U-Shaped Kitchen Design – Ideas, Advice & Inspiration

[Cover image – Harvey Jones]

U-shaped Kitchens are one of the most popular kitchen layouts.

Having a U-shaped kitchen helps maximize the amount of storage and countertop space.

It also has the ability to be flexible in its size and shape (to some extent) which makes it the perfect kitchen layout for many spaces.

In this post, I’ll explain what a U-shaped kitchen is, some of the advantages it brings, and look at some different options that might work for your kitchen.

Let’s get into it!

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What Is A U-Shaped Kitchen?

A U-shaped kitchen is a kitchen layout that features three connected runs of cabinets and worktops, forming a U-shape. This layout is also commonly referred to as a horseshoe kitchen.

This configuration provides a compact, enclosed area for the cook and maximizes the use of wall space for cabinetry and appliances.

There are lots of different ways to create a U-shaped kitchen. You could have a long and thin U-shape, a square shape, or have one side of the U-shape longer than the others.

Another option is to have a peninsula in your U-shaped kitchen, with one of the runs of cabinets coming off the wall and into the middle area of the room. You can even have a wide U-shape and place an island in the middle.

There really are many ways to U-tilise the U-shaped kitchen. 😂

Working triangle kitchen design
Example Of A ‘Working Triangle’ In A U-Shaped Kitchen

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Advantages Of A U-Shaped Kitchen

  • Maximized Counter Space: The U-shaped layout provides counters along three walls, greatly expanding the available surface area. This is ideal for preparing large meals, accommodating multiple appliances, and offering ample space for tasks like baking or meal prepping.

  • Efficient Work Triangle: The design naturally creates an optimal work triangle between the stove, sink, and refrigerator. This efficiency reduces unnecessary movement, saving time and energy during cooking and cleaning.

  • Ample Storage: With cabinets and drawers on three sides, a U-shaped kitchen offers significantly more storage space. This design makes it easier to organize kitchenware, groceries, and appliances, keeping the kitchen tidy and clutter-free.

  • Ideal for Multiple Cooks: The spaciousness of a U-shaped kitchen allows several people to cook and move around comfortably at the same time, making it perfect for families or those who enjoy cooking with friends.

  • Versatile for Various House Sizes: The U-shape is adaptable to a wide range of room sizes, effectively utilizing space in both compact and expansive kitchens. It can be scaled to fit the specific dimensions of your home.

  • Clear and Defined Workspace: This layout delineates a distinct cooking area, separating it from other parts of the home. This helps in maintaining an organized and focused cooking environment, free from through-traffic.

  • Enhanced Privacy: The semi-enclosed nature of the U-shaped kitchen provides a sense of separation from living or dining areas. This can be particularly appealing for those who prefer privacy while cooking or when entertaining guests.

  • Opportunity for a Dining or Seating Area: In larger kitchens, the U-shape can often incorporate additional features like a central island, breakfast bar, or a small dining area, enhancing the kitchen’s functionality and social aspect.

  • Suitable for Open-Plan and Closed Kitchens This versatile layout fits seamlessly into open-plan designs by defining the kitchen area, while in closed kitchens, it maximizes efficiency and space utilization.

Disadvantages Of A U-Shaped Kitchen

  • Potential for a Cramped Space: In smaller homes, a U-shaped kitchen can feel confined and claustrophobic, especially if the space between the opposite counters is limited. This can make it difficult to accommodate multiple people working in the kitchen simultaneously. You’ll quickly have too many cooks in the kitchen!

  • Inefficient in Very Large Spaces: In larger kitchens, the U-shape can become inefficient if the legs of the U are too long, making it a chore to move between different work zones. This layout can lead to unnecessary steps and decreased cooking efficiency.

  • Corner Cabinets Can Be Wasteful: The corner spaces in U-shaped kitchens can be hard to utilize effectively. Traditional corner cabinets often result in hard-to-reach areas, leading to wasted storage space unless equipped with specialized corner solutions like a Le-Mans or lazy Susan.

