10 Things We Learned from Small Cool Kitchens 2011

Our Small Cool Kitchens 2011 contest may be over (did you see the winners?) — but we're still enjoying the entries, looking through them again and again to find fresh inspiration and ideas.

Here are 10 pieces of kitchen design wisdom we found in Small Cool Kitchens 2011, trends and patterns that we noticed. Some are new observations; others are classic ideas, still going strong. From the power of pegboards, to the best improvement you can make in a kitchen — rented or owned — here are 10 smart things we learned from this year's smallest, coolest kitchens.

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10 Things We Learned from Small Cool Kitchens 2011

1. White subway tile never, ever goes out of style.
White subway tile is a clean, classic kitchen choice, and this year's contest proved that it is still in vogue. Katherine, Kat, and Anisa all used it to great effect.

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2. Sometimes, a place to sit is better than storage.
Both David and Kathleen could have squeezed a little extra storage into their kitchens, but instead they both opted for a petite dining space next to the window. What they sacrificed in storage they gained in coziness, and a little more time enjoying the kitchen.

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3. Spend money on sunlight.
"I chose to spend my money on sunlight," said Christa in Berkeley, and we think that's just some of the best advice in kitchen design. Look for the place with sunlight. Natalie in Arizona also got a kitchen full of light, and she is smart enough keep it simple and just let all that light in.

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4. Some sinks look good in a skirt.
Some sinks, like Lynn's Rental and Stephanie's Cottage, showed off cute sink skirts. A soft skirt can be prettier and feel more cozy than a cupboard, in some small kitchens.

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5. When in doubt, go black and white.
In a bare, boring rental? Can't paint or tile? Go black and white — instead of looking bare, your kitchen will look chic, French, and minimalist. Christine and Caitlin did this to great success. James and Marguerite demonstrated this idea on a larger scale.

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6. Never underestimate the power of the pegboard.
Need more storage in a tiny kitchen? Use the walls to their full potential. Julia Child popularized the utilitarian pegboard, and Brenna owes her and so does Christine.

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7. Need more storage? Look up.
It's not just pegboards, though; the small kitchens in this contest worked hard to find more space. Lots of people used their walls very effectively. Caterina and Sylvia are just two of the people who used their walls to maximum advantage. I love Kristina's pot lids stored on the wall, too!

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8. Look beyond the kitchen for storage.
Still not enough storage? Look outside the kitchen. Add a pretty cabinet to the dining room, like Lindsay, or wrap your cabinets all the way out into the living room, like Johanna.

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9. Go glam! A chandelier or a splash of red can be sexy.
Look, it's a kitchen, and tomato sauce may be flying around, but let yourself enjoy a beautiful space. Who cares if you have to clean grease off a chandelier from time to time? These contestants showed us how enjoyable and sexy a glammed-up kitchen can be: Saundra, with her glittery tile; Preethi's sexy red and white Chennai kitchen; Ali's chandelier; Wendy's sleek, red-floored Vancouver kitchen.

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10. It's all about the island.
Last but not least, let's get serious here. If there is just one major improvement to be made to a kitchen — owned or rented — it's got to be the island. Poorly laid out kitchens and bare kitchens alike can benefit from a creative, modular, movable island, chock-full of storage, and offering a little more counter workspace. My favorites this year were Alessandra's reclaimed bowling alley, Amanda's Southern-style butcher block (so perfect for her rental kitchen!), Grace's ultra-narrow island, and Amanda's custom piece for her rental kitchen.

Did you have any favorite tips or details from Small Cool Kitchens this year?

Related: Practical Solutions & Inspiration for Kitchen Improvement

(Images: All images via Small Cool Kitchens contestants)