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The layout is, in essence, the floor plan which locates each item of furniture, each piece of cabinetry, each major appliance, and each sink within the kitchen. The design of the floor plan is vitally important from the standpoint of both functionality and aesthetics. The placement of each element within the kitchen will affect the look and feel of the room. At the same time, the ability for one or more people to cook comfortably and efficiently will also be directly impacted by where the appliances and cabinets are located relative to one another as well as the amount of available floor area and the flow of movement through the space. In addition, the layout can influence the kitchen design types which are available. A traditional design may not match a contemporary layout and vice versa. For more information on the topic of possible design themes, please see our kitchen "Types" section.
Although the kitchen layout influences both form and function, it speaks most directly to function. Where kitchen design type is first and foremost about aesthetics, kitchen layout type is first and foremost about workflow. While people may not always think of it in those terms, the kitchen is a functional work area where the all-important work of food preparation takes place, including its constituent elements of storing, freezing, defrosting, separating, washing, chopping, kneading, rolling, baking, simmering, broiling, frying, boiling, grilling, carving, serving, and cleaning up, just to name a subset. In order to ensure that this work can occur comfortably, efficiently, and safely, the kitchen must be laid out in a way that supports the preferences of the primary cooks within the household.

In addition to functional considerations which, as mentioned, should be primary, there the additional considerations which relate to the kitchen as a gathering place, as a social space, and as not only a location for food preparation, but as also a location for food serving and food consumption. Larger households in which two, three, or more people may be simultaneously interacting or collaborating during the course of food preparation may want to consider larger kitchen layouts utilizing the principle of work stations. Households in which people commonly gather in the kitchen to socialize and to eat may want to consider kitchen layouts which support serving counters, kitchenette tables, breakfast nooks, or dual function islands or peninsulas which double as both worktops and tabletops.

Floor plan preferences must be balanced against constraints. The layout of the kitchen may be limited by the existing floor and wall space, by the geography of the water, gas, and electrical lines, and by the amount of available funds. Certain constraints may be binding, while others may be relaxed. Walls can be removed to expand a space while water lines can be extended to add faucets. In the case of a new construction, there is generally far more flexibility than with an existing home. However, layouts are commonly shifted in kitchen remodeling projects, so just because the kitchen has already been built a certain way does not mean that it has to stay that way.

Before one can select the optimal layout, of course, one must first study the most common layouts that exist and understand the relative advantages and disadvantages of each. In a sentence, choosing a kitchen layout can be defined as the process of mapping preferences to a floor plan subject to existing constraints. However, the actual decision-making associated with this process can be quite a bit more complicated than the definition alone suggests.

The single wall kitchen, as its name suggests, has all of the cabinets, countertops, and appliances along a single wall. Also known as a straight kitchen or a Pullman kitchen, this layout is the least efficient as it requires constant movement along the wall in the process of food preparation. In addition, it makes it difficult for more than one person to cook simultaneously. From a visual perspective, it is an unattractive floor plan, as it creates a lopsided feel to the space, with a kitchen wall rather than a kitchen room. If at all possible, such a layout should be avoided as it offers no real advantages and a number of clear disadvantages.

Given its inefficiency and lack of aesthetics, the single wall kitchen is almost always a product of necessity rather than preference. Small studio apartments are the most common utilizers of the straight kitchen, where all of the appliances and cabinets are lined up against a single wall in order to maximize the living area. In these types of situations, the layout can still be optimized by selecting a natural placement along the wall, choosing a convenience-maximizing order to the appliances, and adding temporary structural elements to create an organic kitchen space.

If possible, a single wall kitchen should be recessed into an alcove, which creates a natural space for the appliances and the sink. Where no alcove exists, the kitchen should be run from a corner that faces away from the entranceway as most people would agree that the refrigerator and the dishwasher are not the first items one wishes to see when entering a home. By running a thin foam board, section of colored plywood, or Chinese screen whose color matches the wall along the open side of the kitchen, it is possible to then create an artificial alcove, with walls bordering the back and far sides of the kitchen and the temporary partition bordering the near side of the kitchen.

