Figure 6-13: Clear Floor Space required in kitchens (C) J Wiley, S Bliss Kitchen Layout & Design Principles

  • KITCHEN DESIGN PRINCIPLES - CONTENTS: Kitchen Design & Layout Guidelines: best practices. List of types of work centers in kitchens. Space and clearance requirements for kitchen work centers & activities: dishwasher, sink, food prep, recycling, cooktop, oven landing area, microwave, refrigerator work areas. Clearances for kitchen walkways, work aisles.
    • Kitchen cabinet frontage recommendations. Layout of the kitchen work triangle, two-cook kitchen layout. Kitchen counter size, layout specifications. Kitchen lighting, natural
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Kitchen layout & design principles: this article explains the basic principles of kitchen layout and design, including the layout and clearances for different types of kitchen activities or work centers, and kitchen layouts for one and two-cook kitchens.

This article series discusses current best design practices for kitchens and bathrooms, including layout, clearances, work space, and accessible kitchen and bathroom layout, clearances, turning space, grab bars, controls, etc. We include advice on choosing and installing kitchen countertops, cabinets, and kitchen or bathroom flooring, sinks, and other plumbing fixtures and fixture controls such as faucets. A list of kitchen and bath product manufactures and sources is included.

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Kitchen and Bath Best Design Practices

Figure 6-1: Kitchen & Bath Design (C) J Wiley S BlissAs detailed in Chapter 6 of Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction:

[Click to enlarge any image]

Kitchen Design Basics

Whether designing a small galley kitchen or an expansive space for multiple cooks and entertaining, the same rules apply regarding clearances and relationships between key work centers so that work in the kitchen flows smoothly and efficiently.

While the traditional American kitchen developed around three main appliances—the sink, range, and refrigerator—today’s kitchen may have many more centers of activity, including the following list adapted from the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA):

  • Primary clean-up center: Includes the main sink, dishwasher, recycling center, and waste disposer.
  • Secondary sink center: May also serve cleanup functions. Often associated with the food preparation center.
  • Food preparation center: A clear space at least 16x36 inches typically located between the sink and cooktop or sink and refrigerator. A two-cook kitchen requires two such spaces.
  • Cooking center: Revolves around the cooktop and may also include a separate built-in oven or microwave.
  • Microwave center: Because of its frequent use, this should be near the main activity areas.
  • Pantry center: Tall storage cabinets work well to store food and cooking supplies near the preparation area. Tall cabinets may also store dishes in the serving or dining area.
  • Serving center: This area stores dishes and other serving items and may be in the kitchen or closer to the dining area.
  • Dining center: Many kitchens include either an eating counter or a separate dining area.
  • Socializing center: A casual seating area adjacent to the kitchen work space allows other family members or friends to visit and socialize with the cook.
  • Home office center: A space for the telephone, mail, household records, and cookbooks is often incorporated into the kitchen. Concealing the desktop visually from the kitchen is appreciated by many clients. (List adapted with permission from John Wiley & Sons from Essential Kitchen Design Guide, © NKBA, 1996.)

Kitchen Design Guidelines

In 1992, the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) introduced new design guidelines based on research conducted at the University of Minnesota. These have been expanded and revised over time to reflect the continuing evolution of kitchen design and usage.

The key kitchen design rules are shown below. Accessibility recommendations are listed separately here, but they are now incorporated into all NKBA guidelines.

Kitchen Walkways and Kitchen Work Aisles

Figure 6-1: Kitchen & Bath Design (C) J Wiley S Bliss

Kitchen work aisles with counters or appliances on both sides should be at least 42 inches wide for a one-cook kitchen and 48 inches wide for a two-cook kitchen.

Walkways in kitchens, which may have a work counter on one side, should be at least 36 inches wide and should not cross the work triangle (see Figure 6-1).

[Click any image or table to see an enlarged version with additional detail, commentary & source citation.]

Kitchen Work Triangle Specifications

The shortest walking distance between the refrigerator, primary sink, and primary cooktop should be 26 feet or less, as shown in Figure 6-1 above. Each leg of the triangle should range from 4 to 9 feet long. No major walkway should pass though the triangle, and no corner of an island or peninsula should intersect the triangle by more than 12 inches.

Two-Cook Kitchen Work Triangles

Figure 6-1: Kitchen & Bath Design (C) J Wiley S Bliss


In a two-cook kitchen, each person should have his or her own work triangle of less than 26 feet.

The two kitchen work triangles may share a leg, but they should not cross one another (Figure 6-2).

Conflicting Kitchen Entry, Appliance, Cabinet Doors

All entry doors, appliance doors, and cabinet doors should swing freely without interfering with another door.

Kitchen Cabinet Frontage Recommendations

Figure 6-1: Kitchen & Bath Design (C) J Wiley S Bliss

Provide the minimum cabinet frontage shown in Table 6-1 at left.

Do not count difficult-to-reach wall cabinets over hoods or refrigerators unless special access is provided.

A pie-cut lazy Susan base counts as 30 inches.

Tall cabinets 72 inches or higher can count as either base or wall cabinets as follows: for 12-inch-deep cabinets, multiply frontage by one to count as base cabinets and by 2 to count as wall cabinets.

Double these amounts for 21- to 24-inch-deep tall cabinets.

Kitchen Counter Heights and Edge Specifications

Provide at least two counter heights in the kitchen with one 28 to 36 inches high and the other 36 to 45 inches high. Varied heights create work spaces for various tasks and for cooks of different heights, including seated cooks. Also, clip or round over countertop corners and edges to eliminate sharp edges.

