Kitchen Planning: 10 Tips for Ergonomic Work

Kitchen planning must be well thought out. It should have enough storage space, solid materials, and a good look. However, ergonomic aspects such as the right worktop height, functional use of space, and sensible lighting are also very important. We explain how best to proceed so as not to be constantly bent over and suffer back pain.

To avoid back pain in the kitchen, the countertop must be the right height
To avoid back pain in the kitchen, the countertop must be the right height.
Photo: iStock/AndreyPopov

To be able to take ergonomic aspects into account when planning the kitchen, you should clarify one question in advance: Who stands in the kitchen most often? Because you should adjust the height of the worktop and the accessibility of the wall cabinets to the height of the person who spends most time chopping, cooking, washing up, or baking.

The Right Working Height in the Kitchen

Most manufacturers specify a standard kitchen countertop height range between 86 and 92 centimeters, but this can still be varied during kitchen planning. You can calculate an ideal height for each surface by standing up straight, measuring from the floor to your bent elbow, and subtracting 15 centimeters. Or by using this table:

Body size Kitchen working height
138 – 150 cm 76 – 82 cm
160 – 174 cm 88 – 91 cm
174 – 186 cm 94 – 100 cm
198 – 210 cm 106 – 112 cm
For him, the worktop is too low from an ergonomic point of view - he stands a bit bent over while chopping
For him, the worktop is too low from an ergonomic point of view – he stands a bit bent over while chopping.
Photo: iStock/Peopleimages

Nowadays, it is easily possible to optimize each functional center – i.e., cooking, preparation, rinsing, and storage – individually for the size of the main worker. The sink will have higher installation dimensions than the preparation area or cooking modules in this case. If you want to plan your kitchen optimally, set the cooktop another five centimeters lower than the countertop so you can easily stir the pot without getting tension in your neck or shoulder – this is usually possible without any problems because the plinth heights of the individual elements can be varied. Ask your kitchen consultant for the best solution for your needs.

Kitchen Planning in Zones

A practical arrangement of worktops and appliances makes everyday work much easier. Plan five zones: Pantry, Storage, Sink, Prep, Cook/Bake. For right-handers, arrange the zones clockwise; for left-handers, the other way around.

Arrangement of Work Surfaces and Equipment

The furniture arrangement then follows the usual workflow:
Start with a work surface and storage area at least 30 centimeters wide, with the stove or cooktop next to it.
On the other side of the stove, set up a 60-centimeter-wide work surface – 90 centimeters is even better.
Install the sink and dishwasher. You will need another 120 centimeters to place clean dishes.

Tip: As a right-handed person, you usually wash dishes with your right hand and place them to your left – that’s where the dishwasher rack should be. The dishwasher is well placed underneath it – so no space is wasted, and the distances are short if, for example, you prewash pots by hand and then put them in the dishwasher.

When planning the kitchen, you should also consider whether you can install electrical appliances such as the microwave, oven, and steamer at sight and reach height – this is easy on the back. You’ll plan the refrigerator and the placement of the upper and lower cabinets at the end. Even if a modern refrigerator is thickly insulated, you should place it conveniently from the stove and a sunny window; otherwise, electricity costs can skyrocket.

Keep the Right Distances

A minimum distance of 50 centimeters is required between the base and tall cabinets; 65 centimeters is better. Electric hobs need 65 centimeters of clearance to the lower edge of the extractor hood; gas hobs need 90 centimeters because of the flame.

A four-person household needs about seven meters of space for kitchen cabinets. In addition, between two rows of kitchen furniture should be a corridor with a width of at least 1.20 meters so that an open cabinet door does not become an obstacle and you can comfortably bend down. If you have less space available, you have to expect restrictions.

You can get by with less space if you compensate for tightness with height. Extra-high upper and tall cabinets hold more than usual sizes. Shelves and top cabinets 35 centimeters deep fit in the niche between the base and wall cabinets. Do not place a tall cabinet next to the window if it will then be partially covered – it will mutate into a light barrier. The standard depth of kitchen cabinets and appliances is 60 centimeters.