  • Can Feel Isolated from the Rest of the Home: The enclosed nature of certain U-shaped layouts might isolate the cook from the rest of the home and living area, especially in closed kitchen designs. This can be a disadvantage in homes where cooking is a social activity.

  • Limited Scope for Adding a Dining Area: Smaller U-shaped kitchens might not have enough room to incorporate dining areas like an island or a breakfast bar, limiting the kitchen’s role as a social space.

  • Cost Considerations: With more wall space covered with cabinets and countertops, a U-shaped kitchen can be more expensive to fit out compared to simpler layouts, such as one-wall and galley layouts. This includes costs for additional cabinetry, worktop materials, and potential corner storage solutions.

  • Limited Natural Light: Depending on the placement of windows and doors, some U-shaped kitchens may suffer from limited natural light, especially in the corners, making the space feel darker and less inviting.

  • Difficulty in Accommodating Large Appliances: Fitting large appliances or fixtures in a U-shaped layout requires careful planning, as they can disrupt the flow and balance of the space, particularly in smaller kitchens.

  • Potential Traffic Bottlenecks If one end of the U is open to a frequently used area of the house, it can create a traffic bottleneck, especially during peak kitchen usage times.

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How Wide Should A U-Shaped Kitchen Be?

As a general rule, you should aim for at least 1.5m (about 5 feet) of floor space between opposing counters and cabinets.

This width allows for comfortable movement, enables doors and drawers to be opened easily, and provides enough room for one or two people to work simultaneously without feeling cramped.

You may get away with slightly less space if you have a long narrow room, but at an absolute minimum, you should allow for 1m (about 3 feet).

On the other end, a little more than 1.5 metres is great, especially if you have multiple cooks at once, but a lot more can make the space too large and inefficient.

If you do have a large space, you may want to consider adding an island or table in the centre to help create another touchpoint and extra surface space. This also avoids wasted space in the kitchen

Where should the refrigerator go in a U-shaped kitchen?

In a U-shaped kitchen, the ideal spot for the refrigerator is at the end of one of the counter runs.

This placement not only gives easy access to the fridge during cooking but also ensures it doesn’t disrupt the workflow of other kitchen tasks.

It also means that the fridge is conveniently reachable from both the cooking area and the kitchen entrance. This dual accessibility is practical for those cooking and others who might just need to grab something from the fridge.

You should also keep the work triangle in mind. The fridge should be positioned to form an efficient triangle with the hob/stove and sink. This placement reduces traffic in the main work area and increases the efficiency of moving between work areas.

It’s crucial to ensure that the fridge door, when open, does not obstruct the kitchen’s main walkway or access to essential areas like the hob or sink.

As well, the direction of the fridge door’s swing should be towards the kitchen’s centre or main work area. This orientation is more practical for accessing its content.

If you opt for a built-in refrigerator, consider how it will blend with your cabinetry. If your kitchen includes tall cabinets or a pantry, positioning them near the fridge can be advantageous. This creates a consolidated food storage zone, making organization and access more convenient.

Large U-Shaped Kitchen with Island - Refrigerator located at one end of the U shape

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How To Maximise The Corners In A U-Shaped Kitchen

Corner space can be a bit tricky to make the most of in a kitchen. However, there are innovative products that allow you easy access to items you store in corner cabinet space.

Two of my favourite space-savers include a Le Mans and the Magic Corner pullout units.

These pullout units are excellent innovations. They have a swivel mechanism that allows you to maximise the space in your corner cabinet while allowing for easy access to all items stored inside

Maximising every inch of the kitchen is important if storage is at a premium. However, sometimes having a corner cabinet isn’t always the most practical solution – especially if you don’t have any corner pull-out mechanisms installed

If, for instance, you find drawers more useful than cupboards, creating a void (empty space) in the corner and putting a drawer cabinet up to the corner instead can provide a more practical storage option.

