Small spaces present design challenges, but I’m particularly pleased with my colorful vintage focal point in my kitchen. Born out of a frantic game of what I called Kitchen Tetris, this tricky spot in my kitchen turned into one of my favorite features, thanks to a repurposed flea market bookshelf.

What small space kitchen challenges have you faced? Tips below on how to “shop your stuff.” 

A post in the Small Spaces series.

A lot to unpack

In order to make coffee the first morning living in this apartment, I had to fill my electric kettle in the bathroom sink. I silently thanked whoever long ago bestowed upon me the moving advice to always have a box labeled “Open Me First” with essentials like coffee supplies and shampoo and to keep that box ready to hand.

A lot to unpack
Coffee my first morning here. I fell in love with the light

My kitchen had So. Many. Boxes. I don’t have a photo of it, because, frankly, it was too overwhelming to document. That first day, sore and exhausted, though thankfully caffeinated, I got enough of the kitchen unpacked to be able to use the sink. I set up my coffee mugs on the shelf above the sink, which started to make me feel like I was at home (I take the saying, “But first, coffee” very seriously).

A week after moving here
But first, coffee

Kitchen Tetris

I had a dilemma, though. I could unpack boxes, but where would all of my kitchen stuff go? This kitchen, as I’ve mentioned several times before, is significantly smaller than my old one. With two useable cabinets, I needed more storage. I have some big pieces, thanks to my talented dad, but I had a game of Kitchen Tetris on my hand to make it all fit.

Complicating all of this was my long “hallway” running through my apartment, with a big part of the kitchen wall being visible from the front door.


Sometimes the right piece isn't the obvious one.

I’d measured carefully before I moved in here (I still way overestimated how much of my old furniture would fit in there comfortably), and I knew that my big pieces, table, and metal storage rack would just fit along the wall. And so they did.

The big pieces worked exactly where I’d planned, which was a good thing, because it meant that my pots and pans were near the stove, and my dishes were to hand.

How to handle the hallway

However, I had not accounted for the hallway view. Looking down the hall, I could see about three-quarters of my table, looking sad and sparse. And, walking into the kitchen, I could immediately see my wire rack that, while it holds a lot, doesn’t always hold it with style (getting this bit organized is my next project in here).

So, while the Tetris worked, the style did not.

Shop your stuff

Before rushing out to get something new (or even vintage), check out what you already have and see if you can’t use it in a new way

Repurposing a flea market bookshelf

Meanwhile I was trying to figure out what to do with my little bookshelf. Bought at least fifteen years ago at the Todd Farm Flea Market in Rowley for five bucks, this little unusual shelf delights me. Part knick-knack shelf, part bookshelf, it’s light and often fits in the most unusual of spaces.

I also had some beautiful vintage Pyrex bowls and a cookbook collection. Would that little shelf work in my game of Tetris?

It did.

There. I live here now, I said to myself

Live with something for a day or two

You'll know if it fits your style

Eventually I moved my kitchen table to the back wall and my metal rack just fit between the table and the refrigerator, pinning the guest chair, but not so badly that I couldn’t get to it.

Getting excited, I arranged my Pyrex bowls and cookbooks on the shelf, added a plant, and placed my free kitchen chair in front of it. I walked down the hallway, turned and took a look.

There, I said to myself. I live here now.

Vintage kitchen focal point
The finished focal point, a month in

Practical can be beautiful

I use everything on that shelf (except for the plant)

A colorful vintage focal point

A few days later, I hung up the burnt red vintage drinks tray I found at Bananas in downtown Gloucester and tucked a little painting by a Columbian man, who was selling them at an outdoor International film festival screening in Chuckie Harris Park, across the street from where I used to live. My friends, who had joined me, bought it for me for my birthday.

Colorful vintage kitchen shelf

This focal point still makes me smile. Bright, colorful, and welcoming, it makes me happy to enter my kitchen. It almost makes me grateful to have had to play such a game of Kitchen Tetris.

What about you?

What’s your favorite focal point in your home? How did you put it together?

Let me know in the comments, and be sure to check out other Small Spaces posts!

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