Kitchen Design Principles That Really Matter

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Last updated: March 23, 2023

Guess which three countries led the world kitchen furniture market in 2021? The United States, India, and Japan. Kitchen furniture includes fitted kitchen units and wooded furniture used to prepare food or used in food storage and does not include refrigerators, stoves, and other household appliances. 

Statista helped to put this into large numbers. The United States led the world, with kitchen furniture market revenue totaling about $27 billion U.S. dollars. In comparison to 2019, revenue was approximately $1.5 billion U.S. dollars lower.


In a previous article on EvolutDesign, we confirmed that kitchen renovation of existing space is the number one renovation project in the United States. Why? The kitchen is where family and friends spend the most time.  It’s where the most foot traffic is because it is an open space. I believe the kitchen brings people together, with beautiful meals, good for the soul and your health. It’s the number one happy place in your home, and I think everyone would agree.

A beautiful kitchen is crucial for home resale value. Sure, people look at the rooms, but everyone continuously checks out the kitchen because everything happens here, from preparing meals to eating together. A kitchen needs to have an excellent interior design to organize primary workstations in the best way for maximum efficiency.  No one wants a crowded kitchen or overflowing cabinets or storage space.

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Kitchen Design Principles

Because of the kitchen’s importance, the principles of design are critical. If you’re a self-proclaimed interior designer or in need of professional help, carefully planning your kitchen layout and design process is necessary. You need to consider different design elements and bring everything together to be clean, functional, and efficient.

Think about everything you have to plan for, including appliances, the back door, dining area, counter space, lower cabinets, cabinet doors, backsplashes, base cabinets, hanging cabinets, flooring, and decorative pieces like drawer pulls or the different colors to consider. Everything must have a natural harmony with everything else with colors and texture. I have a personal preference for tall cabinets in my kitchen but I know friends who have a lot of upper cabinets; unfortunately, they’re filled with things they hardly use so it comes off as clutter to me.

A number of studies of kitchen design in the United States uncovered this hidden clutter problem with kitchen cabinets. My philosophy is always less is more. It is a great way to live.

If you’re naturally curious, the University of Illinois has free kitchen design PDF books from the 1950s and 1960s. They are timeless and discuss fundamental design principles, basic rules, work flow, the placement of appliances, and how to make an efficient kitchen. Check this page to learn more about basic planning standards, design procedures, equipment (no reference to smart appliances but am sure a wall oven might be mentioned…grin).

There are various principles of kitchen design that, if followed well, can help one design their dream kitchen and an efficient one, for that matter. These kitchen design principles will help you use the elements correctly and achieve your desired look. My article will help you consider many things before you get serious.

Distance Between Work Centers

By far, a vital principle to ensure extreme kitchen organization, but also making sure the main workstations and their ease of use are possible at their shortest possible distance. Remember, efficiency. You will want your three significant appliances as close to each other as possible: the stove cooker, the refrigerator, and the kitchen sink. The short space between these appliances means that the work surface area is the focal point in this kitchen and does not need a larger space. However, the triangle rule also applies to larger kitchens because it reduces the time wasted moving between workstations and there is enough space too.

The kitchen triangle rule is one of the basic principles of kitchen layout, and yet is an important factor for the efficiency of any commercial kitchen or national kitchen. but also helped to standardize costs. Believe it or not, it was also developed to reduce construction costs and help standardize practices and home builds across the country. A galley kitchen is more common in a small kitchen and does violate traffic flow because it is narrow and tight but could work if you close off one end. In this situation, a work triangle could work. An L-shaped kitchen is an example of an odd layout or shape that can support the triangle rule, making things possible and within easy reach

To help you, visualize a line drawn from the three workstations in your kitchen. Drawing this line between these areas lets you see the distance you will walk to and from each workstation. As a rule of thumb, the sum of the ideal work triangle should be between 15 and 22 feet. In simple terms, each appliance is within a distance of two to three steps from one another.

Universal design principles and the design of the kitchen is a by-product of an era when there was only one cook and three appliances. Homebuilders also dedicated effort to space planning to standardized practices and help reduce construction costs.

Today, the design principle is becoming popular among homeowners and interior designers are spending a lot of time improving modern kitchens with a breakfast bar with proper knee space and improved seating area options in the dining room.

If you want to see things come together and work well, remember that every triangle leg should be less than 4 feet or above 9 feet. Limited human traffic should cut through the triangle, but consider having your microwave closer to the refrigerator versus near the cooking area. It’s far more convenient to grab something from the fridge to quickly heat and eat.

Space Considerations

The walk and work space should be 42-48 inches wide to help traffic flow and provide clearing for large appliance doors. The counter space on both sides of the cook top has to be a minimum of 15 inches. A counter that is 18 inches should be adjacent to the refrigerator on the same side as the handles. Sometimes this is not enough for every kitchen, and it is acceptable to use more inches.

