Is The Kitchen Work Triangle Outdated?

Published by Ben on May 02, 2012

Tags: consultant, home improvements, kitchen design, kitchen work triangle

I’ve always said designing kitchens can feel like a series of compromises. It’s a battle between the emotional and logical responses to designing our shared environment. It can’t always be decided on the emotional reasons, and can’t be decided just on the logical ones either. We usually make the biggest decisions on the emotional side because it is the more powerful. Look around you and compare what you have to what you really need and you’ll see what I mean.

You may have heard of the work triangle as it applies to designing kitchens. This has been promoted as the basis and underlying principle for designing the modern kitchen.

The “work triangle” is defined by the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) as an imaginary straight line drawn from the center of the sink, to the center of the cooktop, to the center of the refrigerator and finally back to the sink. The NKBA suggests these guidelines for work triangles:

  • The sum of the work triangle’s three sides should not exceed 26 feet, and each leg should measure between 4 and 9 feet.
  • 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.
  • No major traffic patterns should cross through the triangle.

Efficiency is the triangle’s main goal, as it keeps all the major work stations near the cook, without placing them so close that the kitchen becomes cramped. The work triangle is also designed to minimize traffic within the kitchen so the cook isn’t interrupted or interfered with.

This principal is very logical but in most cases is so basic as to be quite obvious to point out. It’s like asking, where should we put our sidewalk to the front door? There are only so many options. The majority of kitchens are 150 to 200 square feet and once you consider where your windows and doors are most things will fall into place. You probably won’t put your range or fridge at a window or care to have your fridge between your sink and cooking surface. And if you’re lucky enough to have a large kitchen, and you follow the 26 feet between all three points of the triangle rule, you will be trying to fill up a lot of empty space somehow. The few extra steps you’ll need to make will be a side benefit not a draw back.

Enter the Proximity Kitchen. There is a more logical approach emerging that has been developed by Pete Walker a seasoned kitchen designer of 40 years. Pete has had his work used and published by Sub Zero Appliances more than 25 years ago. So he has had time to develop and try just about every possible design option and principle. The Proximity Kitchen is based not on geometric happenstance, but rather on a set of “First Principles”.

  1. The proper layout of a kitchen should follow, in direct relation, the functional sequence of events in cookery. The basic sequence is: SUPPLY   STORAGE   WET PREP   HOT PREP   SERVICE   SCULLERY   STORAGE
  2. In the allocation of space in a given kitchen footprint, counter surface takes precedence over floor space, subject to the ergonomic needs of the user. The idea is that the closer the counters are to each other the fewer paces between tasks. This dictates maximum counter area and minimum traffic area within practical limits.
  3. Tall and deep elements (fridges, freezers, ovens, “step-in” pantry and other storage) should be massed together on one wall; perpendicular to this massing should be a pair of parallel counters.
  4. Work (or “task”) centers are arranged along two parallel task counters, designed to be as long as practical; these contain Wet Prep and Hot Prep tasks on one and the Scullery (clean up) tasks on the other.
  5. Within and between task centers, the dominant and distaff hand of the user should be taken into account as a basic indicator of direction of the flow of cookery overall.

The work triangle is perhaps a bit over simplified and outdated in today’s more complex floor plans, and the logic driven Proximity Kitchen System better applies functions in a sequence as they occur and applies them to a space plan. I feel it is a step forward in combining form and function in an integral union. Ultimately your personal wants and needs over rule any preconceived principles which can be applied to your situation but not rule them.

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