Small is beautiful – but when it comes to kitting out a kitchen, it can also be challenging.
Whether you're building a granny flat or tiny house, renovating an existing small kitchen, or decking out a caravan or camper for your big round-the-country trip, you'll want to make the most of your space. Every centimetre counts!
Fortunately, there are plenty of products out there that'll earn the space they take up, from diminutive appliances through to multi-functional machines that provide flexibility with a small footprint.
Here's our kitchen expert's advice on how to maximise space when choosing appliances for a small kitchen.
A standard cooktop measures 60cm wide, which might be small enough for your space, but you could opt for a cooktop with just two cooking zones instead. (We haven't tested these, however, so can't comment on their performance.)
Our cooktop reviews include specifications such as dimensions and cut-out depth and width so you know how much room to allow for installation. Plus we score each cooktop so you know which is the best buy for your budget.
Opt for a slimline gas, ceramic or induction cooktop, or even a portable induction model.
If you're really pushed for space, a multi-cooker is a good option for foods you'd normally need a cooktop for – you can fry, steam, make casseroles and even deep fry with them. (Read on for more info about these.)
For extra-small kitchens, another option is a portable induction cooktop. They certainly tick the space-saving box: they measure around 28 x 37cm (give or take a centimetre or two), and weigh less than 3kg. You can pack them up easily when it's time to go, so they're handy for travelling or cooking outdoors.
Just make sure you shop carefully: our experts recommended only two models in our recent portable induction cooktops review, with a number of particularly poor performers failing some of the tests.
Should you buy a portable induction cooktop? Our experts are a hard 'maybe' on this one, but say they can be a good option if space is at a premium.
An all-in-one kitchen machine can save space by replacing several appliances. Image credit: Thermomix.
Why try to find space for two appliances when you only have room for one? These alternatives combine multiple functions so you'll only need half the bench space for (at least) double the cooking options.
If you want to cull the number of appliances in your kitchen, multi-cookers and all-in-one kitchen machines like the Thermomix are handy kitchen workhorses that'll take care of multiple cooking tasks.
All-in-one machines do what they say on the tin: combine multiple features such as slow-cooking, food processing, steaming and mixing, letting you make thousands of different recipes. Despite their large repertoire of functions, they're surprisingly compact and can free up plenty of bench and cupboard space.
Not sure if an all-in-one kitchen machine will live up to the hype? We've answered the question of whether a Thermomix is really worth it.
Why try to find space for two appliances when you only have room for one?
Multi-cookers are a different kind of all-in-one appliance that deliver plenty of cooking options on a small footprint.
"A multi-cooker can do the job of multiple appliances: a slow cooker, pressure cooker and rice cooker – and many also have functions that can replace your electric frypan, yoghurt maker and steamer," says CHOICE kitchen expert Fiona Mair.
"For a wider range of functions, choose a multi-cooker that has a slow cooker setting with a high and low setting."
Worth it or a waste of money? CHOICE kitchen expert Chantelle Dart shares her take on the three most useful benchtop appliances that will save you time and money in the kitchen.
If you think you'll have to give up roast dinners because your tiny kitchen won't fit an oven, we have some good news for you: you can still roast your heart out on a small scale.
Convection microwave save space and are cheap to run.
If you're dealing with a seriously small kitchen, a convection microwave could be the answer to some of your lack-of-space woes.
A microwave combination oven allows for steaming, cooking rice or cooking sauces that you would normally need a cooktop for. The combination grill in the microwave is perfect for gratins or making cheese melts.
"They can be used just as a microwave, convection oven, or grill, and there is also a function to combine two modes to speed up the cooking time," says Fiona.
"If you have the space, you could opt for a built-in combination microwave and oven. The ones we've tested range in price from around $400 to more than $2000."
"However, convection microwaves can be bulky due to the extended part on the back of the oven, so consider bench space and ventilation when purchasing."
You'll need to allow at least 10cm clearance at the sides, around 15cm at the rear and 15–40cm on top for air flow.
Air fryers aren't just for chicken nuggets and chips.
The current kitchen darling, the air fryer, is an option if you're planning on roasting up a (tiny) storm. Roast dinner in an air fryer? Yes, really.
When we test air fryers, our expert testers roast a 500g–1kg pork belly to assess each model's roasting skills, and some of them do a surprisingly good job.
Plus, you can use an air fryer to cook a whole host of other foods, from salmon fillets to marinated wings, steaks, cakes and desserts, so you won't be short of meal options even if you're short on space.
Take a look at our detailed air fryer reviews to find the one that cooks the roast with the most.
Another itty-bitty oven alternative is a benchtop or toaster oven.
They come in two types: the toaster oven is a mini version of a full-sized oven and has a slide out shelf or shelves; while the turbo oven is a convection oven with a domed glass viewing window that contains the heating element and fan; the base has a large cooking bowl that can accommodate a small chicken.
Both types bake, roast, grill and toast all this at a fraction of the size and price of a full-sized oven. Unfortunately, their small size rules out cooking for a crowd so it's dinner for two at most.
Both types bake, roast, grill and toast all this at a fraction of the size and price of a full-sized oven
And our kitchen expert Fiona finds they don't perform as well as a combination oven.
"A typical combination microwave oven (or even just a microwave oven with grill element), offers more options and better cooking than a benchtop oven," says Fiona.
"They are generally more expensive than a benchtop oven but combine more appliances into one unit."
Even with a slimline fridge, allow for a gap of at least 5cm each side.
The fridge will be one of the largest appliances in your kitchen, so do your due diligence to choose the right model.
For households of 1–2 people, our experts recommend a fridge sized 250–380L. We don't recommend smaller fridges, or bar fridges, as they generally tend to be less energy efficient and will cost you more in electricity.
The small fridges we've reviewed range in size from 60 to 69cm wide and 161 to 197cm high.
When you're working with a small space, being even a centimetre or two off in your measurements can turn your perfectly-planned kitchen into a nightmare. Here are some hints for making sure your fridge will fit your space:
- Make sure you're clear on which way you want the fridge door to open
- Remember to account for room around the fridge for ventilation
- Double- and triple-check the depth of your fridge compared with the depth of your cabinets; if you're working with a very small kitchen, you may not be able to spare the extra space for a deep fridge.
Our fridge size and dimensions guide has more information.
For space-saving dishwashers, try a slimline or single dish drawer.
Dish drawers and diminutive dishwashers
A dishwasher might sound like an extravagance when you're making every millimetre count, but if you can squeeze one in it'll minimise the visual clutter of dishes piled up on your (tiny) sink, right? Just remember that the smaller the dishwasher, the less cutlery and crockery you'll be able to fit.
For postage stamp-sized spaces, you have three main options: a dish drawer, benchtop dishwasher or a slimline dishwasher.
Standard-sized dishwashers tend to be 60cm wide and fit around 14 place settings, but slimline versions are 45cm and fit around 10 place settings. (But take place setting claims with a grain of salt: they do depend on the size and shape of your crockery, and don't forget to check that your plates will actually fit!)
Dish drawers and benchtop dishwashers are smaller again, and accommodate fewer place settings (around six, again depending on the model and your crockery).
While dish drawers can be built into your cabinetry or sit in a small microwave-sized nook, benchtop dishwashers will take up precious bench space which is likely already in short supply. However, they don't require any cabinetry modifications so they're easy to add to your kitchen and are great for renters, as well as for caravans and RVs.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.