How to Design an Efficient Layout: Challenging the Work Triangle

  • October 4, 2022

If you’ve ever juggled cooking Thanksgiving dinner while simultaneously baking pies and mixing drinks for guests, you are well aware of the importance of a functional kitchen design. The layout of your kitchen is an integral part of efficient cooking and cleaning, thus it is essential to plan out the arrangement of your space just as carefully as you would plan its style elements. 

Traditionally, when homeowners, designers, and architects began toying around with the layout of a kitchen design, they would start by pulling out their protractors and mapping out a “Work Triangle.” Whether or not you’ve heard of the illustrious Work Triangle, consider it a guideline used for creating functional workspaces. 

While this method was tried and true for many generations, the modern-day kitchen has evolved along with our methods of creating layouts. On today’s blog, we are going to share with you a little history on the Work Triangle and introduce you to new methods you can use to effectively design a functional kitchen.

A Brief History of the Work Triangle

The first person to study kitchen ergonomics was Christine Fredericks in 1912. Fredericks’ studies focused primarily on how the placement of cabinets and appliances effects the way we use our kitchens.

Roughly 30 years later, a group of 1940 architects at the University of Illinois built off Fredericks’ research and created a formula that would be used in kitchens for generations to come. This formula consisted of a kitchen layout that abided by specific rules regarding the space between three points. These points being the sink, refrigerator, and range. The group of architects believed that since these are the three primary workspaces, the kitchen should be designed around this holy trinity. Giving the model its trademark name: Work Triangle. 

The idea behind this concept is that by following these rules you could optimize the distances between these three points thus saving time and resources. 

The Work Triangle Rulebook:

  • Every leg of the triangle should be between 4 and 9 feet.
  • The sum of the three legs needs to be between 13 feet and 26 feet.
  • Obstacles, such as cabinets, should not intersect any leg of the triangle by more than 12 inches.
  • Work Triangle Diagram for a kitchen layout

    Diagram by Kitchen & Bath Crate

    The great thing about the Work Triangle is that it inspired homeowners to consider both function and style in their kitchen designs! Using the triangle as a guide helped pave the way for kitchens that were efficient and centered around cooking, cleaning, and storage. 

    But while this concept was effective in the ‘50s and ‘60s, it’s become increasingly outdated as our homes, lifestyles, and needs evolve. 

    Building off of the Work Triangle

    Though the Work Triangle has been a consistent guide for generations of kitchen designs, it isn’t considered the most effective tool for the modern-day kitchen. 

    In the mid 20th century, the kitchen was a behind-the-scenes workplace utilized mainly by women. Men rarely went to the kitchen, and children only accessed the room when needed. Kitchens were designed like a workshop; only to be occupied by one person at a time. 

    The 21st-century kitchen is much different. Couples and families spend time in this space and enjoy doing kitchen activities together. Changes in lifestyles and the introduction of modern equipment like dishwashers, microwave ovens, along with our ever-present tablet computers, inspire larger designs and more elaborate movements. And the kitchen became not only a place where we prep and cook, but one where we congregate and entertain guests! 

    As kitchens continue to advance, the Work Triangle has become more of a foundational design tool that new methods are being built upon. The need for efficient spaces is still ever present, but our methods have adapted to larger, more complex kitchen designs. 

    Designing a layout for the modern-day kitchen: Work Zones

    You can use the Work Triangle as an initial guide (in fact, we encourage it!) but it’s most important to evaluate your layout based on your specific home, and your unique lifestyle.  

    Instead of focusing solely on the geometry of your kitchen, focus on what work zones you consistently use in your current kitchen or that you desire in your new kitchen. These zones will act as a guide when creating your layout and will promote a design that is functional to you.

    Consider where your kitchen’s activity center is and ask yourselves questions such as:

  • Where are the areas you prep, cook, and store items?
  • Where do you like to entertain?
  • In what areas are there likely to be more than one person working?
  • The answers to these questions will help you get a feel for where your work zones lie!

    Today’s kitchens feature multiple work zones in addition to the main part of the kitchen. We are seeing an increase in butler’s pantries, wet/coffee bars, and baking stations. Multiple work zones allow for more complex movements within the space and create efficiency for various tasks. For example, if you love to entertain, a work zone in a butler’s pantry would allow you to prep and tuck away messes in an area separate from the main kitchen and one that’s out of sight from your guests.

    Our Farmhouse Transitional Kitchen is a great example of a space that utilized multiple work zones in its layout.

    You can see that the main area of the kitchen features a traditional layout that abides by the Work Triangle’s cardinal rules. Notice how the range, sink, and refrigerator are all in close proximity in order to promote easy transitions while prepping and cooking.

    Tucked behind the main kitchen, this design features another work zone in the Butler’s Pantry. This pantry not only contains ample storage, but also houses an additional oven, microwave, and sink. This workspace is perfect for everything from baking on a lazy Sunday afternoon to prepping food for a large family holiday!

    Another work zone in this multifunctional kitchen is the bar area located on the far wall of the space. The single wall of cabinetry features a dishwasher, beverage refrigerator, and sink. This third work zone gives the homeowner a space dedicated to storing beverages, serving drinks, and cleaning-up all in one compact area. In addition, the cabinetry in this zone provides extra storage for not only beverage related items, but also overflow from the main part of the kitchen.

    The combination of these three workspaces creates a functional layout that perfectly accommodates this family’s lifestyle.

    At Studio M, we believe that your kitchen layout should be dynamic, functional, and perfectly tailored to YOU and your lifestyle. To learn more about how to map out your work zones and create a well-designed space, contact one of our kitchen & bath designers.