Kitchen Shape Considerations

In kitchen geometry, the work triangle is the shape that connects the sink, cooktop, and refrigerator. The work triangle is the functional center of every kitchen.

Studies have shown that in the most efficient kitchens, the three legs of the work triangle add up to at least 12 feet but no more than 23 feet. Of course, your kitchen's basic shape and size will influence the type of work triangle that fits best. Regardless of the perimeter shape of the room, most kitchens are organized around one of several basic kitchen layouts, each with its own type of triangle. One's right for you!

Peninsula dining on an angle leaves the kitchen triangle clear.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Peninsula dining on an angle leaves the kitchen triangle clear.

  • U-Shape: This shape puts the stove, fridge, and sink each on a different wall and offers a very compact triangle that lets you prepare a meal while walking the shortest distance. It works best with the sink (the most-used element) in the center of the "U" and the fridge at one end of a run of counters to avoid breaking up a work surface. This shape works well in a kitchen that's nearly square or in a kitchen where you want to tightly define one end of a larger space as the basic work area, with an island set in the open end of the "U," perhaps fronting onto the family room or breakfast room.

  • L-Shape: This shape uses two walls of the kitchen for the three points of the work triangle. Often, the fridge is at one end of the long leg of the "L," the sink is toward the center of the same wall, and the stove is perpendicular, on the short leg of the "L." In contrast to the U-shape kitchen, the "L" has a long, rather than a short, wall facing into the rest of the room. Room traffic does not cross into the triangle, and, since this design uses only two walls, the triangle is long and relatively narrow, allowing for a more open layout. This setup is well-suited to a large room where the kitchen shares space with a family room. Additional counterspace may further lengthen one leg of the "L."

  • G-Shape: This shape features one appliance on each of two walls and the third appliance on a peninsula that separates the work area from an adjoining breakfast area or family room. If housing the cooktop in the accessible peninsula worries you (for safety reasons), you can always put the sink there instead and locate the cooktop on a full wall within the kitchen itself. Alternatively, put the cooktop on the peninsula, but create a safety margin by making the peninsula a tiered affair, with the cooktop at least six inches lower than the serving ledge.
Whatever your plan, the sink should take central position if at all possible, as it's used more often than either the refrigerator or the stove. If you locate the sink on the same wall as the stove, with the main work area in the middle, you won't drip water on the floor when you go from the sink to the cooktop. When placing the refrigerator, make sure the single-door model, when open, faces into the work triangle, not out of it.

Be sure you've allotted ample counterspace right next to any appliance: You'll want to set down heavy grocery bags near the fridge and slippery wet crystal next to the sink. It's especially important to have enough space (an absolute minimum width of 18 inches, and preferably 24 to 36 inches) right next to the cooktop, range, and oven, and on at least the opening side of the microwave and fridge. If you're using laminate countertops elsewhere in the kitchen, use heat-resistant mate-rial, such as ceramic tile, to create "landing space" near cooking appliances.

Great Little Galleys

Kitchens that work in small or narrow spaces deserve mention because they're able to fit the same essentials -- stove, sink, fridge, work surfaces, and cabinets--into what are often pretty snug situations. Named for the food preparation areas of ships, galley kitchens come in a couple of styles.

  • Corridor. This shape puts two points of the triangle on one wall and the third point on the opposite wall (most often the sink and the stove are placed on the same wall, with the fridge opposite). The length of the room will determine how much space there will be for cabinets and work surfaces.

    Corridor kitchens are often used where there is no other pathway to the next room and the traffic flows right through the work triangle. While this configuration is a step-saving solution, for safety as well as efficiency this setup should be avoided if at all possible, as should any design that allows household traffic to break into the triangle.

  • One-Wall. This shape lines up the fridge, sink, and stove on one wall. It foregoes the step-saving convenience the triangle affords, as the user needs to walk farther from one end of the kitchen to the other, especially if there is to be adequate countertop space. A popular solution is to station one or more islands opposite the wall of appliances. If wiring can be added in the floor, the island can be stationed near the refrigerator and can hold the microwave and other small appliances.

    A tiered island allows for some simple types of food prep on the lower, kitchen side and a snack counter on the higher side, facing into the adjoining room. A one-wall kitchen is a practical choice for tiny spaces. It also can be tucked conveniently behind closed doors in a wall alcove, so it's great for second kitchens in recreation rooms, studios, or even master suites.
Next, we will look at a popular kitchen design choice -- the eat-in kitchen. We'll explore the pros and cons in the next section.