kitchen work triangle in large kitchen

Kitchen Work Triangle: Still in Use?

If you are planning a kitchen renovation, then you’ve probably heard of the “kitchen work triangle”. It’s the traditional three-leg approach to the kitchen layout and is the distance between sink, range and fridge. This kitchen work triangle has been the standard for kitchen layouts for decades.

The National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) is a non-profit trade group that promotes professionalism in the kitchen and bath industry. This organization established the standards for the kitchen work triangle back when kitchens had only one sink, one of each appliance, one island, one cook and possibly one chef helper. From the onset, the kitchen work triangle dictates:

  • No leg of the triangle should be less than 4 feet or more than 9 feet
  • The totally distance of the three sides should not exceed 26 feet
  • No traffic should cut thru the triangle
  • The triangle should not cut across an island

The concept of the kitchen triangle worked great as a guide when kitchens were small. But times have changed and so have kitchen designs. While some version of the working triangle can be used because of its efficiency, today’s kitchen designers have more flexibility.

The Work Trapezoid Replaces the Kitchen Work Triangle?

The primary function of any kitchen will always be to prepare and cook food. And yet, today’s kitchens have evolved into a multi-tasking space. Here islands and breakfast nooks now function as places to do homework, pay bills, play games, participate in work meetings via zoom. This is all in addition to preparing, eating and cleaning up meals and entertaining.

Houzz reports that multi-zone kitchens are being designed with a work trapezoid, rather than the traditional kitchen work triangle. These new designs include dedicated areas – or zones — for baking, prepping and chopping, clean up, for snacks, drinks or homework.

Importance of the Kitchen Layout

When beginning the design process, your kitchen designer must take into consideration kitchen workflow that will support your lifestyle. Further, the way in which the various work zones interact with each other is just as important as what happens in the zone itself. Cooking, clean up, entertaining, kids, holidays and zoom meetings must all be considered.

Kitchen designers report that the key to designing an efficient multi-tasking, multi-zone kitchen space is getting the layout right. This happens even before picking styles and colors.

What’s Changed?

Today’s casual lifestyle has become the way most people live and entertain. The kitchen is no longer a closed off room where the cook works over a hot stove. And the family or guests socialize somewhere out of his or her sight, in the “family room” or den. The kitchen is now a place for a busy family to congregate. A place where everyone has two things going at once, dinner guests “help” prepare a meal or extended family and friends drop by for a visit or morning coffee.

Most of today’s kitchens aren’t limited to the three working points of the kitchen work triangle. Further, they’re not limited to a single cook or even a single generation. According to Pew Research, many households are multi-generational today. Nearly 20% of the US population lives with three or more generations, up from 12% in 1980.

The Kitchen Work Triangle Still Works

The classic work triangle is still relevant, especially for smaller kitchens where there isn’t enough space for work zones.

The kitchen work triangle continues as the basis of many kitchen layouts. However, it has morphed and changed to accommodate larger kitchens. Kitchen designers had to come up with innovative ways to improve the work flow. Thus, the zone concept was born.

Kitchen layouts now may include two or more triangles or at least a few more legs to the work triangle. This is especially true in large kitchens where multiple cooks work at multiple sinks, cooking stations and prep areas.

The Impact of the Open-concept Floor Plan

The open-concept floor plan brought about the idea of congregating in the kitchen. The kitchen was an area once considered “off limits” to family and guests when the cook was cooking. Then homeowners who wanted larger kitchens used their dining room to expand the kitchen.

To get the most use from the kitchen, designers had to create layouts with zones in which to work, cook and spend time with family and friends. They eliminated separating walls and integrated the living room and/or dining area into their kitchen designs. This way, homeowners can cook and socialize, all in one open space.

The Work Zones

“Zoning” is the term designers are using to describe the layout of a kitchen according to the way the homeowners use it.  For example, the kitchen island gets used beyond being a place for food preparation. During the day it can be used as a place to set up a laptop for WFH (work from home), homework after school and food prep, then dining in the evening. Further, the chef and/or chefs need a dedicated work zone out of the way of other household members and guests when they are preparing a meal.

Organizing the kitchen into zones also makes tasks more manageable. As you think about all the different tasks you perform in the kitchen, your kitchen designer will plan the layout so everything needed for each task is grouped together.

Five Main Zones Make Up Today’s Kitchens

  1. Perishable food storage, including the fridge and freezer
  2. Dry food storage in a pantry
  3. Prep space with working surfaces
  4. A cooking zone that includes the oven, cooktop and/or range
  5. Wet zone for clean-up, i.e., sink(s) and dishwasher(s)

Larger kitchens may also include a sixth zone for entertaining that allows family and friends to gather and be with the cook while out of his or her way.


Good kitchen design should be both beautiful and functional, while catering to the client’s needs. It’s a designer’s job to share the pros and cons of appliance, island and plumbing layouts to develop the best solutions, whether using the classic kitchen work triangle or its spin-off, the work zones, depending on the space.

Kitchen Design Partner exists to offer insight and advice about all things related to kitchen remodeling. Our goal is to connect homeowners with talented, experienced kitchen designers who live and work in their communities. We are a serious resource for anyone preparing to remodel their kitchen so they can make the best possible choices about designers, contractors and products.