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Design an Efficient Kitchen Around These 4 Work Zones

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When renovating a kitchen forget the golden triangle, and design an efficient kitchen around these 4 work zones!

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When renovating a kitchen forget the golden triangle, and design an efficient kitchen around these 4 work zones!

We have all heard of the golden triangle – a kitchen design that ultimately forms a triangle between your most frequently used appliances – the stove, the sink and the fridge. 

But with the introduction of kitchen islands, stovetops, wall ovens, and open-concept layouts, this isometric design is not always practical in today’s kitchen.  

I am not a designer by trade, but I have flipped several homes, helped others redesign theirs, and am in the process of designing our forever home.

Instead of using the kitchen triangle, I have found that the most efficient kitchens result when designing a layout around these 4 work zones.

For more kitchen inspiration, be sure to check out:

    10 Mistakes to Avoid When renovating a Kitchen

    Design an Efficient Kitchen around 4 work zones

    Work zone #1 – The Prep Zone

    This is the countertop and standing space in your kitchen that holds what you need to regularly prepare a meal.  To clarify, this zone includes cooking because in my mind I am preparing to eat not just to cook.  When designing your kitchen this zone should include the following checklist within arms reach.

    The Prep Zone design checklist:

    • Dry ingredients (flours, sugars, baking powder and soda . . .)
    • Liquid ingredients (oils, vinegars . . .)
    • Mixing bowls, measuring cups and spoons
    • Pots and pans
    • Prep appliances (mixer, blender, can opener, food processor . . .)
    • Stove
    • Trash can

    The prep zone cabinetry should be approximated to your sink, stove and trash can. 

    A good rule of thumb is to have your trash can in-line with your sink whether that means under the sink, in a pullout cabinet beside your sink or at the end of the same row of cabinets as your sink. 

    You want to minimize the travel of trash across your floor.  When designing new cabinets, I put a pullout trash can on the prep zone side of my sink and the dishwasher on the dirty zone side (more to come on that later).

    Design an Efficient Kitchen Around These 4 Work Zones

    The standard 10×10 kitchen layout, like the picture above, often has this corner somewhere with the sink on one side and the stove on the other.  Pots and pans could be stored in the drawer in the bottom of the stove and trash under the sink, so again you are able to stand in your prep zone without crossing your floor with trash. 

    Here I would install a wall-mounted spice rack over the stove for easy access, put all my dry and liquid ingredients in the lazy susan (I put all my frequently used dry ingredients in these OXO Good Grip Pop Airtight Containers and use these chalk marker labels!), put my mixing accessories in the upper corner cabinet (love this all-in-one mixing set), and then either of those cabinets could be considered for prep appliances. 

    You do not need a traditional appliance garage to house appliances.  That upper cabinet for example – move the inside shelves as needed to put your mixer there and then have an outlet installed in the back. 

    If your cord isn’t long enough when you take the mixer down buy a short extension cord to keep the mixer plugged into so that you can take it in and out with ease.  Anchor the cord in the cabinet as needed.  This would be true for any of your frequently used appliances in an upper or lower cabinet depending on which better fits the appliances. 

    Some extension cords (like this one) are even cute and look more like a braided rope than an unsightly cord!

    Design an Efficient Kitchen Around These 4 Work Zones

    In bigger kitchens such as this one, I would add a mixer lift (convert your cabinet with this mixer lift kit), install roll-out shelves for my OXO Pop dry ingredient containers (this way you can access your ingredients without even having to get the containers out), pots and pans would go in the cabinet beneath the stove top (convert your cabinet with this pullout cookware organizer) and any other small appliances could also be added to the upper cabinetry with the mixing bowls and measuring cups. 

    In this kitchen, I would make sure there is a pullout trashcan in the island to the left of the sink, if I were standing at it, and directly behind the prep zone (convert your cabinet with this pullout trash kit).

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    Design an Efficient Kitchen around 4 work zones

    Work zone #2 – The Serve Zone

    Again, not difficult to infer what happens here.  This zone often crosses paths with the prep zone where you have prepared and cooked your meal.  That being said, you have finished cooking and are ready to serve.

