What Is the Kitchen Triangle?

Long a fixture of kitchen design, the work triangle may be outdated

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The goal of the kitchen triangle, the centerpiece of most kitchen layouts since the 1940s, is to create the best work area possible in this busiest of rooms. 

Since the three most common work sites in the average kitchen are the cooktop or stove, the sink, and the refrigerator, the kitchen work triangle theory suggests that by placing these three areas in proximity to each other, the kitchen becomes more efficient.

If you place them too far away from each other, the theory goes, you waste a lot of steps while preparing a meal. If they are too close together, you end up with a cramped kitchen without adequate space to prepare and cook meals.

But the kitchen triangle concept has faded from favor in recent years, as it's become somewhat outdated. For instance, the kitchen triangle is based on the idea that one person prepares the entire meal, which isn't necessarily the case in 21st-century families. 


The concept of the kitchen work triangle was developed in the 1940s by the University of Illinois School of Architecture. It began as an attempt to standardize home construction. The goal was to show that by designing and building a kitchen with efficiency in mind, overall construction costs could be reduced. 

Kitchen Work Triangle Basics

According to design principles, the classic kitchen triangle calls for:

  • Each leg of the triangle to be between 4 and 9 feet
  • The total of all three sides of the triangle to be between 12 and 26 feet
  • No obstructions (cabinets, islands, etc.) should intersect a leg of the work triangle, and
  • Household traffic should not flow through the work triangle.

In addition, there should be 4 to 7 feet between the refrigerator and sink, 4 to 6 feet between the sink and stove, and 4 to 9 feet between the stove and refrigerator.

Problems With the Kitchen Triangle

Not all homes, however, have a kitchen large enough to accommodate a triangle. Galley style kitchens, for instance, which place appliances and prep areas along a single wall or two walls parallel to each other, don't offer many angles at all.

And open concept kitchens which are popular with newer-style construction often don't require such uniform layout. In these kitchens, the design tends to focus less on a work triangle and more on kitchen work zones that may even spill over into the dining or living areas. One example of a work zone would be placing the dishwasher, sink, and trash can close to each other to make cleaning up easier.

Another problem with the kitchen work triangle, especially among design purists, is that it often violates the principles of feng shui home design. The kitchen is one of the three most important rooms in the home as far as feng shui is concerned, and a major no-no of feng shui is positioning your oven so that the cook's back is to the door of the kitchen. The cook is considered vulnerable in this scenario, which does not lend itself to the harmonious atmosphere feng shui seeks to create.

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Adams, Chris. "What Is the Kitchen Triangle?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/kitchen-work-triangle-1206604. Adams, Chris. (2020, August 26). What Is the Kitchen Triangle? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/kitchen-work-triangle-1206604 Adams, Chris. "What Is the Kitchen Triangle?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/kitchen-work-triangle-1206604 (accessed June 10, 2023).