white kitchen design principles

The Universal Kitchen Design Principles For Every Layout  

Suppose location, location, location IS the 3 golden rules of real estate. In that case, I am confident in placing the kitchen design principles at #4.

Basic kitchen design principles must be applied when designing a new kitchen or conducting kitchen renovations.

Incorporating these design elements throughout kitchen design is a great way to create a functional, beautiful, and well-designed kitchen.

Please note that this article contains affiliate links, which means that I may earn a commission if you buy something. Read my full disclosure here.

The Kitchen Work Triangle

 kitchen work triangle diagram

Let us begin with the basic principles of kitchen layout.
An experienced kitchen designer will start the design process by educating you on “Circular Routing.” More commonly known today as the Kitchen Work Triangle.

Invited in the 1920s and ultimately adopted in the 1940s by The University of Illinois School Of Architecture, the kitchen work triangle had 2 main objections.

#1 Control construction costs by standardizing kitchen layouts.

#2 Create an adaptable workspace by keeping the 3 primary workstations within a few steps of each other.

Those 3 primary task areas were as follows

The sink– the main clean-up area

The Fridge– where food is stored

The cooktop– the cooking area.

The sum of the ideal work triangle should total at most 26 feet.

No single leg of the triangle should measure no less than 4 feet and no more than 9 feet.

Measurements should be taken from the center of the appliance.

Major traffic patterns should not cut through the work triangle.

If your kitchen’s design has more than 3 main work centers, each traveled distance to the other station should measure at least 4ft and at most 9 ft.

6 Most Popular Kitchen Layouts

U shaped kitchen layout

Let us review the 6 most common kitchen configurations. How kitchen design principles impact each layout as well as the pros and cons of each.

U-shaped kitchen-
A versatile kitchen with cabinets and appliances on 3 adjacent walls, forming the shape of the letter U.

Adding a free-standing island can easily enhance U-shaped kitchens.

Pros of a U-shaped kitchen-
A U-shaped kitchen keeps the appliances adequately separated. Creating a super functional and inviting workspace.

Cons of a U-shaped kitchen-
Unnecessary shelving and more space than you might need.

This configuration can sometimes create two corner cupboards that are difficult to reach inside. Try installing a Lazy Susan to aid in the display of the cabinet contents.

g-shaped kitchen with free standing island

G-shaped Kitchen-

G-shaped kitchens are the exact layout, pros, and cons of the U-shaped kitchen. G-shaped kitchens are achieved by adding a free-standing island to a U-shaped kitchen.

L-shaped kitchen

L-shaped kitchen layout most popular

Two perpendicular kitchen walls form the shape of an L.
In keeping with the form of the letter L, one wall will be longer than the other. The L-shaped kitchen is one of the most popular and the most functional modern-day kitchen layouts.

Pros of an L-shaped kitchen

A functional layout for both small areas and larger kitchens. Great arrangement for an open kitchen concept.

Cons of an L-shaped kitchen
This layout tends to be limited in countertop and storage space.
Keep the kitchen tidy; this layout will put your dirty dishes on display for all to see.

Galley Kitchen

Galley kitchen configuration

Galley Kitchens are easily recognized by the narrow runway in between two long runs of cabinetry.

Pros of Galley kitchens

Given the narrow nature of a galley layout, they can be a smart idea when designing for small spaces.

Cons of Galley Kitchens

Corridor kitchen layouts can feel closed in and are typically best suited for one chef maybe 2 depending upon how wide the walk space is. They can also run short on storage space with just the two rows of cabinetry.

One-Wall Kitchen

one-wall kitchens exempt from kitchen work triangle
one-wall kitchen enhanced with a peninsula and island

Meet the exception to the rule. In the one-wall kitchen, as the name suggests, all 3 components of the kitchen are on one wall, and this makes it impossible to create a triangle.

Pros of one-wall kitchen Great for small spaces like apartments, casitas, or efficiencies. When square footage allows, the one-wall kitchen can be easily enhanced by adding an island, peninsula, or both, as pictured above.

Cons of the one-wall kitchen- Unable to create the functional flow that comes from a well-thought-out kitchen.

Kitchen Access Standards and Code Requirments

kitchen design principles

In addition to the kitchen layout, several more universal design elements as well as city and state building codes cannot be ignored.

Follow these kitchen design principles and avoid ending up with appliance doors that bang together or poor sanitation and food quality in your workspace.

Even worse, not having ADA-compliant access can limit or restrict access to disabled guests or family members.

Did you know that if you are right-handed, the rule of thumb is that the dishwasher should be placed on the left-hand side of the sink?

Have you ever heard the expression “too many cooks in the kitchen? This could be true!
The width of the work aisle should be at least 42″ for one cook and at least 48″ for multiple cooks.

The National Kitchen and Bath Association has a free downloadable pdf that goes into additional kitchen planning guidelines and American Disability Acts accessibility standards.

Modern Kitchen Design Needs

moden kitchen design needs five zones

Admittedly, a 1940’s kitchen is vastly different from today’s idea of a dream kitchen.
Layouts have changed significantly in the 80-plus years since this kitchen model was adopted.

First and foremost, kitchens are no longer lonely closed-off small spaces to prepare meals.
Today kitchens are much larger, with an open concept, full of natural light connecting the dining room, and seating area, for all to gather.

The kitchen is now the heart of the home where we entertain, celebrate, and eat.
Even our mindsets on construction and design cost have changed.

children eating in an open concept kitchen

Homeowners, realtors, and designers are all in agreement.
The lion’s share of the design budget should be allocated to the kitchen.

While significant foundational elements to the triangle model should still be carried over, there is now so much more to consider in modern kitchen design.

Many homeowners feel crucial ingredients must be added to modernize kitchen design principles.

Five Zone Kitchen Workflow

five zone kitchen under construction

The five-zone kitchen was created to address today’s modern kitchen needs. Cooking, cleaning, consumables, non-consumables, and preparation space.

Let us deep dive, into each of these 5 kitchen design components’ recommended placement, best practices, and latest design trends.

Zone 1 Cooking

gas cooktop with wood hood and wall ovens

Let’s begin with the layout of your cooking area; you must first consider the type of cooking appliances you will use. 

 You can choose a free-standing range or a cooktop with a wall oven combination. 

 This should be an initial design decision, as it will impact your overall kitchen cabinet configuration.  

Give this selection considerable thought as it often involves structural decisions like gas lines, plumbing, electrical and exterior ventilation.   

These expensive and complicated fixes often require city permitting to change after the fact.  

The best placement for the cooktop– Place the cooktop within the work triangle.  

When possible, locate the cooktop on the exterior wall of the home to allow for venting to the outside.  

Do not place the cooktop under an open window.  

Ensuring you have enough work areas on both sides of the oven is essential for meal preparation, measuring, and cooking utensils.   

Ideally, 12 to 18 inches of counter space on one side of the oven and 15 to 24 inches on the other are needed.   

wood hood over a commercial gas range

Range hoods play double duty as necessary equipment for proper ventilation. Still, they also offer visual balance to the kitchen, creating high-impact focal points.  If you haven’t read my post on the top 20 kitchen focal point wall ideas be sure to check it out.

 Cooktop trends: Microwaves support our busy lifestyle but are not the prettiest appliances in the home.  

Many buyers want to dethrone the microwave from the front and center stage of the kitchen.  

Microwave drawers are trending as a sleeker and more contemporary alternative to countertop appliances.  

Tucked away in a base cabinet drawer. Microwave drawers save countertop space and offer spacious interiors without needing the turntable.  

Zone 2 Cleaning

zone one cleaning zone brige faucet sink

The cleaning zone consists of the sink, dishwasher, and trash.  

Sink location: Sinks should be located across or adjacent to the refrigerator or cooktop.  

The countertops space, also known as the landing area, to the left and right of the sink, should be considered.  

The recommendation is that you need at least 18″ of landing space on one side and 24″ on the other.  

 Trending Sink Design Ideas SILGRANIT sinks are composite granite sinks that resist heat, chipping, and staining and inhibit bacterial growth.  

These sinks are offered in under-mount and apron.  

 They add visual panache to any kitchen and with a wide variety of different colors. (Including the increasingly popular black.)  

 Siligranite sinks by Blanco offer yet another opportunity to personalize your kitchen. 


Dishwasher Location: As mentioned earlier, consider your dominant hand when deciding which side of the sink to locate the dishwasher.  

The dishwasher should be located within 36″ of the kitchen sink to ease the loading and unloading of the dishes.  

You will need enough space to stand and load the dishwasher. Typically 21″ of the standing distance between the edge of the dishwasher and the countertop frontage is sufficient.  

dishwasher with cabinet panels

Trending Dishwasher Design Ideas: What did we do before the invention of the dishwasher? I mean, seriously, an express cycle can wash a sink full of dirty dishes in 20 minutes!  

However, if you have ever run out of space, leaving a load of dirty dishes in the sink, you quickly realize why a 2nd dishwasher is a no-brainer.    

Adding a 2nd dishwasher to the island and covering the front of the dishwasher with coordinating cabinet panels is the newest and most desired dishwasher trend. 

child recycles in kitchen roll out trash bins

Trash: Waste and disposal must be carefully considered when making your kitchen selections.  

Trash locations: The trash receptacle should be placed close to the sink.  

Adding roll-out trash bins in your base cabinets to either the left or right of your sink provides easy access to the garbage and prevents you from having a trash can in plain view.   

Trending Waste Bin Design Ideas: Add two roll-out waste baskets to separate waste from the recyclables.  

porcelain apron sink with air switch garabge disposal button

Garbage Disposal: Today, electric waste disposal is considered a standard feature in the kitchen, not a luxury.  

 Trending garbage disposal design ideas-  

Due to the easy installation and everyday convenience, homeowners now prefer the air switch button electric garbage disposal. The air switch button is best located on top of the counter, to the right-hand side of the faucet. This is far more practical than having to go under the cabinet to turn on the disposal.

Zone 3 Consumables

large open concept kitchen with walk in pantry

This is the area in the kitchen where you will keep and store all food, both perishable and non-perishable.  

This will be the food pantry and the refrigerator.  

The pantry’s location should consider the 3 main elements of the kitchen triangle the stove, sink, and refrigerator.  

 A conveniently placed food storage area should be within the main workspace’s 4- to 9ft range.  

Remember that the pantry door(s) should refrain from interfering with appliances or other entries.  

The clear opening of entry doors should be at least 32.” 

 The entry point’s floor space should be kept clear for easier movement. 

consumables food pantry storage

Trending pantry design ideas: Today’s homeowners are looking for an oversized pantry for bulk food storage.  

The pantry needs to be a multifunctional storage space for food storage and a place to house linens, dishes, mops, and brooms. 

Pro tip- Add electrical outlets to the pantry to recharge cordless vacuums and other rechargeable household equipment.  

 Refrigerator Location: Important thing to remember when it comes to the placement of the fridge is that it is at a reasonable distance from the sink and stove.  

The kitchen triangle will always apply. Keeping the Fridge no less the 4′ and no more the 9′ from the other workspaces.  

Locate the refrigerator too close to the stove, and the fridge must work harder to keep cold. Too far away, and the functional workflow is interrupted.  

The refrigerator needs 15″ of landing space on the handle side of the Fridge. For a side-by-side refrigerator, you will need 15″ of landing space on both sides.  

Trending refrigerator design ideas 

Paneled doors that blend the refrigerator in with the surrounding kitchen cabinets. Paneled cabinet doors soften the look of cold stainless steel fridge door panels in a commercial kitchen. 

Zone 4 Non-Consumables

white dishes stored on open shelving

This is how and where you will store all non-consumables, such as bowls, plates, cups, glasses, pots, pans, and eating utensils.

This is where you have the opportunity to really personalize your kitchen and make it your own. Decisions such as layout, door styles, and finishes.

couple browsing kitchen cabinet door samples

From there, you will make decorative choices like crown molding, glass, colors, knobs and pulls and backsplashes, and pendant lighting.

Remember to consider textures, mix metals (up to 2), and incorporate personal effects.

Start thinking now of organizational features like wine holders, USB outlets, and storage of small appliances.

These elements all work together to create a kitchen that reflects your unique style.

Trending non-consumable design ideas

kitchen cabinet drawers new design principle

We all want more storage, cabinets, uppers, and lowers as we continue to push the accessibility and convivence envelope.

Kitchen design trends show we would rather push and pull drawers than open and close cabinets.

Consider replacing your cabinet doors with drawers which allow for much easier reach and less back-breaking bending.

Zone 5 Preparation Space

open concept kitchen with two islands

Preparation space. In a perfect world, every kitchen would have 4 feet of uninterrupted food preparation next to the sink.

Short of 4ft, aim for a minimum of 3ft with 24″ depth.

The kitchen island will most likely give you the most work surface space.

kitchen island with 3 barstools

Kitchen islands serve as the breakfast bar, homework space, and meal prep surface.

An often overlooked kitchen design principle is traffic flow. Leaving ample traffic clearance space behind the island countertop seating is a must. 36″ to 42″ is needed to walk behind guests seated at the island.

The countertop you select can make or break the final look and durability of the kitchen.
Natural stone such as granite, marble, quartzite, and synthetic material like quartz is the most durable material for this area.

Final thoughts on kitchen design principles

As you can see, careful consideration goes into every aspect of kitchen design principles.
Every zone within the triangle has a place, and every element must be in its place to truly optimize the overall functionality and efficiency of the kitchen.

When all kitchen design principles are enabled, working in unison with your unique design choices and decor, then a beautiful and well-balanced dream kitchen is born.

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