A well-designed, seamlessly functional kitchen is a must-have for any modern home.

The development of the Kitchen Triangle Concept

Frank and Lillian Gilbreth were engineers, pioneering the study of motion and human factors - an important field of study for them as they had twelve children!  The 1950 Cheaper By The Dozen movie is based on their experiences (while the 2003 comedy remake has a totally different story!).  Lillian was one of the first female engineers to hold a PhD, and she was described as a 'genius in the art of living'.  Frank and Lillian's home set the stage for real-life testing of their ideas, and she developed concepts we use today such as the foot-pedal rubbish bin, light switches on walls and refrigerator door shelves.


In the 1920s Lillian created the idea of 'circular routing' in the kitchen, which later became the 'work triangle'.  She identified three focal points of the kitchen - cooking at the range, food storage in the fridge, and preparation/cleanup at the sink, and worked to reduce unnecessary motion and disruptions in using these spaces.

In the 1940s the kitchen triangle become the standard of efficiency when the University of Illinois School of Architecture used it as a model to standardise kitchen construction and reduce building costs.  The model still holds as an efficient design principle today and has been featured in an overwhelming majority of kitchens.

How it works

The theory behind the kitchen triangle is that the three main work stations (cooking space, storage space and preparation space) should form a triangle (are you surprised?) with efficiency as the main goal.  It keeps these areas near the cook, without placing them so close together that the kitchen becomes cramped.  The triangle itself isn't standard and can take many forms, but there are a few basic guidelines.

  • No leg of the triangle should be less than 1.2 metres, or more than 2.7 metres.

  • The sum of all three sides of the triangle should be between 4 metres and 7.9 metres.

  • No leg of the triangle should be overlapped by any obstacles by more than 30 centimetres.

  • There should be no major traffic flow (like a doorway or thoroughfare) through the triangle.

Thinking outside the triangle

Not every kitchen is suited to creating a triangle concept (like one-wall kitchens), and not every lifestyle suits this layout!  Our lives have changed quite a bit since the 1940s and our kitchens have changed with them.  No longer does the housewife do all the cooking alone as families cook together, and we have a larger range of appliances to cater to.  The kitchen is now considered the heart of the home with people coming and going, and is often multi-functional as a living or dining space.

Work zones

Creating work zones in a kitchen is a great way to tailor a kitchen to your needs and consolidate tasks into localised areas.  Most kitchens will require prep zones, cooking zones and washing zones; incidentally, these are the three main areas of the kitchen triangle and a zoned kitchen may well include a kitchen triangle into its plan.


Your lifestyle will dictate the need for other zones.  If you bake a lot, you may want a baking zone that includes your mixer, measuring cups, bowls and baking essentials.  Maybe you feed your pets in your kitchen area - so you'll need their food stored within easy reach of their bowls.  A kitchen island becomes a serving zone with seating and access to serving dishes.

Don't feel restricted by hard and fast borders for your work zones.  Counter space in particular are multi-use for preparation, serving and washup - work zones can merge and overlap.

The fridge: your kitchen's star

Who hasn't stood in front of an open fridge door, breathing in frosty air while contemplating the perfect snack?  The location of your fridge is surprisingly important, because hungry family members need access without getting in the way of any cooking.  Place your fridge within access, but clear of, the cooking zone.

Your kitchen should suit the way you live.  Your kitchen designer will be able to help you create a personalised layout to suit your lifestyle.

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