Because all of the kitchen appliances and work areas are lined up against a single wall, the order of the arrangement is critically important. General rules of thumbs are to place the sink between the refrigerator and the cooktop and to allow at least two feet of countertop between the sink and the cooktop in order to create a work area. Appliances may need to be arranged vertically as well as horizontally. Consider embedding the microwave into the top run of cabinets and using a wall oven in order to maximize the wall space. In addition, it may be advisable to extend the cabinets all the way to the ceiling in order to expand storage. One inexpensive alternative is to use regular sized cabinets, but hang them higher and run open shelving underneath.

Depending on the size of the apartment, an element can be added to give the single wall kitchen the feel of an independent, semi-enclosed space. A long dining table or a bar stand that is run parallel to the single wall kitchen provides function while at the same time separating the kitchen area from the rest of the home. The table or stand can be used not only for serving and eating food, but also during cooking, much the same way as a peninsula or island would be utilized in a larger kitchen. The height of the tabletop and even its color and finish can be matched to those of the countertops against the wall, completing the effect.
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The kitchen work triangle is not itself a layout, but it is the inspiration for virtually every type of kitchen layout that follows. For that reason, it merits a separate section. The concept of the kitchen work triangle dates back to the 1940s when the contemporary kitchen design was first standardized. It became clear that the primary working functions in a kitchen take place among three areas: food storage (refrigerator), food preparation (sink/countertop), and food cooking (range/stove/oven). As it turns out, the most efficient configuration for these three work areas is based on a triangle. In other words, by taking an aerial view of the kitchen and drawing an imaginary line from the refrigerator to the sink, a second imaginary line from the sink to the stove, and a third imaginary line from the stove back to the refrigerator, one ends up constructing a triangle with refrigerator, sink, and cooktop at each vertex.

Over time and millions of applications, the kitchen work triangle has been improved and its properties perfected. For optimal cooking efficiency, the sum length of all three legs of the triangle should be between 12 and 25 feet, with each leg ranging between 4 and 9 feet. The best location for the food preparation worktop is between the refrigerator and the sink, where there should be at least 3 feet of countertop space available. The open walkspace bordering each vertex of the triangle should be at least 4 feet in width to allow for both the flow of human traffic and the opening of cabinet and appliance doors. If an island or peninsula is incorporated into the kitchen layout, it should be placed so as to not interrupt any leg of the work triangle. The refrigerator should be positioned so that the outside hinge of its largest door faces away from the work triangle, which will allow the cook to open the refrigerator from inside the work triangle rather than having to go outside of it.

With modern kitchens using up greater space and incorporating the commercial concept of prep stations, the kitchen work triangle is no longer necessarily the gold standard by which all kitchens layouts are planned. However, it still remains relevant in many kitchen designs. A majority of layouts, including the L-shape, the U-shape, and the G-shape are all based on the kitchen triangle and the rules of thumb developed for the kitchen triangle still hold true for designs which utilize more than 3 work areas.

If nothing else, the kitchen work triangle emphasizes the importance of considering the flow of movement through the kitchen during the layout process. Consider the number of times one needs to access the refrigerator, run the faucet, and use the cooktop in the preparation of even a single meal. Now multiply this number by three meals a day, seven days a week, and fifty weeks a year. Clearly, if the movement between the refrigerator, sink, and stove is not comfortable and efficient, this will get tiring rather quickly. Consequently, this is a critical element to consider in any kitchen layout.
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The galley kitchen, also known as a corridor kitchen, is a design which features cabinets and appliances along two walls which run parallel to each other. The word takes its origin from naval terminology, where a galley refers to the food preparation area on a ship. Because space on a ship is at a premium, the food preparation area is laid out as efficiently as possible with longitudinal wall units and overhead cabinets. In a residential space, the galley layout makes the kitchen work triangle possible with the sink and the refrigerator typically on one wall forming one side of the triangle, and the cooktop on the opposite wall completing the other two sides of the triangle.

