Skip to content
Kitchen-Design Cabinets-of-the-Desert

   Kitchen Design

Kitchen Design

The Cabinets of the Desert design team would like to share long-established kitchen design standards with our cabinetry clients. We can flexibly apply these standards to enhance the design of a modern kitchen for you. These standards also inform the selection and layout of your kitchen cabinetry.

In 1944 the University of Illinois conducted several studies on kitchen design and developed design principles still in use today. Although Universal Design goes beyond the Illinois guidelines, they remain the gold standard.

Since the Illinois Rules came into being, lifestyles have changed. For example, there is now likely to be more than one person active in food preparation. Also, the kitchen has become even more of a gathering place. This change has made the kitchen island a popular feature in a kitchen remodel project since it can provide additional work triangles and a seating area.

The Illinois principles speak more to functionality than aesthetics. So let’s address some preliminary points:

  • Kitchens should be practical. They usually get more use than any other room in the house. So they should be as immune as possible to wear, tear, and staining and as easy to clean and maintain as possible.
  • Basic aesthetics require that the range, oven, or cooktop is not visible from the front entrance, nor should they share the same wall back to back with a toilet. However, they should be in the kitchen’s central/focal location.
  • The kitchen is generally the focal point of the modern home and usually the first room to be remodeled. The aesthetics of your new kitchen are essential, but more so than in any other room in the house, it is in the kitchen where form most follows function.

Rule 1 – Kitchen Entry Doors

Guideline: The clear opening of a doorway should be at least 32″ wide-requiring a minimum 34″ door.

Rule 2 – Kitchen Door Interference

Guideline: No entry door should interfere with the safe operation of appliances, nor should appliance doors interfere with one another.

Rule 3 – Distance between Work Centers (Kitchen Triangle)

Guideline: In a kitchen with three work centers, the sum of the three traveled distances should total no more than 26′, with no single leg of the triangle measuring less than 4 feet nor more than 9 feet.

  • A major appliance and its surrounding landing/work area form a work center. The distances between the three primary work centers (cooking surface, clean-up/primary prep sink, and refrigeration storage) form a work triangle.
  • When the kitchen plan includes more than three primary appliance/work centers, each additional travel distance to another appliance/work center should measure not less than 4′ nor more than 9′.

Rule 4 – Separating Work Centers

Guideline: A full-height, full-depth, tall obstacle should not separate two primary work centers. A properly recessed tall corner unit will not interrupt the workflow and is acceptable. (Examples of a full-height obstacle are a tall oven cabinet, tall pantry cabinet, or refrigerator)

  • Each leg is measured from the center front of the appliance/sink.
  • No work triangle leg intersects an island/peninsula or other obstacle by more than 12″.

Rule 5 – Work Triangle Traffic

Guideline: No major traffic patterns should cross through the basic work triangle.

Rule 6 – Work Aisle

Guideline: The width of a work aisle should be at least 42″ for one cook and at least 48″ for multiple cooks, measured between the counter frontage, tall cabinets and/or appliances.

Rule 7 – Walkway

Guideline: The width of a walkway should be at least 36″.

Rule 8 – Traffic Clearance at Seating

Guideline: In a seating area where no traffic passes behind a seated diner, allow 32″ of clearance from the counter/table edge to any wall or other obstruction behind the seating area.

Rule 9 – Seating Space

Guideline: Kitchen seating should be a minimum of 24″ wide for each person. Other important measurements:

  • For 30″ high tables/counters, a minimum 18″ deep clear knee space for each seated diner.
  • For 36″ high counters, a minimum 15″ deep clear knee space for each seated diner.
  • For 42″ high counters, a minimum 12″deep clear knee space for each seated diner.

Rule 10 – Clean-up/Prep Sink Placement

Guideline: If a kitchen has only one sink, locate it adjacent to or across from the cooking surface and refrigerator.

Rule 11 – Clean-up/Prep Sink Landing Area

Guideline: Include at least a 24″ wide landing area to one side of the sink and at least an 18″ wide landing area on the other side.

Rule 12 – Preparation/Work Area

Guideline: Include a section of continuous countertop at least 30″ wide x 24″ deep immediately next to a sink for a primary preparation/work area.

