Kitchens used to be stashed in the basement of wealthy homes, seen only by the servants (think "Downton Abbey.") Nowadays, the kitchen is more likely to be the center of family and social life (think "Friends" or any sitcom for that matter) and tiny kitchens are no exception. Stainless steel appliances may be today's status symbols, but focusing on what you need and how you cook — personalizing a small kitchen — is the cheaper, smarter way to make your kitchen your kingdom.

Do you even need a kitchen? It’s a serious question. If you’re willing to forego a kitchen, you can save space and money on rent. Eating out is much more expensive, but if you don’t cook, you’ll have far less competition apartment-hunting. And you don’t necessarily need a kitchen to cook, as this Apartment Therapy thread shows. (Just don’t start a fire, please.)

Of course, most of us need a kitchen, but as Megan McArdle points out in The Atlantic, the average woman spends much less time in the kitchen than she used to (and the average man is still rarely visits). But “just when our labor in the kitchen has fallen,” she writes, “we have seen the rise of the gourmet kitchen: the high-end retailers like Williams-Sonoma ... the Sub-Zero refrigerators ... the $10,000 Viking stoves ... the $250 Breville toaster ovens ... the Japanese knives with their own display stands.”

So kitchens are cultural. I’ve noticed that my European friends’ homes hardly ever have a microwave, but an electric kettle is essential to them. All the apartments I rented in Ireland came with a mini-fridge, and now my full-sized fridge stays mostly empty because I’m accustomed to shopping for fresh fruit and veggies a few times a week.

Find out how you really use your kitchen, like Viennese architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky did when she created the fitted Frankfurt kitchen. To come up with a space- and money-efficient post-war kitchen, the architect interviewed housewives, women’s groups and conducted experiments about how women really move in kitchens to come up with her groundbreaking design.

Notice how you cook and eat; do you consume more coffee and tea than microwaveable meals or popcorn? Then ditch the microwave, or better yet, replace it and your toaster with a small convection oven. If you’re building or remodeling a kitchen, think about a smaller fridge or a stovetop range with two burners (who uses all four at once?) You’re not only getting rid of something you don’t need, you’re also getting something you’ll actually use: more space.

jar for bulk storage in small kitchenModern kitchens are out in the open. Kitchens are more likely to be part of the social space of a home, and extending that philosophy makes for good-looking cooking. 

Use clear jars (you can buy Mason jars by the dozen at hardware stores, or clean and reuse jars) to store bulk foods like sugar, flour, lentils, etc. to easily see what you need in a fully-stocked kitchen. You can also use open shelves, bookcases or whatever you find to store food, not just expensive, bulky cabinets that need professional installation.

Hanging kitchen utensils also saves drawer space and keeps things handy. You can also hang mugs and containers for wooden spoons or cutlery. A hanging dish rack saves a lot of counter space, and some models fold up when you’re not using them. 

Magnetic knife holders can also be used to store spices in metal containers; you can buy them pre-made at IKEA or here are instructions to make one yourself. This homemade spice rack fits an awkward part of the kitchen saving space beautifully by mounting magnetic knife holders on the bottom of cabinets, suspending a rainbow of spices at arm's length from the stove. Personalization beats the floor model every time. 

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Kasia Mychajlowycz is a freelance writer from Toronto who loves walking through cities, finding the best coffee and living in her cozy 300-square-foot apartment. She wrote this for the sharing site yerdle.

Inset photo of jar: Guitar75/Shutterstock

Key design elements in a small kitchen
You don't need stainless steel for a great kitchen, just a setup that focuses on how you cook.