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Kitchen Design Principles

The kitchen is where the magic happens. It’s not only where we cook, but where we entertain friends and family, start our mornings and where we relax after a long day and our dinner. So given the importance of the kitchen, it should be designed and made to suit your specific needs. In this post we’ll discover the two main kitchen design principles that will help you design a more efficient kitchen – called the work sequence and the kitchen triangle.

FIGURE 1 – The Family Kitchen


The aim here is to apply few well known design principles to come up with a practically efficient kitchen. By efficiency, I mean the level of ease you are able to carry out the daily tasks in the kitchen. Think of it like a natural flow from one task to another. Our imaginary client in this case is a family of three, who like to spend a lot of time in the kitchen either cooking or hosting dinner parties. Although the design will always vary according to each clients specific needs, there are some underlying principles that can be applied to any design.


Cabinets, worktops, floor & wall tiling – Porcelanosa UK

Bespoke kitchens – Wickes

Sheet materials for cabinetry – WickesMaterials Market

Reclaimed wooden dining tables – Smithers of Stanford

Painting & Decorating – Dulux Decorator Centre


The two main principles in kitchen design are the work sequence and the kitchen triangle. These are not building regulations that you absolutely must follow – just think of them as design guidelines to help you design a more efficient kitchen. To help us understand these principles a little better, we’ll be using  the kitchen floorplan below as our example.

FIGURE 3 – Floor Plan (scale 1:20)

The work sequence is the order of activities involved in preparing food. This means all the steps from walking in with the groceries, storing the produce, to prepping, cooking, eating, and to eventually cleaning it all away. We can break these down into six main steps, which are explained below;

  1. Store – unloading and unwrapping of food, storing in refrigerator/freezer/ larder/cupboards
  2. Wash – washing, peeling, chopping, sieving food, dishwashing
  3. Prepare – weighing, mixing cake and pastry making
  4. Cook – hob for boiling and frying, grill for grilling and browning, oven for baking and roasting, microwave oven for defrosting, fast cooking and heating.
  5. Serve – dishing up food, keeping food hot, toasting bread, storing cutlery, crockery and condiments
  6. Eat – table laying and eating
FIGURE 4 – Work Sequence

Once these steps are completed, you usually go through the return sequence as follows;

Clear – removing dirty dishes to sink and dishwasher, returning uneaten food to refrigerator and cupboards.

Wash up – waste disposal, loading dishwasher, hand washing, draining, putting away

So how does all this effect the design process? Well, the idea is to design a layout where cross circulation is as minimal as possible. In other words, to arrange the kitchen in a way that the listed tasks can be carried out with least possible effort. Having said that, there’s always going to be crossing some of the activities. For instance, the sink is used both for preparation and washing up, and the flow of tableware and crockery to and from the dishwasher and the table.

The distance between the preparation area (number 3) and the wet zone (number 2) should be minimal. This is because nobody wants to carry around heavy pans from sink to the hob longer than they have to. The recommended distance between the two is no longer than 1.8 meters.


The work triangle is the relationship between three of the main appliances used in the kitchen – the refrigerator, sink, and the cooker. As a rule of thumb, when we add the lengths together, the sum should not be less than 3.5 meters, and no more than 6.5 meters. Shorter distance means that we don’t have enough work surface space, whereas longer distance means that we’ll just end up walking around too much every time we cook a meal.

FIGURE 5 – Work Triangle Between Sink, Cooker and Refrigerator 

So even though we are working on a fairly large family kitchen layout, we can keep it efficient by following the kitchen triangle rule. The triangle lengths are calculated from the centre of each appliance, as shown in Figure 5. We can quickly check if our triangle satisfies the recommended distances by adding up the lengths;

2410 mm + 2245 mm + 1210 mm = 5865 mm (5.9 m) which falls between 3.5 m and 6.5 m.


Now that we understand the work sequence and the kitchen triangle, we can look at rest of the fittings and appliances we have included in our kitchen. When it comes to appliances, energy efficiency should always be one of the top priorities. High energy efficiency ratings mean lower bills and less harm to the environment.

Below is an elevation showing each appliance labelled. These timber cupboards are all made from reclaimed (recycled) wood – which we’ll talk more about later on. In Figure 7 you can see a drawing of standard dimensions used while designing this kitchen. These dimensions do vary of course, especially if the kitchen is designed to be more accessible for people with physical disabilities.

FIGURE 6 – West Elevation (scale 1:20)

1. Stainless fridge/freezer 2. Microwave 3. Oven/grill 4. Gas hob 5. Grey glass splashback 6. Timber-faced tall storage (reclaimed) 7. Small timber-faced overhead cupboards (reclaimed) 8. Large timber-faced overhead cupboards (reclaimed) 9. Concealed extractor unit 10. Pot storage drawers 11. Under-bench storage cupboards

FIGURE 7 – Typical Cabinet Dimensions (source: 1)

Out of the three appliances that make up the kitchen triangle, it’s the cooker that we’ll end up using most frequently. It typically consists of an oven, grill, and hob that is powered either by gas or electricity, or both. In this case, the hob is gas operated, and the oven/grill is powered by electricity (numbers 3 & 4).

