5 Ideas to Create More Space in Your Small Kitchen

Two features that make a small kitchen feel bigger are open counter space and plenty of storage. If you have open space to chop, mix and assemble your dishes it will feel like a comfortable place to spend some time cooking for yourself, friends and family. These are some of our favorite products to get a few things off the counters and out of the drawers and cabinets.

1) Knife Magnet Strip

Magnet strips are fantastic. They look nice and can be used for knives, spatulas, scissors, whisks, ladles and any other metal kitchen utensils. This way you don’t have to store a set of knives in a wood block on the counter and can free up drawer space for other items.

This is one of our favorites from The Shiksa






2. Hanging Baskets

Rather than store your apples, oranges, tomatoes, onions, garlic, avocados or any other fruit or vegetable in the pantry, fridge or countertop basket, put them in a basket hanging from the ceiling. You can turn a small empty corner that is too small for a cabinet into more storage with one ceiling hook.

This is a minimalist style from Sur la Table







and a rustic style from Bed Bath & Beyond







3. Hanging Dish Rack

You’ll need to find the right size to fit over your sink but that’s pretty easy. When you find the right one, a hanging dish rack is just like adding a little more counter space. You can position it high enough to not be cumbersome doing dishes and let your plates, mugs, bowls and silverware drip-dry right into the sink. More space and less mess.

Trade Key has nice designs







or you can take a cabinet integrated approach like this example in Fine Home Building…








4. Wall Mounted Paper Towel Rack

Very simple and very common.  Paper towels need to be handy to be useful and putting them on a wall mounted rack makes great use out of a small area under a cabinet.

Here’s a simple Bed Bath & Beyond Model featured on Houzz




5. Hanging Pot Rack

Nothing consumes more drawer and cabinet space than pots and pans. Getting them out and hanging from the wall or ceiling is perfect work around. Plus, anything else in your kitchen that has a hook or handle can hang right next to them.

Great ceiling hanging design from Crate & Barrel







and a Wall Mounted Design from Cuisinart





These are some of our favorite small kitchen solutions. If you have other suggestions and great product ideas send them our way, we’d love to share!

Fireclay Tile – A model for local, sustainable manufacturing

One of our goals when helping clients choose finish items for their new home or cottage is to find and recommend high quality products with a high value to price relationship.  We want the interior finishes choices to reflect our design and engineering focus on sustainability and longevity.

Among our favorite recommendations is Fireclay Tile.  The first reason is easy – they make absolutely beautiful ceramic tile products and have selection across many styles and price points. The Debris Series Recycled Tile is a house favorite. The Debris Series is a post and pre consumer waste tile product.  It uses recycled glass dust, porcelain dust and spent abrasive minerals to make a unique, beautiful tile for homes while diverting waste from landfill. Fireclay also re-processes all waste materials from one production run back into the input for the next. They prove that responsible, closed-loop manufacturing processes can deliver the highest quality products.

Here’s Paul Burns, Chief Ceramist and Founder of Fireclay Tile talking about developing the Debris Series and coupling sustainable manufacturing processes with recycled material sourcing.

The second reason is that In addition to beautiful tile, we love to recommend Fireclay Tile because they are a local company doing all the right things. They have been in business in San Jose for 26 years.  Founder Paul Burns (in the video above) is still the Chief Ceramist and dedicates his time to coming up with inventive sustainable tile product lines, and Eric Edelson, a younger local, joined in 2009 to apply a Stanford MBA education to helping local manufacturing thrive. Fireclay Tile is a model to emulate. They make amazing product lines, source materials locally, manufacture products responsibly and are preserving the specialized art of ceramic tile making in the region by training new locals in the craft.  If you are considering tiling or re-tiling, Fireclay Tile should be on your shortlist to go check out.

