The modern kitchen serves many more functions than just cooking, but the concept of the kitchen work triangle, invented in the 1940s, endures for good reason.

Picture this: Your in-laws are on their way over see your newly completed kitchen renovation. You’ve stocked the cabinets with all of the necessary cutlery and gadgets. You’ve begun preparing the most delicious dinner ever. You’ve researched a spectacular recipe and gathered all of the finest and freshest ingredients.



Yet, somehow, you can’t get anything done! You have to walk 6 meters across your gorgeous travertine tile floor every time you want something from your top-of-the-line, stainless steel refrigerator. There’s not enough granite counter space to chop onions between your beautiful farmhouse sink and your double oven gas range.

To make matters worse, your young son keeps running through with his toy airplane!



Looks like you and your contractor have designed the Bermuda Triangle rather than a kitchen work triangle. Your kitchen is stunningly beautiful, but it’s far from functional.

The concept of the kitchen work triangle dates back to the 1940s, but there’s a reason it has lasted into the 21st century. The basic idea is that most of the work in a kitchen happens within a triangle formed by the range, sink and refrigerator. The space between these items should not be too large, which forces the chef to spend their time trekking back and forth, or too small, which does not allow for proper prep space.


The generally accepted rule among designers is that the total length of all three of the triangle’s sides should be between 3.5 and 8 meters with each side measuring between 1 and 2.75 meters. Ideally, this triangle will be located in a part of the kitchen that sees the least traffic in order to minimize disruptions. Other people besides the chef do need access to the kitchen, though, and their needs should be considered. Specifically, they should have relatively easy access to the refrigerator and sink without crossing through the triangle. The cooking surface can and, for safety reasons, should be less accessible. Additionally, kitchen tables, islands or peninsulas should not protrude into the triangle.

Your kitchen work triangle needs to fit your home. Depending on the parameters of your raw space, your kitchen triangle may be I-shaped or U-shaped. In an I-shaped kitchen, two of the three items are on one wall and the third is on another. In a U-shaped kitchen, all three items are on separate walls. In very tight kitchens, a triangle can’t be accommodated at all and all three items are placed galley style on the same wall.


Your kitchen work triangle needs to accommodate your lifestyle too. In some homes, two or more people work together to prepare meals. In this case, consider adding a second sink and creating two separate triangles. In other homes, families eat out more than they dine at home. Here, perhaps a galley kitchen is best option so that larger portions of the home can be dedicated to other activities. Consider exactly how the space will be used and prioritize activities when planning your kitchen layout.

The kitchen work triangle is a tried and true concept, but range, sink and refrigerator do not a kitchen make.  To design a truly practical kitchen, you’ll want to properly locate prep areas, storage space, dishwashers and microwaves, among other elements, in relation to the work triangle.

Locate prep areas adjacent or near to the sink and range. This will simplify both cooking and cleaning. For the sink, most designers suggest 90 centimeters on one side and 60 on the other. Proper prep space should also surround the range.

Maximize storage wherever you can. You’ll never say “my kitchen has too much storage space.” Consider cabinets that extend to the ceiling even if you’ll need a stool to reach seldom used items placed up high. Add cabinets above your refrigerator and range if possible.


Place the dishwasher adjacent to the sink to avoid carrying dirty dishes across the kitchen. Also, be sure to consider how the kitchen will function when the dishwasher’s door is open. Will your child cause a major disruption if they head to the fridge for a drink while you’re cleaning up?

Whether you build an appliance garage around your microwave or attach it on the wall, it’s going to occupy either cabinet space or counter space. Consider which you are willing to sacrifice when you locate it. The most space-saving method is to select a self-venting model to mount it above the range in place of a traditional hood vent.

Kitchens have come a long way since the 1940s when cooking was a kitchen’s sole purpose. Today, we use them to entertain, do homework, pay bills and eat our meals as well as cook them, but at the heart of the kitchen, the work triangle remains. You should design your kitchen around your needs, but start with a work triangle and your entire kitchen will always be functional and efficient.



Want to Read More?

This Old House: Guide to Redesigning Your Kitchen

Houzz: How to Set Up a Kitchen Work Triangle

Kohler: The Work Triangle: Design for Living