Ask anyone with a poorly laid out kitchen and they will tell you how frustrating it is to work in a space that doesn’t flow well. If things are out of reach or in the way and you are constantly running from one appliance or place to the next, you are working inefficiently.
Achieving the perfect workflow in your kitchen can be done by creating both a proper work triangle (that includes your refrigerator, sink, and cooktop) and by organizing the space into five basic kitchen zones (cooking, cleaning, prep, food storage,non-consumables storage). Planning your kitchen with these two methods will make for a functional kitchen that will be easy- and dare I say fun- to work in.
What Is The Work Triangle?
The work triangle is based on a concept from the 1920s and was further developed to the present theory in the 1940s by researchers at the University of Illinois School of Architecture with the purpose of maximizing efficiency in the kitchen. Though it should be quite a simple one to follow, many people still- how shall I say it mildly- mess it up. We don’t want that for your kitchen so let’s break it down.
First, the working triangle includes your:
Second, these three should be organized in a triangle such that the sink is in the centre.
Third, and this is a crucial one, and the one people most often fail at, the distance between the three needs to be no less than 4 feet (1.2 metres) and no greater than 9 feet (2.7 metres). The total length of the three triangle sides should be between 13 feet (4 metres) and 26 feet (7.9 metres).
Fourth, no appliances or cabinetry should intersect any of the triangle sides.
Five, there should not be any major traffic through the triangle. For example, the route to the table or breakfast bar should not be passing by the sink.
Why Apply The Triangle Theory?
When you think about it, the order the triangle follows makes perfect sense. You start making a meal by assembling your ingredients, which usually means going to your refrigerator. You then wash and prep the ingredients, and this is at your sink. Then you need to cook the food, which is usually at your cooktop.
There are the in-between tasks where you need to go back and forth between the work triangle to pull more items and put things away as go. If this distance is too big you will be wasting valuable time running around or having difficulty getting things in and out of spaces due to poor organization. If this distance is too short, that means there isn’t enough work surface or that you will have obstacles in your way like drawers, cabinets, or appliances. It’s never fun to have to work around an open drawer or cabinets when rushing to finish up a meal.
The Triangle Theory For Small Kitchens
I do realize that some kitchens cannot accommodate for a work triangle for the simple reason that there isn’t enough space, or maybe you chose a one wall style kitchen.
That, however, does not mean that your kitchen cannot be planned properly. You can still apply the triangle theory but in a line where your refrigerator is first, then your sink, then your cooktop.
My advice is that you keep in mind that the work surface between the sink and cooktop is most likely going to be the busiest and most challenging to keep organized when you cook. This is because this is the space where you constantly are washing, cutting, and putting things in the pan.
So, if you do have a one-wall style kitchen, make sure there is enough space between these two points. According to the National Kitchen and Bath Association, this should be a minimum of 30 inches (76 centimeters). But, remember that this is a minimum.
I suggest you go for at least 36 inches (91.44 centimeters). Note that you do not have to make the galley kitchen symmetrical. The sink doesn’t necessarily have to be in the direct center of the refrigerator and cooktop. There are other ways to visually balance a kitchen, which I will mention in another article.
The Kitchen Work Zones
Your kitchen typically consists of five main zones:
- Food storage
- Non-consumables storage
Each of these five zones has its own purpose. However, some of these zones will overlap each other and that is determined by how you use the kitchen.
It’s important to understand what each zone consists of and what it’s function is:
This is where you guessed it- you prepare your food.
In this zone, you want to keep items like knives, towels, and cutting boards within reach. You also want this zone to be adjacent to your cleaning zone to quickly wash and dispose of items like peels, scraps, and packaging.
This is where you want your main work surface to be and some room to spread out (but not too much room so that you are breaking the work triangle rule of a maximum distance of 9 feet or 2.74 meters.
This is also where you should keep small kitchen appliances handy like your blender, food processor, and toaster.
- When planning this zone make sure you have easy access to electrical outlets for the small appliances.
- Store your small appliances (like a food processor, blender, or mixer) at counter level for easy each.
You can create an “appliance garage” or “appliance corner” by placing the heavy appliances on a pullout shelf on the counter. I personally have one, and it makes using these appliances so much easier and keeps my counter clutter-free, which anyone who knows me knows I love.
This zone includes your sink, dishwasher, garbage, recycling, and cleaning supplies.
It’s a good idea to have this zone adjacent to the prep zone.
- If you can’t work by the sink keep three bowls in front of you. One with water for a quick rinse, one for the washed food, and one for food scraps and garbage. This works great if there are two cooks in the kitchen.
Food storage zone:
This zone includes your refrigerator and pantry. Keep in mind that not all of the items in this zone need to be adjacent since your pantry has items you may not need every day, such as your baking supplies.
Non consumables storage:
This zone includes your glasses, dishes, cutlery, and utensils.
If you understand how to use your kitchen, organizing this zone will be an easy task. For example, plates most likely need to be close to the dinner table or wherever you eat (eating over the sink doesn’t count), but you might also want to try to have them close to your dishwasher to make unloading quick.
This zone is where your cooktop, oven, and microwave will be.
It’s also smart to have your pots and pans at this zone and at arms reach. I keep my everyday pots and pans right under my cooktop and in a drawer so that they’re not stacked so I can easily see and grab whichever one I choose to use. This keeps me from having to bend to grab heavy pots and pans and lift some to get to the ones on the bottom. Something that helps me with efficiency is keeping things that are lightweight or tall on the bottom shelves so that I can easily reach them.
There are other areas in the kitchen that are task-specific, such as a coffee station and a baking area. It’s a good idea to keep such areas on their own with the items and ingredients used for each task at arms reach.
So if it’s a coffee station we’re talking about you will want to keep coffee, mugs, spoons, sugar, etc close. This means that even though you have your glasses near your sink, you can also keep some near your coffee station or kettle.
Having what you need for a specific task at reach makes using that area so much easier and dare I say fun. Just think about how great it would be to have all of your baking needs in one area thus eliminating the back and forth of looking for them. Pure baking bliss!
Your kitchen is one of the most expensive rooms to build or renovate, if not the most. It is also the busiest one with multiple users and holds many tasks. When planning a kitchen there are endless options and decisions to make. Making sure it functions well should be a priority.
Understand the rules of the Work Triangle and divide your kitchen into the five kitchen work zones and this will set you up to creating a kitchen with a proper flow that you are sure to enjoy.