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ASK AN EXPERT: Small kitchen renovation storage solutions

July 1, 2021

If there is one thing most people have been busy doing during the last year, it’s renovations on their homes. The majority of those renovations have been on kitchens. This is not surprising given the fact that we all have had to cook at home. When you are tasked with a small kitchen renovation, however, the planning of what goes where, and what type of storage to choose is of the utmost importance. Things like flooring, lighting and even appliances all have to be chosen with consideration to maximizing storage.

This week Barbara from Vancouver wrote to me for this very reason. She has a small galley kitchen and wanted advice on how to choose the best storage solutions for it.


“Renovation on my kitchen starts at the end of September. Any advice on how to review the contents of my kitchen on what stays and what goes and the best storage options and tips for what is staying? Which of course then could impact what kind of cupboards you then have and where you place them.” Barbara Z., Vancouver CA

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Dear Barbara,

Thank you for reaching out to Ask An Expert for advice on your kitchen organization. And thanks for answering all the questions I sent to you so that I could get better clarity on addressing your needs.

You have asked 2 questions; the first is what to keep and what to let go of, the second is the best storage options for what is left. Before I can begin to give you some tips on either of these questions, we need to know what your organizing style is.

How Professional Organizers first approach finding organizing solutions for clients starts with establishing which organizing style they are most comfortable with. In the organizing industry there are two types; Stuff In Types: those who like to have everything put away out of sight. Stuff Out Types: those who like to have their things out on display or for use. It is important to establish this right at the very beginning as we want to design solutions that respect the client’s tastes, that maximize space, and are maintainable.  Generally, individuals are “Stuff Out” people because they like ease of access.

From the photos you sent it is clear you are a classic “Stuff Out” individual.

Storage options for your kitchen renovation

Do you choose your storage options based on how many things you have, or do you choose your storage options based on how much space you have to work with? What you keep and what you let go of (beyond items that are broken or too worn) will in part be determined by the amount of potential storage space you have. With this in mind, I am first going to look at storage options to consider.

The Kitchen “Work Triangle”

Designers have what they refer to as the kitchen “work triangle”: the sink, the stove, the fridge. These 3 items are the basis for all activity in the kitchen. In your case, you also have laundry in the kitchen. When considering your options for storage it is important to accommodate the needs that support the activities for all of these items.

Cupboards: Below the counter

Under Counter Kitchen Storage

The cupboards below the kitchen countertop are best used for large and heavy items. The more counter space you can create the more potential you have for under counter storage. However, cupboards can be the death of “Stuff Out” people because things get lost in them. That is why I always suggest considering cupboards with pull out drawers in them. By doing this you not only maximize its full depth, but you are also able to maximize the vertical space too. You can store a lot more, more safely, in 2 pull out drawers than on 2 under-counter shelves.

Items that can go in under counter pull-out shelves: Pots, Pans, Lids, Colanders, Flatware (dishes), Small appliances, Plastic storage containers, Dry foods.

Lazy Susan: Under counter corner storage potential

I am not sure whether you have considered continuing your counter to be under the kitchen window. Doing so would give you the added potential for storage and more countertop space. Specifically, the corner section under the counter is ideal for a Lazy Susan. I have a small galley kitchen like yours and the Lazy Susan stores all our bowels and occasionally used small appliances. I understand you are planning an Ikea kitchen and I know they do great storage options/Lazy Susans for kitchen corners.

Items that can go in an under-counter Lazy Susan: pots, pans, bakeware, small appliances, salad and mixing bowls.


Kitchen drawer dividers

I notice in your photo you have just one unit with 3 drawers. Might I suggest you have shallow drawers immediately under the counter above any cupboard/deep drawer storage? Wide shallow drawers are perfect for storing the following:

Shallow drawers under countertop: Tinfoil, cling film, parchment paper, wax paper, flat scales, oven mitts, ziplock bags, spices & herbs, chopping boards.

Drawer unit with 3 or 4 drawers: Cutlery, serving & mixing utensils (extra spatulas, skewers, wooden spoons, etc.), bulky utensils (measuring jugs/cups, lemon squeezer, thongs, etc.), placemats, junk drawer, tea towels.

