Love It or Hate It: An Ode to the Galley Kitchen

By Matilda Davies

The galley kitchen gets a bad rap. The namesake of ship kitchens, this two-walled chute of a kitchen is common in smaller homes and apartments, though you may find a handful in 1970s ranch-style homes. A relative of the galley kitchen was popularized in 1920s Europe by Austrian architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, who designed the Frankfurt Kitchen, which was optimized around efficiency, hygiene, and workflow.

Today, you’ll mostly find galley kitchens in pre-WWII homes and apartments with small footprints. With the rise of the social kitchen—that is, the idea of the kitchen being a social gathering place, not just a space reserved for pure function—galleys fell out of fashion.

“It’s easy to hate a galley kitchen because there never seems to be enough room for two people to pass comfortably through the narrow galley,” says Certified Professional Organizer Darla DeMorrow of HeartWork Organizing. “It’s a literal bottle-neck through a high traffic area (usually the living room to the back door).”

As the kitchen evolved from domestic space to status symbol in the mid- to late-20th century, homeowners moved their social lives to the kitchen as well. Kitchens are now designed with this in mind, with islands made to accommodate seating, breakfast nooks to invite congregating, and plenty of open space to mingle. “Most of my clients do NOT want a galley kitchen,” says realtor Patricia Vosburgh. “The kitchen tends to be a gathering place and most of our buyers want an open concept kitchen to living area. Galley kitchens may work great in a small spaces, but most clients want to be able to share their experiences with their guests and that means socializing with guests when they are over their home.”

Though they don’t typically afford space for tables or really any sort of seating or gathering, those who love galley kitchens tend to do so for their incredible efficiency.

Kitchen designer Susan Serra notes, “A galley kitchen design means that kitchen equipment is close by, easily accessible for prep work and removal of items from the dishwasher. While cooking or prepping, it’s often just a quick turnaround to find something in a cabinet or refrigerator.” One of the great conveniences of many galley kitchens is the ability to stand in one place and completely unload the dishwasher, or to cook an entire meal and move only a few feet—galley kitchens tend to provide the perfect work triangle.

And from a design perspective, though galleys take up both walls, they do offer some flexibility. “Appliances can usually be placed in a few different locations along both walls, offering design flexibility,” says Serra. If you have the space, a decent stretch of countertop (about two to three feet) can still ensure that you have all the prep surface you need.

Despite the insistence from some that galley kitchens are a drag—there is something to their no-nonsense layout that most cooks can’t resist: you can spot a galley kitchen parrot in most island kitchens. As DeMorrow points out, “Some people purposely create a galley kitchen by strategically placing a long island in the center, creating a galley workspace, with just enough space for stools on the far side of the island, ensuring that the kitchen can still be a social space. A galley kitchen can actually make a small space seem larger if you work with the long lines in flooring, counters, and lighting to create an elongated focal point.”

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