Galley Kitchen Layout – Ideas, Tips & Expert Advice
[Cover Image – Vermland]
I feel that in recent years, the galley kitchen layout has often been given a bad wrap, sometimes described as cramped, cumbersome, and confining.
Yet, this characterization overlooks the galley kitchen’s potential for remarkable functionality and efficiency. When thoughtfully designed, a galley kitchen can offer an ergonomic layout where every element is within reach, and movement is streamlined.
In this post, I’ll explain what a galley kitchen is, its pros and cons and give some design advice when it comes to planning the perfect galley layout.
Let’s get into it!
What is a galley kitchen layout?
A galley kitchen layout is characterized by its long, narrow footprint and parallel countertops that create a central corridor or “galley” for the cook to work in.
It’s a streamlined and efficient kitchen design that resembles the galley, or kitchen, of a ship.
This layout maximizes space efficiency, making it an ideal choice for smaller homes or apartments where square footage is at a premium.
It’s probably one of the most common kitchen layouts, especially in many UK terraced houses.
The history of galley kitchen design dates back to the early 20th century when the use of space became a priority in urban areas where room was limited. Its popularity surged as it allowed for the fast-paced, efficient cooking style that modern families started to favour.
It was also supported by the work of home efficiency experts like Christine Frederick, who applied the principles of Taylorism to domestic spaces, advocating for a workspace that allowed for minimal movement and maximum productivity.
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single-wall, Peninsula & Island galley Layouts
I wanted to highlight that arguably there are a few types of galley kitchens. Some consider a single-wall galley, peninsula galley and island galley all ‘galley’ kitchens.
However, when most people (myself included) talk about galley kitchens we are referring to the double wall galley kitchen.
- The single-wall galley features all cabinets and appliances against one wall. This design is particularly suited for very narrow spaces and can be incredibly space-efficient. These days, some might call this a one-wall kitchen (single-wall kitchen). However, typically a one-wall kitchen would be in a larger, possibly open-plan room.
- A peninsula galley kitchen layout incorporates a worktop or cabinet run that extends from a wall at one end, creating an open-ended design that provides walk-around access and integrates the kitchen into the adjoining living space.
- An island galley layout is essentially a single run of cabinets against a wall with an island in front. Creating a galley work area between the two.
I do understand that in a narrow room, where you can only fit one run of cabinets, this could be considered a single-wall galley kitchen.
Equally a larger, open-plan room having a peninsula or island galley layout still creates a galley workspace. (It’s all about room size and layout.)
However, I don’t necessarily agree that these are galley kitchens, I’m a bit of a kitchen layout purest.
In this post, I’m focusing on the double-wall galley kitchen (the real ‘galley kitchen’ to me. 😂)
Advantages Of A Galley Kitchen Layout
- Efficient Use of Space: With cabinets and appliances lined up on two opposite walls, this layout maximizes the use of vertical space for storage while maintaining a compact footprint.
- Work Triangle Optimization: The double-wall layout naturally accommodates the classic work triangle between the stove, sink, and refrigerator, reducing steps needed during cooking and improving overall efficiency.
- Separation of Workstations: Two walls allow for the separation of different workstations, which can be useful when multiple people are working in the kitchen simultaneously.
- Streamlined Workflow: The central aisle provides a straightforward, linear workflow, which can be faster and more intuitive, especially when preparing meals that require multiple steps.
Disadvantages Of A Galley Kitchen Layout
- Limited Space for Movement: The central aisle might become cramped, especially if the kitchen is narrow, restricting movement and making it feel crowded when more than one person is in the kitchen.
- Potential for Traffic Jams: In homes where the kitchen also serves as a passageway to other rooms, the double-wall layout can lead to traffic through the work area, disrupting the cook’s workflow.
- Can Feel Enclosed: With cabinetry and appliances on both sides, a double-wall galley kitchen can sometimes feel closed-in or tunnel-like, especially if there’s insufficient lighting.
- Challenging for Entertaining: The layout is not ideal for entertaining since guests may feel in the way, and the cook may feel isolated from the entertainment areas.
- Difficulty in Incorporating Large Appliances or Fixtures: Fitting larger appliances or fixtures, like a double-door refrigerator or range cooker, might be more difficult without sacrificing cabinet or counter space.
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how to design a galley kitchen
I’ve broken down everything I would consider and think about when designing a galley kitchen layout.
If you read/work through each section and think about how it relates to your space and design, you’ll have your kitchen designed in no time!
