On Kitchen Counters: Balancing Functional & Decorative Elements

When it comes to kitchen countertop organization, how do you balance what you need to make the countertops function for the way you need to prep and cook food on a daily basis, while not sacrificing the pretty decorating aspects, especially if you have limited counter space?

When I started to eat a whole food plant based diet to enrich my health, the importance of getting organized in the kitchen, the proper mindset around cooking, along with the right kitchen tools and setup became the focus of how I set up my kitchen, specifically my limited countertop space.

Without making these a priority, my cooking efforts would have become too time consuming and after awhile it may have seemed like too much to stick with eating plant-based.

I wanted to be successful and had to change how I thought about my kitchen countertop organization in a way that would make food prep and cooking as efficient as possible.

Small white kitchen with driftwood grey wood floors.

If you were like I used to be, a non-cook, when it came to my kitchen, my focus was all about how I could make them look pretty. How the counters functioned for me was secondary since I didn’t cook much.

I cared more about my latest HomeGoods decor find that I could place on my kitchen counters over the “setting up” of the counters in a way to make cooking daily meals on those counters ultra-efficient.

Small Kitchen and how to fit appliances on the counter in a pretty way.

Now, since changing to a whole food, plant-based diet where I make most of the food I eat from scratch, I need my kitchen to be a highly functioning space.

Many people can create a 100% functional plant based food prep kitchen and do not care one bit about how the space is decorated. I see kitchens like this on many plant-based cooking videos I watch.

I am not that kind of person :-) My brain needs to see the pretty along with the highly functioning aspects of all the rooms in my house.

A few decorative items on a kitchen white counter.

I have been working on a kitchen counter organization plan for some time now in my head on how I can create a space that is equally efficient for the way I now prepare and cook food that is decoratively appealing at the same time.

If I had a large kitchen, it would be easier to create this balance, but my kitchen is small, so I have to do a lot of “give and take” to get the right balance of function vs. pretty as well as clutter-free for my personal style of cooking and decorating.

I am still dreaming of how we could add an addition to the side of the house to make the kitchen much larger and custom designed for my wants and needs, but that will have to stay a dream for awhile.

White plates, bowls and ramekins in a wood box on kitchen cart island.

One of the first things I did to make my small kitchen function better when I started on my whole food, plant-based journey was to add large cutting board to the metal cart on wheels I use as a kitchen island. It was the best idea as we use the cart and cutting board on the top all the time.

In a recent post, I wrote about the tools I use every day to prepare plant-based meals. One item was my Vitamix. It is an amazing high-speed blender that sits out on the counter and gets used daily, but it does not process a combination of non-liquid food as well.

For instance, when I make Chickpea Deli Salad or No-Crab Mini Crab Cakes it frustrates me that I have to stop the machine every few seconds to push food back into the center.

What I needed was a food processor. I hesitated to purchase one though for a few reasons:

  1. Where would I even put one on my limited kitchen counter space?
  2. If I bought a small food processor, it wouldn’t process larger “batch” quantities of food at one time, so that would be of no help.
  3. If I got a larger one, I would have to store it in a cabinet and bring it out every time I wanted to use it. Not efficient!

I looked into getting the new food processor attachment for the Vitamix, but the thing is huge, expensive and so complex and would have to be stored in a cabinet.

I like simple. If it takes too much effort to drag it out every time I use it, that is not efficient. It would end up not being used.

My friend Gail and her husband recently built a new home. I love how she designed a big open kitchen with a walk-in double door deep pantry that has a wrap around counter inside with a backsplash complete with electrical outlets for small appliances. ( I wish I took a photo to show you) It is the best place to easily use counter appliances, but keep them hidden when not in use that keep your countertops clutter-free.

Vitamix blender and Cuisinart Food Processor on a kitchen counter.

My only option for keeping things easily accessible is to keep them out on the counter.

My other problem when placing any item on the kitchen counters is that the clearance from the counter to the bottom of the wall cabinets is only 15″.

