Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a large dining kitchen or an open-plan extension, but that doesn’t mean that a small kitchen can’t look great. Despite their narrow shape and size, galley kitchens have many benefits – and there are a lot of ways to get creative with compact kitchens.

At Kitchen Warehouse, we have plenty of ideas to help you design the perfect galley kitchen, from cabinet styles and colour schemes to layout and lighting options. Say goodbye to the confines of an enclosed kitchen and learn how to open up your limited space with our top design tips below.

What is a galley kitchen?

Before we get into the best design choices for galley kitchens, let’s take a minute to consider exactly what they are and what makes them different from a conventional kitchen. First of all, a galley kitchen design is simply two parallel rows of units and appliances, with a narrow corridor running straight down the middle of them.

The name historically comes from the galleys of ships, and the compact galley-style kitchen can still be found on boats, submarines, and aircraft today. Their design principles are ergonomic, optimising the minimal space to maximise storage and work areas, making it easy to move around.

Galley kitchens can be symmetrical or asymmetrical, depending on the space available, but most designers prefer symmetry for a more streamlined appearance. They can be closed off at one end by a wall, or open at both ends, which usually means higher foot traffic. These are some of the main factors that will influence your design options.

Galley kitchen layout ideas

Galley kitchen layout ideas

The first choice you have to make is whether you want the opposing runs to be the same height and length, or for one side to be shorter or taller than the other for a more interesting look. The two sides don’t have to be exact mirrors of each other in terms of appliance arrangement, either.

Since the floor space is so narrow in a galley kitchen, it’s a practical design choice to make the most of the height with floor-to-ceiling kitchen cabinets. Tall cupboards on both sides increase the feeling of being boxed in, but leaving one side low can be ideal if it opens into a wider living space.

The golden triangle

Keep cabinets tall and slim, and opt for compact or built-in appliances to streamline the space. The classic layout for a busy galley kitchen is the ‘triangle’ – where the oven, fridge, and sink are all equidistant to each other to maximise space and efficiency when moving around the kitchen.

It makes sense for a tall fridge/freezer to be on the side with floor-to-ceiling cupboards, with the oven at the end of that run and the sink centred opposite (or swap the oven and sink around). When the other side is like an island looking out, you may prefer to keep this clear as a worktop.

Galley kitchen dining

If your corridor kitchen is open to another room on one side, it’s a perfect opportunity to turn this run of base units into a half-island. One side remains a functional kitchen counter, while the other can become a breakfast bar with stools or even extend into a peninsula for a dining table.

Realistically, traditional galley kitchens won’t have the space for this, but you can still keep one run low and open to facilitate light flow and socialising between the kitchen and living area. You can add a partial screen or low dividing wall to hide kitchen mess from the rest of the room if you like.

Galley kitchen end wall

Many galley kitchens are blocked off at one end by a wall, with the entrance at the opposite end. This wall can be a great space to add open shelving – as long as you can keep it organised, so it doesn’t become cluttered. However, if there’s a window in this wall, keep the surroundings clear.

You want to maximise both space and light in a galley kitchen, so if yours is at the back of your home with a door leading to a back garden in this wall, consider replacing it with a glass door. A sliding door or bi-folding door minimises the barrier between the kitchen and outside space.

Galley kitchen storage ideas

Galley kitchen storage ideas

Clutter can quickly make an already small kitchen feel even more crowded and airless. It’s essential to plan your kitchen storage carefully, so that you can keep the worktops as clear as possible. With concealed storage and appliances, hidden behind seamless doors, items can stay out of sight.

On the other hand, a section of open shelves or even floating shelves can make the space feel more open while displaying things like jars of ingredients or ceramics. This does require you to curate and maintain an aesthetically appealing arrangement, or it can become disorganised and unsightly.

Downsize with multifunctional appliances

With less space to fit all of the essentials into, you have to make every inch count in a galley kitchen. Therefore, you should opt for smaller appliances and multifunctional equipment. For example, a combination washing machine and tumble dryer if you don’t have a utility room.

Unless you’re an avid cook or baker, you don’t need to crowd every counter with tools like juicers, stand mixers, fryers, steamers, breadmakers, sandwich presses, pasta machines, rice cookers… the list goes on. Only choose what you absolutely need, and look for multi-tools where possible.

This could mean having a toaster oven instead of a separate toaster and microwave, or a 4-in-1 blender rather than a juicer, grinder, and smoothie maker. If you have a coffee machine that can boil water, do you really need a kettle? What about an extractor hob instead of a bulky extractor hood?