Creating an efficient galley kitchen comes down to the work triangle, which is the area between the stove, sink, and refrigerator.
The idea is that it should allow easy movement between tasks, with no obstruction in the path and each point of the triangle ideally spaced between 1.2 to 2.7m (4 to 9 feet) apart.
In galley kitchens, this often means aligning two of these key workstations on one wall, with the third on the opposite wall.
For two people to work simultaneously without getting in each other’s way, I always like to design offset back-to-back zoning.
This means that if one person is using the stove on one side, the other can work at the sink or prep area on the opposite side without being completely back-to-back and bumping into one another.
In addition to the work triangle, consider incorporating landing areas near each primary workstation. These are countertop spaces that allow for temporary resting of items and for prep work.
The key is to balance the space so that these landing areas are within a step or two from the workstations but not overlapping so much that there isn’t enough free counter space for each zone.
Design and Space Planning
The ideal walkway width is a crucial element. It must be wide enough to accommodate the cook or multiple cooks comfortably but not too wide that it makes the layout inefficient.
I would say, 1m (42 inches) is my recommended walkway width for a single-cook kitchen.
This gives enough room to comfortably work and open cabinets and drawers on both sides without anything clashing or feeling cramped.
For galley kitchens with multiple cooks, I’d extend this a little, if possible, to a walkway width of 1.2-.13m (48 to 52 inches).
This should give that little bit more room and allow cooks to pass by each other without disruption.
Balancing storage needs with aesthetics is another important consideration. Wall cabinets that extend up to the ceiling can maximize storage space, making them an excellent option for those who need more room for kitchen essentials.
However, this can sometimes make a kitchen feel smaller and more closed-in.
Choosing the right balance between storage and aesthetics often comes down to personal preference and the unique needs of the household.
Some may prefer the additional storage and don’t mind the trade-off of having a more enclosed space. In contrast, others may prioritize a more open, spacious feel, opting for minimal upper cabinetry and more innovative storage solutions elsewhere.
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Appliance Selection and Placement
One of my ‘go-to’ moves is positioning the refrigerator near the kitchen entrance.
Not only does this keep a taller ‘heavier’ item off to the side and potentially hidden, but it also allows household members and guests to grab a drink or a snack without entering the main cooking zone, thus minimizing kitchen traffic.
As I mentioned above, when it comes to the hob (stove) and sink, I’ll often avoid placing them directly opposite each other. (Unless you have a wide enough walkway)
This setup can lead to a cramped working environment, as it restricts movement and makes it difficult for two people to perform cooking and cleaning tasks simultaneously.
To further maximise your small galley kitchen you could consider these types of appliances:
- Compact Ovens: Not only are these ovens smaller than a standard single oven, but they will often have combined cooking functions such as a microwave or steam cooking. Giving you more cooking options in a smaller footprint.
- Slim Dishwashers: These are ideal for smaller households or if the dishwasher is not used frequently, occupying less space while still offering the convenience of a full-size model.
- Slim American-Style Fridges: If you absolutely have to have an American-style fridge freezer, consider going for a slim model. These still have a huge amount of storage but can be 70cm wide rather than the standard 91cm. It all helps!
- Integrated Fridges: Personally, I’d stick with an integrated fridge freezer to maximise your space, physically and visually. These are designed to fit within cabinetry, maintaining a sleek line and uninterrupted visual flow in the kitchen.
- Induction Hobs: I prefer induction cooking anyway, but they are fantastic if you’re limited on counter space. Their flat surface is not only space-efficient but also doubles as additional counter space when not in use.
- Washer/Dryers: In some homes, especially here in the UK, the washer and dryer may need to be in the kitchen. Combo units save space, and integrating them into the cabinetry helps maintain a clutter-free look. They are never as efficient as separate appliances, but needs must and all that.
Symmetry and Asymmetry
I’m a big fan of symmetry, I mention it a lot on my YouTube channel.
However, when I talk about it I don’t always mean perfect symmetry, although I do love that, I also mean asymmetry.
In the case of a galley kitchen, oftentimes I feel that asymmetrical designs work best.
In a galley kitchen, symmetry can be achieved by mirroring cabinetry and appliances on both sides of the aisle, creating a uniform appearance.
Conversely, asymmetrical designs can introduce dynamism and movement, giving the kitchen a more relaxed, modern feel.
