13 Steps To Your Dream Tiny House Kitchen
Designing a functional and enjoyable kitchen in a tiny house is challenging because of space constraints, however, the process can also be a lot of fun. If you do your job well, in the end you will have a beautiful custom kitchen designed to fit your specific needs and cooking habits. During the design process, do your best to think outside the box and get 100% honest with what your needs actually are. Bear in mind that all of us have been conditioned to believe that we need things that in fact we don’t. So going through this process will require a willingness to reassess your relationship with material goods. Below you will find 13 steps to your dream tiny house kitchen.
Our experience with tiny house kitchens is based on living full time in a pop up tent trailer in Baja for nearly 5 months as well as full time now in hOMe, our 207 SF (+110SF in lofts) modern tiny house on wheels. We are a family of 4 and have two teenage children. Our oldest lives in Colorado during the school year and is home with us for 4 months out of the year. Our youngest lives with us full time and is homeschooled. I give you these references so that you can compare what your potential needs may be to ours.
Below I have outlined a series of questions for you to answer. The answers will be the guiding principles that will help you reach your goal of a functional and beautiful tiny house kitchen. If possible, answer these questions well before you begin your design process. Also, it is essential that you be honest with yourself when answering these questions. For example, I used to have an image of myself as an entertainer only to realize that it had been several months since I had cooked for a group. Realizing this gave me the permission to create a kitchen that met our immediate needs as a family, rather than for an imaginary group. I recommend that you write down each answer and then keep it as reference for when you begin your design.
1. What is your power/cooking source (electric, propane, alternative energy such as solar, generator, and/or natural gas)? Cooking with electricity requires a significant amount of power, so it is thus not an option for anyone considering going off grid. If you have an abundance of grid tied electrical power though, an electric range is certainly an option. Natural gas is an option for those that are tied into a municipalities’ utility system. However, for those of us living outside of city limits, our gas option is liquid propane. If you have the option of going either with solar (wind, etc.) or with grid tied electric, you have the best of both worlds. Do research on the cost and environmental differences between the two to make an informed decision from.
2. How many people will live in your tiny house full time? How much food will you need to store in your house at any time? How often do you plan on going shopping to stock up on supplies? For us in hOMe, we are 3 full time and 4 for about four months out of the year. We need a decent amount of space to store our food both in our refrigerator and in our cupboards. Take a look in your current fridge and cupboards. Are you like most people in that you have bottles of condiments that you never use and various dry food items in your cabinets that are well past their expiration dates? Go through all of your food items and dispose of all expired food items, foods that no one has eaten in the last 2-3 months (this includes condiments, sauces, etc.). Don’t forget your freezer, a common hiding ground for food that will never be eaten. Assess what you are left with and measure how much space those items take up with a measuring tape. This will give you a rough approximation of how much storage you may need in your tiny house.
3. How often do you cook? Do you enjoy creating culinary delicacies? Obviously, the more you enjoy cooking, the more space you will want for the cooking process. Though a lot of space is not a requirement for preparing a fantastic meal, in the long term it’s good to design a kitchen that provides enough space so that the cooking process isn’t cramped. Again, in designing a tiny house kitchen, it’s important to create something that will meet not just your lifestyle in the next year, but the next 5 years +. Some people are content to buy partially prepared meals and simply reheat them. Again, the important part if to be honest about your habits and needs. There’s no right or wrong way. There is just your family’s way and the only people you need to please with your tiny house is you and your immediate family…how great is that?!
4. What are your cooking habits? Are you a clean-as-you-go cook or a throw-it-all-in-the-sink-until-tomorrow cook? To be clear from the get-go, living tiny will in some ways ‘force’ a level of organization. This may come as welcome news if you are not as tidy as you would like to be. That said, if you are adamant about making a mess while you cook (we have a friend who’s a chef that finds his creative genius is stifled if he has to clean as he goes), you will want to have a sink that is large enough to hold a pile of dishes and pots.
5. Make a list of all the items that you deem necessary and essential for your cooking process. This is a super fun exercise and one that should be done early on (before you even begin your actual design process). Spend a week investigating what kitchen items are actually necessary. We are not talking about fun and nifty kitchen gadgets, but items that are actually required to meet your cooking needs. When we did this exercise ourselves years ago, we realized that we didn’t need 5 wooden/cooking spoons, just one favorite one met all of our needs. The cupcake batter squeeze plastic dispenser? Yeah…turns out we didn’t really need that either. The best way to go about this exercise is to set aside what you consider to be the vital utensils. For us, it’s 1 wooden cooking spoon, 1 spatula, 2 high quality knives, a whisk, ladle, 1 large frying pan, 1 small non stick frying pan, 1 large pot, 1 small pot, 2 baking sheets/casserole dishes, garlic press, cheese slicer, and then our eating utensils, plates and glasses. During the week, cook an array of meals that best represent your cooking style. Really pay attention to what cooking utensils you are using and which ones are necessary. Your list may be even smaller than ours (we certainly used less than that when we spent months in our pop up tent trailer in Baja). When we did this very exercise and downsized, we were able to reduce our kitchen inventory by 75%!
6. What is your budget? Even though a kitchen in a tiny house is small, the price tag can be $10,000+ if you go for all high end appliances and finishes. Conversely, you can outfit your entire tiny house kitchen for $1,000 or less if you use reclaimed appliances, countertops and cabinetry. Many communities offer resell shops (such as Habitat for Humanity), used appliance stores, and nearly every area has a Craiglist option. By putting in some effort in amassing your used kitchen necessities, you can save 75%+ over the cost of new while also lending a hand to the environment by buying used.
