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Photography by Cody Guilfoyle

In an age when everyone is after an open-concept kitchen floor plan, just the word galley can have you feeling claustrophobic. It’s understandable—there are multiple components that make the layout less than irresistible to cook in. For one, galley kitchens are basically one narrow passage framed by two parallel walls or countertops (one side usually holds the appliances while the other is outfitted with tall cabinets). If you’re renovating, your first inclination is probably to expose the whole thing and plop an eat-in island in the center. But sometimes—and this rings especially true for renters and small-space dwellers—sticking with the corridor is your best bet. It really comes down to making the most of what you’ve got. These six spaces lead the way with breezy floating shelving, hidden cupboards, and more small-space tricks.  

Group Your Appliances

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photo by tessa neustadt; design by brady tolbert for emily henderson design

Designer Brady Tolbert divided his tiny galley into two parts. On the side with the sink, he installed floating white and brass shelves to display dishware, cutting boards, and personal mementos. Directly across the way is the cooking zone, complete with a black Smeg fridge, his existing stove, and a coffee center. Divvying up the small nook according to function makes for a less chaotic scene come dinnertime. 

Stick to Cosmetic Changes 

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Melissa Colgan only gave her Washington, D.C., space a surface-level facelift, not because she couldn’t expand into the living room, but because she found the traditional footprint of the 100-year-old apartment charming. In addition to replacing the cherrywood cabinets with Shaker-style fronts, she refinished the backsplash in a zellige subway tile. Her words of advice: You don’t have to fight a humble layout. It’s the finishes that matter most. 

Tuck Half Underneath the Staircase 

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Photography by Tim Van De Velde

Dutch Architect Christ Collaris chose an unexpected location for this Amsterdam home’s kitchen. What would have been a hollow gap beneath the stairs is now packed with birchwood cupboards. The clever placement kept costs down (no full build-out required!), as did the strip of countertop opposite, which is made from discarded roof and floor parts from the original house.

Turn Up the Drama 

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Semikah Textiles founder Veronica Hamlet knew she wanted to go monochrome in her Michigan home’s kitchen, so she opted for a soapstone countertop on both sides of the aisle, a veiny marble farmhouse sink, and matte lower cabinetry. Since there’s less surface area to cover (the perks of not having a giant island), the luxe materials don’t seem like such a splurge. 

Make the Ground the Focus 

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photo courtesy of studio mcgee

No one will be thinking about how cramped the room is with a pattern like this underfoot. Studio McGee shifted the attention of this narrow kitchen using graphic floor tile, which recedes into the distance, giving the illusion that the space is longer and larger than it really is. 

Paint It White 

You don’t have to knock down a bunch of walls for a place to feel bigger and brighter. Color (or lack thereof) can achieve the same sense of openness. After painting this two-sided kitchen white, Leanne Ford incorporated salvaged wood shelves and beams and sandy-colored ceramic dishes for warmth. Cooking in close quarters has never looked better. 

This story was originally published on April 18, 2016. It has been updated with new information.

See more space-savvy ideas for your tiny kitchen:
This New Invention Is the Ultimate Hack for Tiny Kitchens
10 Things Every Small Kitchen Needs
Dining Room Alternatives for Tiny Apartments

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