Yes, you read that title correctly. A too-small kitchen may be a more common complaint, but struggling to optimise kitchen space is a familiar problem for many a homeowner, regardless of kitchen size. While ‘can a kitchen be too big?’ probably isn’t a question you’ve thought about much, if at all, it’s very much an issue when you have no idea what to do with a spacious kitchen.
So, the answer to the titular question is: yes, kitchens can be too big. Not everyone needs every built-in appliance and dining nook going, but not everyone needs the bare bones of a functional kitchen, either. If you’re lucky enough to have a large kitchen, you need to make the most of what you’ve got to prevent swathes of useless dead space – and this blog is here to explain how to do it.
How can a kitchen be too big?
Space is an important factor in the layout of any room, but whether there’s too much space or not enough, it can be especially obvious in a kitchen. Small kitchens generally have less room for food preparation, appliances, and storage, which makes cooking and running a busy kitchen difficult.
On the other hand, having a big kitchen with too much space seems like a ‘First World problem’. However, having far more room than you would ever actually need makes all that space difficult to fill. This can leave the kitchen feeling like a cold and empty showroom rather than a cosy hub.
It’s almost impossible to waste space in a smaller kitchen, where every inch is at a premium. There are lots of benefits to having multiple appliances and storage solutions, but huge kitchens often spread them out. Having to walk back and forth across open space soon becomes impractical.
As surprising as it may seem, cooking and dining areas can sometimes suffer from an excess of space. Cavernous kitchens might look good on the sales listings, but they aren’t much fun to live with if they aren’t designed properly. Luckily, we have some tips to help with too-big kitchens.
What’s the best size for a kitchen?
According to Trend-Monitor, data going back almost a hundred years reveals that the average kitchen size in the UK started at 12.27 m2 in the 1930s before growing to 15.37 m2 in the 1960s. After this, the average kitchen began to shrink over the decades, to 13.44 m2 in the 2000s/2010s.
While this is the current average for new build properties, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the best kitchen size. There are many factors that can affect what makes an individual kitchen size and layout ideal, after all. If you want a kitchen diner, for example, at least 20 m2 would be better.
Let’s take a more in-depth look at what dictates the perfect kitchen size. Whether you’re looking for a new home or hoping to renovate an existing kitchen, this should help with your calculations.
How big should your kitchen be?
The presumption is that the average kitchen is around 13-14 square metres or 150 square feet (compared to a naturally smaller galley kitchen, which would be up to 90 square feet). The best square footage for a kitchen doesn’t depend on what everybody else’s kitchen looks like, though.
What it does depend on is what exactly you want out of your kitchen and dining area. Some people prefer a compact kitchen, others want a mid-size kitchen with a bit more space to work with, and others dream of having as much space as possible, but these are the things you must consider first.
1) How many people use the kitchen?
Do you live alone, or with a partner? Unless you’re a budding chef or an avid home cook, it’s likely that a little kitchen will be good enough for one or two of you. However, if several roommates share a house or flat, or you’re a family with multiple children, you’ll definitely need more space.
This is especially true if everyone living there prefers to cook for themselves, or if you like to host large gatherings or family dinners. The more people use the kitchen – especially if the dining area is in the kitchen, or if there’s a lot of foot traffic through the back door – the bigger it needs to be.
2) Which appliances will you need?
Just because you can fit a range of convenient single-use appliances into a larger kitchen doesn’t mean you should. Planning a big kitchen requires a balance between what you want and what you need, and realistically, you don’t need appliances that you won’t use often. You should think about:
- What kind of dishes you typically cook?
- Which appliances need to be out on the worktop?
- Which appliances can be stored in cupboards?
- Do you need built-in appliances for aesthetic purposes more than space-saving?
- Is this your ‘forever’ kitchen, or will you eventually move out?
