/ Layouts

Thirty-One Ways to a Better Kitchen

Compass lying on top of kitchen blueprints

No one wants a brand-new kitchen with appliance doors that bump into cabinet doors, or an island so close to the wall that it can't be used for dining. Good space planning will help you develop the best layout for your kitchen, so take the time to read this condensed version of the NKBA guidelines.

Designed to maximize safety and functionality in home kitchens, the guidelines represent ideal layout solutions to kitchen concerns from storage space to door clearance. Don't fret if budget limitations and the constraints of an existing kitchen require some compromises and tradeoffs: The only rules you must follow are building codes.

1. Door/Entry: A doorway should be at least 32 inches wide.

2. Door Interference: No entry door should interfere with appliances, nor should appliance doors interfere with one another.

3. Distance Between Work Centers: In a kitchen with three work centers*, the sum of the distances between them should total no more than 26 feet. No leg of the work triangle should measure less than 4 feet nor more than 9 feet. When the kitchen includes additional work centers, each additional distance should measure no less than 4 feet nor more than 9 feet. No work triangle leg should intersect an island or peninsula by more than 12 inches.

* The distances between the three primary work centers (cooking, cleanup/prep and refrigeration) form a work triangle.

4. Separating Work Centers: A full-height, full-depth, tall obstacle [i.e., a pantry cabinet or refrigerator] should not separate two primary work centers.

5. Work Triangle Traffic: No major traffic patterns should cross through the work triangle.

6. Work Aisle: The width of a work aisle should be at least 42 inches for one cook and at least 48 inches for multiple cooks.

7. Walkway: The width of a walkway should be at least 36 inches.

8. Traffic Clearance at Seating: In a seating area where no traffic passes behind a seated diner, allow 32 inches of clearance from the counter/table edge to any wall or other obstruction behind the seating area. If traffic passes behind the seated diner, allow at least 36 inches to edge past or at least 44 inches to walk past.

9. Seating Clearance: Kitchen seating areas should incorporate at least the following clearances: At 30-inch-high tables/counters, allow a 24-inch-wide by 18-inch-deep knee space for each seated diner. At 36-inch-high counters, allow a 24-inch-wide by 15-inch-deep knee space. At 42-inch-high counters, allow a 24-inch-wide by 12-inch-deep knee space.

10. Cleanup/Prep Sink Placement: If a kitchen has only one sink, locate it adjacent to or across from the cooking surface and refrigerator.

11. Cleanup/Prep Sink Landing Area: Include at least a 24-inch-wide landing area to one side of the sink and at least an18-inch-wide landing area on the other side.

12. Preparation/Work Area: Include a section of continuous countertop at least 36 inches wide and 24 inches deep immediately next to a sink.

13. Dishwasher Placement: Locate nearest edge of the primary dishwasher within 36 inches of the nearest edge of a sink. Provide at least 21 inches of standing space between the edge of the dishwasher and countertop frontage, appliances and/or cabinets placed at a right angle to the dishwasher.

14. Waste Receptacles: Include at least two waste receptacles. Locate one near the sink(s) and a second for recycling in the kitchen or nearby.

15. Auxiliary Sink: At least 3 inches of countertop frontage should be provided on one side of the auxiliary sink and 18 inches on the other side.

16. Refrigerator Landing Area: Include at least 15 inches of landing area on the handle side of the refrigerator or 15 inches of landing area on either side of a side-by-side refrigerator or 15 inches of landing area no more than 48 inches across from the front of the refrigerator or 15 inches of landing area above or adjacent to any undercounter refrigeration appliance.

17. Cooking Surface Landing Area: Include a minimum of 12 inches of landing area on one side of a cooking surface and 15 inches on the other side. In an island or peninsula, the countertop should also extended a minimum of 9 inches behind the cooking surface.

18. Cooking Surface Clearance: Allow 24 inches of clearance between the cooking surface and a protected noncombustible surface [e.g., a range hood] above it. At least 30 inches of clearance is required between the cooking surface and an unprotected/combustible surface [e.g., cabinetry] above it. If a microwave hood is used, then the manufacturer's specifications should be followed.

19. Cooking Surface Ventilation: Provide a correctly sized, ducted ventilation system for all cooking surface appliances; the recommended minimum is 150 CFM.

