Kitchen design magic: From dark and dingy to bright and airy in 7 simple steps

We all know that it’s the kitchen that makes a home. And a great kitchen design delivers a stylish and practical solution to achieve what we all want: a bright and airy space that serves as the beating heart of the home. But what if your current kitchen area is too dark, too small, too uninviting?

No need to fret! Whatever amount of space you have at your disposal and however awkward the layout may be, there are plenty of ways to enhance the size and feel of your kitchen. Here are 7 clever professional kitchen design techniques that will make a huge difference.

Introduce natural light

For a clean and bright kitchen look, you just can’t beat good natural light. Wherever possible, maximise the amount of available daylight that comes in to the room via windows and doors, through glass walls or roofs.

Check the aspect of the room and work out when and where direct sunlight is coming from, then tweak the use of the space accordingly, if possible. Would it help to add a window or skylight, or knock down a wall to create an open plan area? Can you fit a breakfast area into the brightest part of the room to make the most of the natural daylight?

Make sure the light from existing windows is not blocked by dark curtains or blinds, heavy pot plants or household knick-knacks.


Add artificial lighting as needed

If you can’t introduce enough natural light despite your best endeavours, there are plenty of artificial lighting options you can add, including natural daylight bulbs to replicate real daylight.

Lighting design is both an art and a science that uses clever layering of ambient, accent and task lighting to achieve the perfect balance – too many or too few lights and your kitchen can end up looking smaller!

Recessed downlighters are an effective and space saving solution for general lighting, while under-cabinet task lighting is not only highly functional, it draws the eye’s attention to the space underneath. Consider fitting LED lights as a way to save both energy and money.


Choose bright colour schemes

Colour can have an enormous effect on how small or big your kitchen looks and feels – even a quick weekend paint job can do wonders to lift a gloomy room. Light colours are ideal for making small spaces feel larger. White does it best but there are many off-white, cream or pastel shades in blue, pink or green that are equally suitable and may be more to your taste.

It’s not a good idea to use too many contrasting colours, as it’s the visual uniformity that creates the illusion of space. Instead, play with texture and pattern to add interest, perhaps using coordinating ceramic wall or floor tile designs.

To liven up an otherwise neutral colour palette, carefully use accent colours, for example in kitchen appliances, hand towels, with strategically positioned fresh flowers or a feature fruit bowl.

Apply the same colour principles to kitchen units, cabinetry and worktops too. It’s worth pointing out that horizontal surfaces (worktops, floors) tend to absorb the most light, so avoiding darker shades here is essential for maximising the amount of light in the room.

If you do wish to include dark colours in a poorly lit kitchen area, make sure you use them below eye level (e.g. base units), with lighter colours higher up.


Go for reflective surfaces

Maximise the light in your kitchen by introducing light reflective materials to really open up the space. These include high gloss laminate surfaces on kitchen units and cupboard doors, glass splashbacks, shiny porcelain tiles, granite or quartz flecked worktops and stainless steel appliances.

Glass-fronted cabinet doors will also work well, as they allow they eye to travel the extra distance through to the back of the cabinet, the extra depth creating the visual illusion of extra space. Use shelving for glassware and be careful about presentation – everything will be on show!

Another idea is to add a feature mirror, or mirror tiles, both for visual effect and to maximise the light.


Declutter for a streamlined look

A kitchen that is crammed to the ceiling with ‘stuff’ invariably looks crowded and too small. By contrast, a minimalist approach to kitchen design will increase the feeling of space in the room.

Be ruthless with the contents of your kitchen – do you really need it all? It’s hard to follow William Morris’ famous golden rule to ‘have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful’ but it’s a very liberating mantra to bear in mind for your next kitchen blitz.

Whatever kitchen bits and bobs you decide to keep, make sure there’s ‘a place for everything and everything in its place’, as recommended by Benjamin Franklin. If you are not a naturally tidy person, don’t fight it, instead factor it into your design! Too much clutter on display on worktops and open shelving is never a good look, and do be extra vigilant about washing up – no dirty dishes in the sink!


The holy grail of kitchen storage

You can never have enough storage space; that’s a fact. Plentiful storage is particularly important for smaller kitchens – and because space is at a premium, you need to be clever with it too.

Built-in storage solutions such as larder cupboards, extra deep corner cupboards, double cabinets, tambours and plinth-drawers are all excellent ideas to make the most of small kitchens. Inside units and cupboards, you can use cleverly designed storage inserts including spice racks, layered pull-out shelves or secret drawers.

Choose drawers over cupboards – they may be more expensive but are a great deal more practical: the contents are clearly visible and much easier to reach and lift out. Save valuable floor space by integrating your kitchen waste bin into an under-sink unit.

Consider extra-height wall cabinets and units for useful added storage all the way up to the ceiling. Not only do they make the ceiling look further away and the room taller, it’s an excellent way to store infrequently used items.

It’s a good idea to avoid busy patterns or over-elaborate designs such as ornamental detailing and decorative features. Instead, create the illusion of space with a sleek, streamlined design. Unobtrusive slimline handles or handleless kitchen cupboards are a great choice for small kitchens; they take up less physical space meaning no risk of catching your clothing and more room to move around.


Space saving kitchen appliances

Finally, no kitchen is complete without the requisite appliances. Many manufacturers have models that cater specifically for smaller kitchens, including slimline or compact ovens or dishwashers that take account of the physical space limitations.

Where possible, choose built-in devices with unfussy surfaces or, better still, select from a growing range of multifunctional kitchen appliances that include washer/dryers, fridge freezers, combi microwave ovens or a boiling water taps.

This article was written by interior design enthusiast, Sara Bryant an independent content writer working alongside specialist kitchen designers Halycon Interiors.

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