Big Family, Little Kitchen: How We Make It Work

Already, I’m hesitant to use the title above. I know plenty of families bigger than mine and I know other families with small kitchens. However, we have more than the national average of kids and a smaller than average kitchen so hopefully this post is helpful to someone. But seriously, if you’re one of the few people with 23 kids and a small closet for a kitchen, it’s understood your life is 10 times harder than mine and you’re a saint for dealing with your circumstances so bravely. Plus, I know these are first world problems. I KNOW that people in other parts of the world are living in hut the size of my kitchen. I will donate money to an appropriate charity immediately after finishing this post.

Now with all the disclaimers off my chest, let’s talk small kitchens. First, bear with some background. Up until about four years ago, our kitchen was a front porch.

We added the small porch in the front because the brick steps underneath were crumbling and too expensive to repair.

The existing kitchen was at the back of the house and was also the main entrance. It was small, dark, ugly, and crowded with coats, shoes and whatever the kids dragged inside. Even when we bought our house, we knew eventually we’d redo the kitchen. We were tolerating it until then.

Once we got Fulton’s diagnosis and knew a wheelchair was in our future, all house plans now became focused on making this 1920’s bungalowĀ accessibleĀ  Through donations we put a large ramp, deck and sliding glass door on the back of the house which opened into, you guessed it, our kitchen. The cabinets, stove, microwave were in an L shape in one corner with the refrigerator in the opposite corner. Now we also had another doorway taking up wall space where there had been storage.

Once the ramp was in place, the next issue was the tiny doorway between the kitchen and dining room. You couldn’t see from the kitchen into any other rooms of the house and if Fulton parked his chair near the doorway, no one could go in or out.

old kitchen
Imagine 6-7 people filling this room and trying to get into the rest of the house while the 3 year old is taking his sweet time driving through the doorway.


fulton squeezing through
“I love scraping up the woodwork!”

Widening the doorway would eliminate most of the cabinets in the old kitchen, but building an addition to move the kitchen and widen the doorway was also out too due to cost. On a whim, I took a measuring tape to our screened in front porch. We consulted with a contractor and it would be within our budget to enclose the porch. That would also allow us to turn the old kitchen into a mudroom; something every large family dreams about.

porch before
The side of the porch that would become the school room.


porch before 2
The side of the porch that would become the kitchen.

So we moved the kitchen.


school room
I didn’t feel like tidying this side too much before taking a picture. Just keepin’ it real.

People who saw our porch before are often amazed that it was big enough to house a kitchen, but the tape measureĀ doesn’t lie! I designed the kitchen from the ground up, keeping in mind the minimum space we would need to house food and kitchen stuff for our family, while trying to prevent it from feeling as tiny as it is (about 240 square feet including the school room.) Here’s what we did:


  • I knew we needed a huge fridge and a dishwasher so we willingly sacrificed cabinet space. Our lower cabinets include one lazy susan corner, one sink base and one set of 12 inch wide drawers.
kitchen cabinets open
I took a picture with the cabinets open so you can see how much they hold.
  • I chose to put cabinets only on the wall over the stove, but I got the tallest cabinets I could to maximize the space. We built in a spice rack (behind it is a cement column) to use otherwise wasted space. Two open shelves hold our mugs and coffee, plus medicine.

coffee station

  • Everything has a designated space and everyone in the family knows where everything goes.
  • We have white walls, no curtains, and lots of lights which keeps it bright.

natural light in kitchen

  • WeĀ prioritizedĀ top quality appliances. If I’m going to be cooking large meals for all these hungry people, I need appliances I can count on. Had we been renovating a large space, I’m sure it would have been hard to install more cabinets, counters, flooring, lighting, etc. and also afford theĀ appliancesĀ we purchased. The double oven is awesome for cooking big meals and keeping food warm, plus our microwave can also be used as an oven. Our refrigeratorĀ is huge, like the size of our old kitchen. But it holds everything! For example, a whole twelve pack of cider in one door compartment!!!! Worth. every. penny.
  • I store very little on the counters. What you see is used frequently (Ā yes, even the bread maker).There’s also not much on the walls. It’s less visual clutter and less to clean.
  • To make up for the lack of counter and cabinet space, we invested in a sturdy kitchen cart with a towel rack, drawers and lots of open space for pans and our mixing bowls.

kitchen cart

  • We left open the walls where the front windows of the house used to be and added some counter so people in the dining room and kitchen can easily see one another and pass food and dishes back and forth. This is great for entertaining, and it lets me see how the kids are doing when they’re cooking something themselves without me being right on top of them.
pass through
Looking from the sink into the dining room.
  • We don’t buy a lot of kitchen gadgets and we constantly recycle plastic wear. When those two little shelves at the bottom of the upper cabinet to the right of the stove start overflowing, I throw stuff out. I also am constanly getting rid of travel coffee mugs, water bottles and character cups. My kids each have their own cup so we don’t need to keep tons of extras on hand. We got new pots for Christmas and I immediately tossed the old ones. I don’t keep anything “just in case.” I don’t have the space and honestly, I can’t think of any time I missed something. In our first house we had four sets of dishes. FOUR! Now we have two, the ones we use daily and our china that we break out for all special occasions. It’s stored in the dining room.
  • I store our roaster pan, large stock pot, grill gear and plastic containers that belong to other people on top of the refrigerator. Plus candy I’m hiding from the kids.

On the other side of the kitchen is a large wall of cabinetry that is our pantry and school storage. I also keep lesser used appliances up high. These were all in-stock unfinished cabinets from Home Depot that we painted ourselves. We used Cabinet Coat paint and it stands up well to all the scrubbing I need to do. The desks were scored off Ebay. We also left the wall open where the front windows used to be on this side so if you stand in the school room you can actually look the whole way through the house and out the back sliding glass doors. It’s pretty cool.

Here’s an old, very neat and tidy picture.

Now, there are some downsides. If one of the little boys drives their wheelchair into the kitchen, and inevitably parks between the kitchen cart and the refrigerator, YOU SHALL NOT PASS! And, if the same little goobers drive into the school room and turn around, they’re likely to hit a desk or, snap a door off the pantry cabinets. It’s difficult for more than two people to be working in the kitchen at the same time, so it’s not uncommon for whomever is making dinner to also be yelling “Get out of the kitchen!!” It’s also not uncommon for the counter space we do have to get covered with dishes and food prep fallout.

But for the most part, I love our kitchen. It was so great to plan everything and then watch it come to fruition. I’mĀ confidentĀ we used every inch in the best way possible and as a result, the space is efficient and enjoyable to use. Plus it’s a good dance floor.

Any questions? Is there something missing from my small kitchen that you couldn’t live without? How big is your kitchen?


  1. I love it! And I can definitely relate as I have a tiny kitchen too. It’s freeing not to have a lot of space. I know I would let a bigger kitchen get the better of me and my clutterbug ways!

  2. Your cabinets look amazing. I wonder if that paint works on laminate cabinets? Ours are all very pink and yellow … the previous owner had very different taste than we do. šŸ˜‰

  3. I love it. I’m always super interested in how people use their space. It helps me to appreciate my space and to try to be more creative, rather than just sitting around complaining about my house. When can we see the mudroom? Mudrooms make me swoon.

  4. I love this!!!!!!! It really is all about simplicity so much of the time. I know there are plenty of useful appliances out there that we COULD own, but when you only have so much space to work with, you learn to live with the minimum! I can’t speak on the same level, since my oldest child is in my belly, and my husband and I haven’t had to figure out kitchen space with oodles of children (yet). So for us, our 12 x 7 foot kitchen seems plenty big. I really like reading posts like yours, because we’re hoping to house-hunt for the first time in about a year or so, and it’s good to get perspective and see the wide range of possibilities with smaller spaces!

  5. I love seeing how people plan and use their space! I won’t lie, I’d love a bigger kitchen, but I’m sure the clutter problem would be bigger, too. Love the cabinet color!!

  6. I love the cabinet color! And it’s so neat to see how you planned out and used every inch of space. Also, I second the mudroom viewing request!

  7. I constantly tell everyone to get out of the kitchen! We have a galley kitchen, just wide enough that the dishwasher door OR refrigerator door can be opened, but not both, since they are directly across from each other. My kids enjoy helping and I LOVE that about them, however, I tend to get a bit claustrophobic in addition to being able to do some things faster by myself. The remodel is amazing!

  8. Love it Kelly! Such a great use of space! I’d love to see the mudroom too! And ya know another dancing, lipsync would show off the space better šŸ˜‰

  9. It is lovely! Pls tell more about the cabinet paint — looking to repaint our shabby cabinets.

  10. Very cool! We slowly did the kitchen in our last house, and it was interesting how living with a problem for a while really clarified our needs. We ended up with a way better kitchen than we would have if we had started right away.

    On another note, if you’re ever looking to spruce things up further, you could have the openings from the addition to the rest of the house framed out with trim. We saved stuff like that until we had done all the important work in the house.

    Love your homeschool room and kitchen!

  11. My husband and I are currently on the market for our first home (gasp!), and this is sooo hopeful! It’s been seeming like everything in our price range has a kitchen that just isn’t functional, and would definitely need to be re-done in the future. This is really inspiring for me! and food for thought… literally šŸ˜‰ Way. to. go.

  12. Brilliant. We moved from a 1920s bungalow with a galley kitchen to a bigger house in another state. My new kitchen has lots of storage which I quickly filled up. No basement here so that is good I can put all those large but seldom used pans in the kitchen! And I love the double oven I now have. But that little kitchen was just great for efficient everyday meal prep. I haven’t quite gotten the flow down here yet. I feel like I’m always going round and round that island everybody says you have to have and my “breakfast bar” mostly gets piled with papers. It is kind of our school zone, because of course mom has to be in the kitchen so much of the time! I think you’ve hit on just the right balance. And of course the turquoise cabinets are the best part. šŸ™‚

  13. Less is more, both in terms of having space and stuff you actually use. Love your solutions and ongoing approach to not accumulate! I live in a tiny NYC apartment and love my small galley kitchen. You’ve inspired me to sweep through cabinets and donate stuff. Great job!

  14. My husband and I designed a “one bum kitchen” as he calls it, and I love it. Similar layout to yours, and it’s a dream to cook in because I can reach everything without taking two steps, but A to the men on yelling “get out of the kitchen!”
    Awesome use of space! I love!

  15. Your new kitchen looks great and also seems quite well designed. We live in a 1920s colonial (built from a Montgomery Ward kit). We had an enclosed ;unheated porch, but it was sagging and badly water damaged, so we went the opposite route. It is now a screened-in sleeping porch, which we enjoy in the summer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.