20. Cooking Surface Safety: Do not locate the cooking surface under an operable window. Window treatments above the cooking surface should not use flammable materials. A fire extinguisher should be located near the exit of the kitchen away from cooking equipment.

21. Microwave Oven Placement: The ideal location for the bottom of the microwave is 3 inches below the principle user's shoulder but no more than 54 inches above the floor. If the microwave is below the countertop the bottom must be at least 15 inches off the finished floor.

22. Microwave Landing Area: Provide at least a 15-inch landing area above, below or adjacent to the handle side of a microwave.

23. Oven Landing Area: Include at least a 15-inch landing area next to or above the oven. At least a 15-inch landing area not more than 48 inches across from the oven is acceptable if the appliance does not open into a walkway.

24. Combining Landing Areas: If two landing areas are adjacent, determine a new minimum by taking the longer of the two landing area requirements and adding 12 inches.

25. Countertop Space: A total of 158 inches of countertop frontage, 24 inches deep, with at least 15 inches of clearance above, is needed to accommodate all uses.

26. Countertop Edges: Specify clipped or round corners rather than sharp edges.

27. Storage: The total shelf/drawer frontage is: 1,400 inches for a small kitchen (150 square feet or less); 1,700 inches for a medium kitchen (151 to 350 square feet); and 2,000 inches for a large kitchen (351 square feet or more).

The recommended distribution for the shelf/drawer frontage is:

Wall300 in.360 in.360 in.
Base520 in.615 in.660 in.
Drawer360 in.400 in.525 in.
Pantry180 in.230 in.310 in.
Misc.40 in.95 in.145 in.


28. Storage at Cleanup/Prep Sink: Of the total recommended shelf/drawer frontage, the following should be located within 72 inches of the centerline of the main cleanup/prep sink: at least 400 inches for a small kitchen; at least 480 inches for a medium kitchen; and at least 560 inches for a large kitchen.

29. Corner Cabinet Storage: At least one corner cabinet should include a functional storage device. This does not apply if there are no corner cabinets.

30. Electrical Receptacles: GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) protection is required on all receptacles servicing countertop surfaces.

31. Lighting: Every work surface should be well-illuminated by appropriate task lighting.




Drawing And Planning Tips

Man measuring cabinets

Measuring your kitchen can seem a daunting task. Our handy step-by-step guide takes you through the process and identifies the various elements you'll need to measure in order to get accurate dimensions.

NOTE: If you are remodeling, do not include in your measurements current cabinetry or other furniture that will not be kept, such as kitchen tables.

NOTE: All of your measurements should be in inches. For example, if you measure a wall that is 10 feet, write it as 120"

Draw a rough outline of your kitchen. Use the following symbols in your drawing for doors and windows.


NOTE: For doorways with doors, draw the doorway according to which way the door swings.

Draw in any obstructions, such as radiators, pipes, sink plumbing, etc., that you either cannot move or do not want to move.


A) Beginning at the top left corner of your drawing measure to the first window, door, or wall. Continue clockwise around the room until each wall, window and door has been measured.

Note: When measuring doors and windows the trim is considered part of the door or window. As shown in the drawing below, measure from the outside of the trim on one side to the outside of the trim on the other side.

B) Measure the ceiling height and write it in the center of your drawing. Sometimes, especially with older homes, it is a good idea to take measurements in a few different areas of the kitchen. Ceiling heights, even in the same room, can sometimes vary by as much as a few inches.

C) Measure from the floor to the bottom of each window and also measure the overall window height. If you have printed these instructions, write the measurements in the table provided below.


Distance from Floor to Bottom of Window Height of Window Including Trim

Distance from Floor to Bottom of Window

Height of Window Including Trim

Window #1:



Window #2:



Window #3:



Window #4:



Window #5:



Window #6:




A) Beginning at the top left of your drawing, label the windows "Window #1", "Window #2", etc. in a clockwise order.

B) Again, beginning at the top left of your drawing, label the doors "Door #1", "Door #2", etc. in a clockwise order.

C) Next to each wall, write the name of the adjacent room. If the wall is an "outside wall" write "exterior wall."

