Kitchen designers are leaving the familiar behind and positioning typical appliances in unusual places. By doing this, designers are creating much more flexible kitchens that fit much better into a compact space.

In the photo (right), for example, the microwave/convection oven is not in an upper cabinet unit nor is it part of the overhead equipment above the range. Instead, it is included below the butcher-block prep area and opposite the refrigerator.

Thanks to the growing awareness of appliance manufacturers who are beginning to address space challenges, there are lots of things you might stash under the counter. Dishwashing, refrigerator and freezer drawers are becoming much more common in the United States. You can save a considerable amount of space by choosing one of these compact alternatives to full-size appliances.

You'll also notice that the two tiny counter units in the photo on either side of the fireplace are actually on casters. The concept of mobility is another rule-bender that allows furnishings to be moved around the kitchen in order to provide function where they are most needed. Mobile counter units can move right next to the range in order to provide needed prep space. In a kitchen with a bare minimum of countertop, such a concept can be the one thing that allows the space to work.

There are no upper cabinets in this kitchen so that the windows can be significantly larger than they otherwise would have been. That means that some storage space has been lost to this little kitchen, but the two mobile cabinets take up some of the slack.

Another novel idea used here is that of creating table-height in-kitchen eating instead of counter height. This is a boon to a smaller space because many bar stools have bulky designs, particularly if they swivel. Lowering the eating area and keeping it and the choice of chairs simple and light in feel make the whole room seem more see-through.

Even the appliance garage here is unusual in that it is recessed into the wall in the corner of the room. Typically, appliance garages fill in the space between upper and lower cabinets and create a bulky look.

Other pieces of equipment and materials can be used in creative ways to build a more open look: glass doors on wine chillers, under-counter refrigerators, glass blocks between the upper and lower cabinets to bring in light without sacrificing wall space, mirrors on backsplashes instead of tile or granite.

There is no list of rules that says you have to have a specific size of sink or a minimum size of an appliance. Of course, when you're making design choices it is a good idea to keep your home's resale value in mind. *

Christine Brun, ASID, is a San Diego-based interior designer and the author of "Big Ideas for Small Spaces." Send questions and comments to her by e-mail at