The Kitchen Work Triangle: Key to Efficiency

The kitchen work triangle is an important element of kitchen design, as it creates an efficient work space with clear traffic lanes. The triangle connects the centers of the sink, refrigerator, and range or cooktop. The work triangle system keeps all major workstations within easy reach of the cook while providing enough space between workstations to avoid crowding. The design also helps keep non-chef traffic out from underfoot. The guidelines below have stood the test of time and the scrutiny of industrial engineers. In larger kitchens there may be a need for two work triangles depending on how you use your space. Smaller kitchens, especially one wall kitchens, can be difficult but focus on the tasks that you see yourself using most of the time. If your existing space simply won’t accommodate a perfect layout, that’s okay, just keep the guidelines in mind as you develop your floor plan. And our kitchen experts are always standing by to offer free professional design services.

Work Triangle Guidelines

  • The sum of the three sides of the triangle should not exceed 26 feet.
  • Each leg should measure between 5 and 9 feet.
  • No side of the triangle should cut through an island or peninsula by more than 12 inches.
  • No major traffic patterns should cross through the triangle.
  • A second triangle can be created by adding a second sink to an island or fourth-wall peninsula. This is also a way to create a specialty work station for baking or vegetable prep.

These guidelines are not hard and fast rules. Sometimes, the only layout possible for your kitchen may break or bend a rule, or enhance the kitchen triangle concept with a work zone approach. But, by incorporating the guidelines into a new kitchen layout, you will be assured of an efficient kitchen design that minimizes traffic through the work zone.

More on Efficient Kitchen Floor Plans:

Aisle width. The width of a work aisle should be 42 inches wide for one cook and 48 inches wide for multiple cooks. This allows for adequate traffic flow throughout the kitchen.

Counter by cooktop. Plan a minimum of 12 inches of counter on one side of a cooktop or range and 15 inches on the other for a safe landing surface for hot dishes.

Counter near refrigerator. Provide 15 inches of counter space on the handle side of the refrigerator, or 15 inches of landing area on either side of a side-by-side refrigerator. Or allow for 15 inches landing area no more than 48 inches from the front of the refrigerator. If using an under-the-counter style refrigerator, provide 15 inches of landing area above or adjacent to the appliance.

Counter next to sink. Include a section of continuous countertop at least 36 inches wide by 24 inches deep immediately next to a sink.

Must-have cabinets. Top of our kitchen designers’ list for must-have cabinetry for an efficient kitchen are a large drawer base and pull-out trash bins.

Activity Centers/Zones

The work triangle is an essential tool to kitchen design, but it’s not everything. You may want to start planning by thinking in terms of activity centers or zones. Storage, prep space, cooking, clean up, office/homework, dining, and entertainment are all elements that you may want to incorporate in your kitchen floor plan and design.

Charging Station

A charging station for mobile phones, tablets and other devices has become a must in kitchen design. Take a look at special outlets with USB ports, and be sure the devices are safely away from water and toddlers.


Storage cabinets are a primary concern. Groceries, including non-perishable items, refrigerated and frozen foods, space for dishes, glasses, cutlery and odds-and-ends, such as scissors or desk items all will need to be stored in your new kitchen. Think in terms of activities. Where do you set groceries down when you open the refrigerator? What decorative items do you want displayed? Will cook books and sheet pans be handy?

Prep Space

Food prep requires access to utensils, knives, small appliances, cutting boards, trash and water. Can you add a secondary sink? Consider prep when planning storage for mixing bowls, pots and pans. Storage accessories such as drawer bases, pot and pan base cabinets and roll out shelf cabinets will be welcome near your prep area.


Typically you think of the stove or cooktop as where you cook – but don’t forget about your microwave or built-in oven. Plan landing spaces for hot dishes coming out of each. As with most parts of your kitchen, storage is critical to function. Create space for utensils, spices, pots, pans, bakeware, cooling racks, and water to be easily accessible. You don’t want to walk 10 steps every time you need something. Your cooking area should also have as much space left and right as the cook top. Think of how you cook.  Is a cookbook out? Measuring cups? Spatula that you just stirred with? Towel laying on the counter to clean up minor spills? These types of things rapidly eat up counter space if they don’t have convenient homes.


Typically people think of clean up as the area around the sink – which like the cooktop should have as much left/right area. But consider where your garbage can will be or do you have space for recycling bins and trash cans, household cleaning items and a broom or mop. You don’t want to plan your dream kitchen only to forget the trash can.


Creating a space to eat in your kitchen depends on your family needs. Keep in mind that almost everyone winds up eating in the kitchen – even if it’s a bowl of cereal.  Whether it’s just your family, or you’re entertaining, it seems everyone eventually gathers in the kitchen. Islands and peninsulas provide great kitchen dining spaces and can be multi-purpose. If lack of space is an issue, your island can double as prep, work and entertainment space.

Work Space

Like it or not work happens at home and often in the kitchen. The good news is, you no longer need a massive work station. Large desktop computers have given way to laptops and tablets, all wireless! Provide enough outlets to be able to charge all of your electronic devices, and safe homes away from water and food.


An island, peninsula or other bar area that can accommodate stools a serve as a stand-or-sit space for cocktails or dinner. Or, consider including a conversation zone in your kitchen, with lounge chairs and a low table or versatile ottoman.

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Related Topics

Want a great kitchen? Learn more with the topics below to help keep your remodel plan on time, on task and on budget.
Designing Your Kitchen
Design Principles
Design Elements
Kitchen Layouts
Open Kitchen Design