When planning your kitchen, consider the height of the countertop and where to place appliances for the most ergonomic setup
When planning your kitchen, consider the height of the countertop and where to place appliances for the most ergonomic setup.
Photo: iStock/nortonrsx

Planning Storage Space in the Kitchen Optimally

Experience shows that every kitchen has too little storage space – no matter how big. Therefore, if in doubt, better plan a few more cabinets because they are guaranteed not to remain empty. In addition, it isn’t very pleasant in the long run to always have to move several bowls and kitchen utensils aside before you can get to the utensil you need. Tip: If possible, only use the upper, hard-to-reach compartments of wall cabinets for kitchen utensils or dishes that you rarely need.

You should have a good view of the cabinet’s interior and be able to put things in and take them out clearly with a comfortable body posture. Therefore, base cabinets with shelves are not favorable from an ergonomic point of view. Variable pull-outs, especially modern full pull-outs, are more recommendable here because they offer a good overview and optimal access possibilities. In tall cabinets, shelves block both the view and the gripping options. According to the recommendations of the AMK ergonomics study, optimum accessibility is only provided by pull-out baskets or shelves, such as those in a smooth-running “pharmacist’s cabinet”. Important: Fully extendable tall cabinets must be firmly anchored to the wall so they do not tip over when opened!

A List of Defects in the Old Kitchen Helps in Planning

Not only a wish list is helpful in kitchen planning. Critical analysis of the old kitchen also helps to identify deficiencies and mistakes and avoid them in the new kitchen. For example, observe your work habits very closely for a few days.

Are you possibly annoyed by the long distances between the refrigerator and the main workstation?
Do the ingredients and dishes for breakfast have to be gathered every morning from several cabinets that are not right next to each other?
Are pots, plates, and pans awkwardly placed and difficult to reach?

When analyzing faults, go as far as assessing the height of the countertop and the kitchen lighting. You should keep the resulting defects list and measure the new kitchen against it.

Adapt Kitchen Desires to Reality

Also, ask yourself how much time you will spend in the kitchen. Someone who only cooks occasionally and prefers to defrost a frozen meal quickly doesn’t need the same equipment as an amateur chef who likes to cook sophisticated meals and sometimes entertains a dozen guests. The number of seats and work surfaces, as well as the size of the pantry, depends on these needs. As a rough classification of the intensity of use, serve the designations “working kitchen”, “dining kitchen,” and “living kitchen”.

The wishes for a new kitchen are often greater than the available space. To ensure that everything necessary you can still be accommodated in this space, kitchens are usually furnished to the last centimeter. The furnishings of customized kitchens are fitted with a minimum of leeway – nothing can be moved afterward.

Depending on its size, a good kitchen costs as much as one or two small cars - so think carefully about what you need and can do without
Depending on its size, a good kitchen costs as much as one or two small cars – so think carefully about what you need and can do without.
Photo: iStock/Pascal Skwara

How to Measure the Kitchen Correctly

The responsibility for the correct measurements usually lies with the kitchen consultant, who measures the kitchen with a folding rule or laser measuring device. However, you must accept the measurements on a furniture order form as correct. Precise measuring is, therefore, all the more critical. So better measure again and do not overlook any wall protrusion. Also, don’t forget to measure the width of doorways and frames.

Consider the following in an old building with sloping walls and corners that can never be completely square: Compare the dimensions of opposite walls. Differences up to two centimeters are inconsequential. If the difference is greater, a room corner is consequently not right-angled – be sure to measure these angles! Are the walls plumb? Otherwise, determine the clear dimension at a 90 and 150 centimeters height between two walls.

