For blogger Kelin Zhao, revitalizing her 100-square-foot Sunnyvale, California, kitchen took intensive planning.

Built in the 1940s or 1950s, it felt dated and claustrophobic, plus it had a dysfunctional layout. “Our house is really small so we wanted the kitchen to feel impactful and look more open,” she says. Zhao, who runs the blog, Hydrangea Treehouse, has always been keen on DIY, arts and crafts, and making her own garments. The blog, which began as a hobby, has now become a place where she can show off her renovation projects. 

While undertaking a kitchen remodel earlier this year, Zhao and her husband found that using IKEA kitchen cabinets was the most cost-effective option. By using DIY Shaker Semihandmade fronts, they were able to give their space a custom look. “I really liked the thickness of the shaker doors,” she says. “They aren’t too wide or thin and work really well in small spaces.” 

Zhao opted for three coats of Benjamin Moore’s Gray Owl, a neutral gray that was fairly easy to paint right onto the cabinetry, first using a spray paint gun and then a brush and roller, which worked equally well. But the real genius in Zhao’s design is in organizing every last inch to maximize each cupboard and drawer: 


Plan By Zones

This is by far Zhao’s most critical piece of advice for homeowners. “When laying out your kitchen cabinets, make sure you know what will go in each area,” she says. Zhao went for seven lower cabinets, including one for pull-out trash bins, and four upper cabinets, and divided her kitchen into cleaning, prepping, cooking, storing and trash zones using IKEA’s Home Planner tool. The zones line up with their respective appliances (baking essentials near the oven, cleaning items by the sink, and cutting boards near the prep station). 


Maximize Your Drawers

IKEA Kitchen Drawer Organization

IKEA Kitchen Trash Organization

In addition to creating zones within her kitchen, maxing out drawer space was key. She chose various organizers like Variera shelf inserts, trash can, and cutting board organizer. The IKEA Sektion System, with its nested drawers, was another great find for making medium and large drawers more efficient. 


If it Doesn’t Exist, DIY It

IKEA Kitchen Drawer Organization

While Zhao purchased tons of organizing tools directly from IKEA, she had some fun when it came to her spice rack and DIYed a simple in-drawer system using two thicknesses of plywood. 


Think Twice About Appliances

In a small kitchen, every decision counts. Zhao opted for a counter-depth refrigerator which takes up less space and blends more easily without sticking out into the walkway. Instead of splurging on a hood, she picked a convection microwave with a vent that plays double-duty above the stove, and chose a 30-inch range with a pull-out drawer that adds further storage for pans and cupcake tins. At only 100 square feet, she maximized the space through smart planning and clever storage, something anyone can do. 

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