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Kitchen Work Centers, the New “Triangle”

Whether you are a design professional or an educated homeowner you’ve probably heard the term “kitchen work triangle”. In fact it’s probably one of the first things you learn when endeavoring to create a new kitchen. Who thought this up? It is actually the result of a study made at the University of Illinois in the 1950s! If you’re wondering if it could be outdated, just think of how much kitchens have changed since then in terms of products, appliances and how we use them.

The National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) defines the kitchen “work triangle” an imaginary straight line drawn from the center of the sink, to the center of the cook top, to the center of the refrigerator and finally back to the sink.

Speaking of TRIANGLES, I thought this was really artful
Speaking of TRIANGLES, I thought this was really artful

The NKBA suggests the following guidelines for determining a work triangle:
– The sum of the work triangle’s three sides should not exceed 26 ft. and each leg should measure between 4 ft. and 9 ft.

Small kitchens can challenge the concept of the ideal triangle. Here we are short of the 48″ minimum between fridge and sink

– The work triangle should not cut through an island or peninsula by more than 12 inches.
– If the kitchen has only one sink, it should be placed between or across from the cooking surface, preparation area or refrigerator.

Yes, this makes kitchen design sound a bit like solving a puzzle and, actually, it really is. I know my design is “right” when the layout works from every angle in terms of safety, ease of function and, of course, aesthetics.

Embracing “the triangle” in the 1950s!

Some of the design solution is just good sound common sense but much of it should be directed by the individual needs of the client. I don’t “do” the triangle as a rule. Today we have multiple cook kitchens and no end of possible appliances. Modern kitchens are so unlike those of 60 years ago, so I use the more updated concept of “work centers”. The basic ones are food prep, cooking, clean up and storage.


The Pet Parlor concept can be built into your laundry or utility room
The Pet Parlor concept is a work center that can be built into your kitchen, laundry or utility room. I saw this great idea, by Wood-Mode, at KBIS this year as a part of the Modenus Blog Tour Vegas. 

So while efficiency is still at the forefront, the thinking is a bit more evolved to address twenty first century needs.
In a perfect world, work centers should be situated to allow someone to work in one area without getting in the way of someone using another. However, let’s face it, in a very small kitchen that is just not going to happen! The focus then is twofold: enough storage and enough counter space.

A coffee/tea center can be concealed and convenient. Is that a pot filler I see? Great idea but plumbing has to be accessible. Photo from

The types of work centers you can have is only limited by your imagination. Here are some good ones:
-Beverage center- It can be coffee/tea, smoothies, wine or cocktails
-Media center-It can be sit down area for menu planning, computer, charging station or TV
-Baking center- You can trick this area out with customized storage for bake ware, bowls, utensils and a marble top for rolling dough.

This baking center only comes out when you need it! Photo courtesty of BHG
This baking center only comes out when you need it! Loving that chartreuse too. Photo courtesty of BHG

Remember that an “artful kitchen” employs what I call “practical creativity”. Function is the infrastructure, beauty comes next, the art is getting both just right.


Gloria Graham-Sollecito

Gloria is a kitchen and bath cabinetry designer with AKBD certification from the National Kitchen & Bath Association. She has also served on the Florida Treasure Coast Chapter's Board of Directors as the VP of Communications. Her work has appeared on This Old House as well as in Florida Design Magazine, K+BB Magazine and the Palm Beach Post. She is co-author of The Complete Idiots Guide to Remodeling Your Kitchen, Illustrated, as well as a freelanced writer contributing occasionally to the Sun Sentinel in the area of kitchen design. She is a proud member of the Blanco Design Council and the illustrious Brizo Blogger 19.

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