Remember my friend’s house, the one I talked about in a previous blog? She and her husband bought a darling 1895 home that had been heavily (and oddly) renovated and added to over the years—including the addition of a kitchen onto the back of the house. She and her husband had big plans to work with a home improvement contractor on various projects, one of the biggest being a total kitchen remodel. The catch: they had to use the existing space.

Said space could best be described as “eccentric.” The 12-by-12 kitchen boasted no fewer than five entry points: a basement door, the entrance from the central fireplace room, the exit to the back deck and yard, a full bathroom (so awkward), the stairway to the second floor. Oh, and let’s not forget the adjoining 4-by-12 room that housed the stackable washer and dryer, as well as a refrigerator and some cabinets. Talk about a tight fit!

That kitchen renovation had its fair share of surprises (when the dropped ceiling simply fell in on the contractors, for example, which was better timed than if my friend and her family had been in there). But in the end, thanks to an excellent kitchen renovation contractor and some ingenuity of their own, they had an efficient and beautiful space. Then, four months later, they moved. C’est la vie.

Every kitchen renovation presents challenges. Frequently, one of those challenges is the need to work with the space one currently has. Home renovation contractors have seen it all before, and they are prepared to help get you to a kitchen you adore, however tiny.

But renovation contractors and designers aren’t the only players in the small-kitchen-renovation game. Your creativity and research will aid the process big time. Here are some facts and strategies to consider when renovating your small kitchen, whatever its dimensions and wherever its location.

1) Remember that small kitchens have their advantages:

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir may not fit inside your kitchen (though it’s always shocking to see how many people will jam into a welcoming space, no matter how tiny!). On the other hand, your work triangle, properly designed, will be super-efficient. No need to run laps between the refrigerator and the stove or work space!

2) Function comes first:

Your residential contractor or designer will break this news to you, too, but I’ll lay the cards on the proverbial table: renovating a small kitchen requires compromise. Actually, all kitchen renovations require compromise at some point, so don’t feel bad. Fact: it is profoundly unlikely that you will be able to fit every single feature you desire into your new small kitchen, no matter how immaculately designed. A kitchen ultimately must enable food preparation and housing for the items, large and small, involved in that preparation. A mudroom, wine fridge, dining table for twelve, and homework center will not all fit into a truly small kitchen. By all means, strategize with your contractor about the best possible layout and ways to use every scrap of space. Just remember that in the end, a kitchen involves a stove, a refrigerator, possibly a dishwasher, a sink, counter space, and storage for various objects. (Note that a separate eating area is not, in fact, an obligatory aspect of a kitchen.) Your contractor can help you lay out the basics efficiently and attractively while keeping your wish list in mind. Just keep muttering to yourself, “Basics, basics, basics.” From there, your imagination and desires can take flight. There will be room for and ways to express a lot of your kitchen-renovation dreams. Just start with a solid foundation.

3) Layout is everything.

Enough said.

4) Multifunctionality = happiness:

You may not be able to squeeze a traditional table into your small kitchen, but an open-base island can double as a cozy table. And, as you’ll read below, a pot rack can also be a light fixture. It’s shocking how many things can serve multiple purposes in a small kitchen.

5) Dead space is a no-no:

Weird dead spaces can always be put to good use. Again, your kitchen renovation contractor can help you imagine problem-solving ideas for funky spaces.

6) Pare it down:

Streamline everywhere you can. Instead of a table with four legs, ask your contractor about creating a bar-height table attached directly to the wall with interesting hardware (or a seamless connection) to save the space that two more legs require. Stackable stools offer lots of seating and tuck easily under a table or island.

7) Open it up:

Not everyone is into open storage—you can’t shut the door on clutter! On the other hand, traditional solid-front cabinets can appear heavy and close in a small space. Glass-fronted cabinets are a good option. But do consider asking your home remodeling contractor what shelving they might recommend for your space and wall material. There are a lot of styles out there. If your budget is tight but your current cabinet frames are in good shape, it’s possible to work wonders by simply removing the cabinet doors and painting the exterior one color (or white) and the interior another. Options abound. And it will lift your heart to see your kitchenware and collectibles displayed to their best advantage against a gorgeous hue.

8) Mirror, mirror, on the wall:

Well-placed mirrors and other reflective surfaces can work wonders. Antiqued mirrored glass makes a subtle and beautiful backsplash that also visually expands the room.

