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Kitchen Work Centers or Zones

Today, the traditional work triangle is often not enough to describe how a kitchen will work. Kitchen floor plans involving more appliances (extra sink, dishwasher(s), separate cooktop and oven(s), microwave oven, etc.) have more potential work stations which the triangle can’t account for. And if you add more cooks to a single triangle, it’s a recipe for tripping over each other.

The tool used to solve these problems in design is the concept of work centers or zones. A work center groups everything needed to do a specific type of task into a single area.

The three major zones are:

Food Prep Center Near fridge, near sink (may have its own sink separate from the main cleanup sink), near trash and compost containers: needs counter space, knife storage, cutting boards, measuring and mixing utensils, small appliances such as food processor or blender, casseroles and baking dishes, flavorings, cookbook storage, graters.

Cooking Center Range (stove) or cooktop and ventilation: oven may be located separately if it’s not part of a range (possibly near the baking zone). If you cook using your microwave, you might include it in this zone (possibly mounted over the range), but if you mainly use it for heating up snacks it could be better located outside the main work triangle where non-cooks can access it without getting in the way. Close to the food prep center so that food can go directly from prep to cooking. If you do a lot of cooking involving large pots of water (pasta for 12, canning, etc) a faucet nearby can be very useful. Small cooking appliances like the toaster, toaster oven, convection oven, deep fryer etc might be located here or in a separate snack center. Storage for frypans, possibly saucepans, pot lids, cooking utensils, salt, pepper and spices (away from heat), oils, vinegars and other flavorings, oven mitts and gloves, fire extinguisher.

Cleanup Center Main sink, dishwasher, garbage disposal, trash and compost bins, recycling bins, waste compactor; storage for cleaning materials, dishtowels, food storage containers and materials, paper towels, garbage bags, colanders and strainers, possibly everyday dishes and flatware (near dishwasher), possibly saucepans (near water source).

Depending on your cooking and eating style, you may have other work centers too:

Baking Center Counter space (may include marble or stone slab for rolling pastry): cookie sheets and baking tins, cookie cutters, rolling pins, electric mixer, food processor, food storage for baking ingredients, cake decorating equipment, cookbook storage, measuring and mixing utensils, mixing bowls.

Snack Center Close to refrigerator, cup and dish storage: includes microwave and toaster ovens, popcorn maker, coffee and tea making equipment and materials, water cooler, microwave-safe dishes and dish covers, oven mitts, snack foods.

Eating Center Eating surface and seating (could be a table and chairs, breakfast bar and stools, or built-in nook); storage for dishes and flatware, napkins and placemats, condiments.

Clearly, there is some overlap between the equipment and materials needed in each work center. Where you choose to keep what depends on your cooking style and needs, the size of your kitchen, and placement of centers near each other. You might also choose to duplicate some items (anything from measuring cups to dishwashers) in several zones if you have the space and it makes work more convenient.

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