As you begin to make more detailed plans
from your preliminary sketches, you want to be sure you will be making a
highly functional kitchen, one that will be pleasant, efficient, and
physically comfortable to work in. Finding good-quality and appropriate
cabinets, appliances, doors, and other items is important. But putting
them in just the right configuration, with just the right dimensions, is
even more crucial. Kitchen researchers and designers, beginning in the
1920s, developed some useful concepts for making these choices. Here are
some of the ideas that I have found most useful.
Don't assume the window has to be over the sink; you may want storage
there. The window can be above the main work counter or elsewhere.
In a tight space, inches matter. A 30-in.-wide mix-center counter feels
much bigger than a 27-in. one, and a 33-in. one feels positively huge.
If passageways are narrow, recessing the refrigerator 3 in. can make a
big difference. Taking pains over small dimensions will definitely pay
What can go wrong
Often a tight kitchen layout will work perfectly for most meals but show
its limitations when cooking an elaborate meal for a big group. If so,
sometimes a drop-leaf or a rolling cart can be mobilized for more work
area, or the kitchen table can become a temporary workplace
1. The “work center” concept
the most important of these concepts is that of the work center, which
goes back to the early days of industrial engineering and the work of
Frank Gilbreth. The basic idea is that any work station—whether a
carpenter’s bench or a kitchen work area—should be set up to accommodate
the specific details of the work to be performed. Work surfaces should
be placed at the correct height and made of the most appropriate
materials. Tools and supplies that go with the work should be handy but
not in the way. And the best and most convenient storage locations
should be allocated to the tools and supplies used most frequently.
I often start with the cleanup
center. It has, of course, a sink, usually (but not always) 25 in. or 33
in. wide. There is at least a 2-ft.-wide counter on one side for dirty
dishes, and a similar 20-in. or wider counter on the other side for a
drainboard. A dishwasher is 24 in. wide; in most new kitchens, a space
for it will be needed beneath one of these side counters.
For some very tidy cooks, this
food-prep center can be as little as 30 in. wide but more often is 36
in. to 60 in. wide. It should be handy to both sink and stove. It might
be an island, but it’s often a counter between cleanup and cooking. It
can’t be the same as the counters at the sink, which are routinely
covered with dishes, nor any other counter that’s occupied by a
microwave, big mixer, or other gear.
Most stoves are 30 in. wide,
though some commercial models are 36 in. or more. If a hood is desired,
it’s helpful (though not essential) to have the stove on or near an
outside wall. The cooking center should have its own counter. This
counter should be at least two feet wide, preferably more. It is often
the place where a second cook can work.
Don’t position the side of a stove right up against a wall. The heat
from the burners can burn the wall. Also, avoid a location adjacent to a
hallway or walking space, where kids or others walking by might
accidentally knock over a hot pan. If the stove is in an island or a
peninsula, make sure it is protected at the rear, either with a raised
back or by a counter at least 9 in. wide.
Although the refrigerator is
sometimes included with one or another work center, it makes more sense
to think of it as a separate element. A refrigerator is big and bulky,
so it doesn’t work well in the middle of a run of cabinets. It’s usually
placed at the end of a run, sometimes in combination with a tall pantry
unit of some kind (see the drawing on p. 21). It’s important to have
some counter space nearby to place shopping bags on for loading the
If I can include all of these essential elements on my plan, I know a good layout will be possible.
2. The food-flow idea
When possible, it’s
good to locate the work centers in the right sequence, based on the way
food is processed. To oversimplify, food comes in the back door, gets
stored in a pantry or the fridge, gets taken out again, is washed up at
the sink, chopped up at the mix center, cooked, then served. If the work
centers are more or less in that order, kitchen work will be easier,
with fewer wasted steps.
A small kitchen has advantages; less walking back and forth makes food preparation both easier and faster.
Sometimes storage can be recessed into walls. For example, a pantry can be as
little as 5 in. to 7 in. deep.
3. Standard kitchen layoutsMost of us are
familiar with the standard kitchen layouts that have evolved: the U, L,
galley, one-wall, island, and peninsula. The peninsula, I suppose, is
simply any layout without a wall behind some of the cabinets, while both
the peninsula and island schemes can be thought of as variations on the
U-layout. Although there are endless variations and elaborations, most
kitchens fall into one of these models.
U-layouts make a lot of sense. They concentrate a complete work area in a
compact space, with little through traffic. The peninsula and island
versions allow for sociability, and they often connect the workspace to
the dining or family space nearby.
The L-layout is simple, handy, and efficient. It’s also compact in a
special sense. Where the U-layout requires a distinct space of its own,
an L-shaped kitchen can be simply the edge of a larger space. For that
reason a small space often calls for an L-layout. The galley layout is quite efficient if the aisle is 3 ft. to 5
ft. wide. The disadvantage is that the aisle is usually a traffic lane,
which can disrupt the cook. The one-wall layout is not ideal; it
results in a lot of walking and would be used where a better option is
4. The work-triangle test
The work triangle,
devised in the early 1950s as a test for kitchen layouts in
government-financed housing, specifies an optimal relationship between
the sink, stove, and refrigerator. The idea is that if these are too far
apart, there will be needless extra steps while cooking. If they are
too close together, work centers will overlap, and you’ll have to
constantly walk around the appliances to get to your work area.
pantry this size can be buried in the wall. I have often recessed
refrigerators, shelf units, and microwaves into walls to save space.
5. The power-kitchen ideaIn kitchen
remodeling, it’s sometimes impossible to devise a perfect layout. This
has been true of many of the houses I’ve lived in and fixed up. But
there is another insight from kitchen research that I’ve found useful.
Most of the little journeys in cooking are from the sink to the mix
center and back, from the stove to the mix center and back, or between
the sink and stove. There are significantly fewer trips to the fridge,
table, pantry, or back door. That means that if you can establish a mix
center or main work counter that is within about two or three steps of
both sink and stove, and maybe even directly between them, the kitchen
can be efficient, even if other features of the layout are less than
Put another way, you can live with having the fridge, pantry, or table a
short walk away, or having the basic units out of the ideal “food-flow”
order. But if the main work counter is a hike from the sink or stove,
or if those appliances are too widely spaced, your kitchen will be
inconvenient to use no matter what else you do.
To read the entire article click here.
Sam Clark has been a designer-builder for over
25 years, specializing in kitchen design, accessible design, and
cabinetmaking. Photos by Andrew Kline; drawings by: Mario Ferro; From Build Like a Pro: Remodeling a Kitchen.