The layout is the foundation of your kitchen: how it feels, how it works, how you’ll move around it, how efficient it is. This isn’t a place for “close-enough” measurements—a couple of inches off on an entryway opening, and you could be boiling water on a hot stove when your kids run in and slam the door into you. Not what you want. You also don’t want to plan your dream kitchen around having the sink in the kitchen island—only to realize that there’s no plumbing hookup there, and it’s not in your budget to move it, so you have to re-work the whole thing, spending extra time and money in change orders. You’ll want to have super precise, thoughtful plans.
That’s where we come in. Before you decide just about anything else, we’ll help you settle on a layout for your new kitchen. Some of that will depend on the existing layout of your space and where your hookups are—gas, electric, and plumbing—but you can also make a few little tweaks to orient your kitchen the way that works for you.
Ready to get started? It’s Choose Your Own Layout Adventure:
Types of Kitchen Layouts
Have a skinny space? The single-wall kitchen may be the one for you. It looks just like it sounds: All of your main kitchen components, spaced along one counter, on one wall. The downside of this kitchen layout is it’s the only one where the so-called kitchen triangle—the setup between fridge, range, and sink recommended by the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA)—isn’t possible, because your main workspaces are all on one wall. Still, with enough counter space left between those components, you’ll have plenty of space to do what you need to do—and you won’t have to walk a mile to get to the freezer, either.
**Pro Tip: Just how much counter space do you need? The NKBA recommends 18 inches on one side of the sink and 24 inches on the other; 12 inches on one side of a cooktop and 15 inches on the other; and 15 inches on at least one side of the fridge, so you have a place to put the eggs besides the floor.
The galley kitchen gets a bad rap for being “small”. But its size is the secret to its success: It makes the most out of even tight spaces. With two parallel, unconnected lengths of countertop, it’s easy to create a workspace triangle (think sink and range on one side and fridge on the other, or range and fridge on one side and sink on the other—you get the idea). These counters can fit along two parallel walls if your kitchen is in a small room of its own; in a more open space, an island or peninsula can form one of the parallel sides. Note that if you tend to have multiple cooks in the kitchen at one time, this layout may be a little crowded. But if you’re a solo cooker or a couple (or just like to have your kitchen to yourself when guests come over), this super-efficient layout is a perfect choice.
**Pro Tip: “The standard distance between island and back counter is usually 40 inches, but I have designed kitchens where that threshold is wider by as much as 5 feet,” says architect Malachi Connolly. “One advantage with that is that two people can be back to back in the kitchen with enough butt space so everyone isn’t stepping all over each other.” If there are two (or more) of you in a galley kitchen, add a little (but not too much) extra wiggle room.
This kitchen layout is just like it sounds: Two counters in a right angle, sometimes fit into a corner along two walls. Its biggest perk is that it leaves a lot of floor space in the middle for an island or casual breakfast table, and for people to move around and in and out of the space in lots of different ways.
This is a great entertaining kitchen: It’s open, and everyone will want to hang out here. Be careful of making this kitchen layout too expansive, though: With two super-long counters, the range on one end and the sink on the other, you’ll have to walk pretty far to get the butter.
With a U-shaped kitchen—three stretches of countertop, connected in a horseshoe shape—you’ve got a lot of options. You can orient your work triangle any way you like. All of the counters can run along walls in a small, separate space, or you can make one side a peninsula that’s open to the dining or living room, if space allows (maybe with a few stools tucked beneath).
The U-shaped kitchen offers three distinct workspaces, so you can divide and conquer. (Bakers and dinner-party hosts, this is a great one for you.) Be careful, again, not to stretch this layout too far. You want no less than four feet and no more than nine feet on each side of your workspace triangle, the NKBA says.
**Money-Saving Tip: If you’ve got a tight space, you’re better off with a galley kitchen than a U-shaped kitchen. It has all of the efficiency but works better in small places—and you save the cost of a length of cabinetry and countertops, too.
To Island or Not To Island?
