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Design Inspo

Galley Kitchen Ideas and Layouts To Maximize Kitchen Space

With some interesting cabinetry and color choices, a galley kitchen can be the cozy and functional heart of your home. Find out how here.

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People hear the phrase “galley kitchen” and often think of a tight New York city hallway retrofitted to be an apartment kitchen. Certainly, those exist, but the average galley kitchen is a holdover from the 1920s Frankfurt kitchen that may not be open to the rest of the living areas but does have some charm.

Whether you’re planning a kitchen remodel or looking to make a narrow kitchen layout feel more open without being completely “out there” for all to see, it’s time to embrace the utility and coziness of a galley kitchen. 

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What Is a Galley Kitchen Layout?

A traditional galley kitchen has two parallel walls of cupboards and appliances with three to five feet of space between them. One of these walls usually houses the cooking appliances, and the other holds food storage and prep (the sink and refrigerator are usually together).

A galley-style floor plan creates a compact work triangle between your most used prepping/cooking zones. Since it was designed for economy of movement as much as economy of production costs, you may feel less fatigue when cooking in this kitchen style — a plus after a long day!

Customize a Galley Kitchen for Your Kitchen Design 

Whether you are designing your kitchen from the ground up or working with what you have, there are many ways to modify the traditional galley design to fit your needs, both in terms of functionality and style.

Create a Pass-Through Bar

To open the space up a bit more, create a pass-through bar between the kitchen and living room. Extend your bar outward to make a large prep and entertaining surface in place of a kitchen island. In a smaller space, this may fill your need for a dining room. 

Raise Cabinetry

Consider recessed appliances for a broader walkway and workspace if you're planning a new build. You can further reduce any corridor-like feeling by installing cabinetry and appliances with legs. Raising cupboards off the floor shows more floor space, making the room seem more spacious and customized at the same time. 

Tie In Woodwork

Furniture-quality cabinetry can tie the kitchen into your home’s overall interior design. Use similar wood tones and trim work as those around your house. Even if you don’t have an open floor plan, you can bring the rest of the house into the kitchen this way for continuity. 

With wood floors in a high-traffic area like the kitchen, homeowners might want to refer to the Janka scale that ranks woods’ durability. For example, harder woods like white oak can usually withstand more damage than softer options like pine. 

Panel Appliances

Get panel-ready appliances that can be covered with the same doors as your cabinetry for a uniform, sleek look. With smaller versions of these appliances (like a 24-inch refrigerator instead of that 40-inch version), you’ll gain more cabinet storage space and keep countertops clutter-free.

Galley Kitchen Ideas for Cabinetry

Decide on Upper Cabinets

An easy way to make your parallel kitchen feel less like a hallway is to vary your placement of upper cabinetry on each wall. The goal is to never have upper cabinets directly opposite one another in a very narrow kitchen, so alternate which sides will have an upper cabinet so that it doesn’t feel like a tight squeeze.

Rely on Spoak’s interior design visualization tool to mock up potential placements before you buy anything. Try placing upper cabinets opposite a window for balance or remove a set of upper cabinets on one side, leaving them on the other. 

Opt for Open Shelving

If you truly need that cabinet storage space (and many of us do), alternate upper kitchen cabinets with open shelving. Anything that breaks up the feeling of walls looming over you will keep this space intimate but manageable. Open shelves are a great way to introduce new materials to your space, bringing in some texture and an opportunity to style through plates, vases, and other tableware.

You can offset the heavy cabinetry with metal brackets and glass shelves or run one long floating shelf in rustic wood the entire length of a long galley. An extended shelf draws the eye, lengthening the appearance of your kitchen, and is a unique way to store utensils, cookbooks, and even art. 

Make the Shelves Slim

Open shelving can be slimline, only a few inches wide, to give a feeling of more overhead workspace while still providing storage. Install a slim profile shelf in a luxe material like marble with brass brackets, rods, and utensil hooks for an extremely stylish rack that allows more counter space for food prep. 

Carve Out a Nook for an Eat-in Kitchen

For modern galley kitchens with windows at one end, remove some lower cabinets to build a custom dining area for your morning coffee. Small spaces like this can play up the cozy factor of a narrow kitchen. It invites family and friends to slip into the banquette and keep you company as you cook — a win-win situation. 