Small House Design – Storage Ideas – Hanging Shoe Organizers

Are you greeted by an array of shoes near the front door when you step into your home? If you own at most around ten pairs of shoes and your entryway looks like a scattered shoe store display, perhaps it is time to invest in a better place for your shoes. You can set up a short shoe rack, but smaller living situations may require a more compact, vertical solution: a hanging shoe organizer. These are shelving units typically hung on rods in a storage room or bedroom closet or hung on a door. Often they are made of canvas and, sometimes, a light skeleton framework. Easily collapsed, set up, or stored away, hanging shoe organizers afford great portability and deployment. They are tucked away, which reduces visual clutter and makes for a less cramped entrance. If you cannot completely fill all of the slots with your shoes and flip flops, you can use these extra spaces for storing ties, belts, socks, lint rollers, and other closet sundries.

Left and Center: Products from Amazon (see below). Right: My own setup.

Since these things will likely be used on a daily basis, I recommend getting something at least of mid-range quality – priced around $10-$15. Some Amazon customer reviews of cheaper organizers note easily-ripped materials. Below are some hanging shoe organizer products available on Amazon with listed prices as of this writing. (Personally, I have been using something like the first one for two years and it’s still in great shape.)

  1. Household Essentials 10-Pocket Hanging Shoe Storage Organizer, Natural Canvas – $14.99
  2. Household Essentials 311344 Double Row Hanging Shoe Organizer – Natural Canvas – $17.84
  3. DAZZ 22-Pocket Over-the-Door Organizer – $11.60

Reducing Clutter

Living in smaller spaces doesn’t mean you have to feel like you are living in a tiny box. You can bring the feeling of spaciousness to your small spaces with the simple practice of reducing clutter. Below is a list of some common clutter that can be readily cleaned up to make a space feel more breathable.

Pick Up Your Clothes

Beds, sofas, and floors are often mistaken for closets, hampers, and dressers. It is very easy, after all, to just remove and drop clothes anywhere upon coming home. Used socks can be stored in shoes, if needed, and the shoes, intern, can be racked or stowed under a bed or in a closet. Jackets and sweaters resting on furniture belong in closets. Pick these things up and just store them away!

Find a Regular Home for your Wares

Pencils, papers, coins, keys, and business cards can be easily placed anywhere at the end of their use and forgotten when they are out of mind. Find or fix up regular, cleaned up places to put them and try to store them in the same place. You will not only have an easier time fetching your wares but also a less cluttered environment.

Get Rid of Stuff

Acquiring new things is unavoidable. We pick up badges and buttons, free t-shirts, and cheap toys and gifts. Consider recycling, donating, or give away things you no longer have a use for. Scan or photograph and digitize aging receipts, pamphlets, and business cards then recycle them. Absolve yourself of unusable clothing, rip your old CDs, toss out or recycle irreparable or useless electronics, and take the trash out. Obsessing about sentimentality or potential utility of the small stuff leads to visual and practical clutter.
Maintain this Habit

Keep in mind that that reducing clutter is not something that is done just once. It is an active maintenance chore. Clutter does and will build up. Fight clutter constantly, daily, or weekly, as long as you fight it regularly.

Planning & Zoning Permits? Yes we can

When a homeowner first has the idea to add a cottage or office or art studio or addition of any kind, it is an exciting, creative brainstorm about how you can re-imagine your living space.  The next set of thoughts aren’t nearly as fun. They are usually something along the lines of “do I have to get this permitted?” and “what am I allowed to do?”. The de facto assumption being that odds are stacked against you, someone’s going to make it a problem and the whole thing is going to be a nightmare. It’s a perfectly fair emotional reaction because there is a good deal to familiarize yourself with – zoning terminology, concepts, procedures…etc.

However it’s typically not as painful as the reputation would have you believe. We have always successfully obtained permits for our clients and have two recommendations on the approach to take. The first is to treat permitting as part of the creative design process. It’s the difference between telling the city I want to do “x” and having them tell you “no”, and telling the city I want to do “something like x” and having them help you figure it out.  Many times a planner will have better ideas that what you originally thought of.  They do after all, spend all day looking at hundreds of lots and building footprints and problem solving design proposals.

