Kitchen Design Basics

Learning a few basic kitchen design concepts can help create a more efficient work place whether you are renovating, building a home, or simply reorganizing your cabinets.

Think in terms of three key areas: the sink, the refrigerator and the stove. Then draw an imaginary line connecting the three. The triangle formed between the units is the work triangle which for maximum efficiency should be no longer than 20 feet. If the total distance between these three activity centres is any longer than that you will waste valuable energy moving from one area to the other. A kitchen functions best when the sink, refrigerator and stove are placed so you rotate easily from station to station.

Some dimensions to remember

Don’t place either the sink or stove in the corner. There should be at least 16 inches between them and the corner to allow sufficient elbowroom

  • Allow at least 15 to 18 inches of counter space on one side of the oven.
  • Allow counter space on both sides of the stove or stovetop – 12 to 18 inches on one side and 15 to 24 on the other.
  • Allow 18 to 30 inches of counter top on one side of the sink and 24 to 36 on the other.
  • Place the stove or cooktop along an exterior wall to allow for installation of a range hood and ventilation system.

Standard dimensions for counters and cabinets

For standard kitchen cabinets allow a 3-inch toe space, 36-inch high cabinet, 24-inch deep counters and 20 inches between the counter and upper cabinet. If you are short you may choose to customize counters to a comfortable working height, but remember dishwashers and stoves are manufactured to coordinate with standard cabinets. Some tasks like rolling pastry or kneading bread are easier to perform at lower heights. If you’re not prepared to lower a section of counter for these specific tasks. moving your work to a standard 30-inch high kitchen table, may be the answer.

To increase storage space for appliances you can extend the standard 24-inch deep counter 10 inches, install outlets and a roll top (tambour) door to create a handy appliance garage in the work area.

Kitchen Layouts

The way a kitchen is laid out to meet individual needs is equally as important as the amount of space allocated. In the 1950s when the work triangle theory was developed by Cornell researchers, the homemaker tended to be the main kitchen worker. Now that more family members are involved in food preparation, more consideration has to be given to traffic patterns and how to accommodate two or more people in a confined space. While a U shape is ideal for one person the corners restrict movement when two people are at work.

One wall galley kitchen

For this layout to be efficient 10 feet (3 meters) of wall space is required. Pull out carts can extend the workspace. The main preparation area between the stove and sink should be the longest continuous counter space. Tall wall units should be placed at the ends.of cabinets.

Corridor or two wall galley

Counter tops extend down both sides of the room. The corridor between them should be no less than 48 inches. This distance is critical to allow enough space for reaching into the lower cabinets comfortably. An efficient work triangle can be maintained as long as one end of the galley is closed off with a wall to prevent traffic interrupting the workflow. Dining space usually has to be located elsewhere although it is possible to make one counter wider to incorporate an eating bar or to design a drop down table.

L-shaped kitchen

Counter tops run along two adjacent walls in an L shaped kitchen forming a natural work triangle and allowing space for an eating area. The corner can be an awkward, congested area in a two-person kitchen particularly if the sink is located close to the corner.


You need quite a lot of available floor space to accommodate an island. If a cooktop is placed in the island countertop ventilation or an exhaust hood is essential. If you are planning to use it as an eating bar it should be a lower height or plan on purchasing high stools.

It is also possible to create a portable island with a rolling butcher block or cart that can be stored under the counter when not in use.

U-shaped kitchen

The U-shaped kitchen places work areas and appliances around three sides of the room with good stretches of counter for work .It naturally encourages an efficient work triangle and works best if the refrigerator is placed at the end of the counter. Good corner storage is essential because there are two to contend with. Make sure the dishwasher isn’t close to the corner or it will block access to lower cabinets when it is open.

G-shaped kitchen

The G- shape is an expansion of the U with a fourth wall or peninsula of cabinets and appliances so it requires a fairly large room.

By Liz Delahey


Canadian House and Home, November 1997.

The Kitchen Planner, Suzanne Ardley, Chronicle Books, LLC

Terence Conran’s Kitchen Book, Raincoast Books