The Basics of Kitchen Design

Redesigning a kitchen is both an exciting and a daunting prospect. Balancing dreams and aspirations with the functional needs of the room and the reality of a budget is tricky. A good starting point is to understand some basic principles. It also helps to acknowledge that there is no such thing as a ‘perfect design’, just one that works for you.

Over the past few months, I have spent hours exploring  kitchen designs. Finding the right layout has taken patient research, periods of frustration and welcome light-bulb moments.

Finding basic information to get started was one of the most frustrating and time-consuming aspects of the process. It is remarkable how reluctant kitchen companies are to share this essential knowledge. Here, I have pulled together the basics that helped me.

In the next post, I will set out the more practical issues that need to be considered. Together, these posts will give you the tools to plan the kitchen of your dreams.

Cabinet Dimensions

This is the ABC of kitchen design.  Understanding the standard dimensions of kitchen units allows you to determine what storage you can fit into your kitchen. For example, do you want 1000mm pan drawers or 700mm drawers and a 300mm pull out unit.

These standard measurements are simply a starting point.  It is vital to check the actual measurements of the units you want to buy.  Most companies have in-house designers who will review and check your plan. It is a valuable service that can save you money and heart-ache.

Of course, if you are prepared to pay for bespoke units you can have cabinets of any size. In addition, slimline units are available for small kitchens

Standard Kitchen Unit Measurements:

Base Units: standard 600mm depth; variable width from 300mm to 1000mm; height: 720mm;

Wall Units: standard 300mm depth; variable width from 300mm to 1000mm; variable height from 575mm to 900mm;

Tall Units: standard 600mm depth; variable width from 300mm to 1000mm; variable height from 1825mm to 2150mm;

Mid-height Units: standard 600mm depth; variable width from 300mm to 1000mm; variable height around 1250mm;

Base Cabinet Feet: standard height of 150mm

Worktop: standard height of 30mm; once worktop and feet are factored in, the finished height of base units is 900mm.


2015 07 30 kitchen unit dimensions
A simple diagram showing standard UK kitchen cabinet dimensions and the space needed between units.

In addition to cabinet sizes, there are two further measurements to understand. Firstly, there needs to be at least 400mm between the worktop and bottom of wall mounted units.

Secondly, a space of at least 900mm and ideally 1200mm needs to be left between facing units. After all you need to be able to walk around the space and open doors comfortably.



The next biggest element of any kitchen is appliances. Make a list of the appliances you want along with a note of the dimensions of each one: height, width and depth.

An important consideration is whether to go for free-standing or integrated appliances. The latter look great because they are housed in standard kitchen cabinets. This gives the kitchen a beautiful, seamless look. However, integrated appliances can be more expensive than equivalent free-standing models. They are also usually smaller since they are designed to fit within the kitchen cabinet.

Free-standing appliances by contrast can either be slotted between cabinets or housed in bespoke cabinets. This is not as expensive as it sounds. An end panel either side of the appliance provides a framework to which hinges and thereby doors can be attached. Since the appliance will be around 600mm wide, it will be necessary to have doors that are slightly wider to ensure they meet in the middle. Some companies now provide housing for free-standing appliances. Of course, if you are going for high-end, luxury appliances you might want to show them off!


2015 07 30 freestanding or integrated image
An integrated dishwasher compared to free-standing appliances. Both approaches can look good. High end free-standing appliances can bring a touch of luxury, alternatively house your appliances in bespoke cabinets.


Before you start designing, it is important to understand ‘flow’, the movement of people through and around a space. Having a clear idea as to how the kitchen will be used day to day helps to produce a good layout.

The Golden Triangle is a useful concept to help work out flow. The theory was born in the 1920s when the notion of a separate kitchen was developed for modern housing. Essentially, the principle is to position the sink, hob and fridge in a triangle shape. Each item should be just a few steps away from the other for maximum efficiency. The triangle should be positioned where there is the least amount of through traffic. There is nothing more frustrating that people bumping into each other as they try to do different things in the kitchen.

Today, kitchens have reverted to being dining and social spaces as well as cooking and laundry. Nevertheless, the Golden Triangle principle remains a useful tool. It is not a straight-jacket and if it doesn’t work, then break the rule. For example, perhaps your fridge is better off situated in a utility room, or at the edge of the kitchen where your children can get access without getting in your way while you cook. Minimising traffic through the cooking work-space is the most important consideration.


2015 07 30 kohler kitchen triangle
This diagram by the Kohler company demonstrates the Golden Triangle principle in various kitchen layouts. It is a helpful way of thinking about kitchen flow. The distance between the appliances should be close together to make work efficient.


Feature image by Broadway Kitchens:

3 thoughts on “The Basics of Kitchen Design

  1. An ideal kitchen is a kitchen where the kitchen triangle is properly applied and seeing all these setup allow to create a flexible kitchen that is still convenient.

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