The Small Urban Kitchen

by M. Tessa Garcia and Maiata Borromeo

            Throughout history the kitchen has always been a major area in the home, and much design and effort goes into creating the perfect kitchen for each homeowner.  However, with the ever increasing world population the amount of space allotted to each person seems to be diminishing, and the price to live in the ever popular urban settings has become astronomically high.  For example, in January 2013 the average price per square foot in New York City was over $1000, and the median sales price of real estate projected at about $1,000,000. In places such as China where the population registers over 1.3 billion creating places to live has become a much more difficult task, and the urban areas of China are only able to  allow about 315 square feet of residential real estate per person. This tiny amount of living space has to meet all the needs of its inhabitants, and is shrinking even more every single day.

How will these tiny living spaces be divided between the rooms needed, and more importantly what will happen to the kitchen?  Will it disappear completely, turn into a place to store sweaters and shoes like in Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment, or will the designers of the future devise a way to create a kitchen that will be able to meet the needs of people, but also conform to the shrinking square footage in homes?

As designers it is always our hope that we will figure out a solution for humans’ problems, and the answer to the small kitchen dilemma seems pretty clear.  The new urban kitchen will be one that is small, but highly efficient.  It will have the capabilities to be stored away when not needed, be adaptive to meet other needs of the homeowner, and take up as little space as possible.  The urban kitchen will be designed for city life especially in places with high populations and little living room.  It will be convertible, portable, and most importantly efficient.


To truly understand where the new urban kitchen is heading, it is best to look to the past.  The roots of a highly efficient and compact kitchen started with Catharine Beecher’s design of a kitchen based on a ship galley in 1869.  According to author Mary Anne Beecher her design featured, “a built-in cabinet with a continuous work surface and adjacent storage compartments, hooks, and shelves which established the storage principles on which twentieth-century kitchen designs would be based.”  She grouped tools and supplies together by their usage, and displayed them in the kitchen so they could be easily seen.  She pioneered design by creating a much more efficient kitchen for the home which paved the way for designers to come.

One of the most influential designs on compact kitchen design was by Joe Colombo and his design of the “Mini-Kitchen”.  Colombo’s Mini-Kitchen of 1964 measured around 40″ x 26″ x 40″, and included everything you need in a kitchen but the sink. The mini-kitchen was portable, and was an expression of Colombo’s desire to design for a future that had already arrived, defined by mobility, efficiency and, most of all fun.  Joe Colombo ingeniously discovered the essential components of the kitchen, and combined them into one efficient and small unit that proved to be a major inspiration for the small efficient designs of today’s kitchen.


Original Joe Colombo Mini-Kitchen from Total Living Units (Carrellone)


Today’s kitchens are not only for cooking, but also provide a room for living. It is a space for communal cooking, entertaining, doing homework, hobbies etc. Inhabitants often want the kitchen to open up to the rest of the home’s other areas, such as the family room or dining room.  This design allows for the kitchen to be fully integrated into the rest of the house, and gives the inhabitants in the kitchen the ability to interact with the occupants in other areas of the house.  This very popular design is often thought to be only obtainable with a big kitchen in a suburban location. However, for the busy on-the-go people living in urban locations, space is minimal and comes with a big price. That busy lifestyle and minimal space means people are looking to have kitchens that are more convenient, efficient, can be multi-purpose and most importantly functional. This need of a minimal and functional kitchen allows the dwellers to have more square footage dedicated to the living part of the home.

small kitchen today

We are all too aware of how small kitchens in cities such as New York City, Tokyo, or Paris are. Designing for a small kitchen is tricky and many urbanites have come up with many solutions to elevate the issue of storage and functionality. City dwellers have come to understand that they must only have what is needed and have eliminated the issue of visual cluttering by having a more streamline look.

Numerous companies have taken notice of this market and offer smaller , more compact appliances so those without the space, can still have the convenience of having a dishwasher or nice gas stove. For example, Miele offers 18” undercounter dishwashers that are small, but allow the homeowner to have the convenience of the appliance.

