What Is a Galley Kitchen? (Planning, Styles, Size, Design)



Home remodeling is always a challenge, and a large part of that challenge stems from simply choosing what kind of design layout you want to have in the first place. For kitchens, there are so many design choices that it can make your head spin. Fortunately, the galley kitchen is a classic choice that maximizes available space and creates an easy, intuitive all-in-one space.

A galley kitchen is a kitchen style that utilizes two parallel walls with cabinets, countertops, and appliances (similar to a hallway). In concept, galley kitchens are perfect for making kitchens safe and efficient. They are also cheaper due to fewer cabinets and counters.

Galley kitchens are a great choice for any home, not only for ergonomic and pragmatic reasons but also for stylistic ones. This article will go in-depth about galley kitchen design features and planning, styles, and size. 

What Is a Galley Kitchen?

The word ‘galley’ is evocative of ships or trains, and that’s because they’re the origin of the concept. In ships and trains, the elongated design of the vessel necessitates a certain layout for the kitchen and other rooms aboard.

So, where does your home enter this equation?

A long white galley kitchen with counters and cabinets on both sides

The galley kitchen became a conscious design choice most popular in small homes and apartments to create the most available counter and appliance space. This results in a kitchen with countertops and appliances on both sides of the room, typically stretching as far as the available space allows.

Galley kitchens mimic the elongated hallway-style kitchens aboard ships and trains, which can simply maximize space or create a certain effect with the aesthetic impact it provides to a home.

Galley kitchens often have base cabinets, cabinets, countertops, and appliances all laid out on either side of the narrow aisle that becomes the room’s available walkway. These kitchens can seem crowded, but that’s because they do skimp on floor space for the sake of creating as much kitchen space out of the room.

It’s also one of the least expensive kitchen remodels available because it’s an efficient layout. All key design features essentially revolve around each other and provide easy access to any other part of the kitchen within just a few feet. This can be useful to divide the kitchen into multiple ‘stations’ or feel crowded when you get multiple people in the space without any organization.

Pros of a Galley Kitchen

The concept of a galley kitchen can be easy to get behind in theory, but what are the discernable benefits you receive from utilizing a galley kitchen in your own home?

It’s Cheaper Than Other Remodels

In most kitchen remodeling projects, countertops and cabinets make up a majority of the cost involved. Naturally, this heavily depends on the material of the cabinets and countertops you decide to employ. A relatively bare galley kitchen can give you a fully functional and aesthetically minimal kitchen to work out of.

You can also go a more expensive route and make the galley kitchen a nicer space. Higher quality countertops and cabinets add cost to your renovation and make the room feel more high-quality and less tacked after the fact. If a functional kitchen is your foremost goal, ignore this advice as you desire.

It’s the Most Efficient (and Least Hectic) Design

Galley kitchens have been touted as the most efficient kitchen home design, and it’s not hard to see why: it’s easy to zip back and forth from the fridge to the sink with just a few steps in between each of them. With everything you need within arm’s reach, you don’t have to go on an African safari to simply grab the salad ingredients and get back to the salad bowl.

An illustration of a galley kitchen with everything easily accessible

Some people split their galley kitchens into ‘workstations’ for preparing for events, allowing you to make the most out of your available manpower. One person can prepare the first part of a meal and pass it down to make any necessary adjustments before deeming it ready. If organized well, a galley kitchen is a great boon to any household by sheer virtue of its small and clean design.

A galley kitchen also has the potential to be one of the safest kitchen layouts. If a sink and countertop are placed in tandem with a stove, you never have to turn around to get to another area with a knife or other sharp implement in your hands. This is one aspect of galley kitchens that professional chefs like so much.

A Smaller Kitchen Equals a Bigger House

Another reason many people opt to have a galley kitchen is that it reduces their kitchen’s footprint. In essence, this means that you have more space in the rest of your house. If you don’t need a large, open kitchen, a galley kitchen can free up valuable floor space that adds dimension and usable space to your home you may have never noticed before.

They Don’t Have To Be Claustrophobic

A common concern people have when considering galley kitchens is that they’ll feel small. This can result from the ‘closed-in’ design, which basically just gives you a walkway to navigate from one end of the kitchen out to the exit. 