I have to make sure that everything I use – appliance or decorative is short enough to fit underneath – the coffee maker, etc. As you can see the only place for the Vitamix is right next to the sink as it is taller than 15″.

Kitchen countertop appliance organization Cuisinart Pro Custom 11 Food Processor on a counter in a small kitchen.

When I decided a food processor would make food prep easier, I did quite a bit of research and found one that I could live with.

I bought this Cuisinart Pro Custom 11. It is powerful, simple to use and also simple in its design, plus the mixing bowl is wide enough to hold a good amount of food and short to fit under the cabinets. And best of all, it comes with a flat top so I don’t need to use the larger more complex chute top when I just want to mix food together to make plant-based burgers and more.

I have only had it a week and am loving it. It is easy to clean too.

It came in a few colors. I chose the silver and black that would coordinate with the Vitamix since they are now going to be countertop buddies.

A Tip on How to Style Limited Space on Kitchen Countertops

When it came time to add the pretty to the limited space on my kitchen counters, I found that making use of the corners on the counter were the best spots as the corner areas are not used as much since they are hard to reach.

These are the areas where I have tried to add the pretty that keeps my kitchen and me happy, decor wise. :-)

pretty decor on a counter in a white kitchen.

In the corner of the L-shaped peninsula, I created a vignette for a small lamp, and candle. I love how the lamp looks at night in the kitchen.

For a piece of pretty that is also functional, I decided to place our utensils in a caddy for the summer months. Come fall, they may go back in the utensil drawer.

How to decorate a kitchen with limited counter space.

Over on the opposite corner – I replaced a green desktop organizer with a new wood organizer. I use this area as a place for paperwork.

I bought the 12-cup coffee maker a few years ago. It was hard to find a silver one that was under 15″ in height.

Corner of counter in a small kitchen and how to decorate it and still have functional.

Next to this corner is a what I call my no-prep area. I keep cookbooks here, mail to go out, keys as well as little stuff like sunglasses in a basket and flowers.

Pink hydrangeas on a kitchen counter

This is the last of my hydrangeas from the yard. Just this week I found the low glass vase. It is one of the items in the Studio McGee Collection at Target.

The vase filled with flowers is low enough to fit perfectly under the cabinets. :-) I am sure it will become a part of the kitchen from now on as I always like to have fresh flowers in the kitchen.

Tiered kitchen basket to make to store fruit and produce on a counter.

On the cooktop counter, I have 20″ of clearance between the counter and bottom of the wall cabinets. I have used different tiered stands in one corner over the years to hold veggies and fruit and recently added a decorative wood bowl.

Small kitchen counter decorating idea that is functional.

This stand is the largest and my favorite.

Vance Tempered Glass Surface Saver cutting board set in the counter.

I have to keep the opposite corner clear so I have a place to put things that come and go from the oven.

It is also where I put the toaster when needed. I hung the framed art on the tiles using Command Picture Hanging Strips.

Small kitchen counter top organization
My Kitchen Table

My kitchen is functioning better now for its size. What makes me even happier is that I didn’t let the decor vanish as the functional items began to take over.

Style matters! So if you are trying to eat better and find the need to make the meal prep and cooking easier, you can have both pretty and functional by first figuring out exactly what you need to be efficient and then add the pretty in the least used areas on the counter.

These kinds of pretty arrangements bring me joy when I enter the room… for me and maybe you too, adding pretty in balance with function is worth striving for.

I am still dreaming of my ideal kitchen and will share those plans with you soon.

Want to Find Out More About The Way I Eat?

Changing the way I eat all started when I picked up a copy of the quarterly magazine, Forks Over Knives back in 2019. Reading the issue and then their website and documentary on Netflix, helped me so much on figuring out what to eat and how to prepare whole foods in healthy ways that taste good.

