There’s a lot to think about when planning a kitchen layout. This story will first make the case for having two sinks, and then address considerations for the all-important prep sink — the place where you’ll likely spend most of your kitchen time.
This picture shows me preparing a meal with clients in the two-sink kitchen I designed for them. I’m chopping vegetables at left, while another woman rinses vegetables at the island prep sink. At the cleanup sink on the back wall, a man loads prep tools and mixing bowls into the dishwasher. As you can see, with two sinks everyone has space to work without being in one another’s way. The cooking process is more enjoyable and efficient.
Now that you’ve seen two sinks in action, let’s look at some specific things you’ll want to consider when planning where to put your prep sink.
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When planning your kitchen, it’s critical that you give the prep sink the best real estate in the room. That’s because you probably spend more time chopping and prepping food than you do rinsing dishes.
If you want a social kitchen, put the prep sink on the island. If you have a beautiful view, put the prep sink facing the window. When I make these suggestions, some of my clients object, because prioritizing the food prep sink may mean locating the cleanup sink so that they’ll be doing dishes in front of a wall. But remember, most dishwashing takes place after dinner when there isn’t much of a view anyway.
2. Know the Ideal Prep Sink Size
The most effective prep sinks are single-bowl, 16 to 21 inches wide, with a garbage disposal. The sink must be large enough to fit your largest colander and most frequently used pots and pans, without being so large as to waste important counter space. While the prep sink’s primary purpose is food preparation, you should also be able to comfortably wash a pot or pan within it as it comes off the stove. This allows the prep sink to function as a secondary cleanup sink after a large gathering.
You’ll want as much room for food prep as possible. Four feet wide by 2 feet deep is the minimum continuous prep area you should have next to the prep sink. Ideally, I like my clients to have 6 to 8 feet. If you don’t have room for a 6-foot island, consider a peninsula instead.
If you’re locating your prep sink on an island, don’t center it in the middle. And if you’re placing the prep sink on a perimeter counter, don’t place it in the middle there either. Instead, put the sink to one side so that there is as much continuous counter space as possible.
Think about it: Even a modest meal for six requires two or more cutting boards, raw ingredients, containers, tools and small appliances. And if you are like me, there’s also a snack and some wine to enjoy while readying the meal. Whether you are preparing food, plating up or serving a buffet, these activities are easier to do on one large surface, instead of jogging from one too-small section of counter to another.
The prep sink belongs in the food preparation zone. You should be able to move from the fridge to the prep counter to the cooktop or range in a couple of steps, with no obstacles in between. So don’t put your prep sink on the opposite side of the kitchen from your cooktop or refrigerator, especially if there is an obstacle (like an island) between them.
If possible, island prep sinks should be located on the side of the island facing the refrigerator, but on the opposite end. This way, items coming out of the fridge have a clear counter on which to land, but they don’t clutter the prep zone.
As a side note, try to lay out the kitchen so that the path from the eating area — whether it’s an in-kitchen eating nook or a formal dining room — doesn’t cross the cooking zone. Having smooth, uninterrupted traffic flow is the most important element of functional kitchen design. You don’t want the person clearing dinner dishes getting in the way of your efforts to plate up dessert.
If you’re locating your prep sink on an island, it’s important to put it on the side closest to the range. If the prep sink is around the corner from the cooktop, then you are either wasting counter space and cramping your room, or you have to take several steps around the corner to get from the prep area to a cooking surface.
Here, it takes just a pivot to get from prep counter to cooking. This makes it much easier to monitor what is on the stove while you continue prepping.
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You don’t need an island to enjoy the benefits of a prep sink. This galley kitchen still has room for two sinks. Notice that the cleanup sink is toward the entrance, keeping dirty dishes or well-meaning guests from getting in the cook’s way. The prep sink is comfortably close to the cooktop for easy transitions between prepping and cooking.
Since prep sinks function for before-meal preparation, you want to include shallow drawers nearby for your tools: knives, peelers, whisks, spoons, measuring cups and all your favorite gadgets. Small appliances like your food processor or rice cooker, mixing bowls, colanders and salad spinners can be stored in deeper drawers or rollouts underneath. This is the oceanfront real estate in your kitchen — make sure that everything stored here gets used frequently. If the potato masher comes out only at Thanksgiving, put it somewhere else.
Everything in its place. Having two kitchen sinks allows one to be the dedicated cleanup sink and the other to be the prep sink. With this division of sink labor, the space around each sink gains a designated purpose. Prep tools, bowls, colanders and appliances can be stored near the prep sink, while dishes, silverware, serving pieces and glasses can be stored near the cleanup sink and dishwasher. When you separate the cleanup zone from the prep zone, you improve traffic flow and organization.
Multiple cooks in harmony. Another benefit of having two sinks is that multiple cooks can work in comfort simultaneously. With only one sink, prepping and cleanup activities all take place in the same location, creating a cramped work area no matter how expansive your kitchen is in square footage. Two well-placed sinks eliminate this problem.
Efficiency for solo chefs. The two-sink setup also works better for a soloist. It prevents dirty dishes from getting in the cook’s way or from forcing the chef to stop in the middle of a task to clean out the sink so that it can be used. Instead, dirty dishes go in the designated cleanup sink instead — and the cook(s) can keep right on cooking.