When I began studying kitchen design many (many!) years ago, I learned all about the much-venerated kitchen work triangle — in which the refrigerator, range and sink are placed 4 to 9 feet apart, forming a roughly equilateral triangle. This design principle was developed back when most people had smaller, closed-off kitchens, where only one person prepared and cleaned up meals. It's an efficient way to lay out appliances and the sink in a small closed or semiclosed kitchen.
The work triangle is still useful today, but with kitchens that now run the gamut from tiny single-wall galleys up to large open-plan kitchens, it's more useful to think in terms of work zones instead.
Work zones are really just the natural evolution of the kitchen work triangle. As kitchens grew in size and opened up to other rooms in the house, it became more of a challenge to place appliances in a neat triangular layout. We also have more appliances than ever before — dishwashers, extra sinks, microwaves, separate cooktops and wall ovens — not to mention more people working and socializing in the space. By sectioning off your kitchen into work zones, you'll maximize efficiency in a larger space; more cooks, as well as their guests, will be better accommodated.
Group appliances and fixtures according to use. To set up work zones in your kitchen, think of the tasks you perform regularly: storing food, prep, cooking, baking, serving, eating, cleaning, making coffee, chilling wine etc. A work zone contains everything you use to perform each task.
For instance, you should place your dishwasher next to your sink, with a compost bin and a garbage bin nearby to streamline kitchen cleanup.
Store what you need where you need it most. In addition to grouping appliances and fixtures according to use, give yourself enough storage in each zone for what you need to perform the task.
This wood-topped baking zone is perfect for kneading bread or rolling out pizza dough. All the bread-making and baking tools can be stored in the cabinets below. Someone can easily work at this station while another person prepares food in another part of the kitchen.
Provide landing areas next to major appliances. For safety and efficiency, consider placing a countertop landing area next to your major kitchen appliances, especially the range, cooktop, microwave and wall ovens.
You want to be able to quickly set down something hot without having to trek halfway across your kitchen. This will also give you a cooking work zone; you can store items like knives, cutting boards and pots and pans in the cabinets and use the countertops for chopping and cooking prep.
Create a kids' zone. If you have children and a good-size space, set up an area in the kitchen where the kids can hang out, do homework and eat snacks. This will allow you to all be in the kitchen together without the little ones getting underfoot.
Consider a zone for guests. If you have an open kitchen and like to entertain often, you know how important it is to have an area where guests can hang out and chat while you prepare food and drinks. A large island or peninsula works well for this, since it can act as a barrier that keeps visitors from getting in your way while also giving them a place to perch while you work. Again, think about the items you use for serving and entertaining, and store them in the cabinets below so you can easily access them.
Widen the aisles. Whether you opt for the traditional work triangle or to break up your kitchen into work zones, pay attention to your kitchen's aisle widths. The recommended minimum aisle width is 42 inches, but I prefer 48 inches, especially in kitchens with multiple cooks. If you cook and entertain often and have the space, you could go as wide as 54 inches. Wider than that, though, and your space will likely become inefficient, as you'll spend more time walking than cooking.