I recently learned that the name, Forks Over Knives means to eat healthy foods so you will keep the surgeons scalpel away. I thought the knife part meant that you didn’t need a knife anymore to cut meat. :-)

The Summer 2021 issue of the magazine is in stores now. It has two different covers. At some retailers, you might see a sandwich; in others you’ll see a grilled tostada.  Either way, the interior of the magazine is the same: 100 pages of expert tips, beautiful photos, inspiring success stories, and 72 deliciously healthy summer recipes that will inspire you if you are thinking about about adding more plant-based foods to your diet.  

You can find the magazine on newsstands in the U.S. and Canada, and at major U.S. retailers including Walmart, Kroger, Albertsons, Safeway, Publix, Target, and Barnes & Noble. You can also get a copy from the Forks Over Knives website.

Next week I will share another WFPB recipe that I now can make in half the time in my new food processor.

Do you have any organization tips on how you style your kitchen countertops?

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  1. I eat plant base however I still eat bread. How do you give that up?

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi A – Whole grain-whole wheat bread is plant-based. So are whole grain pastas. I would have a hard time giving up a piece of crusty bread and make my own WW sourdough bread that uses no oil or sugar and just a little salt. I love it toasted. Most breads that you buy are filled with junk, so making it from scratch or buying a whole grain loaf at the Farmer’s Market is how I am able to still enjoy it.

      I also eat Ezekiels 4:9 Sprouted Grain Tortillas that you can see here: https://amzn.to/3x4ksUD

      and Middle East Bakery Whole Wheat Pitas that I buy at Whole Foods Market.

  2. This post is good timing for me – I was just looking at my counter today and thinking about how overly cluttered it has become. We downsized over a year ago and I find I am still working on getting things organized in a way that works, and it’s an ongoing process. You gave me many good ideas that will help me look at my kitchen with a new perspective. For starters – right now I have a bowl of fresh tomatoes, a bowl of lemons and limes, and a bowl of avocados on my counter – I need a tiered stand that would take up less space, and look better. By the way, my sister bought me a Cuisinart over 30 years ago and it still works perfectly and looks great!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Linda – Good to know that your Cuisinart has lasted 30 years! :-) For tiered stands, I find most of mine at HomeGoods, TJ Maxx and Marshalls.

  3. Shawna Agajanian says:

    I don’t like clutter so I am always trying to hide appliances in the cupboards. The problem is things like the toaster get used everyday so I’m always pulling it out and putting it away…Maybe I should get one that looks pretty so I can leave it out! What an idea 🤔 😂 We are moving soon so I think it’s a good time to do a kitchen edit and really think about what I like to see along with what makes most sense to be out as functional. This time I think I’ll have a different perspective though! Thanks for the great ideas!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      HiShawna – I have the same problem with my toaster and have been thinking about buying a pretty one to keep out all the time – some are pretty expensive like this one that comes in so many different colors, https://amzn.to/3jnu2ye

      I may end up splurging on one since I do eat toast every day.

    2. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Again Shawna – I forgot to mention in my reply to your comment – I hope your move goes smoothly and enjoy your new home and getting to set it up in your own style.

  4. I’m staring at 2 new appliance boxes from Amazon Prime sale…an InstaPot and an Air Fryer, wondering how to keep my counters clear.

    I’m dairy and gluten free (autoimmune issues) and my husband is salt/sugar/oil free (Pritikin diet for heart issues). I detest cluttered counters but want the delight of a beautiful, serene, but efficient kitchen!?! I now
    think I have a plan.

    Thanks for the Forks not Knives info…I thought the same as you! I’ll check their magazine out for sure. If you like flavorful vegan foods, Nisha of PlantLife may be of interest to you (Instagram, YouTube, Blog).

    Thanks for such a timely post.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Gwen – It is good to hear that I was not the only one that thought the knife in the FOK logo was about cutting meat. :-) I have an InstaPot and use it a few times a week. I wish I had space to keep it out all the time. Thank you for the mention of the PlantLife site. I have never been and will check it out as I love finding new ideas and tips from other that eat a plant-based diet.

  5. Barbara B Pilcher says:

    Kudos to you for persevering until you found the perfect, lovely balance. I am sure you will change it with the seasons so it continues to bring your pleasure.

