Top tips for baking in a small kitchen

One of the greatest challenges I have faced since moving to Madrid has been dealing with small spaces: small closets (where to put all the shoes needed in a walkable city?), small bathrooms (sore elbows every time I shower), narrower doorways (I’ve mastered the sideways entrance/exit when I’m running errands). However, potentially the most frustrating lack of space comes in the kitchen. Being accustomed to a kitchen where four or five people could work relatively freely without tripping over each other made it a difficult transition to life in the small spaces of Europe. And now that I’m spending more time cooking and baking, the small space has become even more of a challenge – more equipment, more baked goods at one time, more cooling space needed…all the tiny issues I dealt with before are now amplified. 

But, because I love my neighborhood, my neighbors, and my massive terrace, figuring out a way to make my kitchen workable had to happen. There are some great ideas out there already (like this article from The Spruce or this one from Forbes), however not all these tips were usable for me in a rental apartment. Necessity really is the mother of invention when it comes down to it. Even though there isn’t even 1.5 square meters (16 square feet) of floor space for me to move around in and only one exit/entrance point, my tiny mediterranean kitchen is now quite functional.  To make all your lives easier, I’m passing on my three top tips for making a small kitchen storage more practical and efficient:

Use vertical space 

If there was only one of these tips that I encouraged all friends to heed, this would be it. The US has come to use vertical space well; Spain, not so much. There is so much unused space if you just look up (or above fixed furniture and installations). After Christmas, I took a look at my kitchen and realized that there was a small 1ftx2ft space between my refrigerator and small countertop that could be better utilized. Thanks to IKEA, I now have a tall shelving structure which gave me half again as much storage space as the permanent cabinets do. It also allows me a better place to store my stand mixer (NOT out on the countertop, which is prime real estate in any Spanish kitchen) and other commonly used items, which then freed up space in other places to more logically organize everything. This one small addition was a game-changer in my kitchen. 

And vertical space doesn’t just necessarily mean for shelves or storage. There is a short space between the top of my microwave and bottom of the cabinets which is actually the perfect place to put a cooling rack and let cookies, cakes or any other hot item cool without having to either take up counter space or take it to another room in the apartment. Take time to stop for a while and look around the kitchen to see where there are these pockets of space above other things that can be utilized in a more efficient or practical way.  

Everything has a [logical] home

(This is a rule I live by in general, however even more so now that there is less space in which to live.) Once I maximize the space possible in which I can store things, I need to find the right spot for each item – or group of items – to live based on size, shape, and frequency with which I use them. Plates and flatware live close to each other, and very near the sink so that they can easily be put away after they have been washed. This spot happens to be right near the door so that when it’s time to plate up food to take to the table, it’s close by. Spoons, whisks, spatulas and other utensils are in a drawer or canister near the stove top for easy accessibility when I’m cooking. All the baking items (turntable, piping bags and tips, cupcake liners, flour/sugar, rolling pin, measuring spoons, scale) are all right next to the work surface where most of the mixing and decorating happen. 

And even more than just having a logical place for all of these items, they ALWAYS go back to the same place. (I ask my cleaner to not put away my dishes for this very reason.) I’ve taken the time to carve out just the right size and shape of a space for these important items to live, putting things back in a different place increases the amount of space I need and the time it takes me to find them. 

Same shape containers go on the same shelf 

Like I said, efficiency is the name of the game in small spaces and with limited time. If you mix round bottles with square boxes on the same shelf, you lose valuable space that could be better used. All those tiny little triangle-shaped pockets of unused space can add up! So, bottles and jars go on one shelf, square boxes and tupperware go on another. 

And, if I buy something that doesn’t really fit anywhere, I get creative – can I unload it into an empty jar I saved or if I get a reusable container will that make it easier to fit into the space? As a side note: that has also helped me to reduce the amount of packaging I use: most of the cooking and baking basics I purchase at the bulk store and bring my own containers to fill. A win-win situation all around. 

Now that I live by these three simple small kitchen storage rules, I have really added a good year or so onto the time that I can live in my current kitchen. As well, there is still more usable space if I ended up getting more books, equipment, or pantry items. So, take a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, put on some good tunes, make yourself a cup of coffee and take a look at how you can re-utilize the tiny amount of space you have. You’ll be surprised with all the possibilities!