9) Sparkle and shine:

Your contractor (assuming that he or she is, in fact, your new BFF—see my previous blog on that topic) will be happy to advise you on the best surface choices for your kitchen. They can install shiny or iridescent tile, or even apply a high-gloss paint to the walls or cabinets. Used well, these materials can bounce light around your kitchen, creating a focal point or offering a gently reflective surface that adds subtle depth to a small kitchen’s dimensions.

10) Beautifully rugged:

On the other hand, natural and rough-hewn surfaces are lovely in a teeny-tiny kitchen, too. A small-kitchen renovation is a wonderful chance to use a magnificent piece of textured marble or burled wood that would be way out of your price range in a larger space. You may even get a bargain on a remnant piece or find some repurpose-able wood where you least expect it. Check with your contractor’s carpenter for sources.

11) Glowing good looks:

Lighting is at least as important in a small kitchen as in a large one. A small kitchen can look a lot larger—and certainly will function better—with layers of light. That means talking to your remodeling contractor about ambient lighting, task lighting, and under-cabinet lighting. Truly, lighting works magic. Lighting experts are key to theatrical productions and movies for a reason!

12) Counter space makes a difference:

Even a small island, a short peninsula, or a movable cart can make a big difference in your kitchen’s functionality. You can brainstorm with your residential contractor, their carpenter, and/or a designer to find the best layout for the shape of your space to maximize continuous prep and serving surface space.

13) Keep it clean:

Cut down on counter clutter, which eats into prep space, by mounting your toaster under a cabinet, installing your paper-towel dispenser inside a cabinet door below the sink, mounting your soap dispensers (or their holders) on the backsplash, using a magnetic knife strip instead of a clunky knife block (which dulls your knives anyway)… the list goes on. Your home remodeling contractor will be awed by your creativity as you innovate counter-clearing ways to use otherwise dead space.

14) Think vertical:

See above about clearing counter space. Use that backsplash and those walls!

15) Mix it up:

Have a chat with your remodeling contractor about diversifying your materials to add interest. Unify the look with similar color tones and finishes on a few elements. For example, copper appliances and copper hardware on cabinet doors and fixtures adds a thread of continuity to your renovated kitchen.

16) Aim high:

Consider hanging pots and pans to save cabinet storage space. In fact, there are pot-rack pendant lights available that combine lighting with storage. Voila! A pot-rack chandelier!

17) Go low:

Flooring is key. In a small space, the floor is super important—the eye gravitates toward the floor more intensely in a small kitchen, because every element is in itself more noticeable. Your contractor can advise you on the best type of flooring for your building’s structure. Small-kitchen renovations also offer a chance to be truly creative, or go luxe, with your flooring.

18) The angel is in the details:

Every single element in your small kitchen matters (no pressure!). In a small-kitchen renovation, each detail stands out more, and every bit of space ideally should have a function. William Morris, a maven of the Arts and Crafts movement, famously advised, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be ” In a small kitchen, why not go a step further and combine beauty with function? Good home renovation contractors specialize in the art of combining the two.

19) The Zen of the small-kitchen renovation:

One option is simply to run with the small-kitchen vibe and quit trying to make your jewel box of a space look larger than it is. That’s not to say that your kitchen should look cluttered and cramped, but deliberately creating intimate spaces within your kitchen can be very effective. Whether rustic and cozy or sleek and efficient, you don’t have to apologize for the size of your kitchen. Celebrate your small kitchen’s virtues!

20) Fear not the color:

Neutral is soothing and grounding; white is expansive and uplifting. But bold colors can be (actually, they really, really are) gorgeous in a small kitchen. Don’t be afraid to go dark or bright; dark colors make the walls, cabinets, floors, or counters recede. Bold color of any hue or tone, whether used as an accent or as a wall color, really shows to advantage in a small space. If you love a color, don’t be afraid to use it.

21) Add personality with art:

Your kitchen may be small, but that doesn’t mean your personality can’t shine through in the art you choose. Do feel empowered, during your kitchen renovation, to select pieces you love. And small kitchens don’t necessarily mean small art: a relatively large statement piece looks stunning in a small space, and its details can be appreciated at close range.

There you have it: twenty-one things to keep in mind before and during your small-kitchen renovation. And remember to breathe—a solid home renovation contractor will see you through.