Traffic flow to and from rooms is more important to kitchen design than ever before. Architects and designers are removing partition walls from floor plans to create larger kitchens also known as “cooking rooms.” These new open floor plans are designed so multigenerational families can gather, cook and participate in day-to-day activities.

With so many activities taking place in the same room, designers mistakenly segment each of the individual activity zones without thinking about how they relate to the other. A poorly designed room prevents activities from occurring without interruption. In many cases, when designed incorrectly, there may not be any efficient space to work in or a comfortable place to interact with the occupants of the room.

When starting the design phase, show all adjacent rooms on the plan because they all affect traffic flow through the kitchen. There is no way a space can be planned without knowing which rooms are adjacent to the kitchen — dining rooms, hallways, patios and powder rooms.

Basic standards and recommendations can be referenced to help design efficient traffic and work centers. Many of these are related to the International Residential Code. The National Kitchen and Bath Association also created a set of guidelines that incorporates these codes. These guidelines provide designers with the confidence they need to create a comfortable kitchen that flows with the rest of the design.

Door Guidelines

The first step toward efficient traffic flow is making sure cased openings or passage doors have a minimum clear opening of 32 in. When a door is incorporated, the 32-in. opening is measured from the face of the door and the stops on the jamb. This measurement is established with the door open at 90 degrees. A 2-ft. 10-in. door accomplishes this. If the passage through the opening exceeds 24 in. in depth, the minimum clear opening should be 36 in. In any situation, the best solution is a 36-in.-wide opening.

If designing the opening with a swing door, make sure it does not interfere with the safe operation of appliances. Make every effort to keep the oven, refrigerator and stove far away from a door opening. If that cannot be accomplished, there must be a minimum 15-in.-wide, 16-in.-deep clear countertop landing area on either side of the appliance. This allows someone to place a hot pot or pan in the opposite direction of someone entering the kitchen.

Work Zones, Perimeter Design

Once the openings from the adjacent rooms are established, create a plan for the room’s perimeter. If there are islands, knee walls or peninsulas, draw them into the plan. The easiest way to do this is to begin with blocks of space for the kitchen’s perimeter walls, islands and furniture. With the blocks of space established, work zones and aisles can be created.

We use the basic kitchen work triangle along with Blum’s “Dynamic Space Planning” guidelines to determine aisle widths. Aisles should be designed with a minimum width of 42 in. for a single cook and a minimum width of 48 in. for multiple cooks. These aisle widths are measured from the leading edge of any appliance handle, countertop edge or wall to whatever is across from them. If there are two aisles or walkways perpendicular to each other, one should be at least 42-in. wide.

Major traffic areas should be placed outside the work zones and should be a minimum of 36-in. wide. If there is a conflict with work aisles and major traffic patterns, we always design a second route through the space. This provides options for people accessing individual work zones without interference from those using the kitchen as egress to other rooms.

It’s an unrealistic expectation to incorporate these minimum aisle widths into spaces with limited square footage. However, I do not recommend an aisle width of less than 36 in. The designer must be mindful that open appliance doors do not prevent cooks from moving freely through the space.

The basic work triangle incorporates the refrigerator, sink and stove. The sum of the traveled distance between these appliances should not total more than 26 ft. No single leg of the triangle should measure less than 4 ft. or more than 9 ft. These distances are measured from the center front of the appliance or sink.

With the triangles established, we then use the “Dynamic Space Planning” guidelines to expand the triangle. We create zones by situating cabinets around each of the appliances. These zones are placed adjacent to each other. This enhances traffic and work flow.

The final stage of the design is to make sure there is comfortable seating. The National Kitchen and Bath Association suggests traffic clearances for aisle width behind seating: a minimum width of 32 in. if there is no traffic behind the seating area; 36 in. if there is traffic behind the seating. The 36-in. width allows someone to turn their body parallel to the seat while passing it. Use a minimum width of 44 in. behind the seat for a body to pass without turning sideways. Remember that the space behind the seat is measured from the countertop or table edge to any other countertop, obstruction or wall behind it.

Designing efficient traffic patterns and cooking zones is challenging. Great designers adhere to the guidelines expressed here. These guidelines are based on research dating back as far as 1920. When designers implement these guidelines, their designs will be celebrated by those who use them on a day-to-day basis. In addition, their colleagues will respect them for providing thoughtful and practical designs.

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