The classic refrigerator-sink-stove work triangle creates a stagnant kitchen, says former chef Don Silver. Now a Los Angeles kitchen designer, Silver feels the single sink in the equation is also inefficient. "Everything must go to that sink, leave that sink, and come back to that sink," he says. "There is a traffic jam at dinnertime."
Because he sees water as the most essential ingredient, his kitchen designs include a prep sink and a clean-up sink. "In a restaurant kitchen, the bus boy does not cross a cook's path. Why do we do this in homes with decent-sized kitchens?" Silver asks. He keeps the clean-up area in a direct line with the breakfast nook or dining room.
Silver's book, Kitchen Design With Cooking in Mind, demonstrates how commercial kitchen design principles can be used to create functional residential kitchens. One of the first questions he asks is, "What is the maximum number of people you will serve?" A kitchen for a condominium with a dining room that seats four is different from a kitchen in a house with room for a 12-seat table. He also asks about the favorite menus. "Residential cooking is less focused. One night might be Mexican, one night Spanish, one night Chinese. You need to build in the opportunity for a range of menus," he says.
He also says appliances are the motors of his design. "Before I touch paper, I take clients appliance shopping," Silver says.
Del Mar, Calif., cook Lesa Heebner says the elements of the work triangle are usually too far apart. "You're trekking from place to place. I want you to stand at your prep station and have all the tools you need," she says. The cooking school owner and former magazine food editor turned kitchen design consultant says whether homeowners cook extensively, or hardly at all, there are certain common issues (see "Five Principles of Kitchen Design," below).
Silver and Heebner both stress the importance of storage. Silver says a walk-in pantry is usually too far away from the cooking areas. "It is not practical. Everything should be at your fingertips," he says. He divides storage into high, medium, and low frequency. For high frequency items, he prefers pull-out cabinets that are 12 to 15 inches wide and 84 inches high. In one design, he recessed the cooktop in a corner and placed two pull-out cabinets on either side for spices and oils. Low frequency items can be stored as far away as the garage or basement.
Two of Heebner's five principles of kitchen design address storage. Once the project is done, Heebner doesn't leave the placement of ingredients to homeowners. "They get a move-in map with what to place in drawers and cabinets. That assures that the kitchen is filled the way it is intended," she says.
After the project is done, Silver asks his clients to invite a dozen friends to dinner. Then, he and the clients prepare a meal together. This allows the clients to familiarize themselves with the appliances and the workspace.
Cooking. Make sure the cooktop is a few steps or a pivot away from the prep station. Provide a drawer for potholders, ladles, spatulas, and tongs.
Washing up. Provide a clean-up sink and nearby storage for flatware and plates. Do not put the clean-up sink in the middle of the island where the dirty dishes become the focus. Make sure there is at least 2 feet on both sides of the clean-up sink.
Ingredients. Provide easy access to retrieve and stock groceries. Do not place the pantry and fridge on opposite sides of the room.
Leftovers. Provide deep drawers to accommodate plastic containers and aluminum wrap and plastic wrap.