1. Keep the Work Area Compact
Paths between your refrigerator, sink, and cooktop should be quick, direct, and without obstacles -- the classic work triangle. Ideally, each leg of the triangle should be no less than 4 feet long (to ensure you have enough work space) and no more than 9 feet long (so you don't waste steps). Visit the website of the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA) at nkba.org for more planning guidelines.
2. Divert Traffic from the Core
Position doorways and aisles so traffic flows around, not through, the primary work triangle. Use an island as a friendly barrier: Designate one side for working and the other for the peanut gallery. An auxiliary station, such as a wet bar or family message center, should be outside the primary work area.
3. Provide Adequate Aisle Space
A 42-inch-wide aisle between opposite countertops is fine, but 48 inches is best where appliances compete, two people work back-to-back, or stools pull out. More than 48 inches is overkill. In a tiny kitchen, the minimum aisle width is 36 inches.
4. Plan for Sufficient Counter Space
You need at least 36 inches or clear, uninterrupted counter space for prep work -- and 42 inches is better if you roll out dough. The NKBA offers these guidelines for minimum landing space:
Near the fridge and wall oven: 15 inches on both sides (if necessary, one side can be 12 inches). For an island cooktop, more surrounding counter space is better for comfort, and you need a backsplash or at least 9 inches of counter behind the burners for safety.
At the main sink: 18 inches on one side, 24 inches on the other.
5. Tailor Storage to Tasks
A good plan puts everything you need at your fingertips, exactly where you need it. Your prep station should include storage for mixing bowls, measuring tools, cutting boards, and utensils such as knives, peelers, and graters. Pots and pans belong close to the cooktop, as do hot pads, spatulas, pot-stirring spoons, ladles, cooking oils, and savory spices. Short on space? A pot rack and pretty crock can be smart storage solutions.
6. Consolidate Ingredients
Position your everyday pantry close to the fridge so you don't crisscross the kitchen to make a bowl of cereal. If that's not practical, create a separate bread-and-breakfast station by the refrigerator. Ingredients that go straight to the pot, like dry pastas and rice, can be stored by the cooktop.
7. Consider All Door Swings, Including Appliances
Look for conflicts. Will two doors routinely collide? Can you stand comfortably beside an open appliance? Be especially mindful of the refrigerator door swing. Many refrigerator doors must be open more than 90 degrees for interior bins to fully extend -- if such an appliance is snug against a wall, your lettuce may be held hostage and drawers won't pull out for cleaning. Also beware that if a dishwasher is adjacent to an angled corner sink, the door will overlap the sink area -- and bruise shins.
8. Double-Check Installation Requirements for Appliances
Do this before you buy. Even among same-size appliances, actual depths, required clearances for airflow, and door swings may differ.
9. Think Through the Electrical Plan
Codes dictate outlet placement, but you still have choices. Make sure outlets are available wherever you would plug in small appliances and won't cause cord issues. Switches should be intuitively placed. Consider a dimmer for pendants and other overhead lights and a push button for the disposal.
10. Avoid the Trash-Bin Do-Si-Do
Think twice before installing a trash pullout below your main sink. When you're standing at the sink, the trash is inaccessible. Instead, place the pullout immediately to the right or left of the sink or in your prep area.
11. Stow Everyday Dishes and Flatware Near the Dishwasher
This will make the chore of unloading clean dishes a little less wearisome.
12. Beware of Putting a Fridge Directly Beside a Wall Oven
There are exceptions, but in general, the oven's heat taxes the refrigerator and could shorten its lifespan. Also, appliance doors may collide, and the two units won't fit flush unless both are built in.
13. Make Your Island a Paradise
Maintain adequate clearance in surrounding aisles. In a small kitchen, a peninsula is often a better choice. In a very large kitchen, two islands can be better than one supersize island, which is hard to clean and reach over, awkward to circumnavigate, and wastes space below its center.
14. Don't Forget Pretty
Include at least one strong focal point in the room. For instance, center a range and set it off with a striking hood and cabinetry. Elevation drawings can help you visualize aesthetics.
15. Consult a Professional
A skilled designer can show you a layout that makes the most of your space, your priorities, and your budget -- and help make your dream kitchen a reality.
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