The second is to learn what exemptions requests can be put through and keep an open mind to the path of least resistance between a structure, detached cottage and an addition. In the grand majority of cases there is a way to get the functionality of what you had originally envisioned even if the form changes. If you can’t do a detached structure, you might be able to extend off the back but keep the feel of a detached space.  Or if you can’t get as much square footage as you would have liked in the cottage, you might be able to make up for it with a shared structure between the cottage and the main home.

What we’ve learned is that 95% of the time there is a path through city regulation to deliver our clients what they are looking for and we’re most successful at getting there in a timely manner when we enlist the city as partners in the process.

$1,000,000 In-Law: Zillow Determines Our Backyard Cottage is Insanely Valuable!

According to Zillow’s “automated valuation model”, New Avenue’s eco home in Palo Alto is worth $1,025,000!

At New Avenue we have been lucky to have great clients from all types of neighborhoods embrace backyard cottages and second units. One of our biggest surprises is that the more expensive a home is, the more likely the owners will want a backyard cottage. Part of this is caused by simple demand – real estate is all about location, location, location and expensive homes tend to be in areas where there are lots of jobs and lots of people who want to live near them. As a result, in-law units or backyard cottages are in highest demand in the most expensive neighborhoods. Another interesting cause of this is that people with nice homes tend to want to share these homes with family and friends. What fun is a big beautiful home if you have to live there all by yourself?

One of our best “clients” isn’t a client at all but a partner. The City of Palo Alto partnered with New Avenue to create an Eco House that is in the center of their community at Rinconada Park. While the park is certainly not for sale, this display home will have to move somewhere in about a year so we listed it on Zillow to let people know that the home itself is actually for sale.

While the home isn’t worth a million dollars – this Zestimate proves a point that an in law unit or backyard cottage in this neighborhood really does create a million dollars in value. And that’s not even counting the quality of life improvements like living in a walkable community, a great school district or near family or friends.

Compact Living: Display Devices

Consider televisions and computer monitors. You may be thinking of two discrete devices: one dedicated television broadcast programming, the other dedicated to office work. Functionally, however, they both project moving picture.

As a recent graduate from UC Berkeley, I’ve experienced a smaller living-situation in triple-room student housing and have seen my friends’ adaptations to cramped apartments. In dorm rooms or studio apartments, there just isn’t enough space or real estate to house both a new 52-inch television and a new 25-inch monitor – even less so in shared living arrangements. Smaller spaces constrain the amount and size of hardware you can store and keep, but with some consolidated thinking you won’t have to sacrifice your visual luxuries. The compact resident would be wise to select a mid-to-high-end monitor to serve both as the television and a computer display (or even serve as a second monitor – those are always nice!). I have found them more portable and lighter, making them easier to rearrange when needed.

Since the monitor will be doing the work of a television, a larger screen is probably preferable. This lets viewers comfortably distance themselves and recline on a couch or bed. Look for 1080p resolution support. SAMSUNG has well-rated 27-inch monitors starting from around the low $300s (see Newegg). While you can get larger-sized TVs for a lesser price, computer monitors often support much higher resolutions than TVs. The higher resolution affords computer users a roomy workspace for Facebook and Reddit working on, say, high-resolution graphics work, multiple documents, or software development. If a variety of source inputs (VGA, DP, HDMI, composite) aren’t available on the monitor or if you need more input ports, a switcher box would provide great convenience in organizing and hooking up multiple feeds (this ViewHD box for instance).

Realizing you can satisfy two needs with one piece of hardware helps you fit more into compact living.

Below is my monitor and laptop setup. The monitor is frequently used for TV and movie viewing. It is a Hanns.G HZ251.

My laptop hooked up to a large monitor, frequently used for movie or tv viewing.