How to Use the Kitchen Triangle for Space Planning

Kitchen Triangle Design

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When designing your kitchen remodel or new build, it can be difficult to juggle all of the design concepts and make them work together. That is why it helps to have a shortcut or a rule of thumb to use as a controlling theme.

The kitchen triangle is one such shortcut that has been used for decades and still holds true for many kitchen design projects. Applying the kitchen triangle design concept solves a host of kitchen design problems relating to ergonomics, workflow, and aesthetics—at least for a majority of kitchens.

As with other kitchen concepts that have been around for ages, the kitchen triangle does have its share of plusses and minuses. Some designers find the kitchen triangle to be an obstacle to creativity that addresses only a limited number of kitchen spaces.

What Is the Kitchen Triangle?

Dating back to the early 1950s, the kitchen triangle is a design concept that regulates activity in the kitchen by placing key services in prescribed areas. The idea is that the cook should be able to move unimpeded between three points—sink, stove/oven, and fridge—and that the distances between those points should not be too far or too close.

When the workflow is unimpeded, this means that two points on the triangle form a straight or relatively straight line, and this line is not blocked by the third point in the triangle or by any other obstruction.

Distances matter with the kitchen triangle, too. While it may be apparent that long distances are a problem, it might not be so apparent that locating kitchen services too close is also a problem. When points on the triangle are too close, drawers may clash with doors, refrigerators may open directly onto stoves, and sinks may be too close to stoves to permit space for preparing the food.

When you add up the three legs of the triangle, they should not total more than 26 feet. No leg of the triangle should be more than 9 feet long and no leg should be less than 4 feet long. Keep in mind that these are only recommendations. If you need to work outside of those space limitations, you can do so; you just need to be aware that workflow will be affected by the change.

Kitchen Triangle's Three Points

Kitchen Sink

The primary kitchen sink is usually located on the perimeter of the kitchen, though sometimes it may be located on a kitchen island. Supplementary sinks are not figured into the kitchen triangle. You will also need to plan for space on either side of the kitchen sink for placing dishes or preparing food.

Stove and Oven

With the kitchen triangle, the assumption is that this is a combined stove/oven. If the stove and oven are separate, the two are located within 2 to 3 feet of each other. You can change it slightly by having a wall oven located out of the triangle since baking tends not to be a frequent kitchen activity. If you do happen to be an avid baker, then make certain that the wall oven is part of the triangle.

Refrigerator

The refrigerator, while definitely part of the kitchen triangle, ranks as the least important point of the triangle. The assumption is that the cook will not be constantly ferrying items back and forth from it. If one point must be a little bit farther away, it will be the fridge.

Tip

Make sure that the door of the refrigerator opens into the triangle, not outside of it. This allows for easier access to the food and prevents the fridge door from itself becoming an obstruction.

Kitchen Island Space Considerations

Kitchen islands are especially valuable when planning your kitchen around the triangle concept. Without an island, the chief way to build a triangle is by forming the three points within an L-shaped kitchen or across the aisle in a galley kitchen or a U-shaped kitchen.

But adding a kitchen island is a shortcut to easier kitchen triangle design. On the island, you can locate a cooktop or a primary sink. Across the aisle would be the refrigerator or the primary sink, cooktop, or stove/oven combination. Distances between the island and the main countertop area will nearly always be the correct distance.

The downside to using the kitchen island as one of the points of the triangle is that electricity, water supply, and water drainage lines will need to be run under the floor and up into the island. While this need not be a deal-breaker for designing your kitchen, you should budget the additional costs. When these services are all clustered in the main countertop area, it is easier and much less expensive.

Kitchen Triangle Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Ensures easy movement

  • Can contribute to a more spacious-feeling kitchen

  • Consistency

  • Easy to remember

Cons
  • Not applicable to small or unusually shaped kitchens

  • Does not accommodate peripheral areas

  • May not work for open plan kitchens

  • Limits creativity

Pros

The kitchen triangle allows for easy, unimpeded movement between the three most important work areas. This prioritization makes the kitchen more ergonomic. An ergonomic kitchen can feel more spacious, even if no more floor space has been added to the room.

Kitchen triangles provide consistency between homes and kitchens. Most designers and cooks are familiar with the kitchen triangle, so it's easier to move from kitchen to kitchen.

The triangle layout is valuable because it's simple and easy to remember. Difficult kitchen concepts aren't as easy to understand. But most people can remember the three points of the kitchen triangle.

Cons

The kitchen triangle works well for most kitchens but not for all kitchens. The triangle concept may not be applicable to small kitchens or kitchens with unusual shapes. Kitchens that have peripheral areas such as kitchen island sinks or cooktops or peninsula countertops are not addressed with the kitchen triangle. Along the same lines, it's difficult to apply the kitchen triangle to large open-plan kitchens.

As with other brief rules, the kitchen can limit creativity more than help it. If you're a determined rule-follower, the kitchen triangle will help you but only to a certain point.