It bears noting that, strictly speaking, a galley kitchen is comprised of cabinets, countertops, and appliances along two parallel walls with unobstructed space in between. However, the term is often used colloquially to also refer to U-shape kitchens, which utilize the space against a third wall as well and which will be discussed in greater detail subsequently. A very large galley kitchen may have enough floor space to have an island placed in the middle. Such a setup is sometimes referred to as a double galley, and will be covered in greater detail in the section dealing with kitchen islands and peninsulas.

The galley layout is an ergonomically effective solution and is particularly appropriate for a kitchen space that has a limited width as it maximizes the space along the center aisle. It works well for rectangular kitchens that are 8 to 12 feet long. For larger kitchens, however, other layouts may be more convenient. The kitchen work triangle can be placed anywhere along the galley, but the elements should be grouped in relatively close proximity to one another. Generally, it is recommended that two elements are placed along one wall (typically the sink and the refrigerator) and the third element is placed on the opposite wall such that it is roughly in the middle of the other two elements. This minimizes the amount of traveling that has to be performed by the person cooking and makes the process of food preparation more efficient.

The width of the available floorspace between counters on either side of the galley should be 4 to 5 feet to allow unimpeded passage, turning, and opening of cabinet and appliance doors. The absolute minimum is 3 feet and this level should only be used for single occupancy kitchens. This is not only a comfort issue, but also a safety issue, as the presence of heated elements, sharp utensils, and heavy objects in the kitchen makes it vitally important that freedom of movement be preserved.

Because the galley layout is typically utilized for narrow kitchen spaces, it is best suited for a single cook. The galley will not support through traffic or multiple cooks very well. Much as it is on ships, the galley kitchen is born out of the necessity to conserve and maximize available space. While it is definitely more convenient that a single wall kitchen, the galley is still more limiting than other layout options and should primarily be considered when space is an issue.
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The L-shaped kitchen utilizes two perpendicular walls rather than two parallel walls as the galley does. The cabinets, countertops, and appliances are arranged against a long wall and a short wall which together form an L-shape. The two individual walls are also referred to as the "legs" of the kitchen. Unlike a galley, an L-shaped kitchen does not have an aisle, so there is no traffic lane limiting the number of people that can be walking through at one time.

The legs of the L can be made as short or as long as dictated by the available space. However, extending a leg beyond 15 feet begs the question of whether the space is large enough to warrant an alternative layout, as the L-shaped kitchen is best suited for small to medium spaces. The L-shaped kitchen also works great for a corner alcove space. Because it occupies two adjacent walls, this layout leaves a lot of open floor space, which can either be used as an eating area by adding a table and chairs or simply be left open to support comfortable movement for the cooks.

The work triangle in an L-shaped kitchen is going to be more elongated than in a galley kitchen. Generally, the refrigerator and the sink will be placed along the longer leg and the cooktop along the shorter leg. To optimize the work triangle, each element should be moved as close as possible to the corner without compromising counter space. In larger L-shaped kitchens, the outer area of the longer leg should be used for cabinet and storage space that is accessed less frequently than the primary cooking elements.

Like the galley, the L-shaped kitchen is not an effective design for large spaces. It is most appropriate for small to medium spaces with squarish floors. In narrow, long rectangular spaces the galley is a better option than the L because an L in such a space would have one leg that is disproportionately long and another leg that is disproportionately short. Not only would this look unbalanced, but it would also make it difficult to work efficiently. In fact, it would resemble a single wall kitchen with a short peninsula jutting out at one end. On the other hand, in a wider space, the L-shaped kitchen can provide better traffic flow and easier working conditions if more than one cook is present than a galley.

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The U-shaped kitchen is a combination of the galley and the L-shaped kitchen. It takes the galley concept and adds the perpendicular short wall of the L layout. This results in three walls housing appliances and worktops and creates a shape that, from an aerial view, looks like the letter U. The U-shaped kitchen consists of one perpendicular wall and two parallel legs which can either be run longer or shorter, depending on space availability.

