The dreaded galley kitchen! Just the name can evoke narrowness, stinginess, corridors and chaos. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you’re considering a small galley kitchen remodel, while you may at first think you’ll just have to expose a wall and put in a kitchen island, designers say not so fast. The galley kitchen has its advantages, too, and it really doesn’t have to feel claustrophobic. Some professional chefs even express a preference for a galley-style kitchen, for safety and efficiency and the opportunities to be really clever about handy, bountiful storage.
Taking its name from the kitchens on ships and aircraft, the galley kitchen is typically a narrow passage framed by two parallel walls or runs of units or counters. It’s usually an enclosed space without a dining area, but seating can be incorporated as you’ll see. Galley kitchens either have a symmetrical look (where the length of runs and the arrangement of units are mirrored on each side) or asymmetrical (with a mix of tall and low cabinets and banks of appliances). Very narrow galleys usually favour an asymmetrical look to stay as streamlined as possible.
Galleys can be closed at one end with a wall, which means you have room for open shelving at one end, or simply to hang a painting or mirror or paint up a family-friendly chalkboard wall. When they are open-ended and lead somewhere, this increases foot traffic. If that’s the case, designers tend to enhance safety by having sinks and cooktops on the same run.
If you have a galley kitchen you’ll need to take advantage of small space design tricks, such as dividing spaces according to function, grouping appliances behind a cupboard or floating shelves installation and other hidden cupboards. You may find the space appears less cave-like without upper cabinets, or if you consolidate all the cabinets in one space. The use of different materials and colours can also help break up the feeling of being in a hallway.
Maximising efficiency in a minimal space isn’t always easy, but here are our favourite suggestions for using up all the space in the most welcoming and warm way possible.
Galley cabinet ideas
There are many decisions to make when it comes to a galley kitchen remodel. Choosing your kitchen cabinets will come down to considerations of styles and materials, handles, cabinet lighting, whether you are interested in corner cabinets or bin drawers, or other specialised elements.
For cabinetry, you basically have a choice of three types: stock, semi-custom and custom. The type you’ll choose will depend on your budget and your aesthetic choices, but stock cabinets are usually the most entry-level price point, while semi-custom affords more styles and finishing options, and custom cabinets will give you the biggest choice of wood type, finishing and construction platform. To work out which options are most suitable to you, you may like to discuss your needs with an experienced kitchen cabinet maker.
Cabinets usually come in either flat panel or Shaker-style looks, with flat-panel becoming more popular as sleek, streamlined and minimalist styles become a key look; however modern kitchen design centres on ‘balanced eclecticism’—aiming for a harmonious mix of varying eye lines, visual weights and modular layouts, using a variety of materials to provide visual and tactile interest.
1. Flat panels
Unfussy and unashamedly modern. You can have handles on flat panels but push systems work best for a galley kitchen.
2. Shaker style
These are based around a five-piece design and are popular in Scandi style kitchens.
3. Open shelving
Decorators are still enamoured with open shelving, as it affords the ability to make a strong style statement when filled with curated objects that are pleasing to the eye. And open shelving works wonders in the narrow galley kitchen. Whether metal, glass or wood, consider replacing your top cabinets with open shelving for a brighter, airier effect.
4. Floating shelving
Alternatively, you can add floating shelves with hidden brackets anywhere you have a little spare wall space. Floating shelves are a tried and true small space design trick, allowing you the opportunity to showcase your favourite kitchen items in a neat, unobtrusive way.
5. Concealed storage
At the other end of the spectrum are seamless cabinets with concealed storage, providing a clean, streamlined integration of kitchen elements. When you install tall wall units or cabinets, the continuity can really open up the space.
6. Ditch upper cabinets completely
A small space can feel claustrophobic with tall cabinets, so you might like to go with low cabinets only or consolidate cabinets into one place.
7. Add slim storage
Even if you only have a single galley, you can add a great deal of functionality by installing very narrow cabinets across the other wall.
8. Deep drawers
Instead of installing lower cabinets, you might like to go with deep, down-low drawers instead. This helps streamline a small kitchen and improves functionality—rather than have to open doors and poke around, the contents can simply slide out to you. It becomes so much easier to find things than fishing around the gloomy back of cabinets, so consider installing drawers instead of lower cabinets when you’re doing a whole kitchen remodel.