Dishwasher Work Center Location

Figure 6-1: Kitchen & Bath Design (C) J Wiley S Bliss


Locate the dishwasher within 36 inches of the sink and allow at least 21 inches of clearance between the dishwasher and any counters, cabinets, or appliances placed at a right angle to the dishwasher.

If possible, allow 30 inches of clear floor space on each side of the dishwasher so two people can work at the same time (Figure 6-3).

Kitchen Sink Work Center Location

Locate the primary sink between or across from the cooking surface, food preparation area, or refrigerator (Figure 6-4).

Figure 6-1: Kitchen & Bath Design (C) J Wiley S Bliss
  • Counter space: Allow 24 inches on one side of the sink and 18 inches on the other.

    If the sink is within 3 to 18 inches of a corner, provide at least 21 inches of additional space on the return counter.
  • Cabinet space: Provide at least 60 inches of wall cabinet frontage within 72 inches of the primary sink centerline.

    Alternate: Use one tall cabinet within 72 inches of the sink.
  • Floor space: A 30x48–inch floor space centered in front of the sink will make it wheelchair accessible. Secondary Sinks.

    Provide a minimum of 3 inches of countertop frontage on one side of a secondary sink and at least 18 inches on the other side.

Food Preparation Area Specifications

Figure 6-1: Kitchen & Bath Design (C) J Wiley S Bliss


Provide 36 inches of continuous countertop, at least 16 inches deep, immediately adjacent to a sink.

For a two-cook kitchen, provide either two separate 36-inch spaces or one 72-inch space adjacent to a sink (see Figure 6-5).

Recycling Center Area Specifications for Kitchens

Unless provided elsewhere in the plan, provide at least two waste receptacles in the kitchen, one for garbage and one for recyclables.

Cooktop Work Center Design Specifications

Figure 6-1: Kitchen & Bath Design (C) J Wiley S Bliss
  • Counter space: Provide 15 inches on one side of the cooktop and 9 inches on the other. Or if placed against an end wall, leave at least 3 inches of clearance to the wall and cover it with a flame-retardant material. Where there is no backsplash, as in an island or peninsula, provide a minimum of 9 inches behind the cooktop for safety reasons (Figure 6-6).
  • Clearances: Allow at least 24 inches of clearance between a cooking surface and a protected surface above, such as a range hood, or 30 inches to an unprotected surface.
  • Ventilation: Ventilate all major appliance cooking surfaces with a minimum 150 cfm exhaust fan. Gas appliances must vent to the exterior.

Oven Landing Space Needed in Kitchens

Provide at least 15 inches of landing space, a minimum of 16 inches deep, next to or above the oven. If the oven does not open into a traffic area, the landing space can be directly across from the oven by no more than 48 inches.

Microwave Work Center Measurements

Locate stand-alone microwave ovens so that the bottom of the appliance is 24 to 48 inches above the floor. Provide at least 15 inches of landing space, a minimum of 16 inches deep above, below, or to the side of the microwave oven.

Refrigerator Work Center Specifications

Figure 6-1: Kitchen & Bath Design (C) J Wiley S Bliss


Provide at least 15 inches of counter space as a “landing area” adjacent to the handle side of the refrigerator or on both sides of a sideby- side refrigerator.

Alternately, provide 15 inches of countertop directly across from the refrigerator and no more than 48 inches away.

With a side-by-side unit, provide easy access to a counter from the fresh food side (Figure 6-7).

Overlapping Work Centers

Where countertop areas of two work centers (e.g., sink, refrigerator, food preparation) overlap, the minimum counter frontage between the centers should equal the longest of the required two lengths plus 12 inches.

Tall Cabinets Between Work Centers

Do not separate two primary work centers (primary sink, refrigerator, preparation area, or cooking center) by a full-height, fulldepth tower such as an oven cabinet, pantry cabinet, or refrigerator. One exception is a corner-recessed tall tower if knee space is planned to one side.

Kitchen Eating Area Design Specifications

Figure 6-1: Kitchen & Bath Design (C) J Wiley S Bliss
  • Eating counter heights. Heights and capacities for tables, eating counters, and bars are shown in Figure 6-8.
  • Seating widths have been increased to 30 inches in the 30-inch-high seating area to accommodate wheelchairs.

Figure 6-1: Kitchen & Bath Design (C) J Wiley S Bliss
  • Clearances to walls. Allow a minimum clearance of 36 inches from the edge of a counter or table to a wall or obstruction. Increase this to 65 inches if the space also serves as a walkway (Figure 6-9).

Figure 6-1: Kitchen & Bath Design (C) J Wiley S Bliss
  • Table sizes. Many kitchens feature small or full-size dining tables (Table 6-1).
  • When selecting a table, pay close attention to whether leg placement will interfere with the number of chairs planned.

Kitchen Wiring for Use of Electrical Devices

Install ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) on all receptacles within the kitchen. Locate wall-mounted room controls, including electrical receptacles, switches, thermostats, telephones, and intercoms, between 15 to 48 inches above the finished floor.

Home Kitchen Fire Protection Advice

A fire extinguisher should be visibly located in the kitchen away from cooking equipment and 15 to 48 inches above the floor. Smoke alarms should be installed near the kitchen.

Natural Lighting for Kitchens

The combined area of windows and skylights should equal at least 10% of the square footage of the kitchen. Also, every work surface should be well illuminated by appropriate task or general lighting. (see Kitchen Lighting Requirements).

Kitchen and Bath Product Manufacturers, Sources, Associations

  • Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers(AHAM)
  • National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA)
  • Ceramic Tile Institute of America
  • Home Ventilation Institute (HVI)
  • Marble Institute of America Porcelain Enamel Institute (PEI)
  • Tile Council of America (TCA)

-- Adapted with permission from Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction.


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