    The Serve Zone design checklist:

    • Dinnerware (plates, bowls)
    • Flatware
    • Drinking glasses
    • Stove

    The first three are obvious necessities when serving food, but the stove could be included into this zone as well if you tend to serve buffet style (as we do). 

    If you are installing new cabinets or reorganizing your current ones, then consider the flow of your “buffet line” whether you are serving your family of 4 or your neighborhood of 24. 

    The easiest way to design this zone is to mentally walk through it, and if you have to turn backward to get what you need, then rework it and start again. 

    Even in small spaces the idea in this zone is to keep the motion moving forward!

    Design an Efficient Kitchen Around These 4 Work ZonesThis super cute black and white kitchen with open shelving is perfect for the serve zone. 

    I would place all the bowls and plates to the left and keep one of the long shelves on the right for the glasses to pick up after you have served yourself. 

    Also, that space to the right of the stove would be ideal for your prep zone with open shelving for mixing bowls, measuring cups and spoons etc with the ingredients in cabinet below. 

    Or vice versa and showcase your ingredients with these open shelving glass canisters!  What matters here is the quality of the designed square footage not the quantity.

    Design an efficient kitchen

    In this kitchen, the process would be the same. 

    Here I put the dinnerware in the upper cabinet, but if a drawer works better for you check out these peg board organizers for your plates, bowls and glasses!  Pick up your plate and silverware, dish your food, grab a glass and fill it with water. 

    If this were my kitchen the fridge would have a water dispenser to keep it hands free! 

    Certainly your kids could also grab a glass and fill it with a pitcher of water from the table after they have set their plate down. 

    Again the simple idea is to keep moving forward. 

    As a side note, for larger parties I always use an all-in-one dinnerware caddie with all disposable dinnerware (this stackable buffet caddy is fabulous)!  This way you can spend more time with your guests instead of in the “dirty zone.”  Read on!

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    Design an Efficient Kitchen around 4 work zones

    Work zone #3 – The Dirty Zone

    The dirty zone is when the food has been served, fun has been had around the table, and it is time to clean up. 

    The dirty zone addresses the flow of dirty plates, dishes, flatware etc. 

    The checklist for this zone focuses on how to maximize the dirty landing zone and how to minimize the foot traffic required to access it.

    The Dirty Zone design checklist:

    • Place the dishwasher on the side of the sink closest to your kitchen table.
    • Allow for counter top over the dishwasher that is easily accessed without walking into the kitchen (for the “dirty landing zone”).
    • Design a cabinet with leftover containers on the dishwasher side of your sink.
    • Make sure you can easily access the leftovers cabinet with your dishwasher open.

    The “dirty landing zone” is simply the space in your kitchen that dirty dishware is placed after you eat. 

    This space could be counter top beside your sink, an island, the prep or serve zone counter top, or it could even be directly into your sink. 

    Keep this space as close to your dishwasher as possible. 

    Ideally, it would be the counter top beside your sink and over your dishwasher. Try to place your leftover containers in a cabinet near the dishwasher side of your sink.

    This is one of the reasons I recommend a pullout trash can on the opposite.  This way you can stand at your sink and have your dishwasher open and your trash can open at the same time without having to move.

    design an efficient kitchen

    Even in this small apartment kitchen the work zones can still flow efficiently if organized well. 

    For the dirty zone, there is a great space to the left of the sink for plates to land without anyone else having to walk into the kitchen, be rinsed, and put directly into the dishwasher. 

    Not sure if it is, but that lower cabinet in the back right would be ideal for a pullout trash can so one could stand at the sink with dishwasher and trash can both open. 

    Also that leftover containers drawer looks like it can be open while the dishwasher is open.  These peg board organizers are also great for organizing leftover containers in a drawer.

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    Design an Efficient Kitchen around 4 work zones

    work zone #4 – The Clean Zone

    Just as the dirty zone is focused on organizing the flow of dirty dishes, the clean zone is simply organizing the flow of clean dishes. 

    Unless you don’t have a dishwasher, which in that case means the flow moves from the sink to the cabinetry, for most of us this final step in laying out our kitchen organizes the flow of clean dishes from the dishwasher to the cabinets.

