As kitchens become larger and more important hubs for family living, activity-based design makes more sense than strict adherence to the old work-triangle concept. Activity-based design organizes the kitchen into zones such as refrigeration and food storage, food preparation, cooking, cleanup, and beverage center. In this kitchen, the long countertop along the wall is set up for food prep, with spices, knives, and outlets for appliances conveniently located along its length. One of two ovens is built into the base cabinetry, and the cooktop is just a step away on the island.
The cooking zone is built into the island and includes two chopping blocks, a four-burner gas cooktop, and a wok/griddle cooktop. Instead of a range hood, each cooktop has a pop-up ventilation system. The raised counter that divides the island from the baking zone incorporates a long, narrow sink that's handy for rinsing produce or for filling large pots with water.
The cooking zone should include storage for the pots and pans as well as frequently used seasonings that need to be added during cooking. If you do a lot of sautéing and stir-frying, consider installing a chopping block beside the cooktop. Include a pull-out garbage bin underneath so you can quickly sweep away vegetable waste. Beside the chopping block, the griddle cover flips up to serve as a splatter shield when the griddle is in use and folds down to provide another work surface when it's not.
The appliance garage anchors one end of the food-preparation counter, where it's grouped with an under-counter ice maker, a steam oven, and a warming drawer. This end of the prep station is closest to the refrigerator and serving station, where food can be plated restaurant-style and taken to the table.
For a baker, a dedicated zone that includes an undercounter convection oven will make baking more efficient and even more enjoyable. A tall cabinet keeps supplies, mixing bowls, and measuring cups in one place, while drawers hold spices specific to baking. On each side of the cabinet, there's plenty of counter space for mixing ingredients and rolling pastry.
A beverage center streamlines entertaining as well as morning coffee-making. Located between the refrigerator and the dining room and not far from a wine cellar, this built-in center includes outlets on each side wall for the blender and coffee maker and a direct water line for the coffee maker. Cups and glasses are in each reach in the cabinets above.
Stash small appliances, such as a mixer, food processor, and blender, in a cabinet close to the point of use. Pullout shelves make storage accessible. To prevent accidents or back strain, avoid storing heavy items such as mixers on a shelf above your head or on the bottom shelf of a cabinet. Plan for adequate counter space and convenient electrical plugs at the food-prep area.
The zoning concept works in compact kitchens, too. Here the range and vent hood anchor the cooking zone, with a built-in microwave on the right. Allow enough counter space on each side of the range to accommodate food-prep activities. The National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) advises a minimum of 15 inches beside any appliance, but 18 to 24 inches will feel less cramped. An island that functions as a work surface or staging area for food prep should have at least one electrical outlet for appliances such as a mixer, blender, or slow cooker.
Ideally the dishwasher should be positioned beside the sink so there's a minimum of dripping as you transfer dirty dishes or pots from the sink to the dishwasher. If that's not possible, the NKBA guidelines indicate a maximum of 36 inches between the sink and the appliance.
Common sense, as well as safety and efficiency, long ago determined the rule that the refrigerator should open toward an adjacent countertop. If you have a side-by-side refrigerator-freezer, the counter space can be on either side, and a nearby island offers another landing pad for groceries going into or coming out of the refrigerator. Because this countertop doubles as a coffee- and food-prep center, it has an electrical outlet at each end to accommodate the espresso maker and other small appliances.
Increasingly, cooks are opting to separate the cooktop from the oven. Although this divides the cooking zone into two areas, it allows flexibility in kitchen design. It also allows you to choose gas for the cooktop (if you have access to natural gas) and electric for the oven, a combination many professional cooks prefer. Here the cabinets frame the gas cooktop to create a hearthlike niche, and drawers below stash cookware. The cooktop defines the short end of an L-shape food-prep and cooking zone, with an appliance garage, a prep sink, a built-in microwave, and under-counter electric oven filling out the long leg of the L. The backsplash behind the prep sink includes two electrical outlets to accommodate the mixer, a slow cooker, or food processor.
The idea of the work triangle -- refrigerator, stove, and sink -- as the most efficient way to organize the kitchen dates back to the 1930s. It's still considered the basis of kitchen design (even with the new zoning approach), and the NKBA advises that the total distance between the three stations be no more than 26 feet. The legs of the triangle don't have to be equal, but major traffic paths and cabinetry shouldn't intrude on any of them. In this kitchen, the island is just outside the path between the sink and the refrigerator (not seen) and provides a landing area for both of these as well as the range.
In an average-size kitchen, combining food-prep and cleanup zones along one wall makes the most practical use of space. Tasks such as filling the coffee pot, measuring water for cooking, and rinsing bowls and utensils as you finish using them all occur at the sink. For even more convenience, this kitchen includes two dishwasher drawers, hidden behind paneled doors that match the cabinetry, immediately beside the farmhouse sink. Dishwasher drawers are a good alternative to a standard dishwasher if you usually only have a small load but occasionally need more capacity for a crowd.
If you have the space, include an appliance garage to house the coffee maker, toaster, and other often-used small appliances. Stashing the appliances behind a door that slides up into the framework behind the wall cabinet keeps the counters clutter-free. Install enough electrical outlets inside the garage to accommodate all of the appliances so you can use them without pulling them onto the counter.
Be your own barista with a built-in coffee wall unit but be sure to give yourself counter space nearby. A pullout shelf that ordinarily serves as a cutting board can do the trick if your kitchen floor plan doesn't allow for a countertop beside the wall unit.