In a U-shaped kitchen, each element of the kitchen work triangle is typically placed on each of the three walls. A common setup has the refrigerator on the left parallel leg, the sink on the perpendicular leg, and the cooktop on the right parallel leg. This may be adjusted depending on window placement and preferences. The U-shape provides a lot more flexibility in terms of element placement as there are now three walls which may be utilized as opposed to the two walls of a galley or L-shaped kitchen.

The U-shaped kitchen is a versatile design which may be incorporated into small, medium, or large spaces. There is no through traffic as there may be with a galley kitchen, so there is less chance of work disruption. The U-shaped kitchen also offers more counter space and additional cabinets and shelving relative to a two-walled layout. The ability to place the elements of the work triangle on separate walls provides for clearly delineated work zones and sufficient worktop space to support each one. In case of a large kitchen area, the U-shaped layout can be integrated with an island. In fact, in a large enough space, an island is almost mandatory to maximize the efficiency of a U layout.

The U-shaped kitchen does have limitations. For one, it cannot be effectively implemented if the kitchen area is less than 10 feet wide. In that case, a galley or an L-shaped layout would be more appropriate.  Another issue is that the bottom corner cabinets in a U-shaped kitchen can be inconvenient to access. However, this issue can be solved by utilizing rounded corners, angled storage units, and adjusting cabinet placement at the corner joints. Finally, in a very large kitchen, the U-shaped layout is inefficient without an island, as mentioned earlier. With the elements of the work triangle placed on each of the three walls, having to traverse a large space between the walls would slow down the work considerably.

A galley kitchen that is not a walk-through, but rather terminates in a wall, can be converted to a U-shape by adding workspace across the wall end of the galley. Similarly, an L-shaped kitchen can be converted to a U-shape by adding a peninsula at one of the unused walls. Although this would undoubtedly add both counter and storage space, it may also make the kitchen feel cramped if the overall room size is not sufficiently large. As mentioned, for rooms that are less than 10 feet in width, it may be best to keep a two-walled layout.

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The G-shaped kitchen takes the U shape and adds a partial fourth wall, extending worktop and cabinet space even farther. The addition of the short fourth wall creates a G shape if viewed from above. The benefit of the G-shaped kitchen is that it maximizes use of wall space and provides the maximum possible workspace without the addition of an island. On the flip side, a G-shaped kitchen can feel very enclosed, with countertops and cabinets on all sides. It should not even be considered in a space that is less than 11 to 12 feet along the shortest side.

The major benefit of the G-shaped kitchen is the large amount of work and storage space, which allows the incorporation of two work triangles and specialty appliances without the need for an island. Two sinks and two cooktops, with one containing an oven, are typical in a G-shaped kitchen. The work triangles may share a leg, but they should not overlap, as this would interfere with the ability of two or more cooks to work in tandem. One example is two sinks on opposing walls, with a refrigerator on one perpendicular wall and the two adjacent cooktops on the opposite perpendicular wall. Another example is one sink on the first wall, one cooktop and another sink on the second wall, another cooktop on the third wall, and the refrigerator in the middle of the fourth wall.

There are several strategies which can help to eliminate the confining feel of having four walls of counters, appliances, and cabinets. One strategy is to utilize large windows along two of the walls, if at all possible, thereby breaking up the cabinetry and bringing a feeling of light and space into the kitchen. Another strategy is to open one or two of the cabinet walls to adjacent spaces by removing a portion of the wall sections backing those cabinets. A third strategy is to only put overhead cabinets on three walls and use the peninsula along the fourth wall as a breakfast nook and under-the-counter storage. Finally, a G-shaped kitchen benefits from a larger doorway which also serves to extend the space.

Larger families with multiple cooks will appreciate the added work and storage space of a G-shaped kitchen. The G can also be a great alternative for a U-shaped kitchen which is too small to support an island, but where additional space would be preferable. In situations where a U-shaped kitchen has an open fourth wall, a peninsula can be added for the purpose of creating a serving counter or breakfast nook, with tall chairs placed on the opposite side of the peninsula and storage cabinets built into the kitchen side.