7. What kind of food do you primarily cook? Are you a raw foodist? That will require quite a bit of refrigerator space for all your fresh vegetables but very little cabinet space. Do you eat a lot of prepared food and grains? You will need a decent amount of cabinetry storage. Do you eat a balance of both? Finding the answers to these questions will determine what size fridge and how much cabinetry space you will need.
Now that you have amassed the answers to these questions, it’s time to move on to the kitchen options available for you in your tiny house project.
TINY HOUSE KITCHEN OPTIONS
8. Layout Options: Layout variations in a tiny house are limited when compared to a conventionally sized house however, it is totally possible to create a fantastic kitchen layout that feels natural and efficient. In creating your general layout ideas, think about creating a ‘work triangle’ so that your cooking range, fridge and sink all relate to each other. I have seen tiny house kitchens that are L shaped, galley style (two rows of cabinetry running parallel to each other), a single row, and U shaped. Our kitchen in hOMe is U shaped and it works really well for us. The top things we appreciate about it is it allows more than one of us to cook at a time easily, it establishes a well positioned work triangle, and it’s an efficient use of space in our 8’6” wide trailer. Our kitchen is about 9’6” long and it’s amazing how much space we have in it. So much so in fact that we still have about 25% of space available.
9. Countertops: During our nearly 5 months of living in our pop up tent trailer in Baja, we had just 2’ of kitchen countertop space. Sure, we made do and we were able to create some pretty tasty meals, but in time, preparing food on such a small surface became a chore and we became more tempted to go out to eat to avoid the cramped cooking experience. Counter space was one of the top priorities in our hOMe design as we like to juice and cook together. Having a lot of counter space for food prep is a luxury that we highly appreciate. That said, that much counter space is totally unnecessary for some. In your current kitchen, spend time noticing how much space you use and start to experiment by using different portions of that space. Various material options exist for countertops and which one you select will depend on your budget, environmental priorities, and aesthetics. The one factor you should consider carefully if your house will be mobile is weight. Some options out there are beautiful but very heavy and not a good solution for a tiny house on wheels.
10. Ranges/ovens: Before deciding what type of cooking appliance you will install in your tiny house, take some time to assess your needs. In hOMe we have a full sized propane range/oven unit with 4 burners and a center griddle. Honestly, we have yet to use the center griddle and the oven seems much too big for our day to day meal preparations. In fact, we wish that the oven were smaller so that we didn’t need to spend so much propane to heat it. Though it feels lavish to have such a large unit and we are prepared to cook any feast, we would have been just as happy (if not happier!) with an apartment sized range/oven. Many people in tiny houses forego the entire oven option altogether and have only a countertop range. Unless you are a serious gourmand, just three burners is enough to meet the needs of the average family. Microwaves with convection ovens are an option if your primary power source is grid tied electric. They take up less space than a conventional oven and may be a good option for some. If you only need a small oven occasionally, you could look into a propane camping oven unit. They are small and portable and great for occasional use (just be sure to not use one inside your tiny house. They may only be used outside). One VITAL point to bring up is venting for your kitchen range. Venting is extremely important in tiny houses and at a minimum you want one over the over range. Preferably also one in the bathroom as well. Any standard venting option is available depending on what your specific design needs are. Choose one though that vents to the outside (not the type that just recirculates the air through a filter.
11. Refrigerators: Will you be using an electric or propane fridge? This can be an important decision for an off grid house as the electric load of an energy efficient fridge is high (our 18.1 cu. ft. unit requires 2 hours of direct sunlight per day on our 600 watt panels to power). However, the cost for the Energy Star unit was just $600 rather than about $1,800 for a propane unit. Not to mention that the cost of propane is very high (over $4 per gallon delivered). For us, a family of four, the fridge provides ample space for all of our fresh food and veggies, which make up the bulk of what we eat as we rarely eat grains. The freezer is also plenty big. There are larger and smaller units as well and which one you get will depend on your specific needs. Spend time doing research on this topic and you won’t waste precious space and money on more than you need.
12. Sinks: Some tiny houses have minuscule sinks in them. We had a tiny sink in our pop up trailer and it barely fit a plate. It was such a hassle doing dishes that we abandoned it an instead set up an outdoor wash station with plastic bins. In hOMe we have a pretty standard sink with an attached drying rack. We wish that the sink were larger and deeper though (ours is just 6” deep). Often when we do dishes, water splashes out and pools up on the countertop. Many sinks offer a double bowl and we have never taken advantage of whatever benefits they are supposed to have. We are very happy having a single bowl sink. What size sink you use will depend on how often you cook for yourself, how large your cooking pots and pans are, and if you clean as you cook or wait to do it all at the end.
13. Cabinetry: Cabinetry not only serves to store your kitchen items, but also gives your kitchen it’s look and feel. What style you go with will depend on your aesthetics and budget. Fortunately there is a nearly infinite array of options out there ranging from custom to prefab (like Ikea). Some tiny housers use simple shelves as their upper cabinets and open or closed base cabinets. One of the drawbacks of that system is that all of the items on the shelves will accumulate dust and kitchen grease. In hOMe we went with Ikea’s least expensive cabinetry line and we are extremely pleased with the look, durability, and cost.
In summary, designing your dream tiny house kitchen can be a creative and fun process. The end result will be a custom kitchen that suits your exact needs, not someone else’s. The key to a successful design process is honesty. Being 100% clear on what you actually need vs what is unnecessary will go a long way in reducing the amount of space that you need for your own kitchen.