The Kitchen Work Triangle (And A Useful Alternative)

When it comes to designing your kitchen, practicality should be one of the most important things to consider.

Sure, your kitchen should look beautiful, but it should also be functional.

There is so much movement within a modern kitchen, that it's important to design it in a way that makes it easy to get from point A to point B.

And that's where the kitchen work triangle comes in.

The kitchen work triangle had its origins in the 1920’s. It was the brain child of industrial psychologist and engineer, Lillian Moller Gilbreth and was brought more mainstream in the 1940’s.

Since then, it has been used countless times in kitchen design and it proves to be the go-to design principle when figuring out the layout of the kitchen.

So let’s explain what it is and how it can help you.

The concept itself is relatively simple, in the floor layout of a kitchen you should be able to draw a triangle between 3 primary ‘work stations’.

These are the refrigerator (where you store food), the oven or stove (where you cook food) and the sink (where you clean and prepare food).

Are you seeing the similarity between all three components?

They all involve the steps in creating a meal and so represent the most used spaces in a kitchen.

Hence, if we can draw a theoretical triangle in between these spaces, it should represent the most practical and ergonomic layout of your kitchen.

There are of course many ways for your kitchen to be laid out, but the triangle can exist in most layouts to maximise efficiency.

Further rules state:

  • Each side of the triangle should be between 1.2m and 2.7m
  • The sum of all edges should be between 4m and 7.9m
  • No obstacle, like a cabinet should intersect any edge of the triangle

Basically, the triangle should allow you to freely move between all points to allow you to easily use your kitchen.

But Is the Kitchen Work Triangle Outdated?

The kitchen triangle was developed in a world quite different from today.

Back then, there would typically be one person in the kitchen at one time and food was prepared quite differently.

Food prepping was common and so was cooking and cleaning – this is vastly different to the fast foods of today and the technology that exists for cleaning.

On top of this, there are more utilities that are available in kitchen – from coffee makers to double door pantries.

The kitchen also was not seen as a social gathering place as it is commonly used today.

And so with this change comes the concept of kitchen zones.

What Are Kitchen Zones?

Kitchen zones are work sites within the kitchen layout.

So, whilst you will probably have the traditional zones of storing, preparing and cooking food, you can also have additional zones.

You may have a zone for serving food and a zone for making specialty drinks like a bar feature. You may even have a zone for eating food within the kitchen, such as placing chairs on one side of a kitchen island.

There is no set rule for how you should position these zones within your kitchen, though common sense will help:

  • Food storage zones should be relatively close to the cooking zone or food preparation zone
  • The cleaning zone should be next to the preparation zone.
  • Zones that are more commonly used by hungry family members and visitors should be on the periphery of the kitchen. Think of the fridge, serving and eating zones.

You may well find that setting up these kitchen zones will still end in having multiple kitchen work triangles between them.

The '5 Zones' Method Explained

For those seeking a more set zoning method, there is something known as 'the 5 zones' method.

You'll notice that it contains the 3 zones that make up the kitchen triangle - cooking, prepping and cleaning, but with the addition of 2 more zones:

Consumables Zone

This is where you store your consumables in a fridge, freezer and pantry.

Where it should be located: It's a good idea to keep this close to your food preparation area since you don't want to be walking back and forth too much when preparing a time sensitive dish.

Keep everyday staples at arms length and in easily accessible places. Think of shelves for things like coffee, tea, sugar and cereals, and high or low shelving for other items that are less used.

Non-Consumables Zone

This zone is for storing things like plates, cutlery, cups, pans, pots and other kitchen utensils. 

Cabinets and shelving will be the main structural item in this area.

Where it should be located: It's especially useful to keep this area closer to the cleaning zone for easy storage after cleaning.

Similar to the non-consumable zone, ensure commonly uses items like plates and cups are placed at shoulder level for easy access.

Pots and pans can be stored on lower shelving - ideally closer to your cooking area. 

Preparation Zone

This is where you will make and prepare food before it is cooked.

A benchtop with plenty of room is ideal, this can also be a kitchen island.

Where it should be located: Close to your cooking zone and cleaning zone. If you can afford the space, keep this area as large as possible with the most used items being placed on the benchtop such as salt, pepper and cooking utensils.

Cooking Zone

This part of your kitchen is for cooking food and includes the cooktop and oven.

Where it should be located: Naturally, you'll want common items like pots and pans close by which may include the non-consumable area of your kitchen.

Cleaning Zone

The cleaning zone is where you'll have your dishwasher, sink and bin.

Where it should be located: It's best to have the cleaning zone closer to elements that get dirty so keep it closer to the preparation and cooking zones. This is a win win as well since it's these zones that will also need access to water.

Beware Of Overlapping Zones

Kitchen zones are all well and good, but you do need the space for them. If there is not enough space, overlapping occurs which can be a good or bad thing depending on the zone.

Take for example if the cooking and prep zones overlap. For example, the left side of the stove shares the same bench space as prepared food. It’s not too bad as the bench logically accommodates both uses and it’s handy to have prepped food sitting nearby, ready to be cooked.

On the other hand, an overlapping prep and wash zone can cause problems. You might be on your way to the fridge but have someone else washing dishes that impedes your movement.

It’s Not Just About Kitchen Zones Or Triangles

In the end, it is not about strictly implementing kitchen zones or kitchen work triangles.

You should design your kitchen with practicality in mind. Naturally, these zones or triangles will appear in your plans, and they are a good aid to optimise your kitchen layout.

First and foremost, though, you should build a kitchen that is for a home and not a restaurant.

Focusing on a kitchen that looks appealing, fits in well with your home and caters for your family and guests should be the first priority. The design will naturally fall into place.