Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Working Triangle

"Starting in 1944 the University of Illinois conducted a number of studies of kitchen design and developed the fundamental design principles that are still very much in use. These days the National Kitchen & Bath Association updates and publishes these basic design standards." -Star Craft Custom Builders

In my last post "Kitchen Come-Up!", I talked about the significance of the kitchen in homes and how some folks take their kitchens for granted now a days. Pointing out some kitchen designs that stood out to me, I discussed why I liked these kitchens. I pointed out the aesthetics and functionality of these kitchens, but in this post I'd like to go more in-depth on what makes great kitchen design. Particularly, I want to talk about "The Working Triangle," a fundamental design principle, and its significance in the kitchen.

Ergonomics: The study of efficiency in working environments.

Ergonomics plays a big role in "The Working Triangle" in that it helps us maintain the functionality of our kitchens and helps run them more smoothly and efficiently. This concept revolves around the placement of the refrigerator zone (food storage), the cooking zone (range and ovens), and the sink/cleanup zone. When these areas are places in the correct locations, this "triangle" can be very effective. According to the DIY Network, more trips are made within this "triangle" than in any other area of the kitchen.

According to the authors of the book "Interiors: An Introduction," the total walking distance among the three work zones should not be fewer than 12 feet because the kitchen will feel too crowded, causing frustration. Also, it should not be more than 26 feet because the zones will be too spaced out, causing exhaustion. Some kitchens may need two work triangles depending on how many people cook in the household. Along with the three major work zones (refrigerator, cooking, and sink/cleanup), there are other zones that add convenience and are considered essential to modern kitchen designs. These zones include:

· additional food storage zones
· various specialized food preparation zones
· a second cooking zone or a quick-cooking zone
· a second cleanup/sink zone
· tableware storage zone
· serving and service storage zone
· cleaning supplies storage zones

     Examples of "The Working Triangle"
                                                         Picture from

There are many different variations to this concept, but as an Interior Designer, it's his/or her job to give the client what is suitable for their needs and wants. The main purpose of this "triangle" is to increase efficiency. There are many sources that can help someone plan out their future kitchen design. "The Thirty-One Kitchen Design Rules, Illustrated" gives an in-depth list of guidelines that can help with many home improvement projects, including how to achieve "The Working Triangle".

Work Cited:
Nielsen, Karla, and David Taylor. Interiors: An Introduction. 5th ed. New York: Mc-Graw Hill, 2011. 146-147. Print.


  1. This post made me laugh in recognition at your topic. You really went for it! I love your mixture of sources from book links to video links to images. You really drive the point home visually here, and it works. Your understanding of the "working triangle" is excellent, and you do a nice job of explaining it to a general audience. Your sources are fantastic!

  2. The Working Triangle concept really works. Never really realized that all kitchens are designed that way. Kind of makes sense as to why you never see the stove/range right next to a refridger or sink. Your analysis of the working triangle really went deep. I like the pictures since they give the reader a visual summary as to what this post is about.

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  4. Actually, while the University of Illinois Small Homes Council was instrumental in publicizing the Kitchen Triangle, it was invented in the 1920s by Lillian and Frank Gilbreth.

    Here is what the StarCraft article on Arts & Crafts kitchens has to say about its development:

    "Frederick was clearly working toward the principle that was later encapsulated in the concept of the kitchen work triangle, but she did not quite get there. That was left up to a psychologist and and pioneering industrial engineer, Lillian Moller Gilbreth, who, in the early 1920s, began applying rudimentary ergonomic principles to household work through her own time and motion studies. She discovered that much of the time required for meal preparation involved moving among the three major work centers: sink, refrigerator (or ice box), and range. If this movement could be minimized, the time required to prepare meals could be vastly decreased. She created the kitchen work triangle to graphically illustrate how these three centers should be arranged for maximum efficiency."

    Lillian Gilbreth is, however, not as well known for her work in home ergonomics as she is as "the beleaguered, but unflapable mother of twelve featured in the best selling 1948 semi-biographical novel, Cheaper by the Dozen, written by two of her children, which inspired two movies of the same name: one in 1950 starring Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy, and the other in 2003 with Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt."

    For more information visit Arts & Crafts Kitchens: The Birth of the Modern Kitchen