Rule 13 – Dishwasher Placement

Guideline: Locate the nearest edge of the primary dishwasher within 36″ of the nearest edge of a clean-up/prep sink.

Rule 14 – Waste Receptacles

Guideline: Include at least two waste receptacles. Locate one near each clean-up/prep sink(s) and a second for recycling either in the kitchen or nearby.

Rule 15 – Auxiliary Sink

Guideline: At least 3″ of countertop frontage should be provided on one side of the auxiliary sink and 18″ of countertop frontage on the other side, both at the same height as the sink.

Rule 16 – Refrigerator Landing Area

Guideline: Include at least:

  1. 15″ of landing area on the handle side of the refrigerator or
  2. 15″ of landing area on either side of a side-by-side refrigerator or
  3. 15″ of landing area which is no more than 48″ across from the front of the refrigerator or
  4. 15″ of landing area above or adjacent to any under-counter style refrigeration appliance.

Rule 17 – Cook Surface Landing Area

Guideline: Include a minimum of 12″ of landing area on one side of a cooking surface and 15″ on the other side.

Rule 18 – Cooking Surface Clearance

Guideline: Allow 24″ of clearance between the cooking surface and a protected non-combustible surface above it.

Rule 19 – Cooking Surface Ventilation

Guideline: Provide a correctly sized, ducted ventilation system for all cooking surface appliances. The recommended minimum is 150 cubic feet of air per minute (cfm).

Rule 20 – Cooking Surface Safety


  1. Do not locate the cooking surface under an operable window.
  2. Window treatments above the cooking surface should not use flammable materials.

A fire extinguisher should be located near the exit of the kitchen.

Rule 21 – Microwave Oven Placement

Guideline: Locate the microwave oven after considering the user’s height and abilities. The ideal location for the bottom of the microwave is 3″ below the principal user’s shoulder but no more than 54″ above the floor. If the microwave oven is placed below the countertop, the oven bottom must be at least 15″ off the finished floor.

Rule 22 – Microwave Landing Area

Guideline: Provide at least a 15″ landing area above, below, or adjacent to the handle side of a microwave oven.

Rule 23 – Oven Landing Area

Guideline: Include at least a 15″ landing area next to or above the oven. At least a 15″ landing area that is not more than 48″ across from the oven is acceptable if the appliance does not open into a walkway.

Rule 24 – Combining Landing Areas

Guideline: If two landing areas are adjacent, determine a new minimum for the two adjoining spaces by taking the larger of the two landing area requirements and adding 12″.

Rule 25 – Countertop Space

Guideline: A total of 158″ of countertop frontage, 24″ deep, with at least 15″ of clearance above, is needed to accommodate all uses, including the landing area, preparation/work area, and storage.

Rule 26 – Countertop Corners

Guideline: Specify clipped or round corners rather than pointed corners on all countertops.

Rule 27 – Storage

The total shelf/drawer frontage is:

  1. 1400″ for a small kitchen (less than 150 square feet);
  2. 1700″ for a medium kitchen (151 to 350 square feet); and
  3. 2000″ for a large kitchen (greater than 350 square feet).

Rule 28 – Storage at Cleanup/Prep Sink

Guideline: Of the total recommended wall, base, drawer, and pantry shelf/drawer frontage, the following should be located within 72″ of the centerline of the main clean-up/prep sink:

  1. At least 400″ for a small kitchen;
  2. At least 480″ for a medium kitchen;
  3. At least 560″ for a large kitchen.

Rule 29 – Corner Cabinet Storage

Guideline: At least one corner cabinet should include a functional storage device.

Rule 30 – Electrical Receptacles

Guideline: GFCI (Ground-Fault Circuit-Interrupter) protection is required on all receptacles servicing countertop surfaces within the kitchen.

Rule 31 – Lighting

Guideline: In addition to the general lighting required by code, every work surface should be well illuminated by appropriate task lighting.

The Illinois Rules guide the functionality of the kitchen and its basic form. Once basic functionality is covered, it is time to add your own style to your kitchen remodel. Are you interested in the steps needed to plan your project? Read our Kitchen Remodeling Steps blog. Ready to pick out your cabinets? Read Buying Kitchen Cabinets. Prefer to start with a comprehensive look at how you want to use your new kitchen? Please refer to our Kitchen Checklist.