Kitchen designs that work

Remember the old adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover?” Same goes for kitchens. Don’t judge them on looks alone. Built-in appliances, granite countertops and other upscale finishes may be high on your wish list, but they count for little if the kitchen design is laid out poorly. You’re going to be spending a lot of time in that space. Make sure it’s going to work for you. Here are some key ingredients in kitchens that work:

An efficient work triangle
Draw imaginary lines connecting the three most used work zones of any kitchen: the sink, the oven/cooktop and the refrigerator. They should form a triangle, and designers say the distance between any two zones should be between three and seven feet. To avoid cramped quarters when you have a few “cooks” in the kitchen, the sides should add up to at least 12 feet.

Dishwasher distance
To make dinner cleanup a snap, the dishwasher should be located within three feet of the sink. Also, when swung open, the dishwasher door should have sufficient clearance to allow for around 21 inches of standing space in front of it for loading and unloading

Free traffic flow
To avoid traffic jams in your kitchen, make sure the main flow of traffic does not cross your work triangle. According to the National Kitchen and Bath Association, walkway widths should be at least three feet between cabinets, while aisles between food-prep areas should ideally be at least four feet to enable two people to pass through at once.

Ample storage
Look inside cabinet doors and drawers. Check to see if the shelves are adjustable to accommodate different heights and deep enough to fit everything you need to store. Measure the shelves to be sure. You don’t want to discover later that you can’t close the doors to your kitchen cabinets because your dinner dishes stick out! And don’t forget to include space for pantry items. Use the following industry benchmarks to be sure:

  • Small kitchens (under 150 square feet) should have 1,400 inches of storage
  • Mid-size kitchens (151 to 350 square feet) require 1,700 inches
  • Large kitchens (350+ square feet) require at least 2,000 inches

Bright light
If the kitchen windows face east or south, you’re going to get morning and afternoon sun. But what if you’re facing north? After you’ve assessed the natural lighting, turn on all the kitchen lights (ideally on a dull day or at night) to see if the kitchen is bright enough. Be sure to also check any counter or other task lighting.

Keep yourself organized
Look for any cabinetry extras, such as flatware-drawer organizers and fixed slots for trays and cookie sheets. These may seem like unnecessary luxuries but they provide the practical benefit of keeping a kitchen well organized.

Obviously, you may not want to pass up an otherwise great house because of a few kitchen design flaws. It may be worth renovating the kitchen to meet your needs. But when choosing between several different homes, it just makes sense to give the kitchens a careful once over.


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