Illustration of someone inside a box cooking reflecting a small tight kitchen

Thankfully, due to new innovations in home design, it doesn’t have to be and feel small. And in fact, we have a few tips for you on making your galley kitchen seem bigger. You can add islands onto the end of the kitchen to make it feel larger or open up a wall facing your living room or other open space. Other design choices can help make the most of your galley kitchen, making it feel more open and connected to the rest of your floor plan.

Cons of a Galley Kitchen

The pros of a galley kitchen are often also its cons. When designing a space for efficiency, this is inevitable, but then again, not every room design is made for every person in mind. If the pros of a galley kitchen seem good, ensure you can think about it from every angle.

There’s No Doubt About It: They’re Small

Yes, we covered this – but does the increase in efficiency make up for the lack of floor space? Can you live with yourself feeling closed off in your kitchen? While you can do things to open up a galley kitchen, it may still feel small at times. 

illustration of a mom carrying a tray above her head in a very small galley kitchen because kids and dog are on floor

Everything being within easy reach of each other can start to feel cramped rather than smart use of the space. If you’re okay with sacrificing the space, you shouldn’t have many other issues with a galley kitchen.

You Can Only Have So Many Cooks at a Time

If your latest event or dinner demands lots of food, it makes sense to throw several experienced chefs in there to solve your problem. Unfortunately, the efficient space of a galley kitchen can also create difficulties in multiple people cooking. 

If both people need a burner on the stove, good luck. If organized well, they can be great shared cooking spaces, but it requires design, communication, and cooperation to make it work.

They Resell for Less Than More Standard Kitchens

If reselling your home down the line is a consideration, perhaps it’s better to look elsewhere. Galley kitchens are among the cheapest kitchen remodels, meaning they add the least value to a home out of nearly all other kitchen design layouts.

Atypical Designs May Not Always Work

Forget that 45-degree sink you were thinking about. Those don’t work in galley kitchens. Anything that obstructs the room’s straight, concise flow is apt to become nothing more than a pretty obstacle when scrambling to do anything important. 

Cabinets, countertops, appliances, and that’s about all you get to add. If you don’t have any other space to set aside for food-related operations, a galley kitchen is very limited in the organizational sense.

Galley Kitchens Don’t Work Too Well As Social Spaces

Kitchens are often hallowed as social spaces, but galley kitchens don’t really lend themselves well to this. There’s no space for seating or dining in the kitchen itself, making it a purely functional workspace to obtain and prepare food. Dining spaces are typically housed in an open area outside of the kitchen itself, meaning there will be some travel time between the kitchen and your belly.

illustration of several women having social time at home

Galley Kitchens Aren’t the Most Visual Spaces

Let’s face it; if you’re looking at galley kitchens, you can probably sacrifice your view of the outdoors when you do dishes for a more functional space. And that’s good because galley kitchens rarely have windows and natural light. If they do, they’re typically high up above sinks or at the end of an enclosed galley kitchen, sort of like skylights

So you’re not going to get much if any, natural light and air unless you especially want windows in your kitchen. As far as functionality, windows take up space that’s better taken up by cabinets for storage space.

Galley Kitchens: Design and Planning Considerations

If you’re eyeing a galley kitchen for your next remodel, it helps to keep in mind that you can only do so much with the space. If something doesn’t fit in a cabinet or on a countertop, it may simply not fit in the kitchen, and you might want to look at other kitchens.

Asymmetrical or Symmetrical?

You can have banks of your appliances on one side and counters all on the other side or a mixture that makes the space look more symmetrical. Of course, the former is called an asymmetrical galley kitchen.

Aesthetically, asymmetrical kitchens look great, especially if your countertops are a nice, clean material. Symmetry has its own beauty, though, as many people will tell you. Obviously, you can’t get perfectly symmetrical with everything that goes in a kitchen, but you can parallel your countertops and sink spaces on each side of the kitchen or any number of other choices.

Keep Your Appliances in Mind (Size & Location)

You should know the physical specifications of your items because larger appliances cause the biggest problems when remodeling. Ideally, you want your fridge, stove, and sink to be either lined up together or in a triangle across your parallel walls. If you have any other storage solutions besides cabinets, they’ll likely have to be employed elsewhere because, with galley kitchens, the cabinets and storage are baked into the design.

