Designer    Feature 22 Aug 2017

Can contemporary kitchen schemes still work around the ‘working triangle’ design philosophy? An expert discusses…

Back in the day, kitchen space used to be measured in acres, or at least it was in the USA in the 1920’s when the ‘working triangle’ was introduced by Moller Gilbreth, an industrial psychologist, and engineer, in partnership with the Brooklyn Borough Gas Company. The main point of her triangle was to cut down on the mileage the cook would cover in the production of meals, by making it roughly equal distance between storage (a refrigerator slightly smaller than a barn), preparation area (a sink large enough to bathe a sheep in), and cooking (a range cooker roughly the same size as a Range Rover).


Back in the 1920’s, the main point of
a kitchen was to prepare and cook meals, usually in a room dedicated to this task. The positioning of the ‘action centres’ (storage, prep, and cooking), was probably the most important consideration, but today’s kitchen frequently has to accommodate many social activities in addition to being the room (or the space) where the meals are prepared, and the type of meals that are being prepared are very different too.

Many of the consumer kitchen magazines focus on the furniture in
the room and cooking magazines tend to focus on the cooking itself rather than the positioning of the appliances, so does today’s kitchen planning call for a compromise on where you place the action centres? “Traditionally
the working triangle was key when designing a kitchen for obvious reasons and the concept worked with kitchens that were not as integrated into the
rest of the home as they are today,” says Mark Taylor, Managing Director at Mark Taylor Design. “Complementing the way people live their lives today, we have found that new designs are moving towards integrating the kitchen into a living space so the becomes ‘a living space with cooking’ instead of a ‘kitchen with living space’.

“This may sound like a small change but the emphasis is shifting to living space first and kitchen second. This means the designer’s brief and thinking leans towards a more integrated look that focuses more on how people will be living in the whole space.”

“With any kitchen, the primary tasks are carried out between the cook top, sink and refrigerator,” notes Dieter Berends, Senior Designer at Urban Interior. “However, the kitchen has now become a multipurpose room that continues to develop in style, function, and layout so you can no longer assume that it
will only have three work areas as the work triangle suggests. This is because kitchens have grown in size and so
the regular working triangle is not always going to be the most practical method. You don’t always have to
play by the rules: lifestyle should determine the functionality of a kitchen’s design, not the other way around.”
But, Graeme Smith, Senior Designer at PWS, thinks there is still an important place for the work triangle in today’s kitchens. “The work triangle is still valid,” he says, “however lifestyle changes have led to a more multi- purpose and often open-plan design, so there are other considerations which may often lead the planning process.

“A scheme still needs to be hinged on one that will work practically and in most cases it does come back to the triangle, as to whether it functions on those three basic levels. The
work triangle is still very much part
of the design process but it is more about gaining an insight into how the consumer will use their kitchen, whether it is purely for preparing food or does it also have a strong social element, plus giving consideration to the aesthetic value of the room.”

And talking of the ‘aesthetic value of the room’, it would seem that one of the biggest problems facing kitchen designers today are clients that
want to cram everything into a small space. “In my experience, the biggest mistake people make in choosing a new kitchen is trying to get too much into a small space,” agrees Neil Lerner, Managing Director of Neil Lerner Kitchen Design. “The size and shape of the room will always dictate the options you have available but the kitchen designer’s expertise can guide the client through the maze of options. It’s not a good idea to try and fill up all the walls with units and appliances as less is definitely more.

“We advise clients to make two ‘wish-lists’: one of the essential appliances they need and another
of the luxury ones they want to be included in the design. It usually results in a compromise to ensure the best possible outcome in the longer term.”

And finally, while you can possibly be forgiven for thinking that the keen cook wants a kitchen full of appliances, that is not the case for top chef Nick Nairn who works with Kitchens International. “Worktop space is essential,” he says. “Always remember that if you’re entertaining you need plating up space so never compromise on worktops. Everyday kitchen goods need to be easily accessible too so the worktop must have room for fruit bowls, kettle, toaster etc. and plating up room. Have all your kitchen units easily accessible and not in one huge long line. U or L-shaped kitchens work best for real chefs as everything is to hand.”

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