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The double L-shaped kitchen is essentially an L-shaped kitchen with either an L-shaped island in the middle or an L shaped peninsula against the wall. One way to think of the double L is to imagine a G-shaped kitchen broken in two, with the smaller part rotated 90 degrees and either moved into the middle or placed against the long wall. A variation on the double L is an L-shaped kitchen with a regular rectangular island.

The double L-shaped kitchen provides significantly more workspace than the regular L, offering two work triangles instead of one and four or five work zones in place of two or three. This allows multiple cooks to work at the same time without interfering with one another. The double L layout also offers far more storage space and the opportunity to add auxiliary appliances.

The double L layout easily allows for two or even three work triangles. Each wall of the larger L  can form a work triangle with each side of the L-shaped island and the inner part of the L-shaped island can form a third work triangle. Typically, a sink and a cooktop are placed on both the larger L and the L-shaped island, with an oversized refrigerator placed on the outer L and positioned in such a way as to be conveniently accessible from any of the work triangles.

In addition to greater workspace and additional storage, a center L island offers several other benefits. It provides a serving and eating area for informal meals. It offers the cook an opportunity to prepare food while looking outward into the rest of the home, rather than with his or her back to the activity in the living area. Last but not least, it creates a nook for informal socializing on the part of whoever is doing the cooking with both other members of the household and guests.

The double L layout is only appropriate for larger kitchen spaces that can accomodate not only the island, but also at least 4 feet of space between the island and the countertops of the outer L. Conservatively assuming 2 foot deep countertops and 5 foot legs for the island, the minimum length and width for the kitchen would need to be 17 feet. A smaller space should not really be considered for the double L-shaped kitchen layout.

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The island and the peninsula have been referenced in the other sections, but are sufficiently important components of kitchen design to merit a separate and more in-depth discussion. To review, an island is a standalone unit, typically in a rectangular or L-shape that is placed in the middle of the kitchen. A peninsula is similar to an island, but rather than being standalone, it is attached at one end to either the wall or an existing run of cabinets. An island or a peninsula often have built in appliances and/or sinks, along with cabinet space below the counter. There are usually no cabinets above an island or a peninsula, although pot racks, air vents, and drop lights are frequently suspended from the ceiling. The cabinets and the countertop of an island or peninsula generally feature the same material, style, color, and finish as the cabinets and countertops in the rest of the kitchen, matching the overall theme of the space.

The incorporation of an island or a peninsula offers a number of benefits. First, it provides additional storage space, which is often welcome as kitchen shelf space seems to always be at a premium. It can be the perfect location to place under-the-counter trash and recycling bins. Second, an island or a peninsula can extend not only the available work space, but also the number of sinks and appliances, making it far easier for multiple cooks to operate simultaneously. Preparation sinks, refrigerator drawers, and rangetops are all common additions. Third, an island or a peninsula can provide a convenient serving and eating area, particularly for quick on-the-go meals. Even if there is another eating area in place, it can offer additional seating. Fourth, an island or a peninsula can be used to serve drinks, hors d'oeuvres, and finger foods during cocktail parties hosted in the home. This allows guests to circulate by the food and drink without having to actually go into the kitchen proper. Fifth, for households with children, an island or a peninsula can provide an area for them to participate in kitchen activities, whether in the form of simply hanging out and doing homework, or actually helping in the cooking process. In addition, since there are no overhead cabinets, it's the perfect area for snacks and amenities that the children can reach. Sixth, an island or a peninsula can provide a cooking space which faces into the rest of the home so that the people cooking are not constantly turned with their backs to everything else that is going on. This allows the people cooking to socialize with other family members, keep an eye on the kids, or entertain guests at the same time as preparing food.

Given all of the benefits, it may seem like incorporating an island or a peninsula is always the right decision. In reality, this is not the case. These structural elements also have certain drawbacks which must be considered and carefully weighed against the benefits. The most obvious drawback is that they reduce the amount of available floor space. In a small kitchen, the addition of an island or a peninsula can result in a cramped, walled-in feeling that is both inconvenient and uncomfortable. There should be at least three and a half feet of clearance between an island or a peninsula and the rest of the kitchen at all times, with four feet preferable. Another potential drawback is the negative impact on corner space. In case of a peninsula, the corner where the peninsula joins the wall or the run of kitchen cabinets can be difficult to access. In case of an island, the under-the-counter cabinets at the kitchen corners nearest to the island can be challenging to use. Consequently, when planning an island or a peninsula, it is important to consider how the corners will be impacted.

