Practically everybody – who’s given kitchen design even a tiny bit of thought – has heard of the kitchen work triangle. You’ll see it mentioned on umpteen web sites and trotted out in glossy magazines and newspaper supplements.
The work triangle refers to the placement, in the kitchen, of the cooker, sink and fridge. It’s not just a theory either, it’s based on research which involved watching women working in their kitchens. The researchers came up with a complicated formula for working out the optimum distances between those three kitchen items.
Here are two versions that I found on the internet - and shamelessly lifted! The one on the left is American, of course, because it uses imperial measurements, but I've converted them to metric:
I have quibbles with these examples. The one on the left has a tall fridge, right in the corner, which may be great for the work triangle - but wouldn't be great for many fridges, which need space on the hinge side for the door to open properly. The one on the right was labelled as a "compact" work triangle. A bit too compact, I think. Wouldn't it be better to move the fridge to the left a bit and give yourself more space to open the door when you're working next to the sink? And it's not an arrangement that would work with a tall fridge. My main quibble with the work triangle, though, is that it's too simplistic, both for the average UK kitchen which has often been altered and extended, and for today's lifestyles.
There’s nothing wrong with putting the fridge, hob and sink in a triangle arrangement – in fact, you’ll be hard pressed in many smaller kitchens, to come up with any other arrangement – but it’s perhaps time to re-evaluate exactly how useful the work triangle is. After all, the research was carried out fifty years ago. That’s why the original advice refers to where to put the cooker – it was before it was common to separate the hob from the ovens. The layout below - where the work triangle doesn't quite work - is more typical of a modern, much altered kitchen. The room is used as a kitchen; for eating snacks; and for sitting comfortably ... and the area to the left is a utility area and provides extra storage.
A big American style fridge-freezer is often going to be difficult to fit into a neat triangle - and it's debatable whether you'd want it there anyway. The kids (and the husband?) are likely to make frequent trips to that ice and water dispenser and get under your feet.
Those of you (sorry – us!) who are old enough, will remember that kitchens were very different fifty years ago. They weren’t full of gadgets and small appliances. My mother’s kitchen didn’t have a microwave, or a mixer or liquidiser, or a coffee machine. In fact, I don’t remember it having a fridge at first – we relied on the built-in pantry to keep things cool. She did a lot more cooking than I do, especially baking – but using mainly just a mixing bowl or two, a wooden spoon, some tablespoons and the baking tins and pans. We didn’t sit in the kitchen either, it was a small room at the back of the house, used purely to work in.
Today’s kitchens are very different. The fridge is used for a lot more than just storing cooking ingredients and milk; you might have three or four ovens, as well as a hob; we use a lot more gadgets and appliances; and the whole family may congregate in the kitchen to do any number of things. Tables and chairs are very common in larger kitchens and even easy chairs and sofas have been creeping in more recently. The result is that new kitchens today are often much larger but – unless they’re newly built – are often a strange shape, having been knocked through from smaller rooms and added to, with one or more extensions.
In the large kitchen above (a result of knocking four rooms together) - the spaces are much more complicated. Part of the room is a proper working area and you could talk about a work triangle there, but it wouldn't really help you to plan out the whole room. Any kitchen designer who just planned out that bottom corner, without looking at how to use the overall space, wouldn't be doing their job properly.
Instead of relying on research from fifty years ago, it would make more sense to do a bit of investigative work on yourself and your family, before planning your new kitchen. Keep a kitchen diary for a while – listing what you went into the kitchen for – and what appliances and units you used. Make a note of anything that’s awkward or inconvenient, and plan your new kitchen around the way you actually use your kitchen (bearing in mind that things might change if your new room is going to be much larger). That sort of research is going to be much more useful than relying on how my mother used her kitchen fifty years ago.
Tomorrow: Modern Zone Planning
If you'd like Majjie's help to design your kitchen please have a look at our Kitchen Design Services pages. We provide an affordable and professional service, which can be tailored to your needs - and we don't want to sell you a kitchen!