    The Clean Zone design checklist:

    • Cabinetry for plates, bowls and glasses should be within arms reach of the dishwasher.
    • Flatware drawer should be within arms reach of the dishwasher.
    • If you are standing at your sink emptying your dishwasher, can you put away your most frequently used dinnerware without moving your feet?
    design an efficient kitchen

    In this kitchen, the cabinet above the dishwasher would ideally hold plates, bowls & glasses. 

    It’s a little small as typically you would want a double cabinet above the dishwasher or a large drawer close by, but this designer opted for a larger window. 

    The flatware should be just behind the sink in a drawer in the island, still accessible from the dishwasher without having to move one’s feet. 

    To clarify, I still have to take steps to put some items away such as coffee mugs, leftover containers etc, but the point is that you should be able to empty most of your dishwasher without having to move your feet.

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    Design an Efficient Kitchen around 4 work zones

    Design an Efficient Kitchen Around These 4 Work Zones

    I know this picture is incredibly busy, but I want to drive home that designing an efficient kitchen does not mean designing a bigger one (this is mistake #4 in 10 Mistakes to Avoid When Renovating a Kitchen if you haven’t read it)!   

    You do not need a 2 island, 3 sinks kind-of-kitchen budget to create an efficient space. 

    This small apartment kitchen can still function efficiently (perhaps even more so than a larger one!) with intentional design and planning.

    You may have noticed that one more zone slipped into that last picture! 

    I personally always include a coffee zone (coffee bar) in my kitchen as I have a small, ok large, obsession with coffee. 

    Even in our small Victorian kitchen renovation I highlighted our Keurig coffee maker with 6″ drawer cabinets stacked vertically on either side that stored mugs, tea bags, coffee, hot chocolate etc. 

    Be creative and think outside the box.

    Lots more tips on how to stretch your dollars here with 10 Mistakes You Must Avoid When Renovating (or designing) a Kitchen and remember you can design an efficient kitchen with these 4 work zones even in the space you have! 

    For more kitchen inspiration, be sure to check out:

      Share these tips with others, so that we can all work smarter, not harder in our kitchens!

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      Pin any of the images below, and shop my kitchen.

      Design an Efficient Kitchen with These 4 work Zones

      Design an Efficient Kitchen with These 4 work Zones

      Design an Efficient Kitchen with These 4 work Zones

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      1. Ahna,
        Great post! I’ve been looking to organize our kitchen better and can’t wait to put this into practice! Wish I had read this post before we renovated our kitchen but I think with your tips I’ll be able to make our current set up more efficient 🙂 Pinned this on bout our kitchen remodel and storage/organizations boards.
        Thanks! Denise

      2. This is 1000% the best kitchen design and planning blog I’ve ever seen. Thank you for doing away with the triangle. Your tips and links are perfect.

        1. Fantastic ideas! I’ve been looking for “this” article a long time. So glad to have run across yours.

      3. Great approach – I’m saving for future reference!

        I would add one more zone, if there’s room: the beverage zone. My husband makes his coffee smack in the middle of my cooking area, and we’re always bumping into each other.

      4. Hi, Ahna! I like your zone concept, as it is pretty much how I designed my apartment kitchen, and it works extremely well! (Even better than my mom’s kitchen, and hers is twice the size!) However, where would the pantry and fridge/freezer come into play in your design? In the setup I used, there were also 4 zones, but the first was the “pantry zone”. Thanks for your blog. The articles are really informative.

        1. That’s such a great point Tessa! I tend to put the pantry and fridge on the side of the kitchen that is closest to the prep zone. This obviously varies depending on your kitchen layout be it galley, peninsula, 10×10 layout etc.

      5. I love your approach. I have been taking on my whole home one room at a time. I just spent a whole weekend a href=”https://www.immaculatehomechemdry.com/east-los-angeles-county/carpet-cleaning-diamond-bar/”>carpet cleaning and now it’s time for my kitchen. I have never thought about separating out space for a serving area. I really like the tip and may incorporate that into kitchen updates.

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