Though compact, this 200 square-foot kitchen in North Hollywood is anything but cramped. Design firm Lily Spindle says that wasn’t always the case: “When the homeowners, a TV editor/writer and his actor wife contacted us, a pipe had just burst in the condo upstairs, completely flooding the kitchen,” they told us. “When we arrived for our initial walk-through, we were greeted by a half-gutted space, with the cabinetry and drywall ripped out to the studs, the plumbing and electrical exposed and the appliances displaced. What remained was a dark, depressing galley kitchen with a charcoal tile floor, black granite and traditional white shaker-style cabinets -all contractor-grade, generic and outdated.”

The homeowners had been contemplating a remodel for well over a year, so the water damage was actually quite serendipitous. By incorporating on a cheerful color palette and ditching heavy cabinetry, the designer was able to give this space new life and prove once and for all that galley kitchens aren’t a bad thing. In a recent chat, the designers told us more about the project:

When you first met with your clients, what were their top priorities? Did they have any “must haves” or “absolutely nots”?
The rest of their home, built in 1964, reflected their love of midcentury design, but the drab kitchen looked out of another era altogether.  The top priority for them was to have a functional kitchen again, but they equally desired one that was more open in concept and allowed for better communication from room to room. As a young couple without children at the time (they now have an infant), they loved entertaining and they wanted a beautiful and inviting kitchen that flowed more organically from the adjacent dining and living room. Their two “must-haves” according to their answers on our client questionnaire were “colorful” and “exciting.” Since we unapologetically love using vibrant, saturated hues in much of our design work, we were thrilled to have carte blanche to bring in some bright pops of chroma on this project with global textiles, quirky art, and potted plants.

As far as “Absolutely nots” – there were very few.  They definitely weren’t fans of rustic finishes or the colors purple and silver and honestly, it wasn’t a challenge to avoid those aversions when coming up with our materials and color palette.

Tell us a little bit about your vision for the space. What were a few of the key changes you made?
During our initial home visit, we recognized the homeowners’ preference for midcentury design, reflected in their furniture and décor choices.  Our vision became marrying the couple’s taste for period décor with sleek, contemporary details and harmonizing the kitchen with the adjoining living and dining rooms in a way that felt natural, fresh, and dynamic.

Walking into the kitchen for the first time was like entering a dark hallway with the lights turned off.  The long narrow room felt closed in and uninviting with a single window at one end next to a small bistro table used mostly as a catch-all for mail.  We knew immediately that we needed to create expansiveness and bring in more illumination, without forfeiting storage and functionality. 

First, we examined the partly demolished bulkheads and found they could easily go away. After running through a few layout iterations we settled on one without upper cabinets.  Keeping the larger volumes from the waist down and moving the refrigerator to within the wall of pantry cabinets at one end of the room, opened the kitchen to its entire possible width. Making the most of the lower cabinets, we opted for deep drawers instead of shelves, which let the homeowners see and utilize every bit of space in the most efficient way and maximized both the base and tall pantry cabinetry.

We kept the design clean and uncluttered with a pale concrete-look floor tile and bright white counters and with a nod to the MCM aesthetic, introduced a palette of vibrant turquoise and orange. We chose warm wood for the lower cabinet fronts (Tahoe from Semihandmade’s Impression collection on Ikea bases) and went with glossy white for the pantry cabinet doors to reflect more light in the deepest part of the room. The bold backsplash became the piece de resistance with Fireclay tile’s Tiki Blue in a retro parquet tile pattern.

At one end of the kitchen, the couple had a solo bistro table where a kitchenette set was most likely intended.  With this table only several feet away from the dining room table, the configuration seemed both awkward and redundant and it was never used for eating.  Since that end of the room represented nearly third of an already tiny kitchen, we wanted to reimagine it in the most enjoyable and advantageous way.  Our solution was a non-traditional “breakfast nook” with an L-shaped upholstered banquette in a cheery tangerine Sunbrella pattern and a casual, low-slung coffee table rather than the predictable high top cafe table.  This cozy corner does double duty as a place for drinking lattes in the morning and sipping cocktails at night and connects the other common spaces with the kitchen.  With an assortment of oversized tribal pillows to rest on, the homeowners love the nook and it quickly became a favorite hangout spot for their guests too.

For readers who may have a small kitchens, could you share 3 top tips to make the most of the space?

1)     Forgo upper cabinets.  Sticking with base cabinets gives the illusion of more space and creates an airy, uncluttered kitchen. Lose the bulkheads, too, if possible!

2)     Plan extra storage in unexpected places.  In this kitchen, the breakfast nook banquette base has hidden cubbies.  The coffee table top slides open to reveal a compartment for the iPads, chargers, magazines, et cetera. 

3)    Light, light, light! Create as much as you can and vary it.  We added more vivid LED recessed lights, wall sconces and pendant lighting in a relatively small space with each producing a different quality of light that collectively illuminated all corners of the room.  We also chose white or light tones for upward facing surfaces like the countertop and floor tile to take advantage of reflected light.