Is the Work Triangle Still the Best Kitchen Design?

Microwaveable dinners aren’t the only way to make dinner prep go faster. A kitchen triangle can, too.

Kitchen triangles — sometimes called work triangles or golden triangles — are a time-tested kitchen design that aims to maximize efficiency while cooking.

“The idea is minimizing wasted steps and optimizing workflow, enabling cooks to move seamlessly between tasks,” says Michael Reeve, a kitchen designer and founder of Kitchinsider.

Of course, the kitchen triangle isn’t right for everyone. Should you consider it for your space, or is another layout a better option? Here’s what you need to know.

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What Is the Kitchen Work Triangle?

The kitchen work triangle is a design layout that dictates where your big three appliances — the refrigerator, sink and cooktop — should be located in relation to each other. It first emerged in 1949 as a design standard for mass-produced homes.

“A kitchen work triangle is a function-first kitchen layout in which the stove, fridge and sink all sit across from each other, forming a triangle,” says Kelsey Clark, design editor at interior design site Havenly. “Its purpose is to provide easy access to the three most important workstations in the standard kitchen, minimizing foot traffic and optimizing function for the cook.”

The original triangle called for no more than 4 to 7 feet between the fridge and sink, 4 to 6 feet between the sink and oven, and 4 to 9 feet between the oven and fridge, with no more than 22 feet in total between the three. Anne Colby, U.S. editor for design and decor platform Houzz, says today’s kitchen triangles (and homes in general) are a bit larger — with no more than 4 to 9 feet between each appliance and a total length of 13 to 26 feet.

Exact measurements aside, the objective is the same: to have your appliances within quick, easy reach of each other when working in the kitchen.

Despite its old origins, “Many design pros on Houzz still plan kitchen layouts using the traditional kitchen work triangle concept to maximize efficiency for the cooking area of the kitchen,” Colby says. “By keeping the main cooking zones confined to one part of the kitchen, you’re able to make use of other spaces for activities, like eating and entertaining, without conflicts.”

The kitchen triangle can also speed up your time in the kitchen, says Laurel Vernazza, home design expert and chief marketing officer at homebuilding planning platform The Plan Collection. “It decreases the amount of walking required,” she says. “So the cook should be able to complete the meal in less time.”

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Is the Kitchen Triangle Best for Your Kitchen?

As Colby noted, kitchen triangles are still popular with many homeowners today, but they’re not right for everyone.

Generally speaking, kitchen triangles are best if you have a small to medium-sized kitchen, Reeve says, where “space optimization is crucial.” They’re also a better fit for solo cooks — households where only one person will be working in the kitchen at a time.

“If you have a small kitchen and two people will be cooking, the work triangle may become cramped and less efficient,” says Evelina Juzenaite, principal interior designer at home design platform Planner 5D. “It may also not be suitable for very large kitchens, because there will be a lot of walking, and the triangle will not work very efficiently.”

Triangles also aren’t worth it if it will require fully reworking your kitchen, Juzenaite says (if your builder has included pre-established spots for your appliances, for instance, it might mean serious renovation to make the triangle work).

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Alternatives to the Kitchen Triangle

It’s possible the traditional kitchen triangle might not work in your kitchen, but a variation of it will. According to Clark, many homeowners are taking a more flexible approach to the triangle these days — using the basic triangle as the foundation, and then expanding or adding on from there.

“The individual layouts are more varied, spaced out and free-flowing, depending on the space,” Clark says. Some even combine the work triangle with a large, eat-in island or butcher’s block island for prepping.

Kitchen work zones are also an option if the triangle isn’t suited to your space. These might include dedicated areas for baking, prepping, chopping, or even doing homework or working from home, depending on your needs as a household.

“Many designers on Houzz are turning to multizone kitchen designs that add more touch points to a triangle shape and create additional work zones,” Colby says. “With open-plan kitchens, which often include an island, the multizone approach works well as it provides individuals space to carry out different tasks while allowing them to remain together as a family.”

There are also linear kitchens, which line up all the appliances on one single wall for easy access, and L-shaped kitchen designs, too.

“This is where you would have the refrigerator and the sink on one wall of the kitchen while the stove is placed on the adjoining wall,” Vernazza says. “This layout is good for smaller kitchens that may not have the space for a triangle layout.”

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