Kitchen design can incorporate many differing perspectives, and ultimately it comes down to personal preference. That said, when it comes to the functionality of the space, it can help to consider some tried-and-tested theories to create the ideal layout — which is where the kitchen work triangle theory comes in.

What is the kitchen work triangle theory?

The kitchen work triangle is a design theory that suggests that the three primary work spaces of any kitchen should be laid out in the form of a triangle and distanced apart for optimal efficiency of use. The three main work areas are considered to be the refrigerator, the stove/oven, and the sink.

The history of the kitchen work triangle theory

After the second world war, the world began to recover from years of doom and gloom, and came to life, with many creations and inventions promising to improve daily life. Back then, the kitchen was considered to be a workplace primarily used by women to provide meals for the home. Men and children rarely even entered the kitchen. Kitchens were designed to be functional workshop-like spaces. Initially, an L-shaped layout was developed to improve upon efficiency of movement. From there, designers from the School of Architecture at the University of Illinois came up with the first work triangle-based kitchen layout in the 1940s.

How does the kitchen work triangle work?

The theory works upon the premise that many trips back and forth between the stove, sink and fridge when cooking warrant a design that optimally positions them in relation to each other. The design rules within the theory are:

  • The three main elements, being the fridge, sink and cooktop, should be laid out in an imaginary triangular shape, and each element should be a minimum of 4 feet and a maximum of 9 feet apart.
  • When positioned in this way, each side of the triangle should be a minimum of 13 feet and a maximum of 26 feet in length. This measurement depends upon the overall size and design of the space.
  • There should be no interrupting items or obstacles protruding into the triangle space — no cabinets, doors, islands, etc.
  • There should be no full-length cabinetry or other tall/floor-to-ceiling obstacles within the triangle.
  • Ideally, the kitchen should be designed in such a way that the work triangle is not interrupted by any thoroughfares.

Is the work triangle theory still relevant to kitchen design today?

The way we use kitchens has certainly changed significantly in the last 50 years or so, but the fundamental premise that kitchen design must factor in efficient use of space and be task-oriented has never been more important.

And Sydney-based renovation specialists, Houseace, couldn’t agree more. “Modern kitchens are now used for many more activities than they used to be. Couples and families cook together, people work and socialize in them, children do their homework in them — the list is endless. So, naturally the design of a modern kitchen must be up to the challenge of optimizing the use of space like never before,” they said.

Essentially, the basic rules of the kitchen triangle design are still highly relevant and widely used today. The three primary elements remain the same, and many kitchen spaces still lend themselves perfectly to the design principles. Some, however, are much larger or differently shaped, requiring the work triangle rules to be used a little more loosely with some artistic license. Nevertheless, anyone cooking in a kitchen will still want their fridge, stovetop and sink to be in comfortable proximity to each other.

These days, designers have simply expanded upon the theory’s core premise and taken the importance of designing kitchens according to task one step further. By considering how a household will use the space uniquely, a designer can plan out zones of use to optimize the efficient use of the space, as well as improving the functional user experience once completed.

Kitchens can be zoned by uses and tasks such as baking, food storage and preparation, homework/children’s play, socializing/entertaining, beverage making, coffee stations — you name it! The specific needs of the end-users can be taken into account to design a uniquely efficient space.

Final thoughts

Even though the kitchen work triangle theory came about in very different times, it is still very relevant to kitchen design today. Designing with optimal functionality in mind is key, and all the more important now that we use our kitchens for so much more.

If you are considering renovating or newly designing a kitchen, be sure to consider all aspects of how you intend to use the space, and factor in these considerations as you design your layout. Self storage can help out at this time, being a place to store all your kitchen furniture and utensils while renovation is going on.

Depending upon the space you are working with, it can be difficult to adhere to every rule of the triangle theory, but it is best to work as closely to it as you can. By additionally zoning further in your design stage, you can create a kitchen that makes every task and activity feel easier and more relaxing. If you’re thinking of getting a new kitchen, and you’ve always had one that was a bit too cramped for comfort, consider the kitchen triangle theory.

Kitchen with cooker fridge sink

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