Mother Earth Living

Small Kitchen Design Tips from Lori Dennis

Designer Lori Dennis spills her tricks for healthy, stylish, compact kitchens.
By Jessica Kellner
September/October 2011
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Designer Lori Dennis says of this remodeled kitchen before, “The appliances were outdated and inefficient, the counters and ceiling were toxic, and the 1970s acrylic drop ceiling ate up a foot of space. We cleaned it out and started fresh with only the absolute necessities.”
Photo By Ken Hayden

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A green design advocate for more than two decades, Lori Dennis is the author of Green Interior Design, a member of the American Society of Interior Designers’ Sustainable Design Council and a Sustainable Furnishings Council GREENleader. She shares her work through her role on HGTV’s "The Real Designing Women" and via lectures nationwide. Dennis redesigned this 1970s kitchen for a young man whose history of health issues demanded a nontoxic living space.

This homeowner needed a nontoxic home because of health issues. What materials did you choose? 

The best surfaces to use in a nontoxic home are durable, easy-to-clean ones. We used recycled-content Silestone countertops that did not need to be sealed with harmful chemicals. They’re pretty indestructible. The bamboo cabinets have a smooth surface, too—no raised molding, which accumulates dust.

This kitchen is compact. What are a few design tricks you recommend for saving space in the kitchen? 

When you don’t have a lot of space, I recommend clearing out nonessential items and storing things you use often in attractive containers on the counters. That way it’s easy to reach them, and they add character that personalizes a small space. In this kitchen, we also put in a tall pantry (not pictured) to hold additional items.

What are three of your favorite design tips our readers could use in their own kitchens? 

1. Go vertical and hang cool-looking stepstools (that can double as seating) on walls so you can reach the top shelves. Europeans have been doing this for a century.

2. Remove doors from cabinets and stack pretty collections of items such as tea assortments, dish collections, or cereals and pastas in clear jars. It makes it easier to find things, adds visual square footage to your space and forces you to stay organized.

3. Choose easy-to-clean surfaces and never use toxic cleaning products. In my kitchen, I use vinegar, lemon juice and water. I pull out the baking soda for tough jobs.

If you had to choose just one thing to change the look of an outdated kitchen, what would it be? 

Paint the cabinets, remove the doors and put a contrast color or wallpaper on the back wall; it’s the easiest, least expensive and most dramatic thing you can do to change a kitchen’s look.

What are your overall thoughts on kitchen décor? 

Kitchens should be functional laboratories for food preparation, easy to use and clean, and inviting places for a bunch of people to just hang. If you have the budget to include fun, multipurpose or organizational gadgets like prep sinks, pullout drawers and specialized utensil slots, go for it!

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