Work Triangles and Work Zones: Designing for Kitchen Efficiency

July 29, 2019

If you’ve never heard of work triangles and work zones, we’re about to make your day.

The Kitchen Work Triangle is a tried-and-true kitchen design that helps you plan the most efficient work space possible with clear lanes for traffic. To better understand the concept, imagine a triangle that connects your cooktop, your sink, and your refrigerator. These three pieces make up the work triangle. Ideally, each leg should measure between four to nine feet to allow someone working in the kitchen to easily reach their cooking, cleaning, and food storage areas with no interruptions or crowding.

But here’s the real question: how does someone create the perfect work triangle? By following a few basic design guidelines, you too can enjoy this functionally ideal kitchen set up.

  1. As mentioned, each leg of the triangle should measure 4’-9’.
  2. The sum of the three sides of the triangle should not exceed 26’.
  3. No one side of the triangle should cut through a kitchen island or peninsula by more than 12”.
  4. No major traffic patterns should cross through the triangle.
  5. A second triangle can be created by adding a second sink to a kitchen island or fourth wall peninsula. This is a great way to create space for specialty work like baking or vegetable prep.

An important thing to remember, however: while the work triangle is a fantastic utilitarian design option, it originated during the 1940s — a period when kitchen efficiency was absolutely essential to completing one’s daily to-do list. Modern kitchens are often much larger by comparison. If your kitchen is more akin to an open concept, multi-functional space, adopting the Kitchen Work Zones approach may better fit your needs.

Creating your Kitchen Work Zones starts with understanding your family’s needs. For many families, ideal zones are as follows:

  1. Consumables Zone. This is the place where you store the majority of your groceries. Create this zone by trying to keep your primary pantry and refrigerator close to one another.
  2. Non-Consumables Zone. This zone is where you’ll store all your non-food kitchen necessities. For most, this means silverware, tableware, utensils, etc. This may also include extras like cookbooks, scissors, rolling pins, and other specialty items. Much of your non-consumables zone can be confined to drawers and upper cabinets.
  3. Cleaning Zone. The cleaning zone typically revolves around the sink. Depending on your setup, it should ideally also include the dishwasher, garbage, recycling, and household cleaning items. Installing waste cabinets near the sink creates a convenient space to help keep your kitchen tidy.
  4. Preparation Zone. Food preparation requires quick access to knives, cutting boards, mixing bowls, measuring cups, and the like. It also often requires a substantial amount of clear counter space. Storage options like base drawers and roll out shelves are extremely helpful in creating a clear prep space.
  5. Cooking Zone. Just as the cleaning zone revolves around your sink, the cooking zone revolves around your oven, cooktop, and microwave. Store pots, pans, and bakeware nearby for easy access.

Beyond these basics, it’s best to think of how you cook. Does it make more sense for your cookbook to be over here? Should you keep one towel on hand for minor spills? It’s your space, so don’t be afraid to customize it according to your needs.

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