Don’t Go Overboard: Basic Is Best

Since galley kitchens are small and economical by design, play to that effect. You may never have that floating island you wanted, but you can try to squeeze in a mobile island at the end of the kitchen, space permitting. Keeping everything as concise and minimal as possible will help keep the space clean-looking rather than a cramped food corridor you have to defeat for a snack.

How To Choose a Sink for a Galley Kitchen

As mentioned, 45-degree sinks don’t work in galley kitchens. Not surprisingly, this layout limits the use of other sinks too. Large farm-style sinks tend to take away from counter space, and so do any kind of drop-in sinks with built-in rims.

Ideally, you just want a sink with basic and clean edges that will fit into the kitchen’s theme. Keeping a sink parallel to the counters is ideal for making the kitchen seem seamless.

Ditch a Window for More Cabinet Space

If a kitchen window doesn’t give you the vital light and air your kitchen needs, you could block it off. It can be painful to think about giving up a window, but it’s an easy process that could give you more room to run cabinets across your wall. Let’s get real: you can never have too many cabinets.

Don’t forget that this is just like building a new wall on your house: it will require drywall, insulation, siding, paint, and the works. If you’re willing to put in that level of commitment, though, you’ll find it will dramatically increase the cabinet space you can make use of.

Shake It Up to Free Up Some Space

You can design a galley kitchen as you like, providing it matches the space requirements. If you’d rather have all the cabinets and countertops on one side of the kitchen and your bank of appliances on the other side, go for it! 

Or maybe it would help to have some countertop space next to the stovetop, huh? A great idea to make a small kitchen feel more open is to push your cabinets down the wall toward the end of the kitchen. Without the huge bank of cabinets right there when you enter the room, it doesn’t feel so cramped.

Can You Put an Island into a Galley Kitchen?

Absolutely, and this is a popular design choice for a number of reasons. A galley kitchen with one dedicated wall opposite a kitchen island open to the house is great for social occasions where the cook or host may spend a lot of time in the kitchen but still wants to socialize with family or friends.

Galley kitchens with cooking facilities such as the fridge, stove, and countertops with cabinets on one wall and the sink and more countertops on an island opposite open the area and make it feel less confined. Adding seating to the other side of the island is an even better idea for the sociable or families.

Another option is to put an island at the end of your kitchen. This can give you a bit of extra space for when things are too cramped for comfort or give someone else an area to work on a meal with you.

What About Cabinets?

A note about cabinets is that they’re obviously your precious storage space, but also provide a solid feel to the room. It’s not really a galley without cabinets, right? But does that mean you have to have them pushed up to the sky?

Not only does the type of material matter, but whether you want to maximize storage space or maintain some space affects how big your cabinets are. Cabinets that reach the ceiling can be handy for pure space but make the room feel more closed off. If you’re looking for a way to add a bit of space and dimension to your kitchen, consider slightly smaller cabinets that give you free wall space.

Break It Up (Free Up Some Precious Space)

You don’t have to have a completely solid galley kitchen, end-to-end. In fact, breaking the kitchen up at certain intervals may help the space ‘breathe’ and feel more open. Other design choices such as utilizing one wall for solely appliances and the other for solely countertops and cabinets can work well. 

As far as pure ergonomics go, you can have everything you use together placed together. For example, you can place a stove right next to a countertop and sink so that you never have to turn around after you bring your ingredients to that zone. This frees up precious space on the opposite wall to perform other tasks.

Open-Ended or Not?

Whether your galley kitchen will become a galley corridor depends on your home. If you go through the kitchen to access another area, it will become an area of potentially high traffic. If you have kids or pets, you may wish to highlight safety designs in your choices. Closed galley kitchens are the safest because a cook can keep an easy eye on the only point of entry for people coming and going.

Another thing to keep in mind is how much time you want to spend in your kitchen. If it’s due to be more of a purely food-focused area, you may want to skimp on art or other purely aesthetic choices. On the other hand, you might want to put up a bulletin board or chalkboard for organizational or other purposes. Seating would be a great concession as well, for those times you don’t want to wander too far but just need somewhere to rest your bones.

Can I Add Seating?