    My kitchen is about the same size as yours. I, too, placed a stainless table in the center, with two large cutting boards. There’s always room for a bowl of fruit or avocados or something else colorful. I don’t have a pantry so the bottom shelf I store the appliances I use but don’t want on the counters — popcorn maker, crockpot, blender, George Forman grill, Cuisinart processor, ice cream maker, bread machine. Instead of an overhead fan I have a pot rack over that table so saucepans and skillets are handy, but I do miss the ceiling fan I had in my last kitchen.

    My pretty stuff: Everyday wooden utensils in white hob nob ceramicware. And as I work at my prep table, I can look straight ahead at what would be a blank wall, but where we’ve installed a narrow shelf where I keep favorite family photos and something like flowers or a plant. I also use my windowsill for small momentos or flower buds in a tiny vase.

    It looks to me like you aren’t giving yourself much room on either side of your cooktop to have ingredients ready for a stir fry or a similar dish calling for multiple, prepped vegetables.

    Yes, if we are going to eat better, we have to enjoy the whole process. I always find the best cooks are the ones with the best appetites.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Barbara –

      Your kitchen sounds lovely. I love that you take pleasure in making it just right for your style and the way you work in the space. You are right in that I don’t have a lot of room on either side of my cooktop. I use the metal island/cart to hold all the ingredients I am cooking with. They are not even arms length away. When I dream up my kitchen design, it will surely have lots of counter space around the cooktop – like having a standalone cook top island. :-)

  6. I love how your cabinets go all the way to the ceiling. I wish I’d done that when we built our house. Mine are about 7 ” below the ceiling and while I use that for decorative items, I hate cleaning them. I finally had pieces of compressed foam core board cut to the size of the top of them. Then I can just take down the foam core, clean it and put it back up. I still hate cleaning them, but it’s easier than being on ladder trying to clean them.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Shannon – If it makes you feel any better about not having your cabinets go to the ceiling – know that the top shelves are impossible to reach. I have to keep a stool in my kitchen so I can get to the items stored on them. Your solution using the foam is a good one to lessen the area that needs to be cleaned on the top of yours. I wonder if there is perfect solution? :-)

  7. I had a Cuisinart food,processor for years. A year ago I upgraded to a Breville. I love the extra power it gives me. I use mine all the time to dice veggies, and I used it this morning to make the T. Colin Campbell bean burgers. I always double the recipe so I can freeze the extras. I have always wanted to get a big Boos cutting board, but how do you clean yours?

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Pam – I LOVE my Boos Block cutting board. It is the number one reason I think has helped me to eat plant based. It is so sturdy and makes it so easy to chop on. I keep it out on the island all the time. To clean it I used water and dish detergent. I rinse and dry. Once a week I put Boos Mystery Oil and Conditioner on it. It looks like new after I do this. You can also use any food grade cutting board oil. Here is what I use: https://amzn.to/3zWxWUl

      I have many good things about the Breville brand. I have been looking at their toasters as I am in need of a new one. I make a lot of bean burgers that the Vitamix just wasn’t able to mix evenly. I really didn’t want a new gadget, but it already has helped me batch more.

  8. I feel the same, I need some pretty elements in the kitchen. I’m too intimidated to use a food processor. Ours is so loud that when my hubby occasionally uses it I need to go to another room & shut the door! I have super sensitive ears & ear ringing so I try & avoid triggers. Thank you for sharing your plant based journey.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Holly – I can totally understand the noise. They are loud. The Vitamix sounds like a jet engine taking off. :-)

  9. Deborah A Hickman says:

    I love your blog. will you please post a full picture of your kitchen table and where you purchased it?

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Deborah – I recently made a new top for my kitchen table. You can read all about it and see lots of photos of it in this post: https://bit.ly/2Ut0EMj

  10. Diane,

    I love your ideas – you make due with what you have.

    Have a great day and hello to Ed.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Thanks Jane – I hope all is going well for you. I told Ed hi and he said to say Hello to you. XO