You may feel you’re losing space in the corner, but you gain a more useful cabinet you can use every day.

Le mans corner storage solution
Le Mans Corner Storage Solution

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U-Shaped Kitchen Ideas

U-Shaped Kitchen Layout

U-Shaped Kitchen Layout - Harvey Jones
Image – Harvey Jones (*Affiliate link to brochure)

A fantastic modern and minimalist U-shaped kitchen. It has ample space for two or more cooks at one time while still maintaining a good balance of functionality with a modern, uncluttered style.

U-Shaped Kitchen With Island

U-Shaped Kitchen With an Island

This is a perfect example of a U-shaped kitchen with an island. Keeping the fridge, oven and sink on the three runs creates three defined and practical working areas. With the island kept clear, you’ll have plenty of kitchen space for food prep and socialising.

U-Shaped Kitchen With Peninsula

U-Shaped Kitchen With Peninsula

A peninsula is great for helping to separate the kitchen zone from the living or dining area in an open-plan environment. Having a peninsula can help softly connect the room (rather than having a wall) while clearly defining the kitchen area.

The open shelving near the window also helps to keep the room feeling light while making use of the shallow space.

U-Shaped Kitchen With Dining Table

U-Shaped Kitchen With Dining Table

Rather than a kitchen island, this layout includes a dining table in the middle of the U-shape. This still leaves enough room to move about freely and is perfect if you don’t have a separate dining space in your home.

U-Shaped Kitchen With Breakfast Bar

If you don’t have space for an island but would still like some seating to create a social area, consider a breakfast bar section on a peninsula run of a U-shaped kitchen. This gives you the best of both worlds – gentle separation of space in an open plan while still offering a place to gather with guests.

Small U-Shaped Kitchen

Small kitchens ideas
Source: Second Nature

U-shaped kitchens can help to maximise every inch of space in a small kitchen. They’re a great option for those who want to squeeze everything they can out of a small space.

Open Plan U-Shaped Kitchen

Having a U-shaped kitchen in an open-plan room can help to section off the kitchen from the living, dining or entry area. Using the third run as a peninsula (with or without a seating area) helps to make the most of the space.

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Are U-Shaped Kitchens Out Of Style?

No. U-shaped kitchens are not out of style; in fact, they continue to be a popular choice for both large and small kitchen spaces.

A U-shaped design is particularly effective in enhancing the kitchen’s storage potential, offering ample cabinetry and work surface areas. It excels in creating an efficient flow within the kitchen, adhering to the ‘kitchen work triangle’ principle, which optimizes the layout.

A U-shaped kitchen design is a timeless layout that can be tailored to fit the specific dimensions and style of your room, making it a practical and stylish choice for many homes.

What Is The Minimum Space For A U-Shaped Kitchen?

Ideally, you should have at least 1m (about 3 feet) of floor space between the counters.

This is the absolute minimum to allow for basic movement and the ability to open appliance and cabinet doors.

For a U-shaped kitchen layout to be feasible, the room should typically be at least 2.2 meters (7.2 feet) wide. This width provides enough space for standard-depth counters on both sides and a comfortable walkway in between.

However, this size won’t give you very much of a U. I would be tempted to recommend a galley kitchen layout in this instance.

Final Thoughts…

There you have it! My guide to designing a U-shaped kitchen.

Having a U-shaped kitchen is a great way to maximise space and increase functionality in your space.

It also works well in larger open spaces to achieve a clear separate kitchen zone or helps to tie an open-plan scheme together.

Whether you add a table, breakfast bar or island or just leave the space open, consider the U-shape for your kitchen design project.



Michael from

Michael is a kitchen designer from the UK. He's been designing and project managing new kitchen installations for over 10 years. Before that, he was an electrician and part of a team that fitted kitchens. He created Kitchinsider in early 2019 to help give people advice when it comes to getting a new kitchen.