Galley Kitchens: Design Ideas
and Configuration Tips

By Kealia Reynolds

Though galley kitchens are considered ideal for apartments and smaller homes, they can actually work in larger houses and be quite functional and spacious. If you’re designing a galley kitchen for the first time, or looking to remodel an existing one, we’ll recommend important configuration tips and offer design ideas that can help you create a beautiful kitchen environment.

Galley kitchen considerations

Before designing or remodeling your galley kitchen, consider these five factors.

1. HOA requirements

Some community homeowners associations may need to be notified of remodeling or design work being done within a home. According to Ashley Smith, a realtor and designated supervisor with Realty Associates, you should ask three major questions before starting your kitchen remodel:

  1. Do you live in a community where the HOA requires approval from an Architectural Control Committee before any remodel/construction work is done?
  2. Are there any requirements on the companies performing the work (i.e. Does the HOA require the company to submit a Certificate of Insurance (COI) showing they are licensed and bonded should they cause any damage to another home or HOA-owned property)?
  3. What are the allowed days/times for work to be performed, noise requirements, trash/debris rules, etc.?

2. City permits

Before any project is undertaken, it’s important to know what permits are required by the city.  “A licensed contractor will be able to tell a client this in advance before signing any contract to start work,” says Ashley. “Any work that requires a permit before beginning that a client hasn’t received runs the risk of the city issuing a Stop Work Order and possible fines. This can cause undue costs in terms of timing, fees, and unnecessary stress.”

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3. Type of kitchen remodel

When starting a galley kitchen remodel, you should determine whether it’s a minor or major remodel. “This is important because the cost of the job cost recoup is very different for both,” says Ashley.

It will be a major renovation if…

  • You plan to introduce new cabinets, countertops, a sink, an island, flooring, and textured walls
  • You plan to paint the entire space
  • You replace trim and install high-end appliances, with the possibility of reworking the layout (i.e. moving the plumbing, electricity, etc.)

A major renovation will typically cost $65,000 with the recoup cost being $41,000.

It will be a minor renovation if…

  • You plan to repaint just the existing cabinets
  • You replace drawer hardware and install mid-level appliances
  • You repaint trim instead of completely replacing it

A minor renovation will typically cost $21,000 with the recoup cost being $17,000.

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4. Available space

Before committing to a galley kitchen, make sure you have enough space for this type of layout. “Maximizing space and minimizing clutter is key when designing a galley kitchen, due to the fact that they tend to have limited space,” says Ariel Okin, designer at Homepolish. “Make use of all viable storage options in your cupboards and cabinets, and try to keep items left out on the countertops to a minimum.”

Consider dividing the kitchen into multiple work zones that should be a maximum of eight feet each. There are three main work zones to include in a kitchen: one for preparing food, one for cooking, and one for cleaning or washing up.

The width of galley kitchens should be between seven to 12 feet with a minimum of three feet between opposite countertops. Though three feet between countertops is a minimum requirement, four to five is most optimal.

You should also keep the work triangle in mind when configuring your layout. In a work triangle, the refrigerator, range, and sink are roughly arranged in a triangular formation. This design element improves kitchen efficiency and reduces unnecessary steps while in the kitchen.

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5. Efficiency levels

Having the kitchen open at one end is the most efficient arrangement since it limits foot traffic in the space. However, galley kitchens can be open at both ends—if you opt for this style, you’ll need a space wider than the three-foot minimum to allow for traffic flow.

Galley kitchen ideas

Add a kitchen backsplash

A light-colored kitchen backsplash, especially one made of reflective materials, can make galley kitchens appear larger. If you plan to feature a backsplash or other wall design, arrange the tiles in opposition to the floorboards’ orientation—this will help create an illusion of more depth in the space.

Hide appliances

To create an illusion of more space, hide appliances behind cabinets or paneling that mimics the look of your cabinet design. Removing clutter and having clean lines in your kitchen give the impression of a larger space. “The other trick that helps keep the kitchen feeling open is keeping the cabinet hardware small or no hardware at all. If the kitchen is a closed galley, a custom-cut wall mirror encompassing the entire wall opens up the room and give a sense that it’s double the size,” says Ashley.

Use lighter colors

The main task in the design of any narrow room is to visually extend it. You can achieve this in a galley kitchen by choosing light colors for the walls. “Keeping the cabinets a light color with a semi-gloss or high-gloss finish keeps them looking bright and airy,” says Ashley.

Upgrade cabinets and countertops

Renovating your cabinetry and countertops can provide that wow factor in your galley kitchen. “Swapping out old countertops with new, durable stone (Compac’s new Calacatta collection is a recent favorite), swapping out hardware on the cabinetry, and adding glass paneling to the cabinetry are all good options for sprucing up a galley kitchen,” says Ariel.

Increase lighting

According to Ryan Bursky, head of product development and COO of Lights.com, “Lighting is a critical component of galley kitchens as you want the light to be able to illuminate the entire walkway. Consider a versatile fixture that offers both functional lighting and ambiance, and choose between a subtle piece or a statement fixture depending on the style of your kitchen.”

He recommends an LED flush mount for those who want to keep it simple and enjoy energy-saving benefits or globe pendant lights for a touch of elegance. Another way to incorporate light into your galley kitchen is by adding a window. “If you aren’t able to have a window, a light, bright white paint color with light stones and woods for the cabinetry and countertops is the next best option,” says Ariel.

Add efficient storage options

In a galley kitchen, it’s crucial to make use of spaces you can’t reach and keep things off your counter space. Have a step stool on hand to reach items in tall cabinets (opt for one that can fit in a base cabinet or drawer) or include cabinet door organizers to maximize your storage space.

Consider open shelving

Open shelving allows you to spot items more easily and visually expands the space. “Maximize the utility of a narrow space by using open shelves (visually increase the space) or cabinets that will ‘stretch’ to the ceiling—this solves the problem of storage, when the most used utensils are put on the top and the required one is placed lower,” says Katy Brut, interior design consultant at New York Furniture Outlets.

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