Martha's Best Kitchen Organizing Tips Will Help You Make the Most of Your Space

Photo: Francois Dischinger

If you're looking to design a truly functional kitchen, there are a few rules Martha suggests you follow. At the top of her list? Use every inch of space available to you. According to Martha, using shelving in place of upper cabinets can help make the room feel lighter and airier. "I use everything in my kitchen regularly, and shelves make it all accessible," Martha says. "These nearly reach the ceiling, putting underused space to work."

Beyond shelving, Martha has many tips for creating a kitchen that's both practical and stylish—from making the most of your island to folding your linens. The possibilities for transforming your kitchen into an appealing and practical space are seemingly endless. Here, Martha is sharing the kitchen design and organization ideas she has used in her homes over the years.

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Group Like Pieces for Easy Access

black, white, and copper kitchen
Paola + Murray

When it came time to update the kitchen in the Maple House, a two-story, 1970s ranch-like home on the northernmost part of Martha's farm, she took a restrained approach, as opposed to a gut re-do. On the organization front, much of the kitchen was in tip-top shape, so she kept her storage system in place. She stuck to open shelving, so items remained easy to see and access. Crocks continue to hold her frequently used wooden utensils and an overhead rack keeps additional pans together and ready for use. A dash of charcoal paint make her mini collections stand out: "I painted the cabinets and wood-work black and the walls white, which I think makes the room feel bigger and more modern," Martha says.

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Curate and Display Prized Items

plate rack with antique copper dishes
Paola + Murray

Creating functional systems in your kitchen is essential, but Martha knows that a moment of streamlined, decorative beauty has its benefits, too. Case in point? This antique oak plate rack, which Martha had in storage. It fits nicely above one of the two sinks and allows a curated display of antique copper dishes to bright the area.

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Shelving Supports

Ditte Isager

Martha considered every corner of her kitchen in Bedford, New York, right down to the shelving supports. "I like 'bird's beak' supports, an old carpentry style with notches that let shelves slide in and out," Martha says. The look is streamlined with no holes and no hardware.

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Time-Saving Stations


Everything Martha needs for a perfect cup of coffee or tea is all in one place. The espresso machine is on the counter; assorted cups, French presses, and teapots are on the shelves above. She keeps everyday flatware and teas in the drawers below. Fresh coffee beans are stored in electric grinders next to the espresso machine.

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Kitchen Islands

Ditte Isager

An island provides a central spot to work and eat. Martha doubles the functionality and flexibility with a pair of marble-topped islands, one on wheels and one stationary. She can use one for prep work and the other to seat guests for an informal meal. "I also push the rolling island up to the stationary one for buffets," Martha says. For best results, Martha aims for an island to be at least 4 feet long and 2 1/2 feet wide, with a working space of at least 3 feet around the island itself when possible.

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Hanging Rack

Ditte Isager

Using a rack will save so much space in your cabinets—and make your pots and pans easier to find. Martha hangs her cookware above the stationary island near the range.

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Customized Storage

island shelving storage and outlets
Ditte Isager

Decide what you want to keep in the islands, and plan the space accordingly. "Upright steel slats provide perfect spots for heavy baking sheets," Martha says. She also has drawers for aprons and utensils, deep shelves for platters, books, and pet supplies, and small cubbies for towels and other items. Mounted hooks put towels on the sides of the islands, just where you always want them, and gives purpose to an unused space.

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Kitchen Baskets and Bins

Ditte Isager

Corral various items on open shelves using sleek containers. These baskets add warmth and texture to the room, while the gray trays are simple and stylish. Add adhesive pads on the bottom so they slide smoothly.

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Uncluttered Displays

Ditte Isager

By all means, keep out the items you use often or enjoy looking at. Martha keeps fruits, vegetables, and eggs, as well as a collection of mortars and pestles, on the counter. Ensure there is plenty of room to work, however, so you don't have to rearrange things when it's time to get cooking.