While asymmetry may sound lopsided, it can be strategically used to create focal points and balance the overall feel of a space.
For example; Placing tall cabinets on one side of the kitchen can provide lots of storage and create a strong vertical element. Rather than mirroring this, which may overwhelm the room.
Counterbalancing this with open shelving on the opposite side can maintain a sense of openness while still giving some visual balance.
Keep in mind the alignment and size of cabinets and appliances, ensuring a balance to their arrangement. Even if both sides aren’t perfectly symmetrical, having the same cabinet widths can help create a more cohesive feel.
If you can’t fit exactly the same width cabinets, consider where you place the different sizes. Can you still create some form of balance and symmetry with their placement?
Symmetry doesn’t only come from the layout but also from the use of colours and textures.
Using the same backsplash material or consistent colour palette across both walls of the kitchen can tie the space together, even if the cabinetry and shelving are asymmetrical.
Maximizing Counter Space
Counter space is a premium commodity in galley kitchens. Careful planning and innovative solutions are key to ensuring there’s enough room for all kitchen tasks.
Here are some smart ways to maximize counter space:
- boiling water taps: Installing a boiling water tap can eliminate the need for a kettle on the countertop, freeing up space. Plus, they’re a game changer!
- Combi Microwaves: A combination microwave that can also function as a convection oven or grill allows you to have two appliances in one. Eliminating that freestanding microwave and saving precious counter space.
- Undermount Sinks: Opting for an undermount sink can provide a more seamless countertop surface. Rather than an inset (drop-in) sink with a drainer. This makes it easier to sweep crumbs and spills directly into the sink and offers a slight extension of the usable work area.
- Over-the-Sink Cutting Boards: Often seen with workstation sinks. Custom cutting boards that fit over the sink can temporarily extend your counter space while you’re prepping food.
- Wall-mounted Organizers: Consider installing wall-mounted racks, magnetic knife strips, and utensil holders to keep tools off the counter but within reach.
- Appliance Garages: If you’ve got the space, a small appliance garage in the cabinetry can hide away items like toasters and coffee machines, keeping the countertops clear.
The colour of kitchen cabinets plays a significant role in influencing the perception of space within the kitchen.
Light-coloured cabinets, such as white, cream, or light grey, can make a kitchen appear larger and brighter. They reflect more light, which can help the space feel open and airy.
In a galley kitchen, where space is at a premium, light cabinets can push the walls out visually and create a more expansive feel.
Dark cabinets bring an elegant, sophisticated vibe to the kitchen but can make the space feel smaller if not balanced correctly. To use dark colours without overwhelming the space, you can incorporate lighter elements, such as a white countertop or backsplash, to create contrast and visual interest.
Or really lean into the dark and moody look!
You could also consider a two-tone approach, using different colours on your lower and upper cabinets.
Lighter upper cabinets can draw the eye upward and make the ceiling appear higher, while darker lower cabinets can ground the space.
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It’s not overly common to have seating in a galley kitchen. However, if you do want some it can feel a little tricky to add it in.
Integrating seating into a galley kitchen layout requires thoughtful planning to ensure that the seating is functional without disrupting the workflow.
- Counter-Height Bar Seating: Probably the easiest approach. If one side of the galley kitchen includes a countertop that extends slightly with no base cabinets underneath, adding bar stools can create a casual dining spot.
- Peninsula Approach: A peninsula at the end of a galley kitchen can function as a natural separator for the kitchen and dining or living area while providing a seating place. This works well if one end of the kitchen is open to another room.
- Seating Nook: If there’s a recess or niche in the kitchen layout, it can be transformed into a compact seating nook with a small table. Equally, if you have a long room you could transition from kitchen cabinets to lower bench seating and integrate a small table at one end of the kitchen.
Lighting and Atmosphere
Lighting is a critical component of any kitchen design, as it affects both the functionality of the space and the overall atmosphere. My advice for lighting a galley kitchen is no different to any kitchen really.
- Layered Lighting: Implement a layered lighting approach by combining ambient, task, and accent lighting. Ambient lighting provides overall illumination, task lighting focuses on work areas for safety and functionality, and accent lighting adds depth, highlighting architectural features or decor.
- Natural Light: Maximize natural light whenever possible to make the space feel larger and more open. Avoid blocking or reducing the light from windows by placing tall or wall cabinets too close. Consider installing a skylight or solar tube if the kitchen’s position within the home allows.
