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Looking for layout help? Memorize this first.

November 21, 2014

This is about being able to look at a layout and seeing in one second whether the fridge, sink and prep space are in the right place.

Repeat after me:

Ice. Water. Stone. Fire.

Say it again: Ice. Water. Stone. Fire. In that order.

Got it?

I've been away only about a year or so, and just look at the fine mess you've gotten yourselves into. Stoves stuck between sinks and fridges. Islands sticking out like J-wow's backside. Dishwashers next to ranges. Cats sleeping with dogs. "I'm not suuuuure why I need a prep sink." Enough!

Ice. Water. Stone. Fire.

Remember it.

That's the recipe for every home-cooked meal ever made. Every one. Of course I'm not talking about baloney sandwiches or nuked chicken fingers. I mean, meals you actually cook. I don't care if you're making hamburgers, spag bol, shumai, boiled dinner, mac & cheese, or fish puking up its own tail (Ever see that? It's called en colere, it's completely gross yet strangely cool)--you're following the same four-word recipe.

ICE. This is your fridge or freezer. Your pantry. Your stolen shopping cart full of cat food. The un-insulated back porch where your grandmother stores that stuff she uses to make that stuff you like. Wherever you store your uncooked food--that's Ice. It all starts here.

WATER. You start a cooked meal by taking food out of Ice and bringing it to Water. Water is the sink you use to prep. There, you wash the food. Maybe you mix it with water. At minimum, you rinse your hands and utensils. At least, if you want to stay alive, you do. There was a woman here a couple of years ago who insisted she never used water to prep. She doesn't post anymore, because dysentery.

STONE. Then you bring the food to Stone. As in, you know, granite, soapstone, marble. Or wood. Or formica, or whatever else your prep surface might be. You chop, you julienne, you trim, you pull little wriggling things out of your broccoli and show them to your annoying niece until she screams and leaves you the hell alone in the kitchen finally. Whatever. While you are doing this, you frequently bop back and forth between Stone and Water, as you clean your hands or rinse the wrigglers off your knife. The NKBA says this bit of Stone should be a minimum of 36" wide by 24" deep. But you really want bigger.

FIRE. Next it's on to Fire--your range, oven, cooktop, whatever. Obvious. This is where the magic happens. You sear a steak, bake a pie, or watch a soufflé rise to fluffy heaven until your damn niece comes storming back into the kitchen slamming doors. Anyway.

So, are you doing a layout? Memorize this recipe first. Because this is the primary order you will be working in your new kitchen. Set it up so you don't have to backtrack fifty times a day every time you cook. Also, do not make yourself dodge people getting glasses out of the dishwasher, or rinsing off whatever the hell they got on their hands which, P.S., they already wiped all over your upholstery. Make sure you have clear, unobstructed lines between Ice, Water, Stone and Fire.

What? No, that doesn't mean they all need to line up in a row. They're usually in a triangle of some sort, though not always.

This is why we may recommend a prep sink for you. It's not because we get a commission on them, although we frikking well deserve one at this point. It's because in your particular layout, your main sink is not located where it needs to be. It may cross paths with other kitchen invaders. Or it simply fails to follow the order Ice-Water-Stone-Fire in a really glaring and inefficient way.

Ice. Water. Stone. Fire.

Now you know the recipe. Go make something with it.

Eta: first sentence from a comment.

This post was edited by marcolo on Fri, Nov 21, 14 at 18:01

Comments (93)

  • paraveina

    I'm asking if it's terrible that the DW is in the prep zone because swapping it and the sink puts it in a spot where unloading it would be difficult AND reduces the size of the prep zone.

  • artemis_ma

    I nearly got rid of the prep sink folks here heavily advised me to include. Although I understood the advice for it. The prep sink is coming back (after having read this thread, and letting it slam dunk further into me). Yes, it will be a SMALL prep sink -- it only needs to rinse veggies and wash up after handling chicken, not clean pots and pans or dining dishes. That's what the main sink is for.

    Right now, I live in a dysfunctional tiny kitchen from the late late '60s, where anything extra appears to be a luxury. (Like maybe a third electrical outlet?) I've designed my "dream home" around a kitchen that I long to have, but apparently I've not been "dreaming" quite far enough.

  • ginny20

    paraveina - If you have considered when you need to open the DW, and you have determined this is the best, most functional location for it in your kitchen - and it sounds like it is - then you need to put it there. What buehl said was right, of course, but those are guidelines, what's generally best or most functional. A lot of us have kitchens where we have to make compromises. We just do the best we can with the limitations we have to work with. If you can move things around so it is more like what buehl described, then great, but if not, no, it won't be terrible. More difficult unloading and smaller prep zone would be terrible.

  • funkycamper

    paraveina - you may need to tweak your layout so you can have the DW out of the prep zone and a bigger prep zone. Have you shared your floorplan here to see if folks can help you get a better, more functional layout for your space? I encourage you to do so. IMHO, there is nothing worse than having the DW in the prep space...well, at least not in a kitchen. I would explore options to avoid it.

  • numbersjunkie

    Glad to know that my kitchen remodel followed the ice-water-stone-fire rule. It does work very well! But I did break the rule about keeping the DW out of the prep zone. For me it was either the DW or the stack of drawers containing my dishes and flatware that I would be blocking. In my family, other members rarely load/unload the DW so its never been a problem. I also took the very unpopular option of putting my induction cooktop on the island. The island is very deep so people sitting there don't get splattered. We love the arrangement. Most remodels require compromises, and I think we did the best we could with the space we ahd to work with.

  • funkycamper

    Bumping because this great advice shouldn't drift down to page 3.

  • ginny20

    I agree, funkycamper. Bumping.

  • funkycamper

    bumping and requesting stickies for extra-helpful discussions!

  • ginny20

    I miss Marcolo. Bumping.

  • ginny20

    Bump again

  • funkycamper

    Bump. New to kitchens? Please read.

  • Buehl - We Want SW Back Unconditionally

    Just an FYI...if you have questions specific to your Kitchen, please start your own thread rather than asking on this one. You'll get a lot more help with your own thread. Right now, most of us are assuming this thread is just being bumped, so we don't usually open it.

  • ginny20


  • ginny20

    I keep bumping this when it gets to page 3. We need stickies.

  • funkycamper

    bumparoo! New people, please read.

  • ginny20

    What is this doing on page 5?

  • monicakm_gw

    I opened it and glad I did. I miss marcolo! First time I've seen this. Happy to report my kitchen got it right :)

  • funkycamper


  • autumn.4

    bump. So marcolo here and gone in a flash of comical wisdom?

  • tmy_jax

    A Friday afternoon "ARGGHHH... too many 5 year old posts on Page 1" bump...

  • darbuka


  • Erica H

    Bump. This is so helpful.

  • cece673

    Bump. Valuable info here.

  • tmy_jax

    Time to bump

  • tmy_jax


  • Annette Holbrook(z6b-7a)

    Great post. However, it is assuming we can all build from scratch and will plan the kitchen first with the house around it. My current kitchen wavers from this plan as we had to first figure out how to site the house on the lot (a slope with stone outcroppings limiting width and length). Then we had to find a plan that generally fit in that space without spending 10's of thousands to alter the terrain. Then I had to work with the general layout and wishes of my husband (need the garage on east side and want to come directly in from garage to kitchen area so unloading would make sense). This meant only one choice for window placement. I couldn't put the fridge on that wall as it would be a hinderance to the door to the porch (and the heavily used grill). We did include a prep sink but in 18 years it has been used maybe 30 times. Also, Ice-Water-Stone-Fire doesn't take into consideration my MAIN concern in a kitchen which is cleanup and dishwasher unloading (something I do everyday). And maybe it's because we both work together in our kitchen I like having the main sink a bit out of the way as I do most of the veggie prep while he works at the island.

    My kitchen

  • scone911

    Did Marcolo finish that kitchen, where the original cooktop was over the basement bulkhead?

  • Buehl - We Want SW Back Unconditionally

    Annette Holbrook - no, it does not assume a new build. It does, however, assume that you are willing to move plumbing, electrical, and venting to come up with a functional design. It's when people refuse to change the location of anything (or add something like a prep sink in many cases) that makes it difficult. There may be reasons, but then why ask for help when you're not willing to take the advice?

    DW and dish unloading are part of the workflow and zone design. If you haven't already, read the Kitchen Design FAQs to find out what to consider, etc.