Vertical Storage:

Cupboard dividers for pans

Vertical storage is the storage above or below your counter that allows items to placed vertically. They are usually narrow and take up little space. They are great because they allow for ease of access to items that would otherwise be piled.

Having narrow vertical storage is great for storing: baking sheets, trays, chopping boards, cooling racks.

Cupboards: Above the counter:

Above counter storage in kitchens is always an issue because the top shelves are not easily accessible being so high up. I sometimes suggest to clients to have the cupboards on the very top (by the ceiling) be used for display with glass doors. It is a great way to keep vases and other attractive items. They can be seen for all their beauty but because they are behind glass doors, they do not get greasy or dusty. The top cabinets on one wall of my kitchen are like this and we keep our liquor, large silver, and vases on display there.

I want you to consider the appliances below any cupboard as this will give you a clue as to what to put in it. It’s all about supporting an efficient flow of activity.

The Sink:

The sink is used for washing dishes, but it is also used when making tea or coffee. So, when thinking about the cupboards above the sink consider putting the following: mugs, glasses, tea & Coffee, teapot coffee pots, sugar bowl.

Stove & Oven:

Obviously, the oven vent is above the stove. I want you to consider the cupboards above the counter on either side of the vent. The following might be stored in these cupboards: oils, vinegars, cookbooks, herbs and spices.

Counter Top:

As we have already established you are a “Stuff Out” individual which means you like to have things out and on hand. The countertop in a kitchen is used for so many activities not just the preparation of food. There are some things you can do that will give you more prep space on the countertop and still keep what you want to have out on hand.

Double sink:

The idea behind double sinks is that one side is for washing dishes and food and the other half of the sink is for draining. Choosing a sink where one side of it can fit a draining rack is a great way of saving on counter space.

Magnetic knive strip

Backsplashes are focal points and add drama and style to any kitchen. They can also be used for storage. You might consider a magnetic knife strip can be a great space saver instead of using a knife block on the counter. There are also great inserts for drawers that hold knives. Being a Stuff Out person I will assume you like to have your knives out and on hand.


You have a small panty. Pantries are a great addition to any kitchen because they keep everything stored in them away from heat, moisture, and light. So, the following are always best stored in them: dry goods, laundry powder, canned goods, beverages.

Kitchen contents: What stays and what goes?

Now that we have looked at your storage options it is easier to decide what to keep and what to let go of. Honestly, this is something you need to decide for yourself. But, I can give you some guidelines on how to decide.

  • Group like with like to inventory how much you have and how much space you might need to store it.
  • What area in your kitchen feels particularly disorganized? Examine why. Sometimes these areas are disorganized because they do not have adequate storage, or the storage is not accessible. If, for example, your junk drawer is taking up two drawers you most probably haven’t got adequate storage for some of the items and thus they have just got thrown in with “junk”. This happens often with things like bulbs, scissors, water filters, manuals, tools, etc. None of these items are “junk” they just have no official home. Thus, perhaps you need a shelf/cupboard where you can have open bins or a box for bulbs, measuring tapes, tools, manuals, etc.
  • What utensils do you like to have out and on hand? If you haven’t used a utensil in the last couple of weeks then storing it in a drawer makes sense.
  • Avoid choosing your appliances last. It is much easier to choose cabinets and countertops to fit appliances (like the refrigerator and oven), than the other way round. When purchasing the large appliances ask the store if they can keep them for you until you are ready to install.

    Go through everything in the kitchen and let go of anything that is broken, expired, missing a part, too worn, or you haven’t used in over a year. It is quite extraordinary what collects in a kitchen. I went through my utensil drawers the other week and was amazed; not only did we have items we had never used, but we had absolutely no idea how or when we got them.

  • Add dividers into drawers. Some options to consider using dividers for: Spice & herb organizers, lids, knives, utensils.

Barbara, I hope this has helped you. I look forward to hearing from you about how it all went for you. In the meantime check out my Pinterest Board for more tips and suggestions on kitchen organization and storage.


Small kitchen renovation: How to choose the best storage solutions


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