- Reflective Surfaces: Not critical, and only if you like these types of finishes. Consider using reflective materials for backsplashes, countertops, and cabinet finishes. This will help bounce light around the room, both natural and artificial, making the space brighter.
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Lines and Patterns
Don’t underestimate the seemingly smaller details.
The use of lines and patterns in a galley kitchen can greatly influence the space’s visual dynamics and perceived size.
Horizontal Lines: Horizontal lines can elongate a space, making it appear wider. In a galley kitchen, using horizontal lines can draw the eye along the length of the room, giving the illusion and the sense of spaciousness.
This can be achieved through horizontally laid backsplash tiles, wood grains running horizontally on cabinets, or a striped pattern on the floor
However, overuse of horizontal lines may make the kitchen seem shorter in height, so it’s important to find a balance.
Vertical Lines: Vertical lines have the opposite effect, drawing the eye upward and creating a sense of height. This can be useful in a galley kitchen with lower ceilings.
Vertical lines can be incorporated with features like floor-to-ceiling cabinetry or a vertically oriented backsplash tile.
Diagonal Lines: Diagonal lines create a sense of movement and can be used to direct focus in a specific direction. Diagonally laid floor tiles, for example, can make the space seem larger and more dynamic.
Photographer – Stine Christiansen
Galley kitchen ideas
Here are a few extra examples of different galley kitchens to give you some inspiration and ideas for your own galley layout.
This kitchen makes use of the tall ceilings with extra tall wall cabinets and top boxes. However, the use of lighter-coloured cabinets and walls along with some open shelving above the sink help to keep the room feeling spacious and not too heavy.
A good example of making the most out of a tricky space. This galley kitchen seamlessly incorporates a step down into the kitchen. Matching the countertop height on one side and stepping up on the other.
The fridge is positioned at the end of the room. Close to the built-in seating nook and the rest of the house for easy access and separation from the cooking zone.
This a beautiful example of how you can have a bold dark colour but still keep the room feeling spacious and light.
The dark green colour is contrasted and offset by the lighter marble countertop and the absence of any wall cabinets. Allowing the maximum amount of light to fill the area from the single window at the end of the room.
Photographer – Stine Christiansen
A good working triangle is created by having the fridge freezer at one end opposite the sink, which is offset and opposite the cooking area. Each zone has ample clear countertop space for landing areas and prep.
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What Is the minimum width for a galley kitchen?
The minimum width for a galley kitchen is typically around 2.1m (7 feet).
This allows for base cabinets of 60cm (24 inches) deep on both sides and a walkway of at least 90cm (36 inches) in between.
What is the best way to organize a galley kitchen?
The best way to organize a galley kitchen is to maximize efficiency and space. Start by arranging your work triangle to minimize steps between them.
If needed, utilize vertical space for storage by installing cabinets up to the ceiling. Try to keep the counter clutter-free by choosing integrated appliances and clever storage solutions.
Ensure the aisle is wide enough for easy movement. Ideally 42-52 inches, depending on whether one or more people will be using the kitchen.
Lastly, plan in a clear zone system for different work tasks and storage areas. This way everything has its place, which will help keep the kitchen tidy and functional.
Where should appliances go in a galley kitchen?
Appliances should be arranged to create an efficient workflow and make the most of the available space.
- Refrigerator: Place it at one end of the galley kitchen for easy access without disrupting the cooking area. This helps in preventing traffic through the main work zone.
- Stove/Hob: Ideally position this on the opposite wall to the sink to maintain an effective work triangle. It should be in a location that allows for enough countertop space on either side for food prep and serving.
- Sink: Ideally, locate the sink on the opposite counter to the hob/stove (but not back to back). Ensure there’s enough clear counter space on either side of the sink as well.
- Dishwasher: Place it next to the sink for easy loading and unloading of dishes. This also helps in keeping the wet work area contained.
There you have it! My expert guide to the galley kitchen layout.
Don’t feel put off if you’re faced with a galley kitchen layout in your home. It’s honestly one of the most functional and efficient options out there.
Pay attention to your storage needs but try not to overload the kitchen with cabinets. Make sure you’ve got a nice amount of clear countertop space and you’ll be well on your way to the perfect galley kitchen layout!
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Michael is a kitchen designer from the UK. He's been designing and project managing new kitchen installations for over 10 years. Before that, he was an electrician and part of a team that fitted kitchens. He created Kitchinsider in early 2019 to help give people advice when it comes to getting a new kitchen.