both sides by a few inches, you’ll gain more walking room.
If you don’t want to sacrifice your lower kitchen cupboards’ storage space, you can install shallower cupboards on the top only. This will give the appearance of pushing the walls back and move the shelves away from your line of sight. The more space you have at standing height, the larger you will perceive the room.
Paint Vertical Lines on the Wall
One of the easiest ways to visually expand the space of your kitchen is to create vertical lines. By painting lines from floor to ceiling, you draw the eye upwards and create a larger room’s appearance. If the idea of having floor-to-ceiling lines overwhelms you, you don’t have to commit to having the entire kitchen painted this way. Choose one accent wall to apply the lines to, or find a wallpaper that can be mounted from the counters up.
Electing for stripes that only have a subtle difference in color also takes away some of the pattern’s overpowering effects. Some wallpapers also offer stripes that alternate finish, with one stripe being matte and the next stripe being glossy and continuing. This creates depth in the room and encourages the eye to follow the pattern along the wall.
Choose a Neutral Backsplash
When selecting a backsplash for your counter or kitchen sink, avoid heavy, dark colors. These will weigh the space down and make the counters seem smaller. A bright white backsplash appears to extend the space, and paired with under-cupboard lighting, will open up the entire room.
The key to having a seamless backsplash is to match the tiles’ color to the walls; this way, the transition is noticeable enough to embellish your kitchen but subtle enough not to cut the space into smaller sections.
The backsplash is also a great opportunity to add another light-reflective surface to your kitchen. While you don’t need to go with fully mirrored tiles, having glazed tiles will create a surface that is reflective enough to bounce light throughout the room.
Stack Your Appliances
If you have the opportunity to do some renovations, then stacking your appliances is a fantastic way to give the illusion of more space in your kitchen. Usually, these stacked appliances are dual ovens, which is great for maximizing a compact kitchen’s cooking space.
You can also stack a wall unit espresso machine, a built-in microwave, and storage drawers. By combining your countertop appliances into wall units, you take up a small amount of wall space but free up a lot of usable counter space.
If you can’t do large renovations, you can install floating shelving for light appliances that you use daily but don’t want to keep on the counters.
Keep the Fridge Magnet-Free
Another way to open up a galley kitchen is to minimize small knick-knacks in the space. These little details can make the space feel cluttered and crowded. One of the fastest collectors of clutter is the refrigerator.
Post-it notes, travel magnets, family photos, and school projects all collect on the fridge rapidly. While these things are a part of daily life, something that takes up physical space takes up mental space. To combat the refrigerator randomness, you can try the following method.
Once a month, take everything off of the refrigerator. Sort all of the little items that have been gathered over the month. File away any receipts, throw away any expired post-it notes, and frame or store any school projects worth keeping.
After your fridge has been cleared, place all fridge magnets on the side of the fridge, so they are mostly hidden. Only take them out as you need something throughout the month. This will help your galley kitchen appear cleaner and larger.
Install a Single Sink
While a double sink is well-loved in a kitchen, they take up more room. A single sink can be chic and functional. Butler and Belfast sinks are large and usually single-bowled. These sinks are spacious enough for you to wash large pots and pans in but are small enough not to crowd your kitchen.
For a polished look, try a ceramic sink Butler or Belfast sink. A white sink will bounce and enhance any light that enters the space. The slightly shiny surface will also provide subtle reflection and keep the motion of the space flowing. The more light you can bounce around the room, the more airy and flowing it will feel.
Knock Down a Wall
Of course, one of the most effective ways of opening up space is to knock down a wall. If you can only remove a portion of one of the walls, that is also an excellent option. You can create a pass-through on one wall, with a unique kitchen nook and even a breakfast bar.
This thoroughfare between rooms provides a visual pathway from the galley kitchen and a physical avenue to pass dishes for dinners and drinks for hosted gatherings.
Things That Make a Galley Kitchen Look Small
While there are many things you can do to make your kitchen look larger, there are just as many things that will seem to shrink the room. Let’s explore some of the things to avoid when you decorate your galley kitchen.
Large spaces are often called “open” and “airy.” These feelings can be simulated in small quarters by introducing airflow and even lighting. Shadows create dark spaces in the room that can feel heavy. They can also cast lines and patterns that cut up the flow of the room.
The more things you have in a space, the more distracted you become from the space itself and focus on the little items instead. Little objects and trinkets might give a room charm, but they also crowd it. Small figurines also tend to be easy to knock over, which creates mess and inconvenience, especially in such a high-traffic area as the kitchen.
As with heavy shadows, dark colors can weigh down a room. Dark colors tend to act as blockages in a design space, and the deeper the color, the more it absorbs. This effect is why movie theaters are dark and have fabric walls; they drown out both sound and light.
While a few contrasting colors can create depth in a space, having too much will feel stifling and heavy. If you must have dark objects in the room, say some of your appliances are black, then space them through the kitchen. If you pile all of your dark objects in one area, they will create a sort of black mark on your design, and all eyes will be drawn there instead of moving freely through the space. This crowding is a sure-fire way to shrink your galley kitchen.
Matte surfaces don’t reflect light. They are excellent in large spaces as they soften the edges of objects and make a room feel more lived-in. (Think of soft cloth versus polished metal.) In a small space, matte objects have the same effect as in a large space; they make the room feel cozier.
However, this is not something that a galley kitchen needs help with; they are inherently cozy. Polished surfaces won’t stop the light as matte surfaces will. Instead, they will keep the light moving.
These half-mast curtains may feel cute in a countryside farmhouse, but when you’re trying to make the most of your small space, they aren’t on your side. Short curtains give the appearance of cutting the windows in half, while long curtains elongate the space.
By introducing a lot of different colors into your galley kitchen, you will crowd the space. Both visually and mentally, the space will become busy and distracting. It may not seem like much when you are looking at the kitchen for a moment, but on a day-to-day basis, this visual clutter can increase anxiety.
Keep the colors in your galley kitchen minimal, ideally with white as the base. You may choose a few highlight colors to place around the room, but try and keep them subtle and spread out.
A galley kitchen may seem like it is doomed to be crowded, but by implementing a few of the tactics above, you can make your narrow kitchen seem much larger. Start with some simple decor tricks like adding in a striped carpet, clearing counter surfaces, and removing the window’s curtains.
If you still feel you need more space, install floating shelves in place of the upper cupboards, paint the ceiling a few shades lighter than the walls, and add lighting under the cabinets.
Remember: when it comes to small spaces, less is more.
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