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Kitchen Cutting Board

cutting boards and wood utensils
Olga Peshkova / GETTY IMAGES

A large, white commercial cutting board sits on the marble countertop, so there's always a place to chop, prepare food, or place a hot pot. A nonskid pad beneath it keeps it from sliding.

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Glass Kitchen Cabinets

Ditte Isager

In what she calls a "servery"—it's used for washing and storing dinnerware—Martha said she wanted a storage option that felt like furniture and not simple cabinetry. "This apothecary-like glass case, one of a pair, provides the solution," she says. Light shines through it, opening up the small room and glinting off the glasses and dishes inside.

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Everyday Flatware

Ditte Isager

Martha prefers drawer organizers that feature rectangular compartments for the French ivory flatware that she uses daily. You can find silverware organizers of a similar design at many retailers.

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Office Supplies

Ditte Isager

These office supplies aren't not for cooking—but don't you always suddenly need a pen, scissors, a ruler, or a stamp when you're in the kitchen? Among Martha's drawer essentials are a label maker as well as tags and twine for gifts.

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Hardware Basics

Ditte Isager

Devote a drawer to the things you need most, such as lightbulbs, batteries, extension cords, and feet pads for chair legs, as Martha does in her kitchen.

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Cake- and Cookie-Decorating Supplies

Ditte Isager

Martha keeps pastry bags, biscuit cutters, icing tips, and frosting combs neatly tucked away in a drawer. Most baking essentials are easily accessible in clear plastic boxes that can be later rearranged if necessary.

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Wooden Tools

Ditte Isager

Rolling pins share a drawer with mallets, salad servers, and springerle molds for cookies. If you're particularly fond of your rolling pins, you can showcase them by hanging them on hooks attached to the bottom of your kitchen's shelves.

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Zesters, Graters, and Peelers

zesters, graters, peelers in drawer
Ditte Isager

An assortment of graters lets you get just the right texture from citrus peel, cheese, and more. These tools are sharp—give them their own drawer so you don't nick yourself.

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Tea Supplies

Ditte Isager

Be ready to make the perfect cup of tea on the fly with strainers, tea balls, honey dippers, and special tea leaves all conveniently stored in one drawer.

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Napkin Rings and Chopstick Rests

Ditte Isager

Grouped in plastic bins, porcelain, silver, and ivory accessories are collected in one drawer, so they're easy to find when it's time to set the table.

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Protect Silver Flatware

Ditte Isager

Rest silver flatware in a single layer on fabric—no dividers or stacking necessary. "Shallow drawers lined with tarnish-controlling flannel provide the right environment for silver," Martha says.

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Skewers and Picks

Ditte Isager

It's no secret that Martha loves to entertain. For this reason, she keeps a variety of serving pieces handy for hors d'oeuvres. Bundle each kind with a rubber band or a snippet of string.

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Ditte Isager

If you're low on counter space, consider storing your knives in a wooden block designed to fit in a drawer, like Martha does here.

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First-Aid Kit

Ditte Isager

The kitchen can be the command center in most homes, which means it's one of the places where everyday accidents may occur. For this reason, it's best to keep basic first-aid supplies there. Martha arranges a few must-have essentials in compact yet durable plastic containers.

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Dish Towels

Ditte Isager

Don't keep your dish towels in a linen closer far away from your kitchen—instead store them in a nearby drawer. "You can't have enough soft, absorbent white cloths," Martha says. "They should be neatly folded and stacked for easy access."

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Small Hand Tools

Ditte Isager

Keep miscellaneous kitchen tools, like measuring cups, can openers, and offset spatulas in one drawer together. Use wire baskets as dividers to keep the space tidy.

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Rolling Cart

Ditte Isager

A cart provides storage where you need it. Martha usually parks this stainless steel one, with tools for cooking, by her range. A small freestanding island on wheels can serve the same purpose and is especially useful in a tight kitchen—it provides a work surface and a casual sideboard. "By adding a custom-cut marble top, a rolling cart can also be used as a bar when entertaining," Martha says.

