Good kitchen design starts early, even as early as locating the room within the house. If you’re lucky enough to be able to choose which direction your kitchen will face, consider orienting it toward the east or southeast, where morning sun will fill it with light. Unfortunately, in rehab, choosing the southeast orientation is not always possible, although we think it’s worth working hard to achieve.
If this simply can’t be done, orienting the kitchen to the south or southwest is a good choice. If you go this route, provide some means of shading the room from the hot summer sun, such as deciduous trees or shrubs, awnings or overhangs above windows or even with good window blinds.
Once you get the kitchen oriented, there are some basic design principles that will help you with the layout.
A house is not an island; it requires frequent contact with the outside world, much of which is accomplished by car. An attached garage closely adjoining the kitchen or a back door opening on the driveway can reduce the burden of carrying groceries in and the trash out.
A mud room can reduce kitchen traffic by acting as a staging area for trips into and out of the house. It offers a buffer from cold air, storage space for coats, hats and boots and even pantry shelves for items you won’t be using immediately. Taking all this activity out of the kitchen provides more room for cooking and eating, which are, after all, a kitchen’s main events.
The Work Triangle
For most of the 20th century, kitchens were organized around what’s known as the work triangle — the geometry determined by sink, range and refrigerator. Since most kitchen work is a dance among the three appliances, a good design will make the distances between them comfortable. If they’re too short, the work area will be cramped; if too far, the cook will become worn out trotting between them. The rule of thumb is that the three legs of the triangle should add up to between 12 and 26 feet.
There are three basic layouts for the work triangle: u-shaped, l-shaped and galley. In the u-shaped kitchen, there’s a triangular path from the sink on one wall to the range on another, to the refrigerator on a third. In an l-shaped kitchen, one element of the work triangle is against one wall with the other two along another. In very tight circumstances, all three points are arranged along the same wall, like the cooking facilities on-board ship, thus the name galley kitchen.
Ideally no traffic should pass through the work triangle. Nothing is more irritating than having people crash into you when you’re trying to cook. If there’s going to be an island or table in the room, place it where it will neither obstruct the work triangle nor be too far to be a useful work station itself.
Keep in mind that people not directly involved in cooking often need access to the kitchen, particularly the refrigerator. Of the three components of the work triangle, the refrigerator should be located at the triangle’s outer corner for easy access. The sink should be accessible as well, but the cooking surface ought to be as protected as possible, and therefore at the most remote point of the work triangle.
To function well, the sink, cook top and refrigerator each need to be surrounded with a certain amount of floor and counter space. The refrigerator door needs a clear swing and, if possible, enough room for two people to reach in simultaneously. The doors of any cabinets around the fridge should not conflict with its door. And the refrigerator also needs an 18-inch run of counter as a staging area for foods going into or coming out of it.
By custom, the sink is placed beneath a window, both to provide daylight for chores done there and to give one a view outdoors. I suppose the custom derives from the days before dishwashers, when the task of washing up was a tedious affair done by hand. Yet working at a sink with a window is still much more pleasant than working at a sink without one. Designers often place the sink first and lay out the rest of the work triangle from there.
Minimum counter lengths are considered to be 36 inches on one side of the sink and 24 on the other, which gives you a staging area for dirty dishes on one side and a drying area on the other. It seems logical to locate the greatest expanse of counter on the side of the sink closest to the cook top, since that is where most foods prepared at the sink are destined.
The optimum location for the cook top is along an exterior wall, rather than on an island or peninsula. With a stove on an outside wall, it’s easy to install an effective hood and ventilation system, essential to expel grease, smoke and combustion gases. The stove or cook top needs a 21- to 30-inch overhead clearance so cooks can readily see and access rear burners and the ventilation system can do its work efficiently.
If you plan to install a dishwasher, place it close to the sink. Where you choose to put it might depend on whether you’re right- or left-handed and on the path dishes are likely to take when cleared from the table. Also consider the choreography of two people loading and unloading the machine.
Glassware and dishes should be stored in cabinets or shelves near the sink. Frequently used pots and pans could be stowed between the sink and cook top or from a hanging rack.
Consider locating your silverware drawers close to the drying rack or dishwasher but out of the primary work triangle so that someone can set the table without interrupting the cook.
Professional cooks, who spend a great deal of time in their kitchens, prefer to have their utensils within easy reach. (Julia Child stows her knives on pegs above her sink.)
Shelves or cabinets above the cook top can hold foods that aren’t affected by warmth, such as pasta, rice, and cereal. A shelf just below these cabinets but above the cook top can transform the space into a cooking workshop, providing a handy resting place for timers, spices, cooking supplies and implements.
A large volume of kitchen goods can be stowed in a pantry, an efficient, relatively inexpensive means of storage. Since a pantry is essentially a closet lined with shelves, it’s easy on the budget. Also plan to reserve part of the pantry as a utility closet, where mops, brooms and cleaning supplies can be easily stored.
Islands can serve as tables for informal meals. If it’s the height of conventional counters—36 inches—you’ll need stools and an ample overhang of about 12 inches to comfortably accommodate sitters’ knees.
If you’re thinking about placing a table in your kitchen, here are some basic parameters: A rectangular table with a seating capacity of four to six should measure 2½ feet by 5 to 5½ feet. You’ll need 2½ to 3 feet of clearance all around for chairs and adequate circulation. A round table takes up less space but can accommodate more people if need be. Remember that a small increase in radius makes for a big increase in the circumference of the table and therefore the floor space it will take up.