If your cooking space turns to chaos every time you scramble eggs, a quick reshuffling is in order. These guidelines will point you in the right direction.

By Stephanie Sisco
Updated October 16, 2015
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Illustration: kitchen layout
Credit: Michael Kirkham
Illustration: kitchen layout
Credit: Michael Kirkham

Cooktop, Refrigerator, Sink

Typically, the ideal layout centers around a work triangle of these three elements, with four to nine feet between each. But this is not a hard-and-fast rule, especially with today’s bigger, more open kitchens. “What’s more helpful is to set up distinct areas for frequent activities, like making coffee, prepping dinner, and entertaining,” says Mary Kathryn Reese, a kitchen-remodeling pro in Dallas.

Think in zones. Storing items where you use them (baking sheets by the oven, glasses near the refrigerator) saves you time and quickens cleanups.

Prep Space

Aim for two to four feet of room on either side of the sink and the stove, suggests Reese: “You need at least enough to fit a large cutting board.” Have a stand mixer or some other bulky appliance in that spot? Move it. If your kitchen lacks counter space, add more surface area with a rolling island.

Dishes, Glasses, Pots and Pans

Shelves stay neater if you divide cabinets into categories. (Everyday plates in one, most-used cookware in another.) Walk yourself through your usual kitchen routine and consider how many steps you’re taking from a cabinet to its corresponding task. If a switch-up will shorten the distance, do it, says Reese.

Task Lighting

Overhead fixtures aren’t illuminating enough. Under-cabinet lighting not only makes food prep easier but also adds ambience. “If you can’t have an electrician wire it in, try adhering a battery-operated fixture,” says Diane Benbow, a kitchen designer in Asheville, North Carolina.

Junk Drawer

It’s a clutter-concealing necessity, but because it’s not essential for cooking, it shouldn’t take up prime real estate, says Reese. Choose a drawer at the room’s perimeter that’s 15 to 24 inches wide.

Full extension glides (sold at some hardware stores) enable you to pull drawers all the way out, maximizing space.


A freestanding garbage can is an obstruction. Can't install a pullout cabinet bin? Affix a slide-out rail at the bottom of a lower cupboard.