Also, check the ceiling height for each wall at least three points and note the highest and lowest. Then transfer the measurements to a scale drawing. The best scale for this is 1:20, which means one meter, in reality, equals five centimeters in the sketch. It usually fits comfortably on a sheet of writing paper.

When measuring a shell, note how thick the plaster, tiles, and flooring will be. Also, indicate the materials of the walls – lightweight walls, after all, are not strong enough for wall cabinets. Here you may need to integrate suitable stiffening rails or wooden beams at the correct cabinet height already during the construction of the walls.

Do Not Forget Important Details When Planning the Kitchen

Sockets in the kitchen and water connections, the size of the window, the height and width of the window sill, and the dimensions of various radiators you also draw. In the wall elevations, note all the details with the dimensions. When you have created these documents, you should immediately make enough photocopies.

Because now you have excellent sketch templates and can draw conceivable kitchen furnishing ideas. In the floor plan, you will soon see which kitchen shape is suitable and how to use the floor space best. The wall views also show whether and how you can install tall cabinets and the kitchen sink, arrange the refrigerator in the right functional way, and where the backsplash may need to be installed.

Kitchen Planning With Different Floor Plans

There are different kitchen layouts, each designed to fit different circumstances.

The one-line kitchen

This kitchen shape is ideal for long, narrow rooms because everything is placed on a single wall here. The minimum width for a kitchen with a breakfast place is about 1.80 meters. A disadvantage of this form of kitchen is the small amount of storage space. In addition, narrow rooms look even more tubular when a single-line kitchen is installed on a longitudinal wall. Therefore, it is usually rather a stopgap solution for cramped spaces.

Single-cell kitchen is found mainly in places where there is little space. It is also usually the kitchen shape of choice for small one-room apartments
Single-cell kitchen is found mainly in places where there is little space. It is also usually the kitchen shape of choice for small one-room apartments.
Photo: living4media / View Pictures

The two-line kitchen

The two-line kitchen offers more storage space and work surface. However, it requires a total width of 2.40 meters due to the cabinet depths of 60 centimeters and the distance between the rows of furniture. Whether this kitchen design makes sense depends on how and where windows and doors are installed. Place functional furniture such as refrigerator, stove, or dishwasher next to each other on one wall to save wiring and pipes and benefit from short distances. Place storage furniture on the opposite wall. However, remember with this kitchen shape that the two separate kitchen units often interrupt the workflow.

The kitchen is in L-shape

L-shape is especially suitable for kitchens with unfavorable positions of windows or doors, as well as for narrow rooms. It fits well in a kitchen-living room because it provides space for a table in the corner opposite the “kink” in the furniture line. A freestanding cooking island needs 20 square feet of kitchen space and electrical and plumbing connections in the center of the room. Less costly is an island with one side against the wall, then even 10 square meters will suffice.

The stove and sink are no longer installed in the same row of cabinets. Ideally, you should plan a rotating roundel for the corner – this is a little more expensive but does not give away any storage space and is equally spacious and ergonomic with extendable rotating elements – ideal for pots and other larger kitchen utensils. Corner units, such as the fully automatic coffee maker, also give you additional countertop space. Consider that all cooking distances become longer when you include the dining table as a work surface.

An L-shaped kitchen offers plenty of space and, depending on the size of the room, can also be combined with a cooking island or dining corner
An L-shaped kitchen offers plenty of space and, depending on the size of the room, can also be combined with a cooking island or dining corner.
Photo: living4media / Gibert, Maria

The kitchen is in U-shape

The kitchen in U-shape is a solution for rooms with a lot of space. It allows for flowing processes and a large area to use for working and storage. However, do not install too many tall cabinets; it will quickly look cluttered. Also, remember that all three sides are used here, so it’s hard to integrate a dining area.

The kitchen is in G-shape

The G-shape is created when furnishing with a block freely protruding into the room – a cooking area or a small dining corner with space-saving bar stools. Set up important workstations as centrally as possible and close to each other; otherwise, the distances are often too far.

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