Decades ago, the kitchen was hidden in the back of the house. It was a place where meals were prepared, and dirty dishes were washed. Fast forward to current trends and the kitchen has a much different role. Now instead, the kitchen is the heart of the home; the place that brings everyone together at the start of the day or after a long day away. In what is arguably the most important room in the house, a beautiful kitchen is on the top of every homeowner’s wish-list, regardless of price point.
So, what makes a functional kitchen design? As a major crossroads of activity, kitchens should allow for multiple people to be within the space simultaneously and comfortably without stepping on one another. Understanding a few key building measurements and organizational guidelines can help your culinary life run more smoothly.
Read on for a general understanding of work zones, spatial relationships and layout for functional kitchen design.
Functional Kitchen Layout & Design
The Work Triangle
The kitchen work triangle has been the standard by which we measure good design and functionality. It connects the cooktop, refrigerator and sink. According to guidelines from the National Kitchen and Bath Association, no leg of the triangle should be less than 4 feet or more than 9 feet. The sum of the three triangle sides should not exceed 26 feet. In addition, no major traffic patterns should flow through the triangle.
Some designers feel the triangle kitchen layout has lost popularity over recent years because it doesn’t always work with every kitchen and want to discard the perfect “work triangle” in the kitchen. We believe the concept should be utilized as a general guideline for creating certain proximity and distance between the three main kitchen work stations: sink, refrigerator and range.
Everyone has personal preferences for what works best, so consider this a guide rather than a rulebook.
The functional kitchen design should have two access points, so no one gets trapped in or blocked out of the kitchen. A large kitchen island is a fantastic solution for this, with space to flow through the room without awkward dead ends. Ideally, refrigeration and dry-goods storage should be located nearest to the kitchen’s entry point. The cooking area should be located toward the dining spaces and the sink is best positioned between those two functions.
The cooking centers should be arranged around the range, cooktop and wall ovens. Place pots and pans, baking sheets and utensils in the vicinity around your burners and ovens. Allow 21 to 36 inches of countertop on either side of your cooktop. If possible, place wall ovens with a free countertop immediately next to them so that you can set down hot food immediately. Place seasonings, breadboards and potholders in nearby drawers and cupboards.
Ideally, prep and cleaning space is located around the sink. With so many activities revolving around the sink, it makes sense to maximize the space surrounding it to enable access from the right, left, or even over the top of the sink.
Preparation areas are best kept clear of other items, since you will always be taking out bowls, plates and utensils there. Allow at least 36 inches of uncluttered countertop space for preparation in a small kitchen. Larger kitchens will have much more. This is one of the reasons kitchen islands have become so popular—they provide broad and well-lit surfaces on which to perform a variety of tasks.
The view from the sink is another important aspect to consider—think about whether you would prefer to look outside through a window, or on the contrary, into the home, typically toward the family room with television visibility. You’ll typically see the former setup in older kitchens and the latter in more current-day kitchens as homes become more open.
Storage & Cabinet Styles
We recommend a classic walk-in pantry somewhere near the kitchen as an ideal addition to any home, regardless of size. This designated space, along with additional built-ins and storage solutions, is great for keeping kitchen-related items (i.e. dry-goods, paper goods, cleaning supplies) hidden while still easily accessible. Adding a space-saving cabinet pantry with a pull-out countertop inside is another good option if space is limited for optimal kitchen design.
Cabinet Height plays an important role in the overall space configuration in the kitchen. Upper cabinets are normally positioned at 18 inches above the countertop and are 36 to 42 inches in height. Consider that your average maximum reach over and into an upper cabinet is 70 to 80 inches above the floor. Cabinets set at above 7 feet will likely need to be accessed with a step ladder. Cabinets above 8 feet can maximize the available storage for seasonal or decorative items, to be reached with step stools and ladders. The standard dimensions for base cabinets are 24 inches deep and 36 inches tall. In general, people are getting taller, so some homeowners are requesting the counter height be raised to 38 inches.
Distance Between Cabinets is another important measurement in optimal kitchen design. Entry points can be as little as 42 inches when there is a cabinet on only one side. Stay at least 48 inches from the face of a cabinet to the one on the other side; 50 inches is even better but going beyond 60 inches is too wide in most cases. However, if it is a U-shaped kitchen, you could get away with up to 96 inches.
Cabinet Styles & Door Types
While many traditional styles have fallen from preference, the current trend favors a clean, streamlined aesthetic for kitchen cabinetry—a sleek and timeless style you’ll love for years to come. Another kitchen cabinetry consideration involves the type of doors: inset, full or partial overlay cabinet doors.
Inset Cabinet Doors are set into the cabinet frame and fit flush with the face of the cabinet when closed. Since the door is flat with the rest of the cabinet, a door pull or knob is needed to open the cabinet. With this type of door, the hinges can either be concealed or exposed. Inset cabinets are desired by many for their smooth, clean appearance, but there is a price to be paid for the look and quality of inset doors. That price is between 15-30% more than overlay doors. Beyond the increase in price, there are a couple of other things to keep in mind with these doors. Upper cabinets with inset doors need additional depth to accommodate dishes and platters. Also, the expansion of wood caused by high levels of humidity can sometimes cause rubbing to occur between the door and the frame.
Full Overlay Doors give a similar appearance to that of inset doors without the higher cost. They completely cover the cabinet face, providing the flat cabinet front so desired in inset cabinets. Since they are not set inside the cabinet frame, full overlay cabinet doors provide the greatest amount of storage, allowing for ample room to store items such as pots and pans. Without the vertical stile on the face frame, double-door cabinets in the full overlay style offer a greater storage capacity and easier access of stored items.
Partial Overlay Cabinets are the most common and most cost-effective option for your kitchen. The door sits on the cabinet face, leaving a “gap” of usually 1-1 ¼ inch between the doors, allowing the face frame of the cabinet to be seen. No hardware is required with these cabinet doors as there is finger space on the sides of the doors in which to open them. Though a more traditional look, cabinets with partial overlay doors are still a popular choice and a good option for many kitchens, especially if budget is a factor.
At Huntington Remodeling, we help our clients personalize and optimize the most important space in their homes—the kitchen. Our award-winning team will guide you through the remodel process, regardless of your budget, style preferences or size of your kitchen. We currently remodel homes across the Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston metroplexes. Contact us today to get started on your home remodel!