7 ELEMENTS TO CONSIDER WHEN DESIGNING A FUNCTIONAL KITCHEN LAYOUT

Erica Dean | Kitchen Designer | Dean Cabinetry
By Erica Dean

Why is the layout of my kitchen important?

Thinking deeply about the organization of your kitchen is an important process in any remodeling or “from-scratch” project.

Your kitchen is the central hub of your house. It brings family and friends together for talking, cooking, eating, and having fun. A well-developed layout will help to foster a warm and welcoming atmosphere. 

It is important to create a kitchen layout that is beautiful, comfortable, functional, and efficient. Having an attractive look is a major component, but it will do little if your layout is not workable. 

functional kitchen layout
Kitchen Layout of a Dean Cabinetry Custom Kitchen

How should I lay out my kitchen?

Each of the descriptions below will help you learn what to keep in mind when planning your kitchen layout. The most important thing to remember, however, is that your kitchen should be comfortable and functional for you and your family’s lifestyle.

1. The Kitchen Triangle

The “kitchen triangle”, also known as the “working” or “golden triangle” concerns the relationship between three major kitchen components: the sink, the cooktop or range, and the refrigerator. These are three areas of your kitchen that will receive the majority of your focused attention.

According to the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA), each leg of the triangle should measure between 4 and 9 feet long. The sum distance should not be less than 13 or greater than 26 feet.

Each length of the triangle represents a flow of traffic from one appliance to another. An ideal flow may involve an individual rotating between cooking at the stove, prepping food at the sink and the surrounding counter space, and gathering supplies from the refrigerator.

This style is meant to make preparation and cooking easier. It helps to minimize walking distance between the key appliances.

Although standard in kitchen design, the “kitchen triangle” is simply a guideline and not a strict rule. Some of the most important considerations to take into account are your lifestyle and functional needs. For example, those who like to purchase prepared foods may want their refrigeration near the range and microwave. They may not necessarily need the sink and preparation areas as close to the fridge as the cooking appliances.

Kitchen Triangle
The Kitchen Triangle Functional Design

2. Working Zones

Many modern kitchens have an open layout. With these designs, using the “kitchen triangle” idea to pull three major components close together is not always the optimal solution. Instead, a better idea may be to think in terms of working “zones.” 

The idea of work “zones” is a kind of evolution of the “kitchen triangle” concept. It involves grouping together cabinets and appliances that will be used for similar purposes.

For example, a preparation zone may include drawers for knives, peelers, other cutlery, a large counter space, and the trash.

The cleaning / dish zone may include the sink, dishwasher, and cabinet storage for plates, bowls, cups, mugs, silverware, and other eating utensils. This way, you can easily transition from rinsing, to putting items in the dishwasher, to putting them away for future usage.

Another zone could include a wet bar and storage space for entertainment purposes. This could include items such as paper plates, plastic cups, alcohol, mixing tools, and other party supplies.

This idea is great for people who have certain specialties over others. For example, someone who prefers baking over cooking might put a larger focus on the area for holding their baking sheets, measuring cups and spoons, and mixing utensils. They would design these cabinets to be located near the oven.

Working Zones
Beverage Area Work Zone in Dean Cabinetry Custom Kitchen

3. The Sink

When creating a new kitchen layout, a common practice designers have is to place the sink first and organize the room around it.

Traditionally, the sink is located under the window. Many people prefer to have lots of light and a view near the sink because it is an area in the kitchen in which they spend a great deal of time.

Depending on the layout of the room, the sink can sometimes be placed along a wall, rather than by a window. This is a difficult concept for many clients, especially if they’ve never experienced it before. With under cabinet lighting, this location can be a very bright option, and a wonderful location for your sink.

It is often a good idea to avoid placing the main sink in the island to reduce the buildup of clutter, dirty dishes, and clean, drying dishes. The island is generally where family members and guests will congregate. Therefore, it is smart to keep any grime out of sight and out of mind. You could have a second, smaller prep sink in the island that is mainly used for water or preparing simple items. This would help maintain a cleaner, more sleek look.

Additionally, when remodeling kitchens, the sink will often remain in the same position as the previous layout. This is done to avoid redirecting the existing plumbing. 

For more information on sink placement, read my blog: Where to Place Your Kitchen Sink.

Kitchen Sink
Kitchen Layout Around Sink View in a Dean Cabinetry Semi-Custom Kitchen

4. Entertainment

While not a physical element of the kitchen, entertainment is an important consideration when designing the layout of your kitchen.

Keep in mind where people will gather and how you want to present certain areas of your kitchen. For example, the island is a great place to gather. Since there will often be people standing or sitting at the island, some cooks enjoy keeping the sink away, and instead, having the cooktop in the island. This allows the cook to face guests while working, and entertain through their cooking.

Kitchen Entertainment Area
Cooktop in Kitchen Island Layout in Dean Cabinetry Custom Kitchen

5. Walkways

Imagine how people will flow through the kitchen. Make sure to avoid placing elements, such as the island, in ways that might block these pathways.

Passageways through the kitchen should be at least 36 inches wide for one person, and 42 inch wide for two people walking. For two people cooking or prepping, 42-48 inches would be ideal to allow for additional space to work. Also consider how open appliance doors might interrupt the flow. 

Countertops also should not be too far from each other. This helps to avoid situations like dripping across the floor or having to carry hot or heavy pots large distances.

Consider the main areas in which people will gather. This affects how you could create an atmosphere for entertaining, or how crowds might interrupt the processes of cooking. For example, no major traffic patterns should flow through the “kitchen triangle” because it would make working difficult and messy.

Flow through the kitchen is also important for movement into other spaces in the house such as the living and dining rooms. The shape and placement of the island or other cabinets could interfere with the steady flow of traffic from the kitchen into these other rooms and vice versa.

kitchen walkways
Layout Spacing in Dean Cabinetry Stock Kitchen

6. Counter and Island Space

Make sure to keep in mind that you will need ample counter space around your appliances.

Your cooking surface should have at least 12 to 15 inches of countertop space on each side of the cooktop. This will help to simplify the transition between preparation and cooking.

The refrigerator should have a good amount of countertop space nearby for loading groceries and grabbing food for preparation. The counter space could either be directly next to or behind the fridge.

Counter and Island Space
Countertop Space Near Refrigerator in Dean Cabinetry Stock Kitchen

7. Seating

Think about who will be in your kitchen, and how you will use it other than for cooking and cleaning. Will you serve food on the island? Will you eat dinner at the countertop? Will your children sit on the chairs or stools to do their homework?

When seating adults, allow a space of 24 inches per person for dining. Leave 12 inches of knee space with 42 inch counters, 15 inches for 36 inch counters, and 18 inches for 30 inch counters.

It is also standard to leave 36-60 inches behind the seating (measure from the countertop edge to the wall or cabinet behind) for walking.

kitchen seating
Seating Spacing Around Kitchen Island in Dean Cabinetry Semi-Custom Kitchen

The most important thing to remember is that you should choose elements that will work best with your lifestyle and your functional needs. Design your layout in a way that will make you happy and comfortable!

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