In an L-shaped kitchen especially, an island is a smart way to create usable, workable space out of an empty stretch of floor. By adding a sink or cooktop to the island, it’s easy to triangulate your workspace; you could even add a tiny prep sink for an extra spot to fill a glass or rinse produce. Not to mention the extra stretches of counter space you’ll get.
And an island can serve so many purposes, from a place to roll out pie dough to an ad-hoc bar for cocktail parties to a spot for kiddos to have a snack and do their homework. Just make sure you’ve got the proper hookups if you want a sink or cooktop on your island. And measure carefully: You want to make sure you’ve got enough room to move so your island feels hard-working, not awkward and imposing.
Which brings us to:
How Much Space Do I Need?
Besides that workspace triangle we keep talking about, you’ll need to keep a couple of other measurements in mind to make your kitchen work well. Have a doorway or entryway in your kitchen? The NKBA recommends a clear opening of at least 32 inches wide for the doorway; and, when the door swings open, it shouldn’t bump into any appliance doors or get in the way of using the appliance.
If possible, traffic patterns—where people who aren’t cooking walk by—should go around, and never through, your kitchen triangle. Also, make sure there are no big obstacles between workspaces: For example, try to avoid putting the fridge or a full-height cabinet between the sink and the range.
Lastly, consider how many cooks you’ll have in your kitchen most days. The NKBA recommends leaving at least a 42-inch-wide “work aisle” between two parallel countertops for a solo cook, or at least 48 inches wide for multiple cooks.
What If I Want to Change Up My Layout?
Have a single-wall kitchen but want to expand to an L-shape? With Skipp, you may be able to remove a non-load-bearing wall and shift your main hookups—gas, electric, and plumbing—to get a layout that’s more workable for your lifestyle. Moving your main hookups definitely requires a professional—and it can be invasive. Here’s what to know if you’re thinking of making a switch, from least pricey to most:
$ - Lower Cost Layout Modifications
"Small shifts should not require tearing the whole place apart."
“At the most basic level, this is a swap of a sink or faucet where the location doesn’t change,” says contractor Nauman Shah of Sanz Construction. But if you want to move your sink just slightly, you might have some wiggle room without re-doing the hookups.
“If the sink is within a foot or so from the existing wall rough, the plumber can work with that margin without too much trouble,” adds Malachi Connolly, principal architect of Malachi Connolly Design. “If the sink is close to a corner, it’s often easy to rotate it to the adjacent wall and still be within proximity of the existing rough. Keep in mind that whenever you relocate kitchen plumbing fixtures or appliances, you will also be relocating electrical as well. For example, dishwashers will require a dedicated outlet as well as plumbing roughs.”
$$ - Medium Cost Layout Modifications
"Take this opportunity to put the fridge where you really want it."
If you need to move your sink or electric more than a few inches, you’re looking at higher cost and a little more invasiveness. “It all depends on the kinds of obstacles that could get in the way of the plumbing,” says Shah. “Moving a sink across the room without any obstacle can possibly take less time than moving a sink over short distance if there are lots of obstacles in the way like a wall, cabinet, appliance, or other plumbing or electrical.” In short: If you’re going to move your sink a few feet but would really prefer it across the room, you might be better off just…moving it across the room.
$$$ - High Cost Layout Modifications
"Be wary of moving gas lines - especially in apartments."
Take caution if you want to move gas hookups. “Any gas line changes are going to be the most expensive and most complicated because of new codes and laws,” says Shah. “Many plumbers wouldn't want to undertake this kind of project. Anything that requires playing with the stack or main pipe inside the house is usually intense. Then it depends where the main line is, under a concrete slab or below subfloor or passing through a wall. Main line work is where it gets real intense.” Adds Connolly: “I generally don't recommend moving gas lines for ranges, especially in apartment buildings. If there is a need to relocate a gas line, make sure you have a clear path to how that is executed by your contractor, from installation to inspection.”
If you need to shift your kitchen around to get a better workflow, you’ll be better off moving the other two corners of the kitchen triangle—the sink and the fridge—than the range, both cost-wise and safety-wise. Of course, if you do decide to move the range, you’ll need to hire professionals—never try to mess with gas lines yourself.