New York Tested: Tips for Efficient Use of Kitchen Space

When remodeling your kitchen, saving space and maximizing efficiency lead to energy savings, reduced waste, and more. Here are some design tips from an expert green interior designer.

In traditionally tiny New York City kitchens, even half-inches are intensely protected from loss or waste, and multifunctionalism is a common need. But even if you have more space available, a too-large work area can mean wasted time and energy in moving between prep, cooking, and serving stations—and it definitely increases material use. The “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra is appropriate in the kitchen, and reducing leads to the lowest impact.

Take the time upfront to assess your needs and research local materials options, then make decisions based on longevity, durability, and comfort. And have fun—the more the space reflects your taste in color and pattern, the longer you will enjoy the heart of your home.



Aim for the most efficient space layout: compact, well organized, and multifunctional—yet comfortable.

You may be able to reduce or stay within your current square footage while meeting your needs and catering to your work habits. Many folks believe they need a larger kitchen because what they want to do does not fit into their existing kitchen area. But the space may simply be poorly organized, resulting in lost or misused space. With good planning and effective storage and ergonomics, functions can share space. For example, you can use the same worktable or counter area for home-office work and meal prep (assuming those tasks are done at different times) if you have appropriate task lighting for all times of day and you design for easy transformation of the space.


Consider whether you need all the things marketing and cultural trends tempt us with.

A second dishwasher, separate refrigerators and freezer units, oversized restaurant-style appliances—do they warrant the real estate they occupy or the energy and resources they consume? Instant hot water is a questionable luxury for most homes and situations—do you really need it? You might find that a shift in habits can solve problems and reduce your space and appliance needs.

For example, you can find terrific 24-inch-wide by 24-inch-deep by 84-inch-high refrigerator/freezers that use low energy, emit no CFCs, and are well designed for comfort and ease of use. This article on Apartment Therapy features a lively discussion of space-saving, energy-efficient refrigerator models. These smaller models may require more frequent grocery shopping than you have been used to, but that can help you reduce food spoilage. Think of remodeling as a way to institute positive change—to correct situations that you have been struggling with and meaning to address.

Prioritizing quality over quantity will also leave room in your budget for the high-quality finishes that increase satisfaction with the end result, and you’ll probably keep the renovated space longer rather than replacing it.


Use windows to maximize the feeling of spaciousness and bring in daylight.

Kitchens are basically work rooms, and work rooms require good light sources. Daylight is a free and terrific general light source.

Look for opportunities to add windows or skylights to maximize daylight for two-thirds of each day. (Energy Star–qualified windows and skylights can help you save energy.) Avoid burying windows between deep cabinets. Open shelves and light, reflective colors around existing windows will help to bring the light deeper into the space.


Lighter-colored cabinets and countertops will make the kitchen feel more spacious.

Cabinets tend to cover the lion’s share of the wall area in a kitchen, and counters split the horizontal plane with the flooring material, so choosing a wall color is secondary to cabinet and counter material choices in determining overall lightness or darkness.

Dark woods and black countertop materials can drastically reduce the quality of light in your kitchen; if you choose them, you’ll have to increase the number and wattage of lighting sources. Lighter materials are a more sustainable choice. You can use intense colors as long as they give off light rather than absorb it. Increasing the reflectivity of the surfaces will also help—gloss helps bounce light around. Beware of too much glare, however, which is tiring for eyes focused on the work (literally) at hand.