The U-Shaped Kitchen Layout

Like most kitchen designs, the U-shaped kitchen has pros and cons

The U-Shaped Kitchen Layout
The U-Shaped Kitchen Layout. Chris Adams, Copyright 2008, Licensed to About.com

The U-shaped kitchen layout was developed based on decades of ergonomic research. It's useful and versatile, and while it can be adapted to any size kitchen, it's most effective in larger spaces. 

The configuration of U-shaped kitchens can vary according to the house size and the homeowner's personal preference, but generally, you'll find the cleaning "zone" (sink, dishwasher) on the external-facing wall, which sits in the lower curve or bottom of the U.

 

The stove and oven typically will be located on one "leg" of the U, along with cabinets, drawers and other storage units. And usually you'll find more cabinets, the refrigerator and other food storage areas like a pantry on the opposite wall. 

Benefits of U-Shaped Kitchens

A U-shaped kitchen typically has separate "work zones" for food prep, cooking, cleaning and in eat-in kitchens, a dining area. 

Most U-shaped kitchens are configured with three adjacent walls, as opposed to other kitchen designs such as L-shaped or galley, which only use two walls. While both of these other designs have their pluses, ultimately a U-shaped kitchen provides the most counter space for work areas and storage of countertop appliances.

A significant benefit of the U-shaped kitchen is the safety factor. The design doesn't allow for through traffic that might disrupt the work zones. Not only does this make the food prep and cooking process less chaotic, but it also helps prevent safety mishaps like spills.

U-Shaped Kitchen Drawbacks

While it has its advantages, the U-shaped kitchen does have its share of minuses, too. For the most part, it's not efficient unless there's room in the center of the kitchen for an island. Without this feature, the two "legs" of the U may be too far apart to be practical. 

And while it's possible to have a U shape in a smaller kitchen, for it to be most efficient, the U-shaped kitchen needs to be at least 10 feet wide.

 

Often in a U-shaped kitchen, the bottom corner cabinets can be difficult to access (although this may be remedied by using them to store items that are not frequently needed).

U-Shaped Kitchen and Work Triangle

Even when planning a U-shaped kitchen, however, most contractors or designers will recommend incorporating a kitchen work triangle. This design principle is based on the theory that placing the sink, refrigerator and cooktop or stove in proximity to each other makes a kitchen most efficient. If the work areas are too far away from each other, the cook wastes steps while preparing a meal. If the work spaces are too close together, the kitchen winds up being too cramped. 

While many designs still use the kitchen triangle, it's become a bit outdated in the modern era. It was based on a model from the 1940s which presumed only one person prepared and cooked all the meals solo, but in modern families, this may not be the case.

The standard kitchen work triangle is best placed along the base of the "U" unless a kitchen island is present. Then the island should house one of the three elements.

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.