A great kitchen starts with a solid plan. Use these tips to create a kitchen layout that allows food prep to flow as easily as the conversation.

By Jessica Bennett
Updated December 04, 2020
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Kitchens come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, and layouts, but well-designed kitchens have a few things in common. There are several crucial elements you should consider to help you design the most effective floor plan for your kitchen, whether you’re planning a galley kitchen, U-shape kitchen, L-shape layout, island, or peninsula. In addition to planning the placement of appliances, you'll need to plan clearances, traffic flow, storage details, and even the swing of all doors. Follow the tips below to create a successful kitchen layout that maximizes storage space and convenience.

white kitchen with subway tile backsplash
Credit: Lincoln Barbour

1. Keep the Work Area Compact

Paths between your refrigerator, sink, and cooktop should be quick, direct, and without obstacles. These three areas form the classic work triangle where most of the kitchen activity will take place. Ideally, each leg of the triangle should be no less than 4 feet long (to ensure you have enough workspace) and no more than 9 feet long (so you don't waste steps).

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 seating and conversation. 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 with each other. The larger clearance also applies to spots where two people work back-to-back or stools pull out. More than 48 inches is generally overkill. In a tiny kitchen, the minimum aisle width is 36 inches.

4. Plan for Sufficient Counter Space

You need at least 36 inches of clear, uninterrupted counter space for prep work, and 42 inches is better if you frequently roll out dough. The National Kitchen and Bath Association offers these guidelines for minimum landing space: Near the fridge and wall oven, leave 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 countertop behind the burners for safety. At the main sink, plan for 18 inches of counter space on one side and 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 or a pretty crock can be smart kitchen storage solutions.

Slide out kitchen pantry
Credit: Greg Scheidemann

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 pasta and rice, can be stored by the cooktop.

7. Consider All Door Swings, Including Appliances

Look for conflicts within your kitchen layout. 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 this appliance is snug against a wall, you might not be able to fully open drawers or pull them out for cleaning. You should also beware that if a dishwasher is adjacent to an angled corner sink, the door will overlap the sink area and might bruise shins.

8. Double-Check Installation Requirements for Appliances

Take a close look at all requirements for installation before you purchase appliances. 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 in a spot that 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.

kitchen view farmhouse sink
Credit: Jay Wilde

10. Avoid the Trash-Bin Traffic Jam

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 Dishes and Flatware Near the Dishwasher

Outfit drawers and cabinets directly around the dishwasher with your everyday dishware and utensils. This will make the chore of unloading clean dishes a little less wearisome. For dishes you use less frequently, such as serving platters or fine china, it's OK to store them in another area like the pantry or dining room.

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.

after kitchen white with large island
Credit: Paul Dyer

13. Design a Convenient Kitchen Island

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, reach over, and circumnavigate. An island unit that's too broad also wastes space below its center.

14. Don't Forget Decorative Elements

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 or open shelves. Elevation drawings can help you visualize aesthetics when designing your kitchen.

15. Consult a Professional

A skilled kitchen designer can show you a layout that makes the most of your space, your priorities, and your budget. If determining the best kitchen layout for your space seems too overwhelming, consider hiring a professional to help make your dream kitchen a reality.

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