The Well-Designed Kitchen

Pro tips to help you create an efficient kitchen design

By Sharon Johnson

When architect Louis Sullivan said: "Form ever follows function," he was talking about skyscrapers, but he could very well have been talking about kitchen design. All great kitchens, no matter the size, no matter the cost, have one thing in common: Function. Your kitchen may look fabulous, but the honed marble, the sleek appliances with custom insets, and the bespoke tile backsplash will quickly lose their luster if the kitchen, at its heart, doesn't function well.

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Light Transitional Kitchen
Drury Design
The whole notion of "function" goes beyond simply having a space to easily and efficiently put a meal on the table. Paul Reidt, president of Kochman Reidt + Haigh Cabinetmakers in Stoughton, Massachusetts, has definite views on the subject: "A great kitchen welcomes the whole range of human experience," he says. "It solves efficiency issues and supports social functions." With this in mind, here are a few things to consider as you create your own well-designed kitchen.

Think Outside the Triangle

The kitchen work triangle, with the refrigerator, cooktop, and sink each making up a point of the triangle, was long ago deemed the optimal configuration for reducing the exhaustion factor when you're whipping up the evening's gourmet grub. Make the points too far apart and you'll have to pause for a rest and a snack when walking from the sink to the fridge. Have the points of the triangle too close together and your workspaces will overlap, making the simple act of getting a meal on the table an exercise in frustration.

The ideal work area is one that is as close to an equilateral triangle as possible. Understanding that not all kitchen structures lend themselves to this (and that not everyone remembers their 8th grade geometry), the experts at the National Kitchen and Bath Association have made the following recommendations:
  • Each leg of the triangle should be between 4 and 9 feet long
  • Total length of all three legs of the triangle should be no fewer than 12 feet and no greater than 26 feet
  • Major traffic should not flow through the triangle
Cozy Country/Rustic Kitchen
Tineke Triggs
Your work space is important, but has the time come to start thinking outside the triangle? Reidt is concerned that the notion of the kitchen as the social heart of the home hasn't worked its way into kitchen planning enough. "It's not just about where you store the glasses and mugs, but about how the kitchen relates to other areas and assets of the home such as the view, and the way light enters the space. The trick is designing a kitchen to maximize its social performance," he says. And sometimes a traditional triangle configuration just doesn't cut it.

Sara Ann Busby, CKD and immediate past president of NKBA, is happy to admit that she doesn't always rigorously adhere to a single work triangle layout. "Now a good kitchen layout is not so much about the work triangle as it is about designing for task-specific areas of use—storing what you need for a specific task at a specific area of the kitchen. It's more about a series of mini-work triangles rather than one big work triangle," she says.

TIP: A series of task-specific, mini work triangles sometimes works better than a traditional single work triangle.

"Kitchens are more than a platform to cook. They must enhance life by becoming a place to automatically congregate—just being in them should raise one's spirits."
Johnny Grey, Kitchen Culture: Re-inventing Kitchen Design

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