Whether they have a kitchen that’s part of the living area in a small condo or a large entertaining space in a single-family home, more homeowners are opting to ‘Marie Kondo’ their kitchen. What started as a movement to get rid of clutter in closets and bedrooms has spread to the kitchen, where spoons, spices and small appliances are disappearing from the counter. Design choices emphasize sleek simple lines and monochromatic palettes.
“So often the kitchen is open to the living area and is an extension of the space where people do their entertaining,” says Liz Brooks, vice president of sales and marketing at the Belgravia Group, a real estate developer. “Homeowners want the kitchen to blend with their décor. They want crisp, clean lines with beautiful cabinets and counters to look at.”
Elissa Morgante, a founding partner with Morgante Wilson Architects, says one of her custom-home clients requested an Italian-style contemporary kitchen that can be completely hidden behind doors that look like cabinets.
“When we design a home with an open floor plan, we spend a lot of time talking about the color palette and materials that we’ll use throughout the house, especially the family room and mudroom if they’re near the kitchen,” says Morgante. “Most people want a visual connection between the kitchen and the rest of the house.”
That visual connection means that a cluttered counter or numerous patterns or colors are particularly unappealing.
“If you’re in a small one-bedroom condo, you’re not using your kitchen to host a dinner party for eight people,” says Clint Mann, president of Urban Pace, a real estate sales, marketing and advisory firm. “At the same time, even if it’s small, you want your kitchen to look like a showpiece for your living space. You tend to focus on aesthetics more than functionality when the kitchen is part of your living area.”
Designing a minimalist kitchen
Achieving a neat kitchen requires smartly designed storage to remove unnecessary items from the counters, as well as design choices that create a visually appealing space with few distractions. Whether you design a minimalist kitchen from the start or incorporate these ideas later, important elements of a sleek kitchen include:
A walk-in pantry with big shelves for your crockpot, instant pot, mixer and blender is ideal, says Morgante. Brooks recommends including electrical outlets in the pantry to charge small appliances and to actually use some of them right in the pantry.
“Even if you don’t have space for a walk-in pantry, it’s smart to give up some counter space to build a full height and full depth pantry cabinet in your kitchen with roll-out shelves,” says Morgante. “You get a lot of storage that way and can hide most of your kitchen clutter.”
Shaker cabinets offer a timeless simple look, while smooth glossy cabinets offer a modern version of minimalist cabinets, says Mann.
“Cabinets with finger grooves to open them provide that minimalist look because they don’t need any hardware on the surface,” says Brooks.
An affordable way to get that look is with a tiny low-profile pull underneath the cabinet, Mann says.
Another way to achieve a minimalist kitchen appearance is to integrate appliances such as the dishwasher and refrigerator with panels that match the cabinets, says Brooks.
“Even the cooktop can be less noticeable with some brands, such as the Wolf cooktop that looks seamless and is on the same plane as the counters,” says Brooks.
Cabinetmakers make panels for some appliances, such as a dishwasher, within affordable price ranges, says Mann, which makes them more accessible to all buyers.
“You also rarely see the microwave on the counter or over the range anymore,” says Mann. “It’s being moved to a drawer-style appliance under the lower cabinets or in the island and out of sight.”
If you have the space, a separate coffee station hidden behind a pantry-style door eliminates the need to keep a coffeemaker on your counter.
“We designed a 30-inch wide station with doors that flip back and a counter that pulls out, with the coffeemaker plugged in at the back,” says Morgante. “There’s space in the cabinet for coffee, sugar, mugs and a toaster, plus we add a refrigerator drawer to store cream.”
In high-end custom homes, coffeemakers can be built into kitchen cabinets, says Mann.
“A more cost-effective solution is that several appliance manufacturers are building Keurig coffeemakers into the refrigerator door with a direct water line similar to getting ice and water from the door,” says Mann.
Hidden hood vent
In some kitchens, a dramatic hood vent is a design focal point, but in minimalist kitchens the hood vent can be concealed behind a cabinet, says Brooks.
“The idea is to have a continuous line of cabinets and not to distract attention from that,” she says.
Whether they opt for light neutral colors or a classic sleek black counter with white cabinets, homeowners have shifted away from counters that have a lot of pattern, says Brooks.
That same simple material is often chosen for the kitchen island, says Brooks.
“We don’t put a sink or a cooktop on the island because we want the surface to be clean and uncluttered,” she adds. “Homeowners like to use the island as a piece of furniture for a buffet, for breakfast, for homework or as a home office.”
In smaller condos, Mann says, moveable islands offer greater flexibility so it can be pulled closer or farther away from the cabinets.
“A big clean slab of stone with large cabinets underneath offers a lot of utility for people and makes it easier to keep the surfaces clean,” says Mann.
While subway tile and mosaic glass backsplashes have their appeal, homeowners going for the minimalist look often opt to continue their counter material straight up the wall. Mann says light-colored quartz that looks like marble is a popular choice for counters and backsplashes.
“While it can be expensive, a big slab of stone on the wall without any grout gives you a very clean look and can be as beautiful as a piece of art,” says Morgante.
While necessary, electrical outlets disrupt the smooth expanse of kitchen walls and backsplashes. Some builders install pop-up outlets that disappear into the countertop, but a less costly option is to move the outlets next to the under-cabinet lighting, Mann says.
“They stay hidden unless you’re using them, when you see the cords stretching from under the cabinet to the appliance, but that’s worth it because most of the time you’re not looking at the outlets,” says Mann.
Extending the hardwood or other flooring from the living spaces throughout the kitchen adds to the seamless appearance of the space, says Brooks. Eliminating tile and grout underfoot also makes the space feel cohesive.
Under-cabinet and recessed lighting eliminate the need for track or pendant lighting, which can interfere with sight lines in the kitchen, says Mann.
“Sometimes, lighting that complements the light fixtures in the adjacent living area can be installed over the island to ease the visual transition between the spaces,” says Brooks.
Keeping your kitchen decluttered
Achieving the goal of a clutter-free kitchen can be disrupted when you’re in the thick of cooking for a crowd or when the space is used for homework, art projects, bill paying and casual gatherings, as well as for preparing meals.
“The best way to keep your kitchen decluttered is to plan where you’ll keep everything,” says Morgante. “When you design your kitchen, have extra cabinets without a designation so you have a place to put anything new you may collect.”
Planning for multiple functions can also help, says Brooks.
“The combination of drawers, cabinets, a pantry and a built-in desk can help families stay organized and tidy,” Brooks says.
Careful design can provide a visually calm and clean space that suits even a multipurpose kitchen.
Michele Lerner is an award-winning freelance writer, editor and author who has been writing about real estate, personal finance and business topics for more than two decades.