12 Simple Tricks to Gain More Counter Space

Got a small kitchen? Learn how to maximize your work and storage space without spending a mint.

Marble countertops with neatly organized bottles, pots, and wooden boards arranged on them with dark gray cabinets above and below

Shutterstock / united photo studio

A common casualty of many adorable kitchens-in vintage houses, craftsman bungalows, cottages and even urban apartments-is a lack of space. From teensy countertops to cramped cabinets, it can be frustrating to work in a too-cozy kitchen.

No need to remodel! Follow our handy tips to maximize your small kitchen, from making storage space work harder to freeing up counter space. (Check out our pared-down list of the only kitchen tools you need.)

1. Install a pot rack

Mount a rack either above or near your stove, and hang frying pans, saucepans and colanders from it. You’ll free up precious cabinet space and feel more organized. (Bonus: less scurrying around the kitchen.) Many utensils, such as pasta stirrers or serving spoons, are equipped with holes or hooks; loop those through the pot rack, too.

2. Stick knives on the wall

A magnetic strip hung horizontally above the countertop or stove keeps knives in reach but out of the way. (Knife blocks can have a sneakily large footprint that you’d probably rather use for your coffee maker.) Make sure the magnet is strong enough to hold your heaviest knife, and take care to dust frequently to keep knives clean.

3. Stow utensils in crocks or jars

Bundling serving utensils, such as spatulas and wooden spoons, upright in a ceramic crock or a large glass jar frees up drawer space. Expect a stylish boost if you can score, say, a bright orange crock or a vintage blue mason jar. (We’ve got 15 hacks for your old glass jars.)

4. Amp up the light

OK…technically this won’t make your kitchen more spacious. But bright light gives the illusion of openness and airiness that many kitchens lack. Install a fresh, strong overhead light, add LEDs under the cabinets or even plug in a task lamp. Don’t have the budget for new lights? Brighten the walls with white or light-hued paint, or slap a fresh coat onto the cabinets.

5. Pare down on convenience appliances

Which appliances do you really need sitting out? If your coffee maker steams up every morning, it’s earned its place on the counter. If your blender only comes out for an occasional smoothie, stash it in an out-of-the-way cabinet. (Or, if space is really short, store in the basement or another room.)

6. Mount the microwave

It can be tempting to drop your microwave on a countertop, but look at how much space that hogs. Hanging it below a cabinet or above the stove frees up space without sacrificing utility.

7. Bring in some furniture

Many small kitchens have floor space to spare. If yours does, consider investing in two key furnishings: an island and a metal storage shelf. An island provides instant counter space; most also have shelves below for storage. Many stores sell small square islands that can slip into the dead space beside the stove or fridge. If you’ve got a wider free space, consider a metal storage shelf. Beloved by restaurants everywhere, these workhorses aren’t the prettiest, but they can hold anything from stand mixers and small appliances to cookbooks, crocks, pantry items and more. Many also come with hooks that can hold small tools, pots and pans.

8. Use stackable storage

Go up, not out, when considering storage on your countertops. Whenever possible, hang things from ceilings or walls or incorporate multi-level storage units. Fruit baskets hanging from ceilings allow air to circulate around the fruit, keeping it fresher longer. A spice rack can stash several tiers of spices. Hooks under cabinets can hold mugs. Arrange cookbooks on top of the fridge. Look around, and get creative. You’ve got more space than you’d think!

9. Remember lazy Susans?

During the ’70s, lazy Susans were popular at dinner parties, in part because they enabled dishes to be passed around the table easily. Set a lazy Susan by the stove to stash everyday spices and oils. It’ll take up less space, and with the flick of the wrist, your ingredients spin over to you. Here are 10 more genius ideas for using lazy Susans.

10. Annex extra workspace

If countertops are seriously small, it might be time to consider taking over some real estate. Set a large, sturdy cutting board over your stovetop and use it for slicing and dicing; move it away when it’s time to cook. Over-the-sink cutting boards make it easy to clean, chop, and discard scraps.

11. Keep a compost or garbage bowl on the counter

Keep debris to a minimum while you’re working. Place a small bowl by your cutting board and put food scraps and crumbs into it as you go. This makes even small cutting boards feel bigger because it helps banish the waste. (Makes it easy to haul stuff out to the compost, too.)

12. Clean dishes as you go

Got a big day of cooking or baking? Your free space can quickly get cluttered with piles of dirty dishes and utensils. The secret of most pro chefs is to clean while you work-keep a pan of sudsy water ready, and load the dishwasher as you go.

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Kristine Hansen
A former editor of a regional home and garden magazine, where she edited the entertaining section, Kristine writes for national travel, design and food outlets about culinary trends. Her book on Wisconsin cheese serves as a love letter to her adopted state of Wisconsin and she loves to travel in search of regional cultural foods.