When designing the position of the cooker, we need to leave plenty of clearance on either side. The recommended distance is 400 mm. We also have an additional oven (3) and microwave (2) that are integrated into the joinery. Having these at a higher level makes them more ergonomic. In other words, you’re less likely to pull your back while bending down with heavy oven dishes in your hands.

The hob will of course need an extractor to remove all those greasy vapours while we’re cooking. Usually this needs to be positioned on, or near an exterior wall. Here it’s hidden behind the joinery, purely for aesthetic reasons. It’s not the prettiest looking thing, so keeping it hidden allows us to keep the sleek lines of the cupboards undisturbed. Although some people may prefer to have it visible to create a more industrial feel. Just a matter of personal reference, really.


By adding an island in our layout, we can separate the working area from the dining area. This means that people can gather around the island but never have to enter the work space. The island also provides plenty of storage space in itself, as well as housing the sink, dishwasher, and rubbish disposal, as shown in the drawing below.

FIGURE 8 – Kitchen Island Detail

Sink is the third component in the kitchen triangle, and – according to research – it’s where we spend most of our time in the kitchen. This stainless steel sink measures 400 x 400 x 200 mm with a thickness of 3 mm. Under-mounting it to the concrete worktop makes it a more hygienic option to the standard insert sinks. One large sink is usually enough, especially since we also have a dishwasher in the kitchen.

We’ve also chosen a professional-style tap with a hose for rinsing dishes and washing areas around the sink. This is frequently in use, so it’s important that it works properly and that it’s easy to use. Remember, when installing a tap, all water fittings and installations need to conform the relevant regulations. In England and Wales, it’s the Water Supply (water fittings) Regulations 1999


Concrete is a very versatile material that adopts itself to pretty much any setting or style. A ground and polished concrete has a quite nice touch to it, and as in this case, works well with the warmth of our timber cabinets. Another advantage of concrete is that it will save you a lot of money compared to using granite or marble.

We don’t have to worry about having joints either, as we would with granite or marble slabs. To make the concrete island, we would pour the concrete in-situ. Meaning, that we would build the mould for the concrete on site (in the kitchen) and then fill it with concrete. After the concrete dries, all we need to do is remove the mould and voilà – we have ourselves a concrete island. You can check out a similar process explained in this tutorial.


The cupboards designed for this kitchen might look all swanky, but in fact, they can be mad from reclaimed wood. Reclaimed is basically just another word for recycled. The cupboard carcasses we would build from 18 mm MDF, and then use reclaimed sheet material for the doors – given that it has a nice texture we want.

FIGURE 9 – Base Cabinet Detail

Above is a typical base cabinet assembly that we can modify any way we want. We could add shelves, dividers, baskets, wire trays or even racks for all your Tupperware – you name it. Building one of these cabinets is pretty straightforward; there are two side panels, a back panel, a bottom panel and a toe board. Behind the toe board we would add adjustable feet to let us level the cabinets easily. Alternatively, we could use shims to account for any unevenness in the floor during installation.

In this kitchen, the drawers and cabinet doors are all handleless. These give the kitchen a modern feel. Instead of a handle, you simply cut a profile onto the doors so you can open them (see Detail B in Figure 9). For the cabinet doors, easy-on hinges allows them to open and remain plumb with the frame. A cheaper alternative would be to use push-to-open drawer runners.


Another example of using reclaimed wood is the dining table. We would need to source some nice chunky planks for the table top, and screw them onto a metal frame. These could be – for example – salvaged old floor boards from a demolished house. They usually require fair bit of cleaning and removing old nails etc, but the effort is usually worth it in the end.

FIGURE 10 – Reclaimed Wood Table

Mild steel box section makes up the table legs. Any steel fabricators can weld this up and drill the screw clearance holes if you haven’t got access to a workshop. Or, we could just buy table legs from a shop and screw them on. We would also need to sand down the timber and apply few coats of varnish, furniture wax, or similar to make sure that our table would withstand heat and moisture.

We are joining the timber planks together with timber adhesive and with a mortise and tenon joint. How this works, is that we first cut a mortise hole on the side of the timber, and then glue the tenon tongue into this hole (see Detail B above). We could also use biscuit joints or any other similar.

If you’re not too keen on building one yourself, you can always buy a table made from reclaimed wood. If so, I’d suggest looking at something like this reclaimed dining table or perhaps a more contemporary table from Smithers of Stamford in London.


Ultimately, the type of design you’ll choose comes down to personal preference and the type of space you’re working with. We all like different styles of designs and different materials; where one prefers granite worktops where another loves timber worktops instead. But this also means that there are endless opportunities to customise cabinets, worktops, cupboards, shelves, etc to fit your personal needs. You can be as creative as you want, and that’s exactly what makes design so exiting!

The main design principles are there to help you ensure that your kitchen remains efficient, but remember, they are not building regulations that you must adhere to. So if you’re not a big fan of cooking, then you might design a layout more suitable for socialising instead. And there’s plenty of room to switch things around too. Take the kitchen triangle for example, you can rearrange the elements however you want. You might want the sink next to the cooker, or you could have the cooker integrated to the kitchen island. You get the idea.

So don’t just settle for that generic kitchen package advertised on the cover of a furniture brochure. Because what’s the point in having the same kitchen as thousands of other people? With the amount of time we spend in our kitchens, it’s well worth taking the time to make into a space that’s right for you.


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