Getting the most out of a small space

A kitchen and bathroom proves that you can make a small space more functional with smart solutions to make it feel larger than it is.

Small kitchen renovation focused on maximising space
ARTICLE Carolyn Brooke PHOTOGRAPHY Scott Espie

Planning and design are keys to renovating small areas. Time and money invested in the beginning will help save time, money and headaches later.
As with any renovation, achieving a look while maximising light and maintaining storage, are generally top priorities in small spaces. Defining exactly how you want to use a space and exactly what you need in it is the best starting point.


Renovating a once pokey kitchen has made a huge difference to day-to-day living for home owner Scott. Not only has the kitchen been opened up to the dining and living area, but the whole house connects better.
“It became transformational, it meant that two people could be in the kitchen rather than one,” Scott says.
“Before it was a claustrophobic little space but now the new kitchen makes the whole house feel much bigger, even though it’s not.”
Small sized kitchen before the renovation.

Before the renovation
A cabinet and a wall were taken out and a bench was added, all to open up the space. The old kitchen was in bad shape with dated décor, cupboard doors that were falling off, chipped benchtops and a leaky, hard-to-use kitchen tap.
With the help of a builder, Scott ripped out the old kitchen and gib right through to the framing. The area was reinsulated, re-gibbed, plastered and painted before the new kitchen went in.
Kitchen renovation in progress, with all appliances, whiteware, flooring and some wall panels ripped out
This included custom-built melamine cabinets with a 30 millimetre artificial stone benchtop, Parmco oven, Beko induction cooktop, stainless steel sink, Methven sink mixer, externally vented rangehood and laminate flooring.
Allowing for storage while fitting everything in – including a preparation area, stove, oven, fridge and sink – took a lot of careful planning. Scott redefined his design in his head over a number of years.
Kitchen renovation in progress, with patchwork and walls back in place.
“Every time I tried to reconfigure it, I’d think that looks great but then there was no space for the fridge.”
He recommends first working out exactly what you need in your kitchen. It’s important to also factor in the costs and time for preparing an area for a renovation.
Scott opted for white benchtops and cabinetry for brightness and a clean look. Rather than a splashback, he used white subway tiles with grey grout to give some texture to the walls.
The artificial stone benchtop is not only hard-wearing and functional but looks great.
Renovated kitchen with new appliances and whiteware.
A single and deep under-mounted sink and compact microwave oven, helped maximise space in the six square metre kitchen. The sink has no lip to trap gunky leftovers from anything wiped into the sink.
Avoiding an in-built drip tray also provides more bench space. An externally vented rangehood removes cooking smells and moisture.
“The difference between a good small kitchen and a not-so-good small kitchen, are those details like an under-mounted sink, a decent tap mixer, cooktop and rangehood.”
Renovated kitchen with rangehood above electric stove and oven, and subway tiles.
Storage includes a large corner pantry, wide drawers under the bench, wide draws under the bench, a shelf above the fridge, under bench cupboards and a small cupboard next to the oven. Corners in a small kitchen can be maximised for space. Opt for quality over price when it comes to appliances and hardware, he says.
“Once committed to doing a kitchen, don’t try to skimp out on things to save a few bucks here or there; if you get a cheap tap mixer, then it lets the whole thing down,” he says.
“Even if you’re on the lowest budget, I’d recommend the artificial stone benchtop. You can put hot things on it and it’s so easy to clean – it’s going to last.”
Renovated kitchen space with wooden floors and neutral colours throughout.
Five LED lights on dimmers have improved lighting, as previously the kitchen had only one light. There are also five mini LED light fittings in the pantry.
While Scott was able to keep to his total spend less by having the job project managed, and can see the benefit in using a professional renovation company.


Time and space was of the essence for Sally and Nick, when renovating their 90s bathroom and laundry area in their villa.
Sally was eight months pregnant when the work was done, with the help of their Refresh Renovations project manager.
Establishing what was most important to Nick and Sally for the roughly small 11 sqaure metre space, enabled her to best allocate the fairly tight budget.
Dark, small bathroom with small square corner glass shower and sink basin

Before the renovation
The room had likely been converted from a bedroom at some stage with little thought about layout and space, with an uncomfortable use of space.
A feature bath was a top priority and its placing was vital in order to have enough space for a shower as well.
Moving the bath away from a corner and to the side of a window, not only made it more prominent, but gives the room more symmetry.
Renovated bathroom, with corner glass enclosed shower and white freestanding bath
The couple had earlier installed plantation shutters. Ideas for different size and shape baths and showers were played with, before a Victoria Albert claw-foot bath was selected and placed on a diagonal, in a position where 10 millimetres could inhibit in and out of the shower.
“We carried that heavy bath in and out of the room many times, as the shower base was going in, to get the position exactly right.”
The style helps keep the room in line with the rest of the house. The early stages of a renovation in planning and design are critical for the best use of space.
Renovated bathroom, facing bathroom door, with multi-level towel rack and sink with long storage unit.
Sally and Nick's Refresh Renovations Builder says a concept design should be seen as an investment, not a cost. Having a clear brief and plan helps at all stages of the process to ensure that you are able to fit everything in, as well as achieve the desired look.
Our renovation builders encourage clients to research layout and design ideas. Our renovation builders and Sally collaborated using online design tools. Also, you can find advice and inspiration here.
Renovated bathroom with wooden floors, corner white freestanding bath and glass enclosed corner shower.
“I was really lucky that Sally and Nick were such engaging clients, they were clear about aesthetics and minimal clean lines and I knew exactly what they wanted.”
Much trust was built between them, which helped when decisions had to be made fast; including the paint which Sally left until the end to choose. Refresh Renovations project manager called in Resene colour consultant, who was able to guide Sally to Resene’s Karen Walker Half Periglacial Blue for the walls and Resene Alablaster for trim and ceiling.
Renovated wash room with accordion door, storage unit, washing machine and dryer.
“We didn’t want to white wash the room, but we were nervous about choosing a colour with all the tapware and accessories,” Sally says.
The renovation work took just two weeks and Sally says using Refresh Renovations was a godsend.
Renovated washroom with silver tapware for white sink basin
“It can feel like more money at the beginning, but the trade relationships and knowledge are already in place, so we saved money and the speed that everything happened in was incredible.”

You might be interested in reading: How to maximise your kitchen storage space.

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This article by Carolyn Brooke featured on page 84 of Issue 013 of Renovate Magazine. Renovate Magazine is an easy to use resource providing fresh inspiration and motivation at every turn of the page.

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*All information is believed to be true at time of publishing and is subject to change.

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