Lighten Up Your Kitchen

Now that you’ve decided on your cabinet layout, it’s time to ponder over which color palette will open up your cooking space. 

White Paint

White or light pastels are a kitchen classic for a reason: they reflect light, making a narrow kitchen feel expansive. 

If you don’t want to go with an all-white kitchen, compromise with lower cabinets in a rich wood tone or dark bottle green color and let the white upper cabinets balance them out. Even choosing a classic Carrara marble countertop will break up the heaviness of darker cabinets while creating a dynamic contrast.

Lighter Wood

A mix of white cabinetry and lighter wood-paneled doors can still open up your galley kitchen. The mix of materials and textures keeps the white kitchen from feeling humdrum without weighing things down too much, and it can blend seamlessly with the rest of your woodwork.

A Splashy Backsplash

A colorful kitchen backsplash designed in Spoak by Daniela Araya

With all the cabinetry in a galley, it’s important to have a kitchen backsplash that lightens up the space. Smaller narrow spaces are the perfect opportunity to use bold colors and eye-catching materials to make a statement.

Keep Backsplash Light

Create an open feeling and reflect more natural light by keeping your backsplash a light color. White, when used as a counterpoint to black lower cabinets or rich wood tones, is anything but boring. If you’re not interested in white subway tile, try a stainless steel backsplash that reflects light. 

Break Up the Monotony With Unique Tiles

Nothing breaks up the monotony of a wall of cabinet doors like a bright, unique tile backsplash. If you’re working with a smaller space, perhaps indulge in a more costly material for your backsplash, like the uneven, rustic texture of hand-crafted Moroccan tiles.

Hanging a mirror along the backsplash behind one of your work zones can give the feeling of a window if you don’t have one in your kitchen, or you can install aged mercury glass mirrors with rosettes in lieu of a traditional backsplash. It is a showstopper that visually doubles the size of your kitchen. 

Maximize Floor Space In a Small Galley Kitchen 

The flooring you choose can also visually enlarge your new kitchen space. Set floor tiles in a retro checkerboard pattern diagonally to create a feeling of width across the kitchen floor.

Wood planks can be placed in an angled herringbone design or run lengthwise along the walkway of your space. If you top them with a long Turkish rug, your functional (and beautiful) kitchen will get the distinctive pop of color it needs. 

Illuminate Your Space

Maybe you’ve been disappointed by your galley design because you can’t have that big kitchen island with a trio of pendant lights above it. Don’t give up on the glamorous lighting yet! Galley kitchens are uniquely shaped, so try incorporating more striking fixtures like multiple pendants or long chandeliers running the length of the walkway.

Complement your sleek white paneled cabinets with a couple of steel-encased glass orb pendants. Layer in a lamp for the breakfast nook and under cabinet task lighting for multi-dimensional ambient light to cook by in the evening. 

Streamline Your Galley Kitchen Design

One of the easiest ways to keep your galley kitchen feeling spacious and functional is to keep as much off the countertops as possible.

Here are a few tips for a clutter-free kitchen with extra storage: 

  • Store everything in drawers with designated dividers, including your set of knives. 
  • Fit more jars into the pantry by putting them in stackable containers. 
  • Build an under-counter grid rack that can hold utensils and some pots.
  • Add in a pull-out counter extender that can be an extra workspace when there’s no room for an island. 
  • And a lastly, no-brainer: Purge your counters and cabinets of appliances, mugs, and tools you never use. 

Make the Most of Your Layout

Don’t worry about not having an open floor plan with a big center island as part of your kitchen makeover. By now, you should know that you can create a lovely, intimate kitchen with a galley layout that everyone will want to hang out in regardless.

Photo Credit: (Left) Architectural Digest


The Frankfurt Kitchen Changed How We Cook — and Live | Bloomberg

The galley kitchen is hot |The Washington Post

Revisit: Frankfurt Kitchen | Architectural Review

Carrara Marble: A History Written in Stone | CIU Travel

How to Identify Antique Mirrors | SFGate

What Is the Janka Wood Hardness Scale? | The Family Handyman

Try potential layouts with Spoak’s online design tool and find ways to make a narrow space feel “just right” for you.

Date Posted
February 16, 2023



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