Is the Kitchen Work Triangle Antiquated?



In design school, much attention was placed on the almighty work triangle as the foundation of good kitchen design.  Professors taught us the importance of ergonomics in kitchen design:  that efficiency of movement should dictate the distance traveled in the kitchen.   The National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) set guidelines for the formation of the triangle stating that the distances between the three primary work centers (sink, stove and fridge) should total no more than 26′ with no single leg of the triangle measuring less than 4′ nor more than 9′.  And so, for many years, kitchen design revolved around this standard.

So why do I continue to hear that the triangle has become antiquated?  Well, consider how kitchens have evolved from  the utilitarian spaces they used to be to the living spaces that they are today.  In the past, the kitchen was typically a closed-off space where meals were prepared and then likely served in an adjacent dining room.  Today, we know the kitchen to be the central hub of family activity — it’s the quintessential multi-purpose room.  And often times today’s kitchen has multiple cooks and its overall space at any given time could have multiple users.  In our kitchens today we not only prepare meals but we also serve drinks, pay bills, oversee homework, watch TV, have meetings, enjoy meals, entertain, etc.  There is no limit to what this space can do!  In order to accommodate the growing demands of its users, kitchen design principles have evolved from a strict adherence to the triangle to a more flexible focus on work zones.  Think about it: how many kitchens have you seen with two sinks, an extra fridge, a large island, a separate bar or a desk?  Depending on the needs of the end-users, the number of potential work zones and the configuration of those zones could vary dramatically.

Today’s kitchens often dedicate a large area for cooking and make it the focal point of the room…


Today’s kitchens have separate zones for the bar and sometimes even a dedicated coffee station…

Today’s kitchens often have two sinks…

Today’s kitchens often have space allocated for a desk…
With work zones being the foundation of today’s kitchen design, should we do away with the work triangle as a driver of kitchen layouts? Not completely, in my opinion.  I still think that we can consider the triangle and the NKBA standard definition of optimal traveled distances between work stations when we begin to design a kitchen.  Depending on the space constraints, the triangle can certainly be a jumping off point and something to be mindful of when planning the layout of the space.  Careful placement of the various work zones; however, will likely be the main driver of final decisions, as accommodating multiple cooks and occupants of the space will have a direct impact on the overall design and layout.  Let’s face it, times are changing, so it stands to reason that the way we approach kitchen design should reflect and embrace that change…while not losing sight of how we got here.
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