Current design trends have architects and designers removing partition walls to create larger kitchens. These open floor plans must be designed so multigenerational families can gather, cook and participate in the day-to-day activities that take place in a modern home environment. To ensure these desires are met, traffic flow in the kitchen must relate to the different centers of activity, including workstations and zones for sitting, visiting, and viewing a laptop or television. With so many activities taking place in the same room, designers mistakenly segment the individual zones without thinking about how each zone relates to another.

Despite our modern-day desire for open floor plans, great kitchen designers still adhere to basic ideas, which are based on research dating back to 1920. Consider the following basic guidelines for efficient traffic flow through kitchen workstations and activity zones:

Door Openings

When starting any kitchen design, it is imperative that all adjacent rooms are shown on the plan. These rooms must be detailed on the plan because they affect the flow of traffic through the actual kitchen.

The first guideline for efficient traffic flow in a kitchen is to ensure any cased opening or passage door has a minimum clear opening of 32 inches. When a door is incorporated, the 32-inch 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-foot by 10-inch door accomplishes this. If the passage through the opening exceeds 24 inches in depth (envision a base cabinet running parallel to the direction of travel), the minimum clear opening should be 36 inches.

Ensure the swing-door opening does not interfere with safe operation of appliances. If that cannot be accomplished, there must be a minimum 15-inch-wide, 16-inch-deep clear countertop landing area on either side of the appliance. This allows someone to place a hot pot in the opposite direction of someone entering the kitchen.

Work Aisles

Next, create a perimeter plan for the room. If there are islands, knee walls or peninsulas in the design, they should be drawn into the plan. Begin with blocks of space for the kitchen’s perimeter walls, islands and furniture. These blocks of space establish work zones and aisles.

Aisles should be designed with a minimum 42-inch width for a single cook and 48 inches for multiple cooks. 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-inches wide.

Major traffic areas should be placed outside work zones, and they should be a minimum 36-inches wide. If there is a conflict with work aisles and major traffic patterns, design a second route through the space.

When aisle width is reduced, you must be careful appliance doors do not interfere with each other and open appliance doors do not prevent cooks from moving freely.

Activity Zones

Now you can create different activity zones in the kitchen. First, consider the guidelines for the basic work triangle. Keep in mind there can be multiple triangles and work zones in a kitchen.

The basic work triangle incorporates the refrigerator, sink and stove. No single leg of the triangle should measure less than 4 feet or more than 9 feet. The sum of the combined distances should not exceed 26 feet. These distances are measured from the center front of the appliance or sink. If there are multiple triangles they should measure no less than 4 feet or more than 9 feet from each.

With the triangles established, use Blum’s Dynamic Space Planning guidelines to create zones by situating cabinets around each of the appliances. These zones are placed adjacent to each other, which enhances traffic and work flow.

The final stage of design is to make sure there is comfortable seating. A minimum width of 32 inches is suggested if there is no traffic behind a seating area. If there is traffic, a minimum width of 36 inches should be used. Use a minimum width of 44 inches behind the seat for a body to pass by without turning sideways. The space behind the seat is measured from the countertop or table edge to any other obstruction or wall behind it.

Remember, everyone gathers at the seating area. Make sure it has plenty of visibility so every generation can sit comfortably.

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