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Kitchens are the ultimate multi-functional room these days, where the family gather to cook, eat, socialise, and they may even double up as a work space.

That’s fine, if you’re lucky enough to have a kitchen the size of an aircraft hanger, like the enviable, dream spaces portrayed in glossy magazines.

But as new homes are generally smaller today than they were 30 years ago (according to a study by the Royal Institute of British Architects), many of us will be dealing with a smaller space than we’d ideally like.

“Nowadays properties are getting smaller, which in turn means consumers are searching for a smaller kitchen to suit their needs and home,” says Jason McNulty, head of product development at Wren Kitchens.

“But smaller needn’t mean less functional or less stylish.”

Planning how you use the space is key, so that not an inch is wasted and, if possible, has at least one area – even if only a breakfast bar – where you can eat or use as extra work surface.

Also consider carefully what you need to include in your kitchen. If possible, move appliances into other rooms – for example, a freezer can go in a garage or a washing machine in a utility room, to help free up space.

If you’re still in a stew, here’s what the experts have to say about the most common kitchen dilemmas.

Space starved

Even if your kitchen feels more like a coat cupboard, you can improve the situation by making the most of the available space – from the floor to the ceiling.

“Too many wall units can make the kitchen feel cluttered, as this is where the eye is drawn first. Choose tall wall units that provide plenty of space without taking up too much room,” says Marco Rossi, head of product for Magnet Kitchens.

Shelves, racks and hooks attached to walls or ceilings are a perfect way to keep your kitchen tidy and work surfaces clutter-free.

Light colours for the walls and units can also help to create the illusion of space in the most bijou of kitchens.

Interior designer, Abigail Ahern suggests painting kitchen cabinets the same colour as the walls. “If the unit colour matches the walls, it gives an illusion of space,” she says.

Shiny or glossy finishes on walls, units and splashbacks add to this illusion by reflecting light around the room.

Top tips: As well as visual tricks, it’s worth considering smaller than standard appliances.

Many manufacturers produce slimline dishwashers, ovens and coffee machines designed especially for smaller kitchens. “A compact multifunction oven is a great way to make the most of precious space,” says Marco Rossi. “Try a built-in or built-under integrated fridge that will sit behind a typical unit door.”

Galley gosh

Galley kitchens are notoriously tricky with their long, narrow shape, but the right planning you can turn this to your advantage, says Abigail Ahern.

“One of the secrets is open shelving on the walls so you avoid dominating wall units,” she says. “Concealing the fridge, dishwasher, washing machine behind cabinetry panels will make the kitchen feel more streamlined.

“And no matter what the colour on the walls, paint the ceiling in the same hue – this will open and expand the space.”

While a galley kitchen is an extremely functional space (it’s a layout preferred by many professional chefs) one of its challenges is making sure it doesn’t feel too enclosed.

Top tips: Enhancing lighting works wonders in these spaces which often lack natural light, advises TV interior designer Richard Randall. “Feature lighting, like up-lit shelving or hanging a mirror on a wall to reflect more light, can both work well.”

Using glossy or glass-fronted units with LED downlighters or LED-illuminated shelves inside will also create extra light and ambience.

U-shaped shake-up

A U-shaped layout is one of the most functional kitchen styles.

“With three walls to work with, you can position the oven and hob in the centre with the fridge and sink around it on either side, forming a compact and practical ‘working triangle’,” says Belinda Corani, founder of www.houseconscious.com.

Debbie Bowden, a designer at bespoke kitchen company Barnes of Ashburton, agrees.

“If you can accommodate a central island, scale it down and create a sociable place for guests to perch,” she suggests.

“If the size of your kitchen won’t allow a fixed island, a butcher’s trolley is a stylish alternative, providing additional storage and worktop space.”

Top tips: Make sure your kitchen still has style and character, says Abigail Ahern.

“I’ve seen some incredibly odd-shaped kitchens, but what made them stand out is how the owners accessorise them just like any other room with lamps on counters, art on walls, and colourful heaps of recipe books.

“It’s a good trick because, rather than focusing on the shape, your eye focuses on the accessories.”

What the L?

On the face of it, an L-shaped kitchen may seem like an awkward space to deal with, but in reality it’s one of the best layouts for creating a sociable, open atmosphere, says Belinda Corani.

“Include a breakfast bar to one side of the kitchen to create a small area for entertaining or dining,” she suggests.

“If that’s impossible, a telescopic pull-out table which can be folded away behind a kitchen cabinet drawer front could suffice,” says Gerald Jones, managing director at Masterclass Kitchens.

Top tips: “Make the most of every inch of space with integral storage solutions, such as pan drawers, curved corner units and cantilever carousels,” advises Jude Keenan, kitchen planner at John Lewis’s Oxford Street London store.

She also suggests positioning tall units at the end of a run, away from windows, to avoid blocking out light.

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