A) Measure any obstructions such as radiators, pipes, etc. that you either can not, or do not, want moved. If the obstruction is close to a wall, measure out from the wall to the edge of the obstruction.

B) Measure from the second closest wall to the edge of the obstruction.

C) If the obstruction does not span the full height of the room, measure the height of the obstruction.

Check your measurements. If your room is rectangular add up the measurements of the parallel walls and make sure they match (or are at least very close). For example, in our sample drawing, you would take the overall measurements of the top wall and add them together. Then do the same with the bottom wall. Once you have added each walls measurements check the totals to see if they match.

Top Wall:

24" + 42" + 24" + 12" + 42" + 12" = 156"

Bottom Wall:

12" + 40" + 104" = 156"

Left Wall:

21" + 42" + 52" = 115"

Right Wall:

18" + 97" = 115"


Things to Think About When Designing Your Kitchen

A man and a woman compare tiles samples

Designing your kitchen requires not only deciding on décor and colors but also creating a space plan and choosing products that will allow your kitchen to function the way that best suits you.

Answering these questions will help you to determine your needs and to consider possibilities you might not have realized. If you decide to work with a designer, having this information up front will help the designer understand your needs quickly.

 Cooking appliances PDF PDF Version


Design & Style

  1. What do I like and not like about how my current kitchen looks?

  2. What is the architectural style of my home? Do I want my new kitchen to reflect this style?

  3. Which general style do I like-contemporary, traditional, country or transitional?

  4. Is there a particular design theme I want to use?

  5. What colors do I like? Which ones do I dislike?

  6. What rooms adjoin the kitchen? Does the kitchen need to complement their design?

  7. How does the kitchen relate to the outdoors? Do you want to change or improve it?

  8. What do I like about my friends' kitchens?

  9. What are some designs and products that I like? Create a folder or notebook with notes and images — including kitchen pictures, layouts, colors, descriptions, lists… — everything that catches your eye.


Function & Storage

  1. What do I like and not like about how my current kitchen works?

  2. What's on the wish list of everyone who uses the kitchen?

  3. Can I keep any of my existing appliances? Do I want to?

  4. Do I need new flooring, or can I keep or refinish the existing floor?

  5. Do I need new cabinets, or can I reface or refinish the existing cabinets?

  6. Do I need more space in the kitchen for working on the computer, paying bills, and other tasks?

  7. Do I need more storage space?

  8. Can I get extra room by organizing the current space better, or do I need to change the kitchen layout?

  9. Can I change the layout within the existing kitchen footprint, or do I need to add space from another room in the house or through an addition?

  10. What kind of storage space do I need, and what am I storing? Possibilities to consider include: dry goods, paper products, pet food, dishes, flatware, cookware, bakeware, glassware, recycling, china, table linens, small appliances, and bottled or canned beverages.

  11. Do I have enough refrigerator and freezer space?

  12. Do I shop daily? Weekly? Monthly? Do I buy in bulk? Would I shop differently if my kitchen were different?

  13. Do I have enough electrical outlets for small appliances (toaster, coffeemaker, blender, mixer, etc.) and electronics (cell phone, TV, etc.)

  14. Do I have enough light to work by?

  15. How many people use the kitchen regularly? How old are they? Does anyone have any special needs?

  16. What non-food-related activities will take place in my new kitchen? Possibilities to consider include laundry, homework, paying bills, working on the computer and watching TV.

Cooking & Cleaning

  1. Who is the primary cook?

  2. Is the primary cook left- or right-handed?

  3. How tall is the primary cook?

  4. Does the primary cook have any physical limitations?

  5. What is the primary cook's cooking style?

    • Gourmet
    • Family
    • Quick and simple
    • Takeout
    • Baking

    How does the primary cook prefer to work?

  • Alone
  • One helper
  • Multiple helpers


  • Is the secondary cook left- or right-handed?

  • How tall is the secondary cook?

  • Does the secondary cook have any physical limitations?

  • Do I have enough countertop space for preparing meals?

  • Is my sink large enough? What about the dishwasher?

  • Is fresh water easily accessible when I'm cooking? Do I need an additional sink or faucet?

  • Do I need a bigger cooktop or oven?

  • Are the surfaces, finishes and appliances easy to clean?

  • Dining & Entertaining

    1. Do need room for eating in the kitchen?

    2. Do I want room for a stand-alone kitchen table and chairs?

    3. Do I want a built-in booth or banquette?

    4. Do I want an island with room for dining on one side or end?

    5. Do I plan to entertain frequently?

    6. What is my entertainment style-formal or informal?

    7. Do I typically cook the food myself or have the party catered?

    8. How many guests do I typically invite?

    9. Do my guests always end up in the kitchen?

    Products & Features

    1. What features are needs? Wants? Unnecessary, unwanted, or unaffordable?




    Wall oven(s)


    Vent hood


    Coffee & espresso maker




    Trash compactor

    Garbage disposal

    Warming drawer

    Wine chiller

    Ice maker

    Second dishwasher

    Second refrigerator or freezer

    Clothes washer and dryer


    Electrical & Lighting

    More electrical outlets

    Recessed lighting

    Pendant lighting


    Ceiling fan

    Undercabinet lighting

    Toekick lighting

    Charging station (for mobile phones, MP3 players, etc.)

    Cabinetry and storage

    Tilt-down sponge tray

    Spice rack

    Wine rack

    Appliance garage

    Bookshelf for cookbooks

    Cookbook stand or tray


    Cutlery dividers

    Pull-out bins for trash/recycling

    Tray dividers

    Lazy Susan

    Adjustable shelving

    Rollout shelves

    Pull-up mixer shelf



    Prep or bar sink

    Water filter/dispenser

    Side spray for faucet




    Radio or stereo


    Desk or work area

    Message center






    The Basics of Kitchen Zones

    Think of zone design as an expansion upon, rather than a replacement for, the classic work triangle approach to kitchen design and layout. It's a practical (and increasingly popular) way to group kitchen activities together in appropriately organized spaces, allowing for multiple cooks and work centers.

    While the work triangle focuses on the positioning of the range, refrigerator and sink, zone design addresses the full scope of appliances, plumbing fixtures and gadgets available to today's homeowners. It also considers the many activities — entertaining, doing homework, charging cell phones and more — that occur in the kitchen, as well as the fact that kitchen size is growing and floor plans are more open to the rest of the home.

    But don't fret if you don't have a kitchen large enough to house a distinct area for every activity: few people do. Prep, cooking and cleanup areas are the primary zones, and they're mandatory. All other zones (baking, beverage and communication centers, for example) are not necessary and therefore called auxiliary zones. By combining some zones into one area or eliminating zones that don't fit into your layout and lifestyle, you can make your kitchen multi-task just like you do.

    A few tips:

    • Prep and cleanup zones combine well

    • Baking and cooking zones combine well

    • Islands can host multiple zones with ease

    • Consider adding just one element of an auxiliary zone — a key appliance or critical storage cabinet — to a primary zone



    More in this category:Cooking And Cleaning Zones »

    Triple Tiers

    Kitchen Island with Three Levels
    Courtesy of Westborough Design Center, Inc.

    "This kitchen is quite unique as it contains three levels. The first level, at 42 inches, is located near the cooktop and houses the microwave. It's a fairly small L-shaped kitchen, so it was a challenge as to where to put the microwave; placing it in the highest level kept convenience and counter space in mind. The second level is at standard kitchen countertop height, 36 inches, and is used for prep area and storage. Both top levels are finished with a granite countertop.

    Courtesy of Westborough Design Center, Inc.

    "The third level is not only a different height than the others, but also a different material. It is situated at 30 inches in height and consists of a round wood top supported by a pedestal that matches the island color (the wood top matches the stain of the kitchen cabinets). It's used as the kitchen table, as the room opens into a large great room just beyond it. The light paint on the island defines the island, while simultaneously separating the island from the rest of the kitchen."


    Designer: Westborough Design Center, Inc.
    Westborough, Massachusetts

    Mix Color And Texture

    Concrete and Glass Countertops

    "Varied depths, unique countertop materials and architectural details combine to firm a unique textural, functional piece that serves both as a storage piece and as a point of interest. The design utilizes many storage features: roll-out shelves, cutlery storage trays, adjustable shelving and an end display unit.


