Conjuring the Illusion of a Big Little Kitchen

Words by Michelle, Higgins, The New York Times News Service


The one-bedroom apartment that Laura and Ian Greig bought in Miami Beach last year had something that many New Yorkers can relate to: a very small kitchen that hadn’t been touched since the 1980s.


Unevenly spaced appliances lined one wall of the narrow, 67-square-foot space, leaving no room for a dishwasher and barely enough for a diminutive range. The range hood blocked the only window, eliminating most of what little natural light there was, and bulky cabinets and large air-conditioning soffits protruded into the rest of the overhead space.


“It just felt so claustrophobic,” said Greig, who moved from the United Kingdom in 2013 with her husband, Ian, who works in construction, and founded the Miami interiors firm The Habitat Collective with Sara Richards two years later.


Expanding the kitchen was out of the question because of budget and space constraints. So after living with it for a few months, the couple began a low-cost gut renovation with the help of Richards. The goal: making the little kitchen feel bigger and brighter, without expanding the dimensions or losing any storage.


Their DIY overhaul is a lesson in making do with the space you have and eking out more elbow room — or at least the illusion of it — in the most cramped quarters. Here are some of the strategies they employed.





“One of the first things we focused on was to open up the space in front of that window,” Richards said. Moving the range and hood to the middle of the wall, away from the window, immediately brightened the space by allowing the natural light in, she said: “We amped up that bright feeling by using a white herringbone backsplash and white quartz countertops that have a reflective quality, to help bounce the light around.”




To squeeze in a dishwasher and a standard-size range, the couple moved the sink flush against the wall with the window and installed a slimmer, retro-style Smeg refrigerator.


On the other wall, a short, shallow counter with rounded edges sat awkwardly in the middle of the space, offering little in the way of storage or counter space. After it was removed, a shallow cabinet and countertop was installed along the entire length of the wall, making room for storage in the process.




During the renovation — which took about four months because the couple did the bulk of the work themselves on nights and weekends — they discovered that the soffit surrounding the air-conditioning vent was much larger than it needed to be.


“Can you believe half of it was totally hollow and there for no apparent reason?” Greig said. “It’s always worth checking behind soffits and lowered ceilings to see if there is a way to either remove or shrink them.”


By slimming it down, they gained about six inches of overhead space, she said, which “made a huge difference.”






To up the style quotient, they spent about $1,300 (about R16 000)on DIY Shaker-style doors and panels for the cabinets and dishwasher from Semihandmade, a company that specializes in making reasonably priced doors that fit Ikea cabinets.


In such a small kitchen, Richards said, “if all the appliances were showing, it would feel like a room full of appliances.” But painted the same gray as the cabinets (Hush from Behr), the panel covering the dishwasher blends in with everything else.


Buying a remnant, instead of an entire slab of quartz, from a stone fabricator also cut their costs.




The marble herringbone backsplash, was installed all the way up to the ceiling on one wall. And “whilst this was backbreaking work,” Greig said — because they did it themselves — “it has totally opened up the room. It also bounces so much light around and complements the color of the cabinets.”


The same marble backsplash covers the opposite wall between the shallow counters and the open shelving, which “has provided a ton of storage,” Greig said.


The two six-foot-long shelves are “where we keep our most-used everyday items, like plates, bowls, herbs, chopping boards and glasses, mixed in with some small artwork,” she said. “These shelves are one of our favorite parts of the kitchen — functional and pretty. And they work a million times better than wall cabinets would have done, with regards to keeping the space feeling open.”


Images: Rolando Diaz/The New York Times