Design blogger Camila Cilento had a tall order when renovating her New York City kitchen. Not only did she want to reorient the entire layout — a task that involved moving the laundry, fridge, sink, and dining area — she wanted to expose the one source of natural light in the entire 150-square-foot space: a tiny 2-foot-wide corner window. 

“The fridge, cabinetry, laundry machines, and a drywall surround completely blocked the only window,” she says. “[The kitchen] got little to no natural light, even in the middle of the afternoon.”

With the help of seasoned contractor Turn Key Design and Construction, who worked with Cilento from pre-construction to completion, she was able to bring her distinct design vision to life in just two months. Not only did they transform the old dining area into a hallway with built-ins for her refrigerator, washer, and dryer, Turn Key also adapted several IKEA solutions adding a floor-to-ceiling pantry and appliance garage, Semihandmade open shelving, a spacious prep area, and a breakfast nook. Ahead, find her pro tips for designing an incredibly functional (and stylish) kitchen with limited space.

Take Your Time

While it can be difficult to exercise patience when tackling an exciting kitchen renovation, Cilento says project delays allowed her to fine-tune the complex design. “We started the reno nearly a year later than planned due to COVID, so I really had to live in the kitchen as-is,” she shares. “I learned exactly what I didn’t like and wanted to change, and was able to create an incredibly functional space designed around my specific needs as a result.” 

Design Around Lighting

When envisioning her new kitchen, Cilento was set on a well-lit breakfast nook — a far cry from the dimly lit dining area tucked away in the back corner. She ended up turning the shelving near the old table into a built-in appliance garage, laundry unit, and pantry, and created a second built-in directly across for the fridge. Next,“we ripped out the cabinet and drywall around the window, and added the built-in dining area,” she explains. “We can actually fit about five people comfortably around the table, which is amazing for such a small space.” 

Add Hidden Storage Everywhere

Thoughtful, built-in storage is essentially what made the new kitchen layout possible. In addition to the floor-to-ceiling built-in pantry/appliance garage, she added spacious drawers underneath the breakfast nook, plus the additional prep space, and open shelving opposite the window. “This was 100 percent necessary, given all the storage we removed by ripping down the uppers above the stove and adding open shelving,” she notes. 

Don’t Be Afraid of a Dark Palette 

Cilento was nervous about leaning into a darker color palette given the limited natural light in the space. But, she ended up following her gut (and love of moody design) and ordering Semihandmade’s SSS Quarterline fronts in black. “I spent so much time worrying about the color, and I wish I hadn’t,” she shares. “There are so many ways to balance out darker colors, even in a small space. It still feels incredibly bright and airy!” She created contrast against the black with crisp white walls, white penny tile floors, warm maple floating shelves, and brass hardware. “I absolutely love how everything turned out — I honestly wouldn’t change a thing.” 

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Island Hopping

A lot goes into a kitchen renovation, but it’s usually hard to tell from a beautiful “after” shot. Our monthly series “Island Hopping” is about getting a behind-the-scenes account of what the process is like through honest conversations—you know, the kind that typically take place around a kitchen island. We’ll chat with designers, homeowners, and architects about their projects, hoping to peel back the curtain on picture-perfect spaces.