This is very individual to your home, but generally, you can make some concessions that open up space for seating in a galley kitchen. Placing it around a galley kitchen may be better, so it doesn’t interrupt the kitchen’s streamlined flow, but there are plenty of options to include seating in your remodeling plans.

You can add a small breakfast bar at the end of the galley kitchen, or perhaps open the wall facing the rest of the house and put a bar on the other side of that! Being able to socialize more with the people you’re serving can be a hugely beneficial reason to include seating in your galley kitchen.

Galley Kitchen Stylistic Choices

There are a lot of purely aesthetic things you can do with a galley kitchen, providing you have space and access to do them. Adding your own twist on a room remodel is crucial to give the space an actual air of vitality.

Paint It (But Probably Not Black)

Paint can completely change the atmosphere without actually changing any functional aspects of the space. Painting a galley kitchen with a light and neutral tone can make it feel more open, even if it doesn’t actually open anything up in the space itself. 

White and beige are common but can make your kitchen feel dated. Consider a light grey or blue to give your kitchen a modern and open feel. Monochromatic color schemes work very well with galley kitchens.

Whatever you do, stay away from dark colors. They tend to just enhance the lack of space in your kitchen and make it feel almost uncomfortably cramped. Remember: It’s a kitchen, not a closet!

Play With Lighting Options

You can add raised or recessed lighting to enhance your kitchen’s dimensions, and recessed lighting behind your stovetop may even prove functionally useful at night. Pair this with our tip about mirrors, and you can have a lot more light in a galley kitchen than you’d think! If you happen to have a window, consider whether it’s a net benefit to your kitchen or not: does it get good lighting at the times of day you most frequently occupy the kitchen?

If not, you may be better off ditching the window entirely and either use it for mirrors, art, or possibly more cabinets. Good lighting is hard to come by, but so is wall space for cabinets!

Keep It Clean (Declutter Those Countertops!)

A tip to making galley kitchens look more open is to simply clean up the kitchen’s surfaces when they’re not in use. This means making the most use out of all that cabinet space and decluttering the countertops. The less items that are on the countertops, the better because it gives you the visual sense of a more open space. If it isn’t functional, put it away or get rid of it.

Putting away items you don’t use on a regular can help, but another tip is to align everything with your wall. The clean-cut lines of the counters and cabinets look best if your countertop appliances are aligned the same way – your food processors, coffeemakers, blenders, and whatnot. If everything is lined up and ready to go, it goes a long way to making your kitchen look better.

Use Mirrors to Make the Room Look Bigger

Mirrors are an awesome way to make any room feel completely different. Using a mirror at the end of a closed galley kitchen gives the illusion of more space, and mirror-colored backsplashes on your countertops can provide a similar effect, with the added bonus of a classy look.

Managing Galley Kitchen Size

A large point of consideration is how well a galley kitchen will work with your home’s size and available floor plan. If you have a small window of floor space to work with, a galley kitchen may be the best option for you. Larger homes may benefit from a galley-style wall opposite an island.

Galley kitchens can vary dramatically, but smaller kitchens should be from 6-12 feet in length, with a bare minimum of 3 feet between the parallel counters. You typically want around 5 feet so you don’t box yourself in too much – and for families, five feet will give you sidestepping room! As for larger kitchens, the length may vary, but you don’t want to make it too wide or you lose the efficiency benefits of the kitchen layout.

Large homes can make use of galley kitchens to great effect, as long as it isn’t overdone. Too much space in the galley ‘aisle’ ruins the efficiency benefit of having the galley kitchen in the first place. If you have to walk far from one place to another, it’s not really a galley.

But on the other side, you can’t have a galley kitchen too cramped. There’s hardly any walking space as it is in most galley kitchens, so you definitely don’t want to reduce what’s already there. 

Freeing up space for the rest of the house is great, but you have to keep in mind that the kitchen needs room for multiple people to cook or just navigate around each other. If you have a collision every time you get a glass of milk, you’ll quickly get frustrated with the layout of your kitchen. As such, don’t make it too small or big. As Goldilocks understood, balance is important.

Final Thoughts

For the ergonomic and efficient person, galley kitchens are perfect for maximizing the amount of purely functional space in your kitchen. In addition, there are many designs and aesthetic decisions that can be made to retain the kitchen’s functionality and make it feel aesthetically nice.

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