Today, some companies have taken the idea of portability and efficiency inspired by Joe Colombo’s 1963 “Carrellone” mini-kitchen and modernized its design for today’s lifestyle and technology.  The Italian company Boffi has reproduced the iconic mini-kitchen. While the 1963 original was built of wood and metal, the new Carrellone mini-kitchen has been created primarily out of white Corian. It features an induction hot plate constructed of ceramic glass, and features touch control. “The design remains as fresh and original as it did when Colombo designed it. Press materials for the contemporary version boast that the unit contains all the indispensable functions of a kitchen environment: a stove, a refrigerator, a can opener, and drawers for tableware, working surfaces and storage for cookbooks, all operating off a single electrical plug.” The portability of it means the cook can take the kitchen to other areas of the home thus integrating the living/dining combination possible.


Photo courtesy of


Photo courtesy of Compact Concepts

Another company, Compact Concepts offers the Circle Kitchen. It occupies roughly 6 feet of space and features all the characteristics of a usual kitchen. The kitchen is fully circular, rotating a full 180 degrees and incorporates everything from the kitchen sink and dishes to microwave and dishwasher. The compactness of it allows the owner to have only what is needed and the ability to take the kitchen with them if they decide to move.

The idea of a multi-purpose kitchen is realized by Lodovico Bernardi’s Rubika. The two wings of the kitchen are pulled out to make way for a dining table. This design allows the functionality of a kitchen while giving the inhabitant an area for eating.


Photo courtesy of

These examples are available for consumers looking for a compact kitchen but still offer the functionality of a kitchen. While compact kitchens are being produced by some companies they are not as widely available and come at a cost. But, with the ever growing population the demand of these compact yet functional kitchens will increase and hopefully become readily available to everyday consumers.


As mentioned before the population is forecasted to grow even more. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the world population is projected to grow from 6 billion in 1999 to 9 billion by 2044, an increase of 50 percent that is expected to require 45 years. According to the World Health Organization, “For the first time ever, the majority of the world’s population lives in a city, and this proportion continues to grow…The global urban population is expected to grow roughly 1.5% per year, between 2025-2030.” Cities such as NYC and Boston have initiatives to create micro-apartments to meet the growing population of cities. These micro-apartments mean even smaller kitchens.

With that said, the future seems to look forward to the idea of even more compact kitchens that are functional yet able to meet the needs of the homeowner.  Future compact kitchens may also provide solutions for the needs of the kitchen functioning as not just a kitchen but also for entertaining. For example, the Rendezvous by Electrolux is a table that can be used as a kitchen and dining table. The interactive table that combines the living, eating, and entertaining space through the use of induction heating. The storage and appliances are hidden below.

43018_2_600Photo courtesy of Electrolux

Another future concept is taking the idea of the circular module and creating a tower that functions “360° of cooking” is a new kind of kitchen for different uses. Based on the idea of an kitchen small in size but generous in use. When not in use the kitchen is just a column. But when in use the kitchen offers maximum space and various gatherings. “360° of cooking” can be used by one or more people.”

Photo courtesy of

So what can we expect for the urban kitchen’s future?  Will it still continue to meet the needs of people?  The answer is yes, but in a much more essential, compact, and efficient way.  We predict that designers will strip down the kitchen to its most crucial components like their predecessors, and create a kitchen that will meet the needs of people, but in the smallest of spaces.  We look forward to seeing what the future has in store for the kitchen, and expect big things from these small, but mighty kitchens.

Works Cited

Beecher, Mary Anne. “Promoting the “Unit Idea”:Manufactured Kitchen Cabinets (1900-1950).”

            APT Bulletin 32.2/3 (2001): n. pag. 27-37. Web. 4 May 2013.

Hiesinger, Kathryn B., and George H. Marcus. Landmarks of 20th Century Design: An Illustrated

            Handbook. New York: Abbeville, 1993. Print.

Friedlander, David. “The Yankees/Redsox Rivalry of Micro Apartments.” Life Edited.  Feb 13, 2013.   

Dunn, Colin. “The Best Small Kitchen Designs for Cooking Large and Living Small”. Web. 4 May       2013

Apartment Therapy. “The Brief, Wondrous Career of Joe Colombo”. Web. May 2013.


Trulia. “New York Market Trends”. Web. 2 May 2013.


Orlik, Tom and Ester Fung. “In China, a Move to a Tiny Living Space”. The Wall Street Journal.

            17 Oct. 2012. Web.  3 May 2013.

            U.S. Census Bureau. “International Data Base”. July 2011. Web. 2 May 2013.

            World Health Organization. “ Urban Population Growth”. Web. 2 May 2013.