    Also, be aware that cleaning up - clearing the table, loading the DW, wiping down the table & counters, unloading the DW - is only 20% of the time spent/work performed in the Kitchen. The majority of the time is spent prepping. The stats based on Kitchen work studies:

    • 70% or more time is spent prepping [Prep Zone]
    • 20% or less is spent cleaning up [Cleanup Zone along with dish storage]
    • 10% is spent cooking (actually watching food cook and/or stirring/adding ingredients) [Cooking Zone]

    Seriously, read the Kitchen Design FAQs. This thread is in addition to the FAQs; it does not replace them and it does not attempt to!

    Kitchen Design FAQs:

    Kitchen work zones, what are they?

    Aisle widths, walkways, seating overhangs, work and landing space, and others

    How do I plan for storage? Types of Storage? What to Store Where?


  • funkycamper

    In the 1.5 years or so I've been hanging out here at GW Kitchens, I've never seen a kitchen that couldn't be improved by using ice-water-stone-fire. Annette, your DW placement is one of my biggest pet peeves as it's right in your prep zone between sink and range. It would drive me batty. I suspect your prep sink might not get as much use as it could because it's too close to the end of the counter and it looks pretty small, more like a beverage sink. How does your DH do whatever work he is doing in the kitchen without using a sink? For most people, two preppers requires two sinks for maximum efficiency, and the DW should not be in the prep zone of either prep area so someone else can clean-up while the others are prepping. Just a few random thoughts about your kitchen. Of course, if you are used to it and you like it, that's great. I wouldn't because I know there are more efficient options.

  • Annette Holbrook(z6b-7a)

    buehl, assuming one would be willing to move plumbing, venting and electrical is like assuming one would be willing to have a chauffeur driven limousine for the rest of my life. I'm totally willing but I'm not able to afford that. Being willing and being able are not the same. For my kitchen above, even though we built the house and I could have moved services, there really wasn't much option. We bought land we could afford in a school district that we needed to be in (due to work, which pays the bills). The lot dictated many things. The builder told us what was doable and we started searching plans. We looked at hundreds, narrowed it down to 3 and asked the builder which would be the most logical for our site. This dictated the placement of the kitchen, and where any outside or inside walls would fall within the plan. The only window is where it could be. Now maybe I could have put the sink elsewhere but in the world of re-sale down the road, I'm betting buyers would have a fit if I'd put the range there,or worse had no window. Maybe it seems like I'm not willing to take advice but as I've found on these boards (after over 10 years on here and now 4 kitchens) sometimes people don't read all of the posts, No prob, I get that, people are busy. People asked dimensions of kitchen even though it is stated clearly in the first post. I just repeated in another post, no biggie. My current plan in the other thread is limited by what I can move as I stated. I can't move the window or door because it is a log cabin I would never be able to fill in the hole with anything that didn't look like a horrible patch. Maybe if I could afford the country's foremost expert on log cabin restoration, but not likely. I can't add a sink in the island I hope to build because the trusses below are restricted to being compromised(no drilling through allowed) so I would have exposed pipes hanging below the ceiling in the bedroom beneath.

    Everyone's level of "willing" is dictated by different things, budget probably being the first. Having other people in the equation being second. Since my husband was equal partner it the house we had to compromise. This new venture is a log cabin, probably close to the bottom of house styles I'd go with but all other things considered I'm willing to go there, after all that doesn't really cost me anything :D.

  • Annette Holbrook(z6b-7a)


    DH stands at the center of the island with fridge and cooktop behind him. I stand at the big sink and do chopping and cleanup. He is mostly doing seasoning and that type of prep. I can easily turn around and put stuff on the island for him. I'm basically a sous chef as I hate to cook and just do what he says. I'm the cleanup crew more than anything, so that is my concern.

    I can't imagine where else you could put the dishwasher. The sink had to be there due to the window and since I'm right handed I want the dishwasher where I can rinse and then load with my right hand. When I'm prepping stuff the dishwasher isn't in the equation, it's closed and not an issue. It gets opened after dinner when I load it. When I unload I stand on the other side in the corner (there is room) and unload straight up into the cabinet above and the silverware drawer is right at my waist. I never take a single step when unloading the dishwasher. I've been in kitchens where people have to take 4-5 steps to a cabinet on another wall with 2 plates or glasses at a time and I wonder how they don't just switch to paper :D!

