The Kitchen Triangle Doesn't Always Make Sense

Updated: Oct 9, 2018


Barnes & Reinecke (Chicago, established 1934). Publicity photo for Future Kitchen scale model. c. 1946. Silver gelatin print. The Museum of Modern Art. Architecture and Design Study Collection. Photo: Charles McKinney, Chicago


Dear Daniel,

How do I layout my kitchen with perfect distances between everything? I've been researching kitchen triangles, but I don't know how to apply it to my space! Sincerely, Working on my Triangle


Dear Tri-ing,

The first kitchen I ever designed on my own was for a couple who lived in an old farm house. The kitchen had been poorly renovated in the 70s or 80s and you had to pass through it to get to a family room addition that was not particularly open to any other space in the house. My goal in renovating this client's kitchen was to make their whole house feel larger without adding any square feet, but also to be so contextual with the original architecture that somebody might wonder if any changes had ever been made at all. If you were an architectural historian, you would know that changes had been made. I recommended creating a large opening to the family room from the kitchen and placing an island between the family room and kitchen spaces (which is not traditional in an old house). I detailed the large opening in a contextual way. The construction was already well underway when the owner began to go mad. He was keeping himself up at night because he was reading about the perfect number linear feet for a countertop that is required in a "good" kitchen, and how many paces one should take between the refrigerator, the stove, and the sink.

I told him, “this is an old farmhouse, people have been cooking for thousands of years, and they've managed alright before-and there was no way we can achieve the number of steps that the internet recommends!” The concept of the Kitchen Triangle was developed in the 1920s by Lillian Moller Gilbreth based off of time motion studies to make a one-cook kitchen most efficient. While I don't disagree with her work triangle findings, the current desire to have huge kitchens begins to negate these findings because if there's a certain linear amount of countertop, it is unavoidable that you will have to pace around it. The top priorities should be if the kitchen layout relates well to the other rooms in the house, if it provides appropriate storage, and if it allows people to gather. One thing to consider is that in the contemporary kitchen people are often cooking in the kitchen just as much as they are entertaining in their kitchen.

Sincerely, Daniel