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Remodeling 101: The U-Shaped Kitchen

Julie Carlson Kitchen Mill Valley

Ideal for small spaces, U-shaped kitchens (sometimes called C-shaped kitchens) can accommodate only one or two cooks, depending on the width of the U. As its name suggests, this configuration features a horseshoe-shaped work area, with cabinets and counters running around three sides with an open end for access. At its most narrow, it can be as compact as a galley kitchen. Going a bit wider (if your space allows) might seem desirable, but go too wide and you reduce efficiency, because the points of contact within the work triangle (stove, refrigerator, and sink) get too far apart. Have a look at 10 of our favorite U-shaped kitchens to see how to strike the right balance and figure out if the U is the right layout for you. 

U-Shaped Kitchen Layout
Above: A diagram illustrates how the ergonomic kitchen work triangle (stove, fridge, and sink) works in a U-shaped kitchen. Diagram from Kitchens Interior Dezine.
Julie Carlson Kitchen Mill Valley
Above: Julie’s horseshoe kitchen in Mill Valley, CA, is small but efficient. “Dinnertime drop-ins are a frequent occurrence, and I love to cook, so it was important to me that the kitchen be outfitted for action,” she says. Her architect, Jerome Buttrick, provided well-designed storage that allows for all of the necessities to be kept on hand but out of sight. Inset open-shelving creates an eye-catching mixing bowl display. For a full tour and dissection of the kitchen, see the Remodelista bookPhotograph by Matthew Williams for Remodelista.
Athena Claderone Kitchen in Brooklyn
Above: Designer Athena Claderone tackled her compact kitchen in Brooklyn with dark paint, Ikea countertops, and budget appliances. See more in Kitchen of the Week: A Low-Cost Before/After Kitchen in Brooklyn.
Scott and Scott Architects North Vancouver Kitchen
Above: Susan and David Scott of Scott & Scott Architects redesigned the kitchen of a North Vancouver house with a heavy slab of marble and a u-shaped layout of ash cabinets. See more in Kitchen of the Week: A Monumental Marble Countertop.
Villa Piera Kitchen in Hydra
Above: A concrete u-shaped kitchen designed by architect Theodore Zoumboulakis’s own retreat on the Greek isle of Hydra. For more see our post Kitchen of the Week: A Greek Architect’s Ode to Minimalism.

Above: When jewelry designer Kathleen Whitaker remodeled her turn of the century home in Echo Park, Los Angeles, she found she liked the way the existing U-shaped kitchen formed a separate cooking area from the dining area. Whitaker’s only update was to repaint the cabinets in Avocado Peel from Martha Stewart Living. Photograph by Nancy Neil. N.B.: Take a stroll through Whitaker’s equally inviting garden in Tropical Paradise in LA’s Echo Park.

A butler’s sink and overhead open shelves provide the focus in designer and blogger Sarah Sherman Samuel’s small cabin kitchen on the shores of Lake Michigan. Image via Smitten Studio. (N.B.: Have a look at Sarah’s newly remodeled kitchen in LA employing what she calls “the ultimate Ikea hack”: Ikea cabinets and custom doors).
Above: A butler’s sink and overhead open shelves provide the focus in designer and blogger Sarah Sherman Samuel’s small cabin kitchen on the shores of Lake Michigan. Image via Smitten Studio. (N.B.: Have a look at Sarah’s newly remodeled kitchen in LA employing what she calls “the ultimate Ikea hack”: Ikea cabinets and custom doors).
Serena Mitnik Miller Topanga Canyon Kitchen, Photo by Nicki Sebastian Courtesy of Rip and Tan
Above: Serena Mitnik Miller and Mason St. Peter designed their own U-shaped kitchen with marine-grade Douglas fir plywood cabinets and concealed appliances. For more see our post Kitchen of the Week: A Hip, Low-Key Kitchen in Topanga Canyon, Hidden Fridge Included.
In the remodel of this U-shaped kitchen in Portland, Oregon, Opal Blue Tiles by Heath Ceramics create a bold backdrop. Architect Michael Howells of Howells Architecture & Design offers his insight on the essentials for a successful remodel in Rehab Diaries: An Oregon Kitchen with a Dose of Downton Abbey. Photography by Anna M. Campbell.
Above: In the remodel of this U-shaped kitchen in Portland, Oregon, Opal Blue Tiles by Heath Ceramics create a bold backdrop. Architect Michael Howells of Howells Architecture & Design offers his insight on the essentials for a successful remodel in Rehab Diaries: An Oregon Kitchen with a Dose of Downton Abbey. Photography by Anna M. Campbell.
Materia Designs Remodel in Ulster County
Above: A U-shpaed kitchen takes up half of the back wall of a house in Ulster County, New York owned and designed by Megan Sommerville and Matt Ensner of Materia Designs. For more see our post American Gothic: A Hudson Valley Home Reborn.
RAAD U-Shaped Kitchen
Above: New York firm RAAD Studio introduce warmth to a modern kitchen by using hand-rubbed steel and lap-joined teak.

N.B.: This post is an update; the original story ran on March 11, 2014.

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