A requirement, a minimum counter space of 36 inches is perfect for the preparation area. Your best location for this would be between the sink and the fridge. Why? More movement will occur by having a prep area between the range and the sink. A good prep area should be lower, measuring about 7 to 8 inches below the elbow.

If two cooks can use your kitchen, the best thing is to share the cooktop and the fridge.

Other guidelines to use when checking the work triangle include:

  • Plan for as many major routes outside the work triangle and ensure there is enough room, general lighting, and storage areas

The distance consideration for the major appliances should be as follows:

  • From the refrigerator to the sink, the distance should measure 4 feet to 7 feet
  • From the sink to the range, the distances should measure 4 feet to six feet
  • The distance from the range to the refrigerator should measure four feet to nine feet.

The clearance between the appliances opposite each other and the base of the cabinet should be 48 inches and above. For bigger homes over 1400 square feet, this distance can go up to 60 inches.

Separation of Work Centers

A kitchen has three work centers: sink, stove cook top, and refrigerator. It is essential to separate these three work centers with ideal measurements.

Sink Center

You should have a sink, water, and drainage to help with food and cleaning up at the sink center. You can consider including a food waste disposal tool, water heater, and an automatic dishwasher. A counter space of about 24 to 36 inches will help right-handed people at the right side of the kitchen sink. On the left side of the sink, consider 18 to 30 inches for counter space. If you have a dishwasher on the left side of the sink, 24 inches of countertop space will be enough.

Poor storage space is a problem at the sink center because of the fittings, the dishwasher, the plumbing lines, and the disposer. Some items stored closer to the sink include cleaning and food items such as brushes, leftovers storage supplies, pitchers, cutting boards, coffeemakers, dishwashing supplies, and wastebasket. If possible, you can store these items in another area, like corner cupboards, open shelves in a pantry, and even wall cabinets as long as they are out of reach of little children.

Cooktop and Serve Center

The cook and serve center is around the cooktop. It is planned for cooking and serving food, meaning that convenience is essential. Around the center, you should store the supplies, equipment, and food preparation tools that begin at this point. It’s also good to consider open shelving. For convenience, this area is desirable for storing serving dishes. While planning this center, ensure no large window is present because a window will take the additional space needed for venting or hood installation. The minimum area to leave on either side of this center is 15 inches.

Don’t forget the fire extinguisher! It should be easily accessible and not require any effort as you might not be able to get to it if smoke or flames are intense enough to block you. A general rule of thumb suggests placing a kitchen fire extinguisher within 30 feet of your cooktop for emergency purposes.

Refrigerator Center

The fridge is usually tall and best located so that your movement from one center to the other is more accessible. Many homeowners place it at the end of the work area. One mistake in this area is not leaving enough counter space on the opening side of the entry door, limiting the convenience of opening, placing, and removing things from the fridge.

Design an 18 inch counter beside the door handle, and your refrigerator should not interfere with food transfer between the counter and dining table.

Mixing Center

Also known as the food preparation center, you will find it between the sink and the refrigerator. It is not ideal to have a window in this area but instead have a storage wall. The recommended length of this counter should be a minimum of 36 inches.

Most homeowners have their counters in the lower range because the height is comfortable. The best height should be 7 to 8 inches below the elbow height.

Measurements Used for the Distance Between Work Centers

As I mentioned earlier, the kitchen has three significant appliances. The distance between the three work centers makes up a work triangle. Whenever a kitchen plan involves the three appliances, every additional distance traveled from one appliance to another should measure a minimum of 4 feet and a maximum of 9 feet.

You must measure each leg from the center front of the appliance.

It would be best if you did not have a leg that intersects the kitchen island, peninsula, or other objects for a work triangle by more than 12 feet.

However, a kitchen work triangle concept cannot work for every kitchen design, mainly when all the major appliances are on the same wall. The distance rule will still apply and remain the same nonetheless.

Frequently Asked Questions

The Basic Kitchen Design Principles

Basic design principles always refer to the golden rule which is the kitchen working triangle. This principle is a good design as it draws a line between the kitchen’s most essential workstations, including the food storage area, the cooking surface, and the cleaning area. With this, you can easily measure the distance you walk from one point to the others. This principle allows the homeowner to experience a remodel of a new kitchen. It provides easy access to the essential parts of the kitchen—a kitchen with only one cook at a time and only three significant appliances.

Other Kitchen Design Principles

There are many others, and all emphasize how to create comfortable and spacious kitchen work zones. Some of these design principles include rhythm, stress, harmony, and balance.

Balance, for instance, is all about the distribution of the visual weight evenly. One can achieve this using form, color, texture, and space, and with each, you will achieve balance in the kitchen.

On the other hand, harmony emphasizes combining all the kitchen elements in the same area and bringing them together in a single form. It is more effective in the kitchen where there are different parts and objects under one roof.

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