    If I put the dishwasher on the opposite side of the sink it may work, but then I would have spent the last 20 years doing everything left handed and that would be very inefficient. Plus then the glasses would be further from the fridge which is a big part of the day, get a glass, go to the fridge, straight shot, over and over and over. The new house that won't be as big a deal.

    I get what you're saying about 2 preppers needing 2 sinks but I guess the way we cook there is only one prepper (me) and one chef!

  • just_janni

    Love this post and I just wanted through a "meal" from ice, water, stone, fire and it all made sense without any doubling back or zig zagging! WHOO HOO!

  • Ms K

    I came across this as I was reading through the sticky Kitchen FAQs. Such great advice delivered with an awesome sense of humour! I learned a lot and giggled a lot all at the same time! Thanks marcolo!

  • javiwa


  • salex

    I just want to say that this thread provided the most entertaining and useful advice I've ever gotten on kitchen design. It's so simple, but so easy for kitchen designers to ignore...

  • leela4

    I wonder whatever happened to marcolo and if he ever finished his kitchen . . . he always had good albeit (sometimes) acerbic advice.

  • mayflowers

    He dumped us. We never even knew if it was him or if it was us.

  • ginny20

    And now we'll never get to see the parrot in the finished kitchen.

  • cluelessincolorado

    I like to say that I've thrown him over for another, but it's just not true. Sniff :-(

  • rebunky

    I’d love a thread about Marcolo and your favorite one liners!

  • skmom
    Wow, my kitchen follows that formula pretty much to a tee. It wasn't originally set up like that, but we knew we were going to have to gut the kitchen when we bought the house. I didn't know about that formula, but I had about 5 years of working in the original and VERY inefficient kitchen and I thought long and hard about what worked in other kitchens I'd had, and how to improve this one with the way I cook and clean. When it came time to actually start ripping everything out, we knew which appliances had to be moved to where, and it included moving a gas line, and some plumbing.
    I have to say, it works SO WELL! Even my teenaged kids have made comments like "wow, it's just easier to do things in here now." Or "wow, the trash can (well, ours is a compactor) just works better here doesn't it!?" We just aren't bumping into each other anymore. Things make sense and flow well. I know it's not just because of how I like to do things... it makes sense to my kids who would never think about stuff like that otherwise except they knew the difference between the original kitchen and our remodeled one and they can appreciate the logistics of it.
  • Sib1116
    Hi everyone, the advice on here is so helpful! I am embarking on a kitchen remodel and would love your input on my layout. Specifically, I am on the fence about adding a prep sink to my peninsula but it sounds like I may need it in order to adhere to the ice, water stone fire guidelines. I’ve attached a diagram. Please share your thoughts and recommendations! Thank you!!!
  • cpartist

    Sharon, start a new thread showing your layout. Make sure to include measurements. Right off the bat, i can tell you you don't have enough room between the island and your fridge.

  • Sib1116
    Cpartist, thank you I will start a new thread with dimensions! Uh oh not enough room??
  • cpartist

    Ideal minimum should be 42" and that's from counter to whatever is sticking out the furthest, so counter to fridge door handle. What you have will be a lot less than 36" when you add in the counters and the fridge handle.

  • riverrat1

    I just read this whole thread and picked up valuable information. I have a new build in the beginning stage now and will soon vet my space through the kitchen forum before we even go into the planning/purchasing stage. Beware! I have a challenging space to work with. I feel no worries that I can't have the kitchen of my dreams with the forums help. Thank you to all that take the time to help us that don't have the planning gene! :-)

  • dchall_san_antonio

    Someone linked me here from another topic. Wish I'd seen this when it posted several years ago, but it's never too late to learn. Our kitchen goes clockwise with ice at 12 o'clock, ice-stone-fire-stone-water-stone/dishwasher-fire-nuclear reactor. I think this explains a lot about the jam ups my wife and I have trying to get stuff done. Having a cook top opposite from the oven(s) is not my favorite. Our previous kitchen was ice-stone-water-stone-stone(again)-stone(again)-fire-nuclear reactor-stone. In that one with all the stones around, it was much easier to not bump into someone even with 4 people in the kitchen.

  • Buehl - We Want SW Back Unconditionally

    And that's why this thread is included in the "New to Kitchens? Read Me First!" thread! If only people would read that thread -- it would be incredibly helpful when asking for help!

  • lizbeth-gardener

    Bumping so new people will realize WHY they should read "New to Kitchens? Read Me First!"

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