Seattle-based architect Nils Finne designs luxury homes featuring kitchens that cost six figures. These elaborate cooking layouts come L-shaped, U-shaped and G-shaped, but for his own home, Finne chose the simple galley kitchen — a parallel layout with most major appliances lined up on one side.
Finne loves cooking in his 25-foot-long kitchen, which features texturized Alaskan cedar cabinetry, walnut and limestone countertops and a comfy window seat.
“I’ve been designing houses for over 30 years, and I’ve done kitchens of all sizes and shapes, but I think the galley kitchen is something that everyone seems to respond to very positively,” says Finne, 69. “It’s a very efficient layout.”
The origins of the galley kitchen trace back to sailing vessels, where the efficient design minimized the amount of walking the ship’s crew had to do while swaying at sea. These days you can find versions of the distinctive kitchen design in both studio apartments and palatial estates.
Whether you’re downsizing, remodeling, building a brand-new home or considering apartment living, there are many reasons to opt for a galley kitchen.
1. Everything is within reach
Home builders often design expansive kitchens because some believe that bigger is better and a massive room wrapped in cabinetry is pleasing to the eye. Perhaps, but bigger isn’t necessarily better for cooking or entertaining.
“Sometimes you experiment with larger kitchen layouts, and then you find you increase the amount of walking around you do,” says Finne. “I think the proximity and kind of compactness of the galley type of arrangement is very appealing.”
The galley layout is even more efficient than the kitchen triangle, which requires the main work areas — sink, stove and refrigerator — be positioned no less than 4 feet and no more than 9 feet apart, allowing for counter space in between.
With the galley kitchen, you still have easy access to your stove, fridge and sink, says Wayne Visbeen, 61, of Visbeen Architects in Grand Rapids, Michigan, but the design shrinks and simplifies your range of motion. “So, your triangle is cut down to almost a straight line,” he says. “Everything’s close.”
2. It offers ample storage
A well-designed galley kitchen will take up less space while also providing lots of storage. In fact, you can fit as many cabinets in a long galley as you can in a U-shaped kitchen.
“The first myth is that it’s not big enough and that you can’t get all your stuff in it,” Finne says. But in a remodel, it’s possible to extend the length of the galley by incorporating adjacent storage space, like a pantry. “I think it can accommodate absolutely everything,” he adds.
Long galley kitchens can be customized to offer any number of storage solutions, such as vertical baking racks, under-counter microwave or beverage refrigerator, and plate-warming drawers.
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3. The layout is extremely flexible
The traditional galley layout is getting a makeover thanks to innovative architects and kitchen designers. Finne, for one, has started developing a scheme with a full pantry that sits directly behind the kitchen. “Imagine a galley kitchen, then a wall, and on the other side of that wall, a kind of parallel pantry.”
By placing a large walk-in pantry, complete with storage and sink, in a space that’s hidden behind the galley kitchen’s primary meal preparation area, Finne’s design delivers an open-concept galley that’s easy to keep clean and presentable for guests.
“Many people have things in their kitchen that take up room, but they don’t use them quite so often. So, it’s really great to have an additional pantry storage space that’s close by but doesn’t occupy the valuable real estate,” Finne says.
4. The design is ideal for aging in place
Francisca Alonso, 55, cofounder and CEO at AV Architects + Builders in Great Falls, Virginia, wrote a book called Nesting for Empty Nesters. Most of her clients are 55 and up and many are interested in staying in their homes as they get older.
“They know they’re going to live another 30 years, which is like a third of their lifetime,” she says.“What if, instead of having one wall, you have three galley kitchens in one kitchen? You have one wall that is all about breakfast,” Alonso says. “We make refrigerator drawers for the frozen fruit, drawers for all the proteins, all the seeds, everything that you put into your breakfast.”
Breaking up a galley kitchen into zones can bring all your food and beverage favorites into one space, minimizing movement and making cleanup easier. “It used to be that the butler’s pantry was way on the other side of the house near the dining room, and the bar was all the way in the basement,” Alonso says. “But with clients right now, they want main-level living. That’s what the empty nester wants, everything on one floor.”
5. The galley kitchen is party ready
Whether you’re inviting friends over for brunch, cocktails or movie night, an open-concept galley kitchen makes entertaining easy. For one of her clients, Alonso designed a galley kitchen with a cocktail zone, including a kegerator for beer, a wine fridge and an ice maker. “The kitchen is still the gathering place, so people want to have really great kitchens,” Visbeen says.
And, as people age, architects are seeing clients who want to downsize and be more cost-effective with their budgets and more efficient with their space, he adds. “So I think the galley kitchen makes sense if they’re going to have a functional kitchen,,” he says.
It’s clear that the galley kitchen has come a long way since its seafaring days, but what hasn’t changed is its versatile layout that can be made to fit any style, space or budget.“Even if it’s simple, they want great accessibility,” Visbeen says. “The galley kitchen delivers this.”
Merlisa Lawrence Corbett is a contributing writer who covers sports, interior design, business and human-interest stories. A former reporter for Sports Illustrated and tennis columnist for Bleacher Report, her work has also appeared in Essence and Black Enterprise. She is the author of the biography Serena Williams: Tennis Champion, Sports Legend, and Cultural Heroine.