In terms of deciding whether to install an island or a peninsula, each offers its own unique characteristics. A peninsula keeps the center space open, retaining unimpeded movement through the kitchen. By contrast, an island creates a traffic lane which limits and channels movement. A peninsula facing an open space has the effect of closing off the kitchen and typically provides a single outer side for seating. An island offers a more open feel to the outside, offering two outer sides for seating. Aesthetically, many people prefer the island as its central location provides greater opportunity to sculpt the kitchen space and make a stylistic statement. However, a peninsula has the benefit of not requiring as much space as an island because it only needs clearance on three sides rather than four. This also means that given the same amount of space, it is possible to install a larger peninsula than island.

When adding or remodeling a peninsula or an island, a number of issues must be considered. The types and placement of storage and appliances is a critical consideration. Since a major motivating factor for the addition of an island or a peninsula is the extension of storage and work space, this msut be done in a way that is both representative of the cooks' preferences and compatible with the existing kitchen layout. The height of the countertop is also important. A cabinet run anchored peninsula will generally match the height of the other kitchen countertops, but an island or a wall-anchored peninsula can be made taller or shorter. Yet another alternative is a split-level countertop, which separates the food preparation area from the serving area by placing the former physically lower than the latter. An additional consideration is the choice of materials for both the countertops and the under-the-counter cabinetry. The simplest decision is to have the island or peninsula simply match the materials and stylization of the rest of the kitchen. However, particularly in the case of an island, a different set of materials and designs can effectively offset the rest of the kitchen and create a truly stunning centerpiece.
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The work zone design, also referred to as the work center design, is a modern approach to kitchen layout that seeks to go beyond the kitchen work triangle. With the incorporation of additional workspaces and auxiliary appliances in many modern kitchens, the traditional work triangle can be too limiting in describing the full functionality of the kitchen. Consider a kitchen with two sinks, a range, an oven and stove, a grill, a refrigerator and a separate set of refrigerator drawers, a set of warming drawers, a microwave, and a dishwasher, along with several auxiliary appliances including a steamer, a food processor, a stand mixer, and a blender. Given all of the available functionality, a work triangle hardly begins to cover the possible range of movements and actions, particularly if there are two or more cooks working simultaneously.

The solution for the multi-functional kitchen is to group all of the different appliances and worktops based on the concept of work zones or work center. A work zone approach groups everything necessary to performing a particular type of cooking activity into a single physical area. A person can then have all of the relevant appliances and cookware for a given stage of the food preparation process available for easy access.

The three major works centers are usually preparation, cooking, and clean-up. Preparation refers to all of the activities required to get the food from its store-bought or garden-picked state to being ready for the pot, the grill, or the baking sheet. The preparation work zone will usually include a refrigerator, a sink, a worktop, a trash receptacle, a food processor, a blender, cutting boards, knife storage, salad bowls, baking dishes, measuring cups, mixing utensils, graters, and spice racks. Cooking refers to all of the activities associated with actually getting the food ready to serve. The cooking work zone will usually include a cooktop, an oven, a ventilation hood, a microwave, storage for pots and pans, cooking utensils, and oven mitts. Depending on cooking needs, additional small appliances can be incorporated into the cooking work zone such as a toaster, a waffle iron, a grill, a skillet, a steamer, or a deep fryer. Finally, clean-up refers to all of the activities associated with cleaning the kitchen and the dishware after the food has been served and consumed. The clean-up work zone will usually include a large sink, a dishwasher, a trash receptacle, a recycling bin, plastic bags, paper towels, and a variety of cleaning materials and dishtowels.

Given that the flow of work goes from food preparation to cooking to clean-up, these work zones should be arranged in the proper order, with the cooking work station adjacