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Architect's Viewpoint

Three Sides to Every Kitchen Story? Consider the 'Work Triangle'


Over the years, I've learned it's very difficult to design a great kitchen but fairly easy to design a good one. In fact, a basic kitchen will just about design itself.

First, big kitchens aren't necessarily better. I've seen plenty of palatial, 400-square-foot kitchens that are perfectly awful, with convoluted counter shapes and appliances separated by marathon stretches. The size of these kitchens serves merely to impress but it isn't efficient.

Functionally, a well-designed small kitchen can be in every way equal to a large one, except for the extra storage space.

Regarding appliance locations, the old rule of the "work triangle" remains useful. If you draw lines connecting the three major work centers in your kitchen--sink, stove and refrigerator--the sum of the sides of the resulting triangle should equal at least 13 feet, but not exceed 22 feet. Ideally, circulation paths should not cross this triangle, though it's often unavoidable.

There are four basic kitchen arrangements: U-shaped, corridor, L-shaped and single wall. Your choice is dictated mainly by the number of doors or other circulation paths that enter the kitchen space. More openings usually mean less uninterrupted counter space, though not necessarily a less usable kitchen.

Because the U-shaped kitchen is entirely removed from through traffic, it ensures the maximum continuous counter space and the least disruption for the cook. One arm of the U can also serve to divide the kitchen from an adjoining room in place of a solid wall.

Many older kitchens have multiple doors entering the room, which demands a different arrangement. When the room is long and narrow and has a door at either end, the corridor (or Pullman) kitchen is the ticket. It's extremely efficient in narrow confines--hence its use on railroad cars--and also simple to plan: The sink goes on the outside wall beneath a window, the range is placed more or less at the center of the counter opposite and the refrigerator can go at either end.

If the existing room is interrupted by doors entering on two adjoining walls, an L-shaped kitchen usually fills the bill. In this case, the sink once again goes on an outside wall under a window, and the range takes the approximate center of the counter space on the adjoining side. Depending on space constraints, the refrigerator can be located at the extreme ends of the L on either wall.

The humble single-wall kitchen, which is most often found in efficiency apartments, doesn't really have a work triangle because the work centers are all in a row. As long as there's enough counter space between the sink, stove and refrigerator, this arrangement will serve perfectly well.


Arrol Gellner is an architect with 23 years of experience in residential and commercial architecture. Distributed by Inman News Features.

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