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Remodeling 101: The U-Shaped Kitchen (Plus 10 Examples)

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Remodeling 101: The U-Shaped Kitchen (Plus 10 Examples)

August 23, 2018

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.

a diagram illustrates how the ergonomic kitchen work triangle (stove, fridge, a 14
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&#8\2\17;s horseshoe kitchen in mill valley, california, is small 15
Above: Julie’s horseshoe kitchen in Mill Valley, California, 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 book. Photograph by Matthew Williams for Remodelista.
designer athena claderone tackled her compact kitchen in brooklyn with dark pai 16
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.
susan and david scott of scott & scott architects redesigned the kitchen of 17
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.
an efficient u shaped kitchen (complete with custom cerused limed wax finished  18
Above: An efficient U-shaped kitchen (complete with custom cerused limed-wax finished oak cabinetry) in Hawaiian Summer: A Charm-Filled Stone Carriage House on the Maui Coast, Restored.
a concrete u shaped kitchen designed by architect theodore zoumboulakis&#8\ 19
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.
when jewelry designer kathleen whitaker remodeled her turn of the century home  20
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. (Take a stroll through Whitaker’s equally inviting garden in Tropical Paradise in LA’s Echo Park.) Photograph by Nancy Neil.
Remodeling 101 The UShaped Kitchen Plus 10 Examples portrait 7_37
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. (Have a look at Samuel’s newly remodeled kitchen in LA employing what she calls “the ultimate Ikea hack”: Ikea cabinets and custom doors). Photograph via Smitten Studio.
serena mitnik miller and mason st. peter designed their own u shaped kitchen wi 22
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.
a u shaped kitchen takes up half of the back wall of a house in ulster county,  23
Above: A U-shaped 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.
in the remodel of this u shaped kitchen in portland, oregon, opal blue til 24
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.

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

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Frequently asked questions

What is a U-shaped kitchen?

A U-shaped kitchen refers to a kitchen layout that features three walls of cabinets and appliances, forming a U-shape. This layout provides ample storage and countertop space and is efficient for cooking as it allows easy movement between different workstations.

What are the advantages of a U-shaped kitchen?

U-shaped kitchens offer several advantages, such as maximizing storage and workspace, providing efficient workflow, accommodating multiple cooks, and allowing for the incorporation of a kitchen island or dining area within the central space.

Are U-shaped kitchens suitable for small spaces?

While U-shaped kitchens are often associated with larger kitchens, they can be adapted to suit smaller spaces as well. By utilizing clever storage solutions, optimizing layout efficiency, and choosing space-saving appliances, a U-shaped kitchen can be designed to work effectively in a compact area.

Can I add an island in a U-shaped kitchen?

Yes, one of the benefits of a U-shaped kitchen is that it offers an opportunity to incorporate a kitchen island within the central space. An island can provide additional workspace, storage, and even serve as a dining area or a casual seating spot.

How can I optimize storage in a U-shaped kitchen?

To maximize storage in a U-shaped kitchen, you can utilize various strategies such as installing tall cabinets or pantry units along one of the walls, incorporating deep drawers, utilizing corner storage solutions like lazy susans or pull-out shelves, and making use of overhead cabinets.

What are some design ideas for lighting a U-shaped kitchen?

Lighting plays a crucial role in a U-shaped kitchen. Consider a combination of ambient lighting, task lighting, and accent lighting. Install overhead lights or pendant lights for general illumination, under-cabinet lighting for task areas, and consider adding decorative lighting elements like chandeliers or spotlights to highlight certain features.

Can I modify a U-shaped kitchen layout?

Yes, the layout of a U-shaped kitchen can be modified to suit your specific needs. Depending on the available space and your preferences, you can adjust the length and configuration of the cabinets and countertops, relocate appliances, or even remove one of the legs of the "U" to create a G-shaped or L-shaped kitchen layout.

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