U-shaped kitchen ideas – this ultra-practical design works like a dream

Jennifer Ebert
·6-min read
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If you are looking for U-shaped kitchen ideas then you've come to the right place. The U-shape is the optimum kitchen layout – it efficiently uses all the space around  the room’s edge, ensuring easy access to all cabinetry. 

The versatility of this classic layout means it will work no matter what the size, shape of style of the kitchen. 

We have rounded up the most inspiring U-shaped kitchens, so you can decide if this is the best  kitchen shape for you. 

  • See: Kitchen ideas – decor and decorating inspiration for kitchens

1. Go for handleless units in a small kitchen

U-shaped kitchen ideas
U-shaped kitchen ideas

In compact kitchens innovative storage, such as pull-out racks and magic corners, make the most of every centimetre of space; narrow-depth cabinets solve the problem of limited manoeuvrability, providing that little bit extra room to move. 

If you are still in the planning stage, design a kitchen with handleless doors – so you’re not always catching against handles while working.

2. Paint in a neutral color palette

U-shaped kitchen ideas
U-shaped kitchen ideas

U-shaped kitchens can work in large spaces, but even small kitchens can benefit from a U-shaped design. Just be sure you have at least two metres of moving-around space between the opposite banks of units.

Opt for pale colors on cabinets and worksurfaces that reflect the light to make  your kitchen seem bigger.

Neutral colors and reflective finishes enhance the feeling of space, as do clutter-free worktops.

3. Keep it minimal

U-shaped kitchen ideas
U-shaped kitchen ideas

This impressive, all-white space has the look of a U-shaped kitchen, while incorporating a walk-through in front of the high level units along the back wall. In essence this design consists of an island and one wall of floor-to-ceiling units. 

By choosing white for cabinetry, ceilings, walls and floor the boundaries between surfaces blur, giving the impression of a compact U-shaped design that gradually opens up as you move around.

4. Add character with a unique design

U-shaped kitchen ideas
U-shaped kitchen ideas

If you are looking for small kitchen layout ideas, a U-shaped design is well worth considering. Depending on your space, it may be easy to incorporate a table and chairs at the opposite end of the U shape. 

Be bold in a small space, with dark-wood kitchen units and bare white walls – and consider matching tabletop and worktops for a tailored look. If you can pare back cupboards to the minimum, you may find you have capacity for a table and chairs. 

This smart kitchen has a look all its own and demonstrates a very individual approach to kitchen design, making the space feel fresh and special.

5. Let there be light

U-shaped kitchen ideas
U-shaped kitchen ideas

Lighting, especially natural daylight, also helps create an airy atmosphere. But if your kitchen has limited access to natural light, consider installing plenty of light fixtures. 

Cleverly planned illumination that will bring your kitchen out of the shadows. ‘Often, lighting can be the last thing considered in kitchen design,’ says Andrew Hall, managing director of Woodstock Furniture, ‘however, for a kitchen to look its best and function well, the space must be lit properly.

'With a U-shaped kitchen, ensure you give due consideration to both task and  ambient lighting,' advises Neil Partridge, design director, NGI Design.

Here, a serious of ceiling lights and wall hung lamps really help to enhance the U-shape in this kitchen. 

6. Use a dark color on cabinetry 

U-shaped kitchen ideas
U-shaped kitchen ideas

Dark, bold colors work well in a U-shaped design when there is ample space and, as in this blue gloss kitchen, when there’s masses of natural light streaming in.  

Daylight bounces off the white walls and ceiling, enhancing the airy feel of the kitchen.

7. Create a divider

U-shaped kitchen ideas
U-shaped kitchen ideas

In larger kitchens, adding an island or dining area provides more workspace and a social aspect, while in open-plan schemes consider using one side of the U as a divider between the kitchen and living areas.

8. Plan your kitchen according to size

U-shaped kitchen ideas
U-shaped kitchen ideas

Keep your cabinets low level and opt for open shelving across all walls of your kitchen for a modern, minimal look. To continue the sleek design, consider integrating appliances into the cabinetry and go for handleless doors. 

This kitchen – finished in matte white lacquer – uses wooden shelving as an integral part of the layout.

9. Install a breakfast bar if space allows

U-shaped kitchen ideas
U-shaped kitchen ideas

This layout can make the room feel quite confined, so avoid having wall units on all three sides if possible, or use open shelving to lighten the look.

There’s little space for a dining area in this layout, so perhaps include a breakfast bar. 

Remember, if you drift in and out of your kitchen throughout the day, this layout may feel closed off from the rest of your living area.

10. Create a look you'll love for years to come

U-shaped kitchen ideas
U-shaped kitchen ideas

Mix and match cabinets from different collections – different colors, textures and materials – to achieve a personal style.

This kitchen has been given a characterful update with paint, artwork and a rather delightful floral arrangement. 

11. Free up floor space

U-shaped kitchen ideas
U-shaped kitchen ideas

Opting for a U-shape in a medium-sized kitchen maximises floor space and keeps the outlook open. 

If your kitchen is on the smaller side, then limit your color palette, for a neat, tidy and steamlined aesthetic. This monochrome combination is a tried-and-tested winner.

What are U-shaped kitchens? 

The U-shaped kitchen has traditionally had units running along three walls of the room with one free wall as the access point.

Modern variants include the U-shape plus island combo, which sees an island bridging the middle of a large U-shape, as well as standalone U-shape islands that sit in the middle of an open-plan room.

'Where there are only two walls to work against, you can still achieve a U-shape by making the third side a peninsula unit,' adds Jamee Kong of DesignSpaceLondon.

What shape kitchen is best? 

Kitchen trends come and go, but planning a layout essentially remains the same. The classic layouts of galley, L and U-shapes are designed to be the most ergonomically sound, helping to create the ‘work triangle’ of hob, sink and fridge within easy distance of each other and allowing for adequate work space in between.

And while we have swopped compact kitchens for open plan living, it is interesting to see how these shapes have found new relevance in a larger space.

How do you design a U-shaped kitchen?

Alongside a tight workspace, the main attraction of an U-shape layout is its abundance of worksurface. 

'Capitalise on this by investing in the best worktop you can afford, such as a striking granite or chunky timber, to create a stunning design feature,' suggests Hayley Shaw of Magnet.

Avoid too many tall or wall cabinets as they can make the room feel smaller and too  closed in. Instead, go for base units, fit tall cabinets across one wall only, or create  an airy feel with open shelving.

This layout can make the room feel quite confined, so avoid having wall units on all three sides if possible, or use open shelving to lighten the look.