If you’ve done any research on kitchen design, or even casually flipped through the pages of a home design magazine, chances are you’ve seen the term “kitchen triangle.” A theory developed in the 1940s by the University of Illinois School of Architecture in which the cooktop, refrigerator, and sink are all placed at points on an imaginary triangle, the idea became the foundation of modern American kitchen design. The purpose was originally to suggest specific guidelines for design professionals to follow in order to achieve truly efficient kitchens. It had a good run, don’t you think?
Not to disparage the overall sound reasoning of the theory, but society has changed and people are ever more comfortable—and eager—to express themselves creatively. As a result, kitchen design has evolved too. Rather than blindly following the kitchen triangle directive, families are now designing kitchens to better fit their modern lifestyles. It’s becoming more common, for example, for multiple generations to live and cook within the same kitchen. Different generations have different needs, so in order to make the food prep and dining more efficient, accommodations may include seating at a prep area for seniors. Or it may mean that the refrigerator is placed in a location perceived as inconvenient, but which serves to create a better workflow for those who use the kitchen at the same time—so that children can serve themselves snacks while their parents prep for dinner. Specialty accommodations and/or kitchens designed solely for aging-in-place seniors, Boomers, or Gens X, Y, and Z may also be good reason to violate the sacred kitchen triangle.
The new “traditional family” bears little resemblance to the traditional family of a generation ago. A family’s cultural needs, varying work and play schedules, possible single head of household lifestyle, and any other permutation that defines a particular family requires and deserves its own unique solutions to live and work efficiently in the kitchen. Perhaps one family wants the cooktop to end up on the opposite side of an island to ease their transition to the table. Or another family comes from a culture where cooking takes place in a separate area, such as in a basement or smaller, enclosed space—certainly not efficient according to the kitchen triangle theory, but it is that family’s favored way to function. In other words, vive la différence…and design accordingly!
The Social Kitchen
Designing a kitchen for social interaction often results in a different layout than the overly efficient aims of the work triangle. Instead of focusing only on how people can best prepare meals, designers now take into account the ways families and friends spend time together in the kitchen. Large or multiple islands are able to accommodate people who wish to gather near the action of food preparation and cooking. Comfort in the form of soft furnishings, banquettes designed for seating flexibility, and large-screen TVs and other media add-ons encourage more activities within the boundaries of the kitchen than ever before. Additionally, cooks may want appliances such as wine or beverage refrigerators, coffee stations, and grilling or other specialty appliances close at hand, disrupting the kitchen triangle further if these items take precedence in the cooking process over the sink/cooktop/refrigerator trio.
The Cooking Process
The art and process of cooking is personal to each of us. Whether you want to get a meal on the table as simply and quickly as possible or whether you regularly attempt to make gourmet meals at a leisurely pace (or whether you’re somewhere in between), the placement of appliances, storage, and countertop distribution must be designed precisely for your functional needs. Today’s enormous selection of appliances and their varying sizes and configurations further enables cooks to tailor the kitchen to their specific requirements.
Considering the expense, time, and care spent on a renovation, it makes sense to find out how your family uses, and wants to use, your kitchen. Forget the rigid structure of the outdated triangle. Instead, express your inner chef—however that translates into your new kitchen’s design.