McClurg's Home Remodeling Blog

Is the Kitchen Work Triangle Still a Practical Design?

Posted by Vince Petralito on Tue, May 26, 2015

Have you ever noticed that the sink, refrigerator and stove in many kitchens form a triangle? It's not a coincidence. In the 1950s, the University of Illinois conducted a study to determine the most "sensible" kitchen design for a four person home. Researchers concluded the most efficient way for a cook to work was to organize a kitchen's three dominant food preparation areas into a "work triangle."

The concept caught on and is still used by kitchen designers today. Small kitchens can work as well as large kitchens when functionality is achieved through applying the basic principles of the kitchen work triangle.

The kitchen work triangle is defined by the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) as an imaginary straight line drawn from the center of the sink, to the center of the cooktop, to the center of the refrigerator and finally back to the sink. The NKBA suggests the following guidelines for determining a work triangle:

  • The sum of the work triangle's three sides should not exceed 26 feet and each leg should measure between 4 feet and 9 feet.
  • The work triangle should not cut through an island or peninsula by more than 12 inches.
  • If the kitchen has only one sink, it should be placed between or across from the cooking surface, preparation area or refrigerator.

Kitchen Work Triangle

Even within an intricate design the work triangle is still relevant. This kitchen has many amenities including a built-in refrigerator, commercial range, custom stone hood and a back area that includes a café bar. The café room is space that was set aside for the coffee machine, microwave and a small copper sink. A multi-functional island that includes the sink, dishwasher and trash bin separates the kitchen and the great room.

As kitchens have grown in size and with more appliances, the traditional kitchen work triangle may not be practical for all kitchen floor plans. For example, galley kitchens use a different configuration to optimize efficiency. Most modern kitchens have a microwave oven, coffee maker and dishwasher (a luxury item in 1950s). Other appliances may include double ovens, wall ovens, range hoods or down drafts, wine coolers and even TVs and computers.

When thinking about the design of your kitchen space consider the following:

1. Select your appliances first.

Factor the dimensions into the design. Consider clearances for opening doors of appliances. Double door refrigerators with freezer drawers will need clearance space as do dishwashers and oven doors. Be sure your design works with the appliances you want before you actually purchase the appliances.

White Kitchen with Island

Large upscale appliances selected for this kitchen were placed in a “triangle.” Granite countertops, custom mission-style cherry cabinetry, tile flooring and the stainless steel appliances give this kitchen a warm rich look.

2. Include work aisles in the plan.

Optimally, keep aisles 42-to-48 inches wide.

Custom Cherry Kitchen

Wide aisles make this kitchen a place where more than one cook can work. Modern elements include a six-burner gas cooktop, built-in refrigerator, a custom wood painted range hood and double ovens. An island with a prep sink adds function and style to the space.

3.  Each work triangle area should have adequate counter space.

A sink area should have about 36 inches of space or more. There should be counter space near a refrigerator for gathering items, and space near a cooktop to place ingredients and allow pans to cool down.

kitchen with central island

Deep counters and an island provide ample counter space in this exquisite kitchen. A sink installed on the island is the central point of the kitchen’s “work triangle.” The posts on the island not only complement the cabinetry but one conceals a load-bearing support.

4.  Place appropriate storage space near each work area.

Pantry storage should be near the refrigerator. Storage for pots and pans should be near the cooktop and storage for mixing bowls and spices should be near the sink/prep area.

5.  A receptacle for trash should be placed near the sink, not under it.

A trash pullout is more functional when placed to the right of the sink.

Kitchen for the Home Cook

This kitchen was designed with the home cook in mind and uses the traditional “work triangle” layout for efficiency. A deep Blanco granite double sink makes cleanup of large bowls, dishes and cooking sheets a breeze. A pullout trash bin is located near the sink and dishwasher. The GE Monogram gas range includes a grill and reversible burner grates for wok cooking. A Frigidaire double door refrigerator with a pullout freezer drawer completes the triangle. There is a pullout pantry located next to the refrigerator. The island provides plenty of surface area for food prep, storage and seating for two or three.

6.  Finally, if you're planning to renovate a kitchen consider working with a kitchen designer.

There are many factors to consider which might be overlooked by a do-it-yourselfer. A kitchen designer will help you plan a kitchen that is efficient, functional and that fits your lifestyle and budget.

Discuss some of the principles we’ve outlined here when you meet with a designer. Taking the time to address all of the details will help to optimize your investment in your home and the way your kitchen meets your needs.

How to Plan a Kitchen Remodeling Project Guide

Topics: Kitchens, Kitchen Design

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