    "In addition to the functionality of the piece, the black finish on the more traditional-style base serves as a great foundation in showcasing the various colors and textures in the concrete countertop and contrasts the mirrored and colored flecks in the material. In turn, the warmer look of the concrete contrasts the contemporary sleekness of the elevated glass countertop, which is supported by a hand carved wood column.


    "The combined use of the various textures and finishes creates an island that, as a whole, lends itself to become the focal point and anchor of the space and broadens the range of possibilities for any client who visits our showroom.


    Designer: Kristie McPhie, CKD
    McPhie Cabinetry
    Bozeman, Montana

    Raise The Work Surface

    Multi-Level Island
    Photo: Beganik Design

    "This dynamic multi-level island accommodates the homeowners' needs, providing the homeowners with a fantastic outside view overlooking their pond and gorgeous property. Complementing stone colors were used on the three levels. The main island countertop level boasts Husk Novolato granite to match the kitchen perimeter. Iris Green granite was chosen for its unique movement and markings on the upper and lower tiers for a dramatic yet complementing effect.


    "The dishwasher was raised to accommodate the homeowners' heights and provide a larger working surface at a higher level. They entertain frequently and wanted multiple heights for guests to sit at to enjoy easy conversation. The island shape and placement provides full access on all sides, allows the users generous preparation space and comfortable conversation with guests.


    Designer: Jeffrey Landwehr
    Goldenwood Cabinetry, Inc.
    Becker, Minnesota

    Float Your Island

    Contemporary Floating Island
    Photo: Chip Fanelli

    "The floating part came about because we have the work triangle on the backside of the island with the stove, refrigerator and in-island sink, and we wanted to incorporate an eat-in family space that's separate from the work area but still a part of the action.


    "The style of the kitchen lends itself to the contemporary look of the floating island, which features stainless steel brackets and the sleek look of frosted rice paper in its base panels. The countertops at standard height are Corian, and the raised part is a blue CaesarStone that plays off of the backsplash's glass mosaic. It's floating because there's not a continuous support, just the stainless brackets that raise it up over countertop so they overlap. It's almost shaped like a comma, with a circular table area and two types of lighting that play off of the different parts of the island."

    Designer: Suzy Kennedy
    SKI Design and Tibma Design/Build
    Needham, Massachusetts

    Mask the Mess

    Hamptons-Style Kitchen
    Photo: Peter Rymwid Photography

    "The inspiration for the kitchen was the kitchen in the movie "Something's Gotta Give," which features a distinctive Hamptons-style kitchen. It has the same general look with white, Shaker, classic inset-style cabinets; black honed granite countertops; and subway tile. The driving force behind this island was the homeowner's five young children-she wanted them to be able to sit all of them together there. The island orients her toward the family space while she's at the sink-she's not looking out the window or at a wall, but is turned toward her family."

    Photo: Peter Rymwid Photography

    "The island houses an integrated Miele dishwasher, full trash/recycling pullout and a beautiful Rohl farm sink and faucets with an oil bronze finish on both the faucets and cabinet hardware. Finally, the raise in middle of island was last minute idea the homeowner had. It helps to mask what's going on in the sink area from the family and makes the island less monolithic."


    Designer: Ariane Delafosse, CKD
    Canterbury Design
    Morristown, New Jersey

    Three Functions

    Tile Countertop with Hammered Copper Sink
    Photo: Peter Rymwid Photography

    "This multi-layered island incorporates a tile section, a butcher block section and a granite section. There are different surfaces for the different types of activities happening on the island: cooking, prepping and living. The sink area is tile, which is a really great surface for the wet area, and its beautiful texture adds an interesting element to the room. A pullout trash and hammered copper sink finish the area."

    Photo: Peter Rymwid Photography

    "The butcher block area is a useful place for chopping, making meals and sandwiches, and everyday meal prep. There's a pullout beneath that lets you scrape refuse into a compost bin while you're cutting veggies and such. Bowls and cooking elements are stored here as well.


    "The granite section makes for a nice spot to sit around. It's a durable surface for the kids to do homework, it's a dry area for prep and baking, and the bookcase beneath allows for decorative storage. Its lowered height facilitates rolling out piecrusts and chopping. The island is finished with white beadboard, adding another interesting texture to the design."


    Designer: Jim Dove
    Canterbury Design
    Morristown, New Jersey