These considerations should also help you to figure out how much cabinet space and countertop space you really need. In general, people mostly only need the following types of appliances:
Many people will also have a dishwasher, and may incorporate a washing machine and/or tumble dryer into the kitchen if there isn’t a separate utility room for them. However, if you have the extra room and could use the added convenience, you might want to invest in more appliances such as:
- Air fryer
- Bread machine
- Coffee maker/espresso machine
- Deep fryer
- Food processor
- Hot water dispenser
- Pizza oven
- Pressure cooker
- Rice cooker
- Slow cooker
- Toastie maker
- Waffle iron
Unless you have a fast-paced life, or enjoy cooking as a hobby, many of these can be superfluous items that just take up space – even if you have more than enough of it. Along with all the pots, pans, dishes, knives, and cooking implements a kitchen needs, you still don’t want too much clutter.
3) How often do you cook?
As mentioned above, you aren’t going to need loads of fancy appliances or multiple ovens, fridges, and freezers if people won’t use them frequently enough to justify them being there. That said, having a bigger kitchen offers you the opportunity to change your eating habits for the better.
Rather than living off ready meals that you only need an oven or microwave for, having ample space to cook and adequate storage for fresh ingredients will allow you to make and eat a wider variety of meals. Of course, not everyone has the spare time for that, even if they have the space.
If this applies to you, the best thing to do is plan a kitchen that would offer the best practical support for your particular lifestyle. Too busy in the mornings to sit down? Then you won’t need a breakfast bar, but you could benefit from a coffee machine. Too tired in the evening to peel and chop ingredients? Make sure you have the chilled, frozen, and dry storage for meal prep delivery.
4) How much storage will you need?
Speaking of storage, this is a quintessential part of any kitchen. Finding a home for everything can be hard in a small kitchen, but you shouldn’t have this problem in a big kitchen. The only difficulty you might have is figuring out where exactly to put things, rather than not being able to fit them in.
Built-in kitchen elements are great for saving space and maintaining that sought-after seamless appearance, which makes kitchens look bigger than they are. However, unless you really like that aesthetic, a larger kitchen means you don’t have to go for the built-in look if you don’t want to.
Even a big, open space can feel cluttered and claustrophobic if there’s too much going on visually. You’ll want to balance hidden and open storage so it’s both visually pleasing and practically accessible. We’ll discuss the best kitchen layouts for appliances and storage in the next section.
5) Is the dining area inside the kitchen?
Is your dining room separate from your kitchen, or do you not have one at all? Do you have the space to incorporate one or even multiple seating areas in the kitchen itself? The larger the family, or the more often you entertain guests, the more beneficial an increased dining capacity will be.
From traditional dining tables and chairs to breakfast bars and benches, diner-style booths to peninsula kitchen islands with stools, there are countless ways to incorporate seating into a combined kitchen-dining room. The more space you have to work with an open-plan layout, the more designated seating areas you can fit into the one room – but you don’t need to go overboard.
One of the biggest mistakes any kitchen layout can make is having too many of one thing that it could do just fine without. Don’t be tempted to over-clutter the room with seating areas, just as you shouldn’t over-clutter with appliances. Your kitchen only needs to cater for the number of people who will use it. Create 1-2 stylised dining spots as focal points of your kitchen design.
6) What are your spatial and financial constraints?
Obviously, the main factor in all of this is the square footage that you’re actually working with. The physical size isn’t the only factor that influences what you can do with a large kitchen, though. The number of appliances and dining areas you can have will depend on the locations of:
- Plumbing points for the sink, dishwasher, washing machine etc
- Gas or electricity supply points for the oven/hob, fridge/freezer etc
- Electrical outlets for worktop appliances
- Doors (direction and radius of opening/closing swing)
- Windows (size, height from floor)
- External walls suitable for an extractor
In addition to the physical spatial constraints, you’ll also have to factor in your budget limitations. Presumably, if you can afford a big kitchen, then you’ll have enough in your budget to cover the fittings and furnishings, but this isn’t always true. Everyone should have a target budget and an absolute maximum in mind, so that you can match your preferences to the realistic constraints.
