The Sink Center

The sink center is the most used center in the kitchen because it is the place of both food preparation and cleanup.

It is also likely that other household activities will occur at or around the sink. The following recommendations are excerpted from the book “Kitchen Planning,” part of the NKBA Professional Resource Library.


Because the sink center is the most used space in the kitchen, place it in a central and accessible spot. Plan to locate the sink in between or across from the major cooking area and the refrigeration storage area.

In traditional kitchens, a window was often planned at the sink so that a view to the outdoors was available while the cook worked at the sink. This made sense in kitchens before dishwashers when a lot of time was spent standing at the sink during clean up. And it can also be appropriate in today’s kitchens if a view to the outdoors is desired, or when the cook is supervising children in outdoor play.

A sink placed so that the cook can look into the social areas of an open kitchen may also be appropriate. Sinks placed on an island or peninsula encourage the cook to interact with family and guests, supervise homework or watch television.

The sink drain line must be vented in order to work properly and meet building code requirements.

If the sink is placed near the corner of the kitchen arrangement, then the 24-inch landing area can be located on the adjacent arm of the counter. Plan 3 inches of countertop frontage between the sink and the corner and then plan at least 21 inches of countertop frontage beside the corner. A sink in or near a corner may restrict access to the sink to just one person at a time and may not be a good choice for a two-cook kitchen, unless a second sink is also planned.

If the countertop areas adjacent to the sink are at different heights, then there should be a minimum 24 inches to one side of the sink and 3 inches on the other at the same height as the sink. For example, if a raised dishwasher is being planned next to the sink on a lowered work area to include the sink, then there should be at least 3 inches between the sink and the raised area. The raised area will have to serve as the other landing area. Having only 3 inches between the sink and a vertical surface might cause some problems with water spray and splash, so consider finishing this surface with water-resistant materials.

Preparation Area

Counter space will be needed immediately next to the sink for mixing and other preparation activities. This will serve as the primary preparation/work area.

The recommended size is at least 36 inches measured along the countertop frontage and 24 inches deep. The cook will primarily work within a smaller arc of 16 inches, but will be able to reach a larger arc of 24 inches. Therefore the requirement for the preparation area is deeper than the landing area requirements because a cook will use the complete depth of the counter for assembled ingredients and work in the front area.

When planning a kitchen for two cooks, consider how they might use the preparation area. Research has shown that at least two different cooking patterns occur with two cooks. With the student-teacher cooking pattern, one cook helps another. This might occur when a mom helps children bake cookies or one roommate shows the other how to bake lasagna. A preparation area of 60 to 72 inches is needed for two persons to stand together to work on one task.

Independent cooks work on separate recipes or foods at the same time. Two separate preparation areas, each at least 36 inches, need to be planned for these cooks. When multiple preparation areas are planned, consider varying the heights and providing a knee space to accommodate different cooks.

Dishwasher Placement

The primary dishwasher should be placed within 36 inches of the cleanup sink. Placing the dishwasher immediately adjacent to the sink has some advantages:

  • If dishes are rinsed, water is less likely to drip on the floor;
  • The person can stand in one place and reach dishes stacked in or near the sink and the dishwasher; and
  • The 24-inch width of the typical dishwasher assures a 24-inch countertop area above which will serve as the sink landing area.

The dishwasher may need to be moved away from the sink, but there should be no more than 36 inches from the edge of the sink to the edge of the dishwasher.

Placing the dishwasher some distance from the sink might happen when the sink and dishwasher are being placed at an angle. If a right angle arrangement is being planned, allow at least 21 inches for a person to be able to stand at the dishwasher to load and unload the appliance. The standing space between the dishwasher and a perpendicular counter or wall is also needed if the dishwasher is next to the sink. The standing space is measured from the edge of the dishwasher to the countertop, cabinet or other appliance.

If the sink and dishwasher are placed at an angle other than 90 degrees, the 21 inches is measured from the middle of the sink to the edge of the dishwasher door with the door in the open position. In an installation where the sink is in the corner at a 45 degree angle to the dishwasher, a small cabinet will need to be specified between the sink and the dishwasher to provide for this space.


The trash receptacle is such an ordinary thing that designers might tend to forget about it. However, it is a critical element in both food preparation and cleanup and should be planned into the kitchen. Recycling has also become an important activity in many homes and communities. Many older kitchens were planned before this activity became common and recycling containers may be found in a closet or the garage. Today, several storage devices have been designed to handle the trash and recycling activities.

It is recommended that the kitchen contain two waste receptacles: one for trash and one for recycling. The trash receptacle should be located near the sink and, while the recycling receptacle can be placed near the sink, it can also be planned elsewhere.

A trash compactor might be desirable for some clients with large amounts of trash or without local trash collection. Some clients may also compost food waste and the designer should explore ways to plan for this activity near the sink and preparation areas.

Auxiliary Sink

A second sink is often desired in today’s kitchens. The auxiliary sink can be useful when more than one cook is working in the kitchen. It might be used as part of a secondary preparation area, a place to make salads or to provide water in a baking area. An auxiliary sink might also serve as part of a beverage center, where family members can get a drink of water, tea or coffee without interfering with the cook’s activities.

An auxiliary sink can be at a lowered height to accommodate varied users. Provide a knee space below the auxiliary sink and it becomes suitable for sitting to work.

Landing areas are also necessary at the auxiliary sink. The NKBA recommends at least 18 inches to one side of the sink and 3 inches of clearance on the other side. This may not be enough space for some activities that are planned at a second sink, such as major cleanup. It allows a minimum number of items to be placed next to the sink area, so plan for more space if major activities will occur at the auxiliary sink. Often, available landing area is limited at an auxiliary sink. When this is the case, moving the sink to 8 inches from one end of the landing space will improve the overall function of the landing space on the other side.

The books in the NKBA Professional Resource Library series are available only through the NKBA. To order, go to or call 800-THE-NKBA.