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Pantry Staples

Ditte Isager

You don't need a walk-in pantry to keep things neat—Martha doesn't have one. Instead, she devotes a tall cabinet to nonperishables, grouped according to use and cuisine. Shelves are labeled and lined with custom-cut stainless steel sheeting, which protects the cabinetry and is easy to clean.

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Sink Basin

kitchen sink with gold faucet
Addie Juell

A sink basin gives you ample room for cleaning dishes. "Use a plastic bin for soaking or soaping to save water," Martha says. The plastic is also more forgiving than a hard sink should you drop a dish. When you're washing a lot of very fragile items by hand, such as crystal stemware, lining the sink with a terry towel also does the trick.

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Handy Outlets

island shelving storage and outlets
Ditte Isager

Electrical outlets near the top of the island allow you to use small appliances easily, without the cord getting in the way.

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Kitchen Faucet

Ditte Isager

High gooseneck faucets make it easy to fill large pots and vase—and to maneuver things in and out of the sink. Keep a small tray nearby to keep hand soap and lotions ready.

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Sneak In More Shelves

Ditte Isager

Thin shelves—these are antique milk glass—add storage without feeling heavy or imposing, even in a tight spot. These hold teapots and spices (the metal tins keep light out so spices last longer). "In a kitchen, unused wall space is wasted space," Martha says.

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Counter Wall

Ditte Isager

Adding a side "wall" to a counter can be helpful. At Martha's pastry station, there's a marble bracket with a graceful silhouette, echoing the wooden ones in the room. It keeps flour from flying onto the floor and prevents things from being knocked off the counter when people walk through the door.

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Sponges, Brushes, and Scrubbers

Ditte Isager

Martha collects vintage enamel holders, which were originally used for soap and sponges in bathrooms. She mounts them by sinks to hold sponges, brushes, and scrubbers.

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Kitchen Bins

Ditte Isager

Large metal bins for garbage and recyclables sit at each end of the island (food scraps go into smaller pails for composting). You may wish to have pull-out trash cans located behind cabinet doors, but Martha says these are easier and cleaner to use. Simply step on the pedal to open your trash can without touching anything that's soiled.

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Step Ladder

hidden step-ladder

Keep a stepladder in the kitchen—if you've maximized your space, you'll need one for reaching the highest shelves. Store it in a bottom drawer to keep it out of sight and out of the way.

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Kitchen Lighting


In addition to tall windows, Martha has a glass-paned kitchen door. Translucent, lightweight shades can be lowered for some privacy, while still letting daylight through. Martha also advises that under cabinet lighting can brighten dim kitchen counters. Dimmers on fixtures let you control the amount of light and increase energy efficiency.

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Pet Care

organized dog jackets
Ditte Isager

Martha's dogs spend a lot of time in the kitchen with her. When they head out for walks, it's usually through the kitchen door. As such, Martha keeps their sweaters and coats in a basket on a shelf under the island. A shallow drawer keeps coiled leashes from getting tangled.

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Pet Food Storage

pet food pantry

She devotes pantry space to dry pet food, which she transfers from the bulky bags into stackable airtight plastic containers. Labels are crucial for keeping them straight, as bowls and cans are stacked nearby in see-through bins to make mealtime painless. "I have three dogs, five cats, and 22 canaries," Martha says. "So, it's important to be organized."

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Pet Meal Bowls

Ditte Isager

Martha's cats have their own buffet in the servery. Several dishes are lined up in a long tray, which catches any spills so food doesn't end up on the floor.

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Kitchen Safety

red fire extinguisher on wall for safety

Martha keeps two fire extinguishers in the kitchen—look for ones designed for the kitchen or multipurpose ones for the home. Read the instructions so you're prepared, and test the devices according to the directions. Keep them by exits, and remember that safe evacuation is always the priority.

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