The kitchen Work Triangle – Why it doesn’t work anymore

We design kitchens every day, working with clients who sometimes have a very clear idea of what they want, sometimes don’t have a clue until we sit down together and begin the process. Every day is different and every design is different – it’s what we love so much about our work.

But, one concept that consistently keeps cropping up is the idea of the “Kitchen Work Triangle”.

Even if you’ve never designed a kitchen before, it’s likely that you have heard of it. And if you know anything about modern design, you’ll know that most of us who work every day pleasing clients and making the best use of their available kitchen space, would very much like the opportunity to kill off the idea of the Kitchen Work Triangle as a design tool once and for all! And state categorically why it is out of date and should be out of our thinking process.

What is the Kitchen Work Triangle?

The theory of design behind the kitchen work triangle is that three kitchen items – the sink, the fridge and the cooker should be aligned in a triangle. The concept is that the three items should form a triangle with legs no less than 4 feet or more than 9 and that the total of all three legs should be between 13 and 26 feet. There should be no through traffic within the triangle (galley kitchens are out) and no other obstacles should block up the triangle space.

Where did this theory come from?

The Kitchen Work Triangle concept dates from the 1940’s when kitchens were rapidly modernising from a free standing sink, stove and fold out work surface, to a fitted glimmering vision of post war modernism. At this time, fridges were still rare and food was being stored in a pantry or even a cellar. The storage space needed for the kitchen itself was less, and there were fewer gadgets and appliances and so the kitchen, and the technology was simpler.

The concept has a strong association with Taylorism, or Scientific Management, also popular at that time which used motion study and other analyses to try to improve efficiency in factory production and in the home.

No longer relevant

While there’s nothing wrong with aiming for personal effectiveness, Taylor’s ideas had the effect of treating workers like cogs in a machine.

The work triangle in kitchen assumes that there will be a single cook in the kitchen and that the kitchen is just a kitchen and nothing else. This just doesn’t work with today’s kitchen culture. Today, the kitchen needs to make room for multiple cooks and multiple activities.

Technology has changed alongside the kitchen. We no longer limit our cooking to three key appliances sink, fridge and cooker.  Now the range and oven may be separated, the microwave is often as useful as either, or we might be using food processors, slow cookers, or any manner of gadgets.

All of this, means that the kitchen work triangle is a pretty dated way to think about home cooking spaces.

So why do we get asked about it so often?

Oddly, none of this stops the kitchen work triangle from being recommended.  The internet is decidedly divided on whether it is out of date or a good idea. Some suppliers have entire pages, complete with many diagrams to demonstrating the idea and how it is worthwhile in your kitchen. Kitchen design websites explain it as logical and ergonomic without delving into the details of its history and ramifications.

How we used kitchen design instead

There are dozens of factors that contribute to the design of a good kitchen.  For us, we are often beginning with an existing space so choosing to keep at least some of the major appliances in place can cut redesign costs.

Each space has its own conditions of light, adjacencies and owner preference. It’s helpful to frame kitchen design around the different types of kitchen work to be done.  We like to think about what activities will take place and how the space should be arranged around that, instead of following a theory that is far behind the times.

For more information about how to make the best use of your space and design a kitchen that is perfect for you, talk to us.


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