If you’ve explored redoing your kitchen, you might have seen or heard the term “kitchen triangle” or “golden triangle.” This refers to the triangulation between the cooking, prep/cleaning, and food storage areas of a kitchen.
“In the 1940s, kitchens tended to be small and appliances tended to be large,” says Erin Davis, lead designer at Mosaik Design and Remodeling. “The concept [of the triangle] evolved as a general guideline for creating a certain proximity between the three main kitchen work zones. The idea is that one person can efficiently maneuver between the spaces, in comfort, if items are spaced properly. (4)
But -- things change. Just fifty years after the idea of the triangle was officially adopted by the kitchen and bath design industry, two assumptions are no longer relevant: a) only one person would be in the kitchen at a time, and b) cooking was the only activity conducted in the kitchen.
Today we’re asking our kitchens to do triple and quadruple duty as workspaces, entertainment areas, and, of course, food prep and dining. What is it about the triangle that still works now? Do we need to adopt a new design template for today’s kitchens?
What is the triangle, anyway?
The traditional kitchen triangle is organized around the main work areas – the sink, the refrigerator, and the stove. Evan Nelson, a kitchen/bathroom designer for Nelson Cabinetry, explains that “the triangle represents the flow of traffic in your kitchen. Ideally, it should create a rotational movement between cooking on one side and chopping/peeling vegetables at another with storage located near a refrigerator. No element should block this natural progression.” (1)
Ideally, in order to create this uninterrupted flow in the kitchen, “the distance between each part of this triangle should be no less than four feet, but no more than nine. Make sure that the sum of all three distances is not less than 13 or more than 26 feet,” continues Nelson. This is a minimum standard, as new construction often requires a larger footprint. (1)
However, “… some kitchen designers believe that it's time to retire ‘the [triangle] rule’ in favor of other layouts that better reflect how people use kitchens these days,” says Real Homes writer Anna Cottrell. (1)
“Many people prefer to create different work zones,” agrees Nelson. “For example, you can have a baking zone that's near your oven with all the baking equipment, or a food prep zone with all your utensils needed.” (1)
Kitchen designer Jamie King of JLK Interiors also prefers the zoning of kitchens. According to King, “The typical kitchen we now design is a multi-function kitchen that allows for several cooks.” (1)
What do homeowners want now?
When looking over a list of new kitchen features frequently requested by clients, there’s quite a range of needs and wants.
With so many people working and studying from home, things that used to be specialty kitchen features are starting to be more common, like beverage stations, or coffee bars. JT Norman, of Kitchen Magic verifies this: “They’re akin to a hotel lobby, with an under-counter refrigerator, sink, and other accessories,” he says. Others extend this idea by installing a wine refrigerator and space for glassware in a butler’s area, usually between the kitchen and dining room. (2)
Other continuing kitchen trends include:
- Larger rooms, or an “open concept” for better functionality. Fewer walls create the more casual and combined living room/dining room/kitchen that many homeowners prefer.
- Larger appliances, or extra appliances. Most people own the standard coffeemaker and toaster, but the popularity of air fryers and fast-cook pressure cookers, as well as commercial-size stoves and additional smaller refrigerators, is definitely growing.
- An entertaining space within the kitchen is essential now. While not everyone has a TV or game system in their kitchen, it’s certainly the gathering space for almost every home, so a variety of seating options and table spaces are in demand.
- All the devices – Hidden charging ports inside drawers, or newly created spaces just for powering up a slate of electronics, are features that are starting to be a requirement.
- Custom or semi-custom inserts for lower cabinets for pet food storage or recycling, tall pantry cabinets for cleaning supplies and equipment, and open shelving for showcasing various collections are also on the rise.
- Larger, even walk-in, pantries are also being installed more often as people shop in bulk, and get back to traditional food preservation and canning. Often, they need more space to store a collection of small appliances like espresso machines, mixers, and tabletop grills.
What’s the best option? Is the triangle idea dead?
Melissa Klink, Creative Director at Harvey Jones, says, sort of: "It is really a case of using your common sense, sitting down with your kitchen designer and talking through how you and your family like to cook and use your kitchen — if creating a sociable space is more important than building a highly-efficient cooking hub to you, your needs will be quite different to that of an avid chef, for example.” (3)
Graeme Smith, Head of Retail and Commercial Design at Life Kitchens, says maybe. “The best open plan kitchens will incorporate a divider to help break up the space, such as a breakfast bar or island. Not only does this ‘zone’ your space, it increases your storage space and gives you an informal place to eat or work.” (3)
Howard Miller, Designer at H. Miller Bros. says no, but it’s a place to start, not a hard and fast rule. "We view the ‘golden triangle’ design principle as more of a star, or a hub-and-spoke arrangement — if you can draw this diagram over your kitchen layout it will feel natural to use. A defined design layout helps families to differentiate cooking, dining, and living areas while preserving the overall open-plan feel of the space. In order to create this kind of layout, we create a range of solutions such as slatted screens, open shelving, and freestanding bespoke furniture." (3)
Ultimately, the kitchen triangle should be used as a guideline. That's according to Susan Serra, certified kitchen designer at Susan Serra Associates. “Many designers now feel that the most important criteria for the kitchen design is the client's lifestyle,” she explains. “The best scenario is when the designer points out both pros and cons of appliance locations, regardless of ‘rules’, to meet the specific aesthetic and functional needs of the client.” (4)
Answer: You do you!
In the end, "… the kitchen space must be a … robust cooking and working environment whilst also being an area to relax, dine and work from," says Keith Myers of The Meyers Touch. "2020 redefined the way homeowners used their homes, in particular, kitchen spaces." (3)
"The main consideration for a kitchen is that the space needs to be practical and easy to navigate," advises Melissa Klink, Creative Director at Harvey Jones (3).
“No longer is the room only about having a functional workspace, but is a place that offers an emotional experience,” says Chicago designer Susan Brunstrum, of Studio Brunstrum (2).