9 Clever Tricks I Use to Make Room for Decor in My Tiny Kitchen

published Sep 15, 2023
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Potted plant on top of cook books in kitchen.
Credit: Caroline Mullen

Think back to a time when you cooked in an Airbnb or a friend’s kitchen and the unconventional layout nearly sent you spiraling. Maybe it was the bizarre location of the sink, the direction the fridge door opened, or just a lack of organization in the pantry — if you’re a home cook, you know that the flow of a kitchen can make or break a meal. With all this to contend with, kitchen decor often falls by the wayside in favor of more practical items, especially in tighter spaces. 

I know this struggle well — my Jersey City apartment kitchen only has 24 square-feet of floor space, and while it’s well-designed to fit a full-sized fridge, a microwave, a dishwasher, and enough cabinet space for all our kitchen wares, it doesn’t leave much extra room for decor. This means I’ve had to get clever with what I put on display, and more often than not, the decor in my kitchen earns its keep by serving more than one purpose. Here are my smart tips for making it all work:

Credit: Caroline Mullen

1. Use a Picture Frame to Hide an Outlet 

This section of counter space in my kitchen is pretty low-functioning. It’s too small for a coffee station or other appliance, and I generally only use it to rest a utensil while cooking. That leaves it open for a decor moment — a rare bit of bonus space in our tiny kitchen. 

2. Place Fresh Flowers on the Counter 

I always have fresh flowers in the house, and picking them out is my favorite part of going to Trader Joe’s every week. I usually buy a few different types and split them amongst vases in each room — on the coffee table, next to the bed, on the dining table — and the kitchen is no exception. Since our kitchen doesn’t have a window, a bright pop from flowers or plants is essential for making it feel alive. 

Credit: Caroline Mullen

3. Stack Cookbooks on the Fridge 

In my opinion, a collection of cookbooks should always be on display. Not only does this remind you to leaf through and find a new recipe or remember an old favorite, but they add a practical bit of decor and color to whichever corner, surface, or shelf they live on. I only have a small collection so far, but I love the color and personality they bring to the otherwise dead space on top of the fridge. If you have a little bit of wall space, you’ve got to check out this brilliant $6 IKEA cookbook storage hack.

4. Add a Countertop Lamp for Warm Lighting 

You may be aware of the countertop lamp trend, but if you’re not, let me be the first to tell you: A kitchen lamp provides all the cozy vibes your space may be missing. I added a vintage lamp to the corner of the kitchen to offset the cool-toned light from the existing overhead fixture, and it doesn’t hurt that it adds some character to the space, too. I’ve gotten comments before about the grease that people assume builds up on the lamp, and I’d love to address it: I simply wipe it down. That’s it! Anything that sits out in the kitchen runs the risk of acquiring a layer of cooking splatters, but I’ve had no issue wiping the lamp and its glass shade (which makes for easy cleaning) down from time to time. A little upkeep is a fair tradeoff for mood lighting

Credit: Erin Derby

5. Create Open Shelving to Display Glassware

The open shelving we store plates and glasses on is probably my favorite feature in our kitchen. I actually DIYed them to custom fit the underutilized back wall of our kitchen and make space in the cabinets for less aesthetic items, but they’ve become a decorative focal point in the room thanks to a large collection of glassware, jars, and bowls. Since decor in kitchens definitely works best when it’s also functional, these shelves strike the perfect balance. 

6. Utensil Rack for Aesthetically-Pleasing Storage 

In addition to the open shelves, I installed several brass utensil racks along the back wall to hold wooden spoons, whisks, measuring cups, and all the other utensils I routinely cook with. Like the open shelves, the utensil rack was a functional choice, but displaying all our utensils ended up being a favorite, and surprisingly simple, decor element. 

Credit: Caroline Mullen

7. Apply Peel & Stick Floor Tiles 

The floor tiles in our kitchen were… fine. They’re builder-grade, faux-stone tiles that were finished with a dirty-looking brown grout, and while we lived with them for six months or so, I eventually decided that peel and stick tiles would make the space feel more put together — and I was right! I laid down 12”x12” black and white faux marble sticky tiles from Chasing Paper in a classic harlequin pattern, which instantly elevated the space. 

8. Throw a Dutch Oven on the Stove for Color 

Since our kitchen has very limited counter space, the stove serves as more than just a cooktop. I love to display a Dutch oven on the stove for an additional pop of color, and it works out well since I loathe lugging it out from the bottom cabinet when I want to use it. (Here’s mine, and I absolutely love it.)

Credit: Caroline Mullen

9. Consider Functional Items That All Fit a Theme 

Even if you have zero extra space in your kitchen for decor, the easiest way to create a cohesive design is to choose appliances and tools that fit within a color scheme or style. For example, I love retro-inspired appliances like this toaster and my beloved SMEG espresso machine. I also chose a fruit basket, fridge rack, and dish rack that are all black wire with natural wood accents for a unified feel.

How do you fit style and decor into your space? Let us know in the comments below!