Fundamental Kitchen Design Guidelines to Know Before You Remodel (2024)

The kitchen is where many important household activities take place, including cooking, eating, entertaining, conversing, and scheduling. With so much action in one place, it's imperative that your kitchen layout is functional, comfortable, and attractive. To create the best kitchen for you and your family, a small-scale kitchen remodel or a full-on renovation might be in order. And since the kitchen is generally the most expensive and challenging room to build or remodel, you want to make sure you get all the components right the first time.

Making sure your kitchen design layout works for your daily needs requires more than simply selecting beautiful finishes and appliances. You'll also need to make smart design decisions that create a safe and accessible space. Laying out the appliances, storage areas, electrical and plumbing work, walkways, and more can be tricky. To help you with the key elements of kitchen design floor plans, we've outlined some basic planning guidelines, including must-know measurements and safety considerations. Whether you're building a new home or remodeling an existing kitchen floor plan, this planning guide will introduce you to the fundamentals of kitchen design and help you make smart design decisions for the key elements of the room. Refer to these tips when building your dream kitchen to ensure the space is as safe and functional as possible.

Kitchen Space Planning Recommendations

One of the most difficult parts of designing kitchen layouts is figuring out the logistics of where everything will go. The clean slate of a new kitchen can be overwhelming. In a remodel, limitations might include square footage and existing plumbing placement (relocating plumbing is typically not a cost-effective option for most upgrades). To begin designing your kitchen, take exact measurements of available floor space, then place the basic elements using the following guidelines.

Doorways and Walkways

Any doorway into the kitchen must be at least 32 inches wide, and swinging doors shouldn't interfere with appliances, cabinets, or other doors. In a small kitchen, hang doors so they swing out, rather than in, to avoid clearance problems. Passageways through the kitchen should be at least 36 inches wide (or desirably larger if you're building an open floor plan kitchen). In work areas, walkways should be at least 42 inches wide for one cook or 48 inches for multiple cooks.

Work Triangle

The work triangle is an important design concept that improves a kitchen's functionality by minimizing walking distance between the sink, refrigerator, and primary cooking surface. For comfort and safety, the sum of the three distances should be no more than 26 feet, and each stretch of the triangle should measure between 4 and 9 feet, even with small kitchen floor plans. If two or more people cook at the same time, plan triangles for each cook. These triangles might share one leg, but they should not cross each other. Also, try to avoid having major traffic walkways cross through the triangle.

Sink and Dishwasher

Flank any sink with landing areas of at least 24 inches on one side and at least 18 inches on the other. In small kitchen layouts, this can be achieved with a rolling kitchen counter cart. If your kitchen will have a secondary sink, allow at least 3 inches of countertop on one side and 18 inches on the other. Install the nearest edge of the dishwasher within 36 inches of the nearest edge of a sink, preferably the primary prep sink. Also, leave at least 21 inches between the dishwasher and any adjacent appliances, cabinets, or other obstacles.


Designers recommend that a kitchen include at least 158 total inches of usable countertop, which is considered any span, including islands, that is at least 24 inches deep and has at least 15 inches of clearance above. It's recommended to include at least a 24-inch-wide span of countertop next to a sink for prep work. Plan for at least 15 inches of countertop beside the handle side of the refrigerator or on either side of a side-by-side refrigerator. Allow at least 12 inches of countertop on one side of a cooking surface and 15 inches on the other. For kitchen layouts with island appliances, you should also extend the countertop at least 9 inches beyond the burners. For a separate oven, include a 15-inch span of countertop on either side. When these countertop areas overlap, take the larger of the two guidelines and add 12 inches.


When a countertop or island doubles as a seating area, a 28- to 30-inch-wide space per diner is most comfortable. Also plan for 18-inch-deep knee space for 30-inch-high counters, 15 inches for 36-inch counters, and 12 inches for 42-inch counters. Allow a 36-inch clearance behind chairs or stools, measured from counter/table edge to the wall or obstruction. If there is a walkway behind the diner, allow 44-60 inches in the kitchen layout for comfortable passage.

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Kitchen Design Guidelines for Electrical and Ventilation

All receptacles servicing countertop areas require GFCI (ground-fault circuit interrupter) protection. A kitchen must have at least one wall-switch controlled light, with the switch placed at the entrance. At least 8 percent of the total square footage of the kitchen must be windows or skylights. It's also important to have task lighting over every work surface. For all cooking surface appliances, install an outdoor-venting kitchen ventilation system with an exhaust rate of 150 cubic feet of air per minute. Install range hoods or microwave-hood combos at least 24 inches above a stove or according to manufacturer instructions. If a microwave is placed below the countertop, the bottom must be at least 15 inches off the floor. Allow 15 inches of clear space above the refrigerator.

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Safety Issues to Consider in Kitchen Design

The kitchen design layout has the potential to cause harmful or even fatal injuries with the danger of fires, scalding, cuts, and falls. Protect your family by keeping a fire extinguisher visible, easily accessible, and away from cooking equipment. Make sure the extinguisher is rated for Class B fires, test the equipment at least every six months, and make sure everyone in the family knows how to use it.

Don't place a cooking surface under an operable window and never use flammable window treatments above a stovetop or oven. Also, choose clipped or rounded corners for countertops, which are safer than sharp edges.

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Tips for Kitchen Storage and Accessories

Although building codes don't address kitchen storage or accessories, they are nonetheless important concerns. Designers recommend a rough guideline of including a minimum of 117 feet of shelf and drawer frontage for small kitchen design layouts and at least 167 feet in a large kitchen (greater than 350 square feet).

How to Calculate Frontage

Calculate frontage by multiplying cabinet width in inches by the cabinet depth in feet and then by the number of shelves. Of this total, include at least 33 feet within 72 inches of the main sink's centerline or at least 47 feet in a large kitchen.

If you have corner cabinets, it's advisable to include a lazy Susan, pullout shelving, or another usable storage device. Finally, place a trash can under each sink or near the primary prep area. If possible, include a second bin in the same area for recycling.

For more information about kitchen design and to find design professionals, visit the National Kitchen and Bath Association website.

Fundamental Kitchen Design Guidelines to Know Before You Remodel (2024)
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