9. Integrated appliances and the ‘appliance garage’
To really get a seamless look for your galley kitchen, hide your appliances in a cabinet, aka an ‘appliance garage’. Getting things off the counters maximises your workspace, so plan to have as much stuff built-in as you can—for example, create a microwave drawer instead of having the microwave sitting on the counter. Experts say hiding your appliances is the new face of luxury, along with specifically streamlined elements like slim range hoods and induction cooktops.
10. Enhance space
Maximise storage where you can, obviously. Such as hanging your pots, as seen in this real galley kitchen on a houseboat in New York.
Take advantage of your entire available wall space, even if it means you may need a ladder or stool to reach high shelves.
For loads more kitchen storage tips and tricks, you may also like to see our blog on kitchen storage ideas.
11. Add a narrow island, trolley or cart
These work against the impression of being in a corridor, and provide useful extra workspace and storage.
Materials and finishes
12. Natural/organic materials
The strong move towards using raw materials continues, playing into the general wellness and sustainability trends which show no signs of abating anytime soon. Organic materials like wood, leather, natural stones like granite and quartz, shiplap, rattan and jute promote a sense of connection with nature and create a calming atmosphere–nowhere is this needed more than in a small, cramped space. Pared down, raw materials really shine and add warmth and depth to a kitchen. Go a step further and use environmentally-friendly recycled and reclaimed materials.
13. Warm woods
Beautiful timbers never get old and impart such rich warm tones and texture. Whether incorporated into counters, flooring or cabinets, timbers like oak and walnut are perennially popular and look beautiful juxtaposed with metals.
14. White galley kitchen
The jury is out on whether all-white kitchens are done and dusted. Some experts reckon they’ve had their day but really, all-white is a classic that can never go out of style. Instead, the use of updated materials will generate a modern aesthetic. And when you have a tiny kitchen space, all white achieves the same sense of openness that knocking down a wall would. Keen to paint your kitchen all white? Find an experienced painter right here.
Keen to paint your kitchen all white? Find an expert to help you with your painting.
15. High gloss
To further enhance space by reflecting more light, choose high gloss finishes in pale colours or all white. You will also create a more streamlined, cleaner effect if you select cabinet doors and drawers without handles.
16. All black
The black galley kitchen is certainly having its moment in design circles. In any material, it looks inescapably modern, but you could also mix it with the naturals/organic theme to feel truly avant-garde.
17. Black and white galley kitchen
If an all-black galley kitchen is just too much though, incorporate lighter walls and ceilings for contrast.
18. Matte black accents
You might also consider just having black fixtures and hardware accents instead. These are very popular in kitchen design right now, with many people finding black fittings a wonderfully fresh accent colour that adds drama without darkening your galley kitchen too much overall. Less harsh are fixtures in pewter and gunmetal, which still give excellent texture and depth.
19. White and black
Another updated classic, a mix of black and white is perfect for a galley kitchen as it breaks up the feeling of being in a corridor, offers great flexibility and allows food (or the cook) to provide the colour and texture pops. When mixing light and dark, make your base cabinets the darker colour and the upper cabinets lighter so that they visually connect with the ceiling.
20. The asymmetric two-tone trend
Rather than mix light and dark vertically, you could also break up the space by having the walls different colours.
Mainly white but with a few small touches of black in your kitchen accessories also works well.
21. White + wood + black as a formula
Steal this kitchen designer’s secret ‘fail-safe’ formula of predominantly white, with wood tones and edgy black touches.
22. Coloured cabinetry
Moving away from monochrome and wood tones, more people are also opting to create a kitchen that’s a burst of gorgeous colour, with evocative coloured cabinetry. Moody blues and greens in deep tones or grey-washes are currently popular, working beautifully with metals. Or just choose your favourite colour!
Painting cabinets may seem like a simple DIY, but it can actually end up costing more and wind up looking like a dog’s breakfast. It’s much better to hire a professional painter who really understands the whole process, from paint stripping and other prepping to dealing with tricky joinery. Depending on how much work there is to be done, a professional can get it done in a very short time and for a reasonable price.
For urban glamour, metallics work a charm.