Implement innovative storage solutions

Things like microwaves and dishwashers can disrupt the clean continuity of the kitchen, so it’s best to have them hidden by integrating them in drawers or behind doors. To give yourself more storage that’s still accessible, opt for tall slim cabinets and deep drawers with a touch-open mechanism.

Maintain a cohesive minimalist look by organising the kitchen into designated areas – such as a pantry space around the fridge and a food prep space by the sink and/or cooker – and by using handleless doors with hidden opening mechanisms. You’ll also have more space to move around.

You should double up on storage space wherever you can, by adding drawer inserts, shelf risers in cupboards, and hooks on the inside of doors for mugs and pan lids – or even a magnetic knife strip. Optimise corner units with pull-out larders or carousels – why not go for integrated bins, as well?

Galley kitchen style ideas

Galley kitchen style ideas

Colours, materials, and finishes are important in any kitchen, but especially so when you’re trying to enhance a tiny space like a classic galley kitchen. Common trends for kitchens of all sizes include light and neutral colour schemes, with natural materials like warm woods and granite or quartz.

One good thing about the limited counter space in galley kitchens is that you can invest in better quality worktops without breaking the bank. Just because your galley kitchen is small doesn’t mean you can’t create a calm and sophisticated atmosphere with carefully selected colours and materials.

Galley kitchen colour schemes

A classic bright white immediately makes a slender kitchen space feel larger, because it reflects more light. If this is too clinical for your tastes, you can choose a softer shade like cream or even light grey. Neutral base tones make a versatile canvas when it comes to adding contrasting or complementary colour accents around the room.

For a trendy two-tone style that visually breaks up the space, you can choose a darker colour for the base units and a lighter hue for the wall units. Why not alternate with one side dark and one side light, or split colours on both sides? If you generally prefer kitchen cabinets in dark colours, a high gloss finish can make them appear brighter.

Glossy slab doors or stately Shaker?

The reflective nature of high gloss kitchen cabinets makes them an ideal choice for small kitchens, and galley kitchens are no exception. With more light bouncing around the room, it will trick the eye into perceiving it as more spacious. This finish is especially suitable for modern kitchens.

Alternatively, if you’d like your cabinetry to have a little more texture, Shaker-style kitchen cabinets can add some character. They’re decorative enough to create visual interest without being overly ornamental or clashing with other décor, and Shaker kitchens are perfect for neutral palettes.

How to decorate a galley kitchen

How to decorate a galley kitchen

Too much detail can make a small kitchen feel cluttered even when the counters are clear, so you’ll need to put some thought into planning your fittings and accessories. Add depth to a galley kitchen without overwhelming the space with a splashback of patterned tiles. A mirrored splashback, and metallic inlays for the cabinets, can also reflect more light.

While the cabinets themselves are likely to be neutral and/or monochrome, it’s important to insert personality with pops of colour throughout. You can add colours with the appliances, a rug, seating, or artwork. Why not turn a closed-off end into a unique feature wall with a mini picture gallery? You could create an imitation stone wall, add patterned wallpaper, or simply paint it a bold colour.

Galley kitchen flooring

It’s easy to overlook the kitchen floor, but with so little of it available in a galley kitchen corridor, you need to consider the flooring style carefully. To keep the bright and open effect going right down to the ground, stick to light and large tiles in natural textures, like grey stone or pale timber.

You might be tempted to use eye-catching patterned flooring, but it’s much easier to switch out a patterned rug or runner than redo the floor when it gets tiring to look at. Choose understated patterns instead, like herringbone parquet or vertically aligned planks parallel to the cabinets.

Galley kitchen lighting

Light is vital in making a narrow galley kitchen seem larger than it really is. Never underestimate the influence of strategic lighting. To start with, maximise natural light by ensuring that windows and glass doors are never blocked. If possible, adding a skylight can make a massive difference.

Secondly, take the opportunity to make a decorative statement with your overhead lights, such as sculptural pendant lights. Last, but not least, layer your lights by installing task lighting in key areas – like spotlights, downlights underneath cupboards or shelves, or plinth lights at the base.

Get the most out of your galley kitchen

There’s no shortage of things you can do to improve a small kitchen. No matter which kind of galley kitchen you’re working with, hopefully this blog has given you some great ideas. Now it’s time to take this galley kitchen inspiration and transform your own home with your new design knowledge.

Whether you’re installing new kitchen units or just upgrading their frontage with replacement kitchen doors, we can help you at Kitchen Warehouse. We offer a wide range of colours, styles, finishes, and mechanisms at very competitive prices, so why not check out our website today?

You can even order samples from us first to see how a certain product will look in your galley kitchen before you buy. For more information and expert advice, you can contact the Kitchen Warehouse team by calling 01765 640 000 or emailing contact@kitchenwarehouseltd.com.