How big should kitchen units be?
Before you can decide on your layout and appliances, and whether to go for bespoke or ready-made kitchen furniture, you’ll need to understand the average dimensions of kitchen units. According to home décor retailers Houzz, these are the average measurements as a guide:
- 60 cm x 60 cm modules for sinks, ovens, fridges, and dishwashers
- 90 cm+ wide for American-style fridges and range cookers
- 90 cm tall for average worktop heights
- 75 cm tall for standard table heights
- 60 cm x 90 cm for a kitchen island
- 110 cm high for a breakfast bar/open-plan screen wall
- 40 cm minimum clearance between worktops and overhead storage
- 55 cm – 65 cm minimum clearance between hobs and extractors
- 30 cm depth for wall cabinets, with adjustable heights
- 100 cm – 120 cm minimum distance between islands and base units
- 100 cm distance between base cabinets and a kitchen table
These are only basic guidelines, and you may find that they don’t quite work with your kitchen dimensions. This is fine, as long as you measure every nook and cranny carefully to ensure that all drawers, cupboards, and counters are the right size for the people who’ll need to access them.
Can a kitchen island be too big?
Yes, kitchen islands can be too big. One of the common mistakes people make when trying to fill an oversized kitchen is to take up as much of the open space as possible with a massive kitchen island. This is incredibly impractical, because it takes away valuable walkway space and ends up being just too much countertop. It’s pointless if you can’t even reach the middle of the island.
Similarly, if an island obstructs the flow of foot traffic and makes it difficult to access different areas of the kitchen, all you’ve done is make your kitchen smaller. On the other hand, having a small island in the middle of a vast, empty floor can look silly. A functional kitchen island should facilitate a continuous workflow, with a harmonious amount of space around it on all sides.
As suggested above, you should allow a clearance of at least 100 cm or over 3.2 ft between each side of the kitchen island and either units, tables, or walls. There must be enough space for any drawers and cupboard doors built into the island to open, and adequate room for any seating.
The dimensions of the island, including height, will depend on whether you have a hob, sink, or other appliance built in, or if one or more sides are doubling as a dining bar. For a small kitchen island that’s just extra worktop or cabinet space, 100 cm x 100 cm is a decent size. For a larger kitchen island with appliances and/or seating, you’re looking at 100 cm x 200 cm at the very least.
Of course, the island size will depend heavily on the layout of your kitchen – whether it’s enclosed in a U-shape or more open within an L-shape. Though these are some of the most common kitchen shapes, they’re not the only options out there, so let’s discuss the best kitchen layouts and sizes.
What’s the best layout for a big kitchen?
When you have an excess of space available in your kitchen, the functional food preparation, cooking, and storage areas should be the first concern. You can use any remaining space for dining and socialising areas. The layout designates the placements of your appliances and furniture.
Small kitchens often follow the galley kitchen format or an L-shape for simplicity, but there are plenty of options that can work with a range of kitchen sizes. Some of the following kitchen layouts can even be combined to create the spacing and style that works best for your home.
The Golden Triangle
Also known as ‘the kitchen triangle’, this traditional principle states that the main working areas of the kitchen should make a triangle. The sink, the fridge, and the cooker should form the three points of the triangle. Each side should be 4 ft and 9 ft long, with a clear path between the points.
It’s a solid base to work from, but forming a triangle won’t solve your space problems if you have to take more than a few steps to get from one point to another. This will slow everything down if you have to keep trekking back and forth. One way to get around the triangle being too large is to have a cooker or sink built into an island, with the other two points along the run of base units opposite.
The 3×4 or 6-Pace Rule
According to the food experts at Bon Appetit, the most effective use of kitchen space is to have at least 3 separate counters, with each run being at least 4 ft long. This allows you to have one area for prep, another for cooking, and a third for used equipment to keep it out of the way until you can clean it. This leaves the sink free, so you can still use this station to fetch water and rinse produce.
The counters don’t need to be deeper than your arm’s maximum reach, but the key areas identified in the golden triangle should be no more than 6 paces apart. Having to take more than a few steps to get from one station to another increases the risk of mistakes and wears you out unnecessarily. If your kitchen is simply too big for this, a rolling kitchen cart can help to bring things closer together.
The U-Shaped Kitchen
The classic U-shape kitchen is a very practical choice, featuring three adjoining runs that form a U. It’s easy to create a triangle with this type of kitchen, as the cooker can go in the centre of the U and the fridge/freezer and sink can go on opposite sides. Alternatively, the sink could be in the middle, allowing you to bring ingredients from the fridge for prep and then move around to cook.
The central space of the U can be long and narrow, galley-style, or wide and square. The larger the latter type of kitchen is, the more room you’ll have to incorporate an island into the middle of the U. Whether the U is curved or angular, you can use clever corner fittings to make the most of the joins. Ideally, you should have 1 metre to 1.5 metres of floor space between opposing units.
The G-Shaped Kitchen
A less well-known alternative to the U-shape is the G-shape. This layout extends one leg of the U by adding a peninsula, forming a G that encloses the cooking area a little more. This peninsula can provide extended counter space, or be adapted into a breakfast bar or high dining table with stools. The peninsula is a substitute for an island, as having one in the centre of the G would feel cramped.
G-shaped kitchens are ideal for open-plan living and dividing up larger spaces, as they can keep cooking and dining areas separate whilst still allowing communication between areas over the peninsula. It can also provide a barrier between kitchens and lounges. You can place chairs on one or both sides of the peninsula, facing either into or away from the kitchen, depending on the space.
The L-Shaped Kitchen
An L-shape kitchen is a very flexible option, as it’s extremely open, with only two adjoining runs. This is a great opportunity to have a central kitchen island as the focal point, or to have a large traditional dining table to one side of the room. It’s a great layout for entertaining, as you can converse with guests at the table while you work in the kitchen, and you won’t have to move far.
However, it’s not always the best option for very large kitchens, as only two runs of adjoining units against the walls leaves an awful lot of open space to deal with, including a couple of empty walls. Additionally, if you have a dining table but no island or peninsula, you’ll have to face away from the guests while you’re preparing and cooking the meal, so it’ll be hard to keep up with conversations.
What to do if there’s too much space in your kitchen
As you’ve no doubt discovered already, the internet is awash with tips and tricks for making small kitchens look bigger – but what if you need tips and tricks for styling a kitchen that’s too big? You should be wary of just filling up the empty space with anything and everything, because there are several things you can do when you have too much space. Here are 6 design tips for big kitchens:
1) Choose practical materials
The more countertops you have, and the larger their surface areas, the more important it is to choose a durable material. It’s all well and good investing in marble or real wood worktops that look beautiful around the room, but they’ll require even more maintenance to stay in good shape.
Save yourself the time and effort by choosing a hardwearing, solid surface that’s easy to clean and doesn’t require special treatments. The same goes for the cabinets – the more cupboards you have, the more cluttered it will look if there are too many handles and carved patterns everywhere.
Big kitchens can also look too empty and clinical if they’re completely handleless, whether the slab doors have a matt or high gloss finish. You can break up the space and make it feel less vast by using different colours for different areas, while still tying each part into the overall scheme.
2) Create appropriate dining spaces
As we’ve discussed above, you don’t need multiple full-size dining areas within one kitchen, no matter how big it is. Similarly, there’s no point in having a huge dining table that can comfortably seat up to 15 people if there’s never more than 5 or 6 people dining there together at any one time.
To use the space wisely, you could have a kitchen island or peninsula as a buffer, with the outward side acting as a small dining area for 2 or 3 people. The sectioned-off space outside the primary kitchen area can house a proper dining table and chairs, for 4 to 8 people, without over-crowding.
If you have a stepped-down surface, this is even better for differentiating between the cooking and eating areas in a large, open kitchen. Some buildings have awkward wall protrusions that interiors have to work around, but these can actually be in your favour when creating a cosy breakfast nook.
3) Add comfortable furnishings
Minimalism is a trend for small kitchens, sure, but packing everything out of sight in a large kitchen just makes it seem empty and lacking personality. To get around the cold feeling and transform a big kitchen into a cosy space, you need to incorporate soft furnishings and textiles.
Table cloths, seat cushions, linen curtains at the windows, tea towels and oven mitts on display – you get the idea. Your kitchen should feel homely, welcoming, and relaxing, not utilitarian. You don’t have to settle for eye-tricking whites or bland neutrals when you have more to play with.
Of course, you can use whites and greys in one part of the room, but why not make it more visually interesting and connect different parts of the space together with a striking contrast of blue or black, or combine matt or gloss colours with imitation wood? There are so many possible choices.
4) Install creative kitchen lighting
Lighting is a major trick for making small kitchens look more spacious, but it’s just as important in making a big kitchen functional. Unless you also have large windows all around the room, you’ll need different types of task lighting in key areas so they’re usable at all times of day or night.
Fluorescent strip lights are pretty much always a no-no – it’s a kitchen, not a classroom or a hospital waiting room. A large kitchen gives you the freedom to play around with task lighting, such as plinth lights running around the kickboards, and under-cabinet or under-shelf lighting.
If your kitchen is bigger in the sense that it has a higher ceiling, this also gives you the chance to install hanging light fixtures. Decorative pendant lamps make a stunning design feature over an island, breakfast bar, or dining table. Why use boring recessed lights when you could go all out?
5) Direct the flow of foot traffic
The golden triangle is the best way to position working elements so you’re not constantly walking back and forth or around an island to get to where you need to be. However, you also need to think about things like the path from one door to another, if there are multiple entry/exit points, and how close the fridge or larder is to the interior door for quick snack-gathering trips in and out of the room.
Equally, you should consider how guests will get to the seating area unobstructed, and how any young children can be kept away from the potential dangers of the kitchen. If you want to be able to keep cooking mess hidden from guests, a half-height wall or screen at the edge of an island or peninsula closest to them can be effective. Light flow is just as important as foot traffic flow, so try not to block off areas from the windows or cause shadows that will need more lighting to banish.
6) Invest in clever appliances
Whether you go for built-in ovens and fridge freezers or freestanding models, you’ll doubtless have plenty of cabinet space for storing smaller appliances. Limit the ones that you keep out on the counter, such as a toaster and kettle or coffee maker, but store the others efficiently rather than burying them in deep drawers or cupboards. They need to be easy to take out and put away again.
Though you won’t be in need of space-saving mechanisms, you can still benefit from installing all kinds of convenient gadgets if you wish. Kitchen mechanisms such as pull-out larders, wine racks, and tableware carousels can save you a lot of time and energy when cooking in a big kitchen. You’ll also have space to install pull-out waste bins, which can otherwise interrupt the aesthetic.
7) Try out multiple designs
‘Zoning’ a large kitchen is a great method for splitting up an awkwardly large room into smaller, more palatable spaces. The two primary zones are the cooking and dining areas, but you can divide these into different areas as well if you like – such as a specific counter for dinner prep, another for breakfast appliances (toaster, coffee machine, cereal dispensers, etc), and another for clean-up.
Even if you stick to the same colour scheme and finish for all the cabinets and furniture, you can still differentiate the areas with distinct walls and flooring. Whether you use different colours of paint or patterned wallpaper, or even just lay down a large rug under the dining table, your large kitchen will soon feel cosier. Whichever kitchen style suits your personal taste, you’re sure to find appealing kitchen units and kitchen doors when browsing our website or gallery for inspiration.
If you need more help with styling out a big kitchen renovation or designing a large kitchen from scratch, feel free to call the Kitchen Warehouse team on 01765 640 000 or send us an email at [email protected]. Our kitchen experts are available from Monday to Saturday!