Or you can get a more subtle but still luxe effect by installing cupboards with metallic inlays, or maybe a mirror backsplash.
24. Pops of colour
If you go with a monochrome look for walls and cabinets, add charm and personality with little splashes of colour, whether in the upholstery, counter stools, light shades or rugs.
Another way to add small bursts of colour judiciously in a galley kitchen remodel is to choose from the many-coloured appliances now available on the market.
Galley kitchen seating
You may think a galley kitchen has no room for seating, but that’s not the case! Many galley kitchens successfully incorporate seating in the form of a breakfast bar or nook, island or bench. As well as adding to sociability and comfort, benches and islands can also provide extra work surface area. When an island or bench replaces one of the parallel sides of the corridor, the family can be seated safely away from the cooking area.
25. Parallel bench
26. Peninsula seating
27. A tiny table and chairs
28. A collapsible table
29. Or just add a stool
For sitting on and reaching things…and just for looking cute.
Galley kitchen lights
30. Statement lights
Oversized lighting strangely gives the feeling of having more space, so galley kitchens are ideal for a statement hanging pendant in addition to task lighting. Decorative, sculptural lighting just makes the tiny space feel far less utilitarian or dungeon-like.
31. Brass lights
I love these lights which nicely tie in with the cabinetry handles and tapware.
32. Functional lighting
When you’re ina kitchen lighting design is so important but never more so than when you’re in a galley style kitchen. I love how here in this galley kitchen they have installed downlights along one side and statement pendant lights down the other side. It ensures that the food prep area is always adequately lit.
Galley kitchen flooring
The use of decorative flooring elements is another way to distract from the size of the space. Having a pattern under your feet, whether with a rug or tiling, is attention-seeking, and when graphic patterns recede into the distance, they also create the illusion of elongating the space.
33. Geometric tile
Encaustic floor tiles look simply gorgeous against a monotone kitchen aesthetic.
If you are thinking of having your kitchen flooring redone and updated, find a flooring contractor.
34. Herringbone timber flooring
Nothing says luxe more than herringbone laid timber flooring.
One of the most popular small galley kitchen ideas suited to renters is to place a rug or runner in your kitchen, allowing you to infuse character and colour into your space while protecting the floor and providing comfort. A bright patterned runner can make all the difference in a boring, tired-looking galley kitchen. Try a heavy-duty, waterproof outdoor rug for convenience of cleaning, in a natural material like jute or sisal.
36. Glossy splashbacks
To brighten a galley kitchen, install glossy tiles which will reflect more light.
37. Layer in some art
Sure, it’s a galley kitchen, not a gallery kitchen. Still, finding a spot for a little art of some kind— framed photos, prints, vintage recipes or even a series of food tin labels a la Warhol– is an easy way to add a splash of colour and interest if your space is otherwise quite plain. Consider lining the dead space above your upper cabinets, or hang a painting on the wall of a closed-ended galley kitchen.
One of the perks of working with a small space is that luxe materials like marble countertops are just that much more attainable, enabling you to enjoy the elegant sophistication of this strong, classic material in a small, more affordable dose.
39. The smart kitchen
Finally, even a tiny galley kitchen can take advantage of innovations in digital technology for kitchens, whether that’s a WiFi-enabled espresso machine, specialised wine fridge, kitchen functions that are controlled via apps, built-in Bluetooth speakers and smart lighting. If you need help with the installation of smart kitchen gadgetry, you can easily find an expert here.
40. Add a skylight
If you need to add light to your galley kitchen, you’ll never regret having too many skylights and there are so many options that you can do.
Getting a hand with the galley kitchen remodel
Need some help, or don’t know where to start? If it’s high time for a galley kitchen remodel, think about booking your galley kitchen reno through Airtasker. We’ve got experienced kitchen renovators to take your job from idea to completion, or tradies who can assist with specific tasks, such as to help with rangehood installation or stove connection.
And for heaps more kitchen inspo and galley kitchen ideas, make sure you check out our previous blog on kitchen ideas.
How much will it cost?
Want some ballpark figures on your kitchen remodel plans? Here’s a great starting point
- How much does kitchen installation cost?
- How much does faucet mixer installation cost?
- How much does a plumber cost?
Feature image credit: Front + Main