The Kitchen Triangle: An Old School Design Theory Debunked

The kitchen work triangle is a super popular saying in residential design, but what exactly does it mean? And is it practical for today’s homeowner? We’re going to debunk this theory and show you what’s popular in the world of kitchen design today.  

The infamous kitchen triangle is a saying loosely thrown around, but rarely do people actually know what it means. Someone will undoubtedly throw out that term as they show you around their newly purchased house. “…And here’s the kitchen. Look at how feng shui it is. The kitchen triangle here is soo chi.  Any questions? Good, moving on to the family room that we never use….” You nod your head to whatever he just said and give one of those high pitched hmmms like you know exactly what he’s talking about. Flash forward to the car ride home: “How’d you like the feng shui kitchen with that work triangle, honey? What was that, you don’t know what he was talking about? Well, you see way back in…….eh I got nothing either. No idea what he was talking about.”

What The Heck Is The Kitchen Triangle?

The kitchen work triangle in essence is the layout of your 3 main work horses in the kitchen – the stove/oven, the refrigerator and the sink. It was actually a theory started by a psychologist in the 1920’s and developed further by the University of Illinois School of Architecture in the 1940’s. Based on the typical family and way of life in the early 20th century, the kitchen was seen as a utility space, much like your laundry room today. It was not meant for entertaining, that’s what the dining room and living room were for.

The kitchen triangle was a rule of thumb that said a kitchen should be laid out in such a way that you could draw a triangle between the stove/oven, refrigerator and sink. And further, each leg of the triangle should be no less than 4’ distance or more than 9’ apart. Sound a little tight? Yeah, that feels like a galley on a submarine to me. A kitchen designed in this era was for a one chef operator, typically the wife, and was not meant for lots of people to be in there at the same time.

Then and Now

Times have changed a lot since even the 1940’s. Family dynamics, roles in the household and even the way houses are used. Kitchens are now the first thing buyers look at and it’s usually where everyone wants to hang out during a party. Me personally, I’m in there to try all the food, you know, to make sure that it’s up to par for everyone else, and then obviously to be there for cleanup duty. No one should go home with leftovers. Manners, duh!

No longer is it the primary role of the wife to prepare the meals. We have tons of friends where the guy loves to cook or the couple enjoys cooking together. My wife and I like to cook together, but I am definitely sous-chef in that kitchen. Like I said, I’m really really good at tasting food, less on cooking it.

Kitchens today need to be designed for hosting lots of people, with large areas to prep food and serve it. And in a kitchen like that, the classic work triangle doesn’t work much anymore.

Zones Are In, Triangles Out

With the size of kitchens growing more and more to accommodate today’s way of life, the work horses - stove/oven, refrigerator and sink – are laid out in zones now. Plus, a kitchen today usually has two sinks, a gigantic fridge (if not two), the stove top separated from the oven(s), and more appliances than I care to think about. A big island with a prep sink is almost a must with 4-6 stools on one side. All this to say, that a kitchen is now designed for 2+ chefs and lots of people walking through the prep space. Typically, we see that the main sink, dishwasher and refrigerator are grouped on one side while the stove, oven(s), microwave, and prep sink are on the other. Obviously, there’s all makes and models of kitchens, but this is along the lines of a functional kitchen in today’s times.

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