Kitchens: Beyond the Triangle

The kitchen is one area of the home that continues to go through cosmetic transformations. There was a time when kitchens were closed off from the rest of the house. They were designed for one cook doing one duty at a time. They included a separate dining area for entertaining and one for daily dinners.

A recent evolution in kitchen design was the introduction of large, commercial, stainless steel appliances and sinks that commanded attention. Now a kitchen is less its own room and more an integrated part of a house. “The kitchen is becoming the focal point,” says Elaine Cecconi, principal, Cecconi Simone in Toronto, Ontario. “It’s no longer a separate room. It is integrated into the dining and living room or even the family room.” Kitchens are less formal because they’re integrated into the rest of the house, which also tends to be less formal. They feature an open floor plan that flows to the adjoining room, emphasizing integration. Because the kitchen now features an open design, more people are socializing, entertaining and relaxing in the kitchen. “The kitchen is command central, the social center of the home,” says Mary Jo Peterson, CKD, CBD, CAPS, principal of Brookfield, Conn.-based Mary Jo Peterson Inc.

Children are doing their homework in the kitchen while dinner is being made, or guests socialize with the cook while the food is being prepared. “When people are entertaining, they are preparing as guests arrive and it becomes the social space,” Cecconi says.

Zoning the kitchen

Traditionally, kitchen design relied on a triangle layout that included the sink, oven and refrigerator. This design works great when only one person uses the kitchen. However, now there usually is more than one cook. “The kitchen needs mini triangles or mini circles so that people can work without running into each other,” says Connie Mann, CKD, Dream Kitchens in Madison, Wis.

More cooks and more socializing in the kitchen equals more zones. “Because there are more people in the kitchen, there are more things going on,” Peterson says. “Kitchens are getting bigger and we need to provide multiple zones with greater clearances and greater walkways.”

The kitchen zones include: beverage center, preparation center, baking center, cook center and clean-up center. “There is frequently multiples of one zone,” Peterson says. “There will be two prep zones because there are usually two people creating meals.”

The baking and cooking zones will be near the ovens, refrigerator and clean-up area. Because there is usually more than one cook and cooking style, it’s important the design allows for two people to work without disrupting each other. “The design is a primary kitchen triangle with a secondary cooking center,” says Mark Morris, owner, San Francisco-based Mark Morris Design Group.

Preparation centers feature a large one-level island intended as a working surface. It also might include a cooktop, sink, butcher block and independent refrigerator drawers. “[Years ago,] we had to break up the island so it didn’t look huge but now people want that again,” Peterson says. “The main island will feature a furniture appeal to resemble a table more than an island.”

Michael Neumann, principal of New York-based Michael Neumann Architecture, adds that the main island replaces the kitchen table. “The working island with a sink and cooktop is a functional interpretation of the old kitchen table.” A secondary island can sometimes be found on the edge of the kitchen that includes the beverage center. This island might include a separate sink, wine rack, wine refrigerators, coffee maker, ice maker and dishwasher. “Most beverage zones are close to the dining or living area,” Morris says. “It’s at the end of the floor plan so someone can get a beverage without going into the kitchen and disrupting the work going on there.”

The beverage zone also may feature amenities such as an espresso machine. “Because people entertain at home a lot, they are including amenities they would see in a restaurant,” Cecconi says. “Most manufacturers offer built-in appliances that are very popular and integrate easily.”

The secondary island that features the beverage area typically will feature multiple levels. It creates a gathering place for guests to socialize with the cook without disrupting their work; plus it hides the preparation on the primary island, Peterson adds.

The clean-up zone is placed near storage for efficiency. “The goal is that once you take the clean glass out of the dishwasher, there is no more than one step to put it away,” Morris says.

This zone usually will have two dishwashers and a large sink. “Big sinks are very popular in large kitchens,” Mann says. “You can lay a roasting pan in the sink and soak it without having to fight with the divider.”

Two dishwashers add to the efficiency clients desire in kitchens. “Two dishwashers are even more desired in large families,” Neumann says. “You can have one that’s loaded and one that’s empty.”

Form follows function

Function is important in kitchen design. “If a kitchen doesn’t function, then it’s not designed well,” Peterson says. “Clearances that once worked don’t work anymore. There are more people in a kitchen and more zones which means we need larger clearances and larger walkways.”

Many designers follow an interview process before starting the design phase of a kitchen project. This allows the designer to personalize the kitchen to the needs of the people who will be using it. “It’s more important to figure out what the client’s needs are and then design around that,” Mann says. “If a homeowner is very interested in baking, you might want to adjust the countertop for mixing such as creating a place for a KitchenAid mixer so that they don’t have to lug it out of a cabinet. Different heights of countertops also play into function when they cook a lot.”

KitchenAid conducted an online survey to help consumers find out what zones are more important to them. The KitchenAid Cook’s Kitchen Tool asks the homeowner to strongly agree, agree or disagree to statements about their habits in the kitchen. Statements cover the homeowners’ behavior in areas such as entertaining, organization, children’s involvement in the kitchen, baking, cooking, dishwasher use, types of ingredients, recycling and more. Visit for more information.

High-tech solutions

Because the kitchen is the heart of the home where people gather and spend most of their time, there’s a desire for technology to be incorporated within it. “The kitchen is the most used room in the house, and having access to such things as a computer and a security system makes sense,” Cecconi says. “We always integrate a TV into a kitchen.”

More homeowners get their recipes from online sources and Internet access in the kitchen can support this habit. “The computer has become a vital part of the kitchen because of a desire for accessibility to online kitchen information and the desire to work on the computer,” Neumann says. “It’s done for the same as why laundry rooms are off the kitchen — so the homeowner can multitask.”

Access to a security is another important technology feature that can be installed in the kitchen. “Security in the kitchen is convenient,” Cecconi says. “Most of the time a security system can be accessed in any room of the house, but since people spend most of their time in the kitchen, it makes sense to have it in there.”

A security system is always important but not everyone will use it. “Security has always been huge in Los Angeles but here in San Francisco, it’s not as important,” Morris says. “Homeowners might have the security systems installed but not use them,”

Security monitors and TV screens can be seamlessly integrated into the kitchen. “I’ll put a TV on the backside of a cabinet door or on an articulated arm so it can be pointed anywhere in the room,” Morris says.

However, Neumann takes a different approach to integrating TV monitors in a kitchen. “The computer isn’t something that I want to build into the kitchen because of its short life span,” Neumann adds. “I’d put it in a cabinet or on a counter so it can be more easily updated when needed.”

Tying it all together

Multiple zones in a kitchen can create a design challenge: How does one integrate all the spaces and materials, not only together but with the rest of the house? Most designers find using continuous or complementary materials gets the job done.

Peterson applies a unique approach to this challenge. “Take a piece of food and imagine you are it. Look at the path it follows — it should be streamlined. For example, a cold beverage might go to the beverage zone and doesn’t enter the prep zone — it minimizes crossing zones. There are so many appliances and zones but there needs to be some backup,” Peterson says.

“Countertops are more dramatic and thicker; there is a softer contemporary use of veneers in cabinetry with horizontal lines instead of vertical lines, and a simplification of trims and mouldings.”

Mann applies the continuous material approach to tying the zones together. “The easiest way to tie all the zones together is to use the same materials throughout the cabinetry and countertops,” Mann says.

“As designers, we work with clients so they get the best space, style and materials their budget will allow,” Mann says. “It’s our job to make that happen.”