Space of the Week: A Well-Considered Layout Maximizes This Small Kitchen

Smushed into a cramped and dated kitchen, a family of five called designer Libby Rawes.

Kitchen with wood cabinets and white farmhouse sink

Rebecca McAlpin Photography

If there’s one design term that’s said repeatedly during a home renovation, it’s this: functionality. As interests and technology shift how rooms are used throughout the years, any modern changes are done to service of-the-moment needs. And in the case of this Philadelphia kitchen, which has been on a tree-lined street since the 1940s, the needs of its current owners were not being met. So they called in Libby Rawes, owner and principal designer of Sharp and Grey Interiors, to increase its…well, you know the word. 

“A family of five with three young kids live here, and the kitchen had last been updated sometime in the '90s,” Rawes says. “It felt dated in terms of style, with brown granite and brown-and-beige tiles, and the cabinetry and finishes were beginning to show their wear.”

The layout was also too cramped for how the family intended to use it, and the owners were hoping to construct a larger island that would be complemented by a nearby banquette and its space-saving corner booth. “Still, to do that, we needed to expand into the adjacent dining room,” Rawes notes. The updated L-shaped layout would have cabinets with concealed shelving beside rearranged appliances, plus a square island with open-and-closed storage between that and a new eat-in nook. There would also be a bar—complete with a mini-fridge and sink—so that any refreshments could be served in its own area. 

Bar Area with sink and green tiles and green lower cabinets

Rebecca McAlpin Photography 

“I spent a lot of time with the homeowners discussing how the family lives in their home,” Rawes says. “We discussed storage options and floor plan changes that could make the most of their kitchen, like taking the range out from the corner and centering it on one wall, as well as expanding into the dining room for the beautiful banquette area. We had limited square footage at the bar, but really thought about how it would be used. Open shelving and a wall-mounted faucet took up less counter space.”

In terms of style, the owners liked modern and industrial features, and were also hoping to incorporate the color green without doing so on the cabinets. Together with Rawes, they settled on natural wood cabinets to match the black hexagon floors, and then added that verdant shade in a trio of pendants above the sink, the restaurant-style cushions of the banquette, and the distinctive quality of the bar. 

“This combination lended a modern and industrial touch without being too heavy-handed,” Rawes says. “Green ties the kitchen and the banquette together, as does the lighting. We amped up the green in the bar area, and brass runs throughout each space for warmth.”

And for one more detail that increases functionality, look closely. “The rounded furniture and edges on the stone shelves help to keep the flow, too, and contrast some of the harsher edges in the rest of the space.” Overall, the construction phase of this kitchen renovation took about six months to complete. Now the family can enjoy the latest iteration of their kitchen, with all the ease it’ll bring them, and Rawes can move on with an important lesson in that all-to-important design term. 

“You should play with materials and layouts to create a functional space,” she says.

Kitchen with wooden cabinetry, a brass pendant lamp over the dining table, and vintage-style rug

Rebecca McAlpin Photography

Get the Look:

Brass Pendant Lamp

Visual Comfort & Co.

Golden Light

Set against the wooden cabinets, this brass pendant lamp really shines.

Dark green shiny tiles

Fireclay Tile

Green Tiles

Moody green tiles add a touch of glamour (and a dose of color) to the mostly neutral kitchen.

Sleek silver faucet

Sleek Fixtures

In a tight space, a faucet with a clean design, paired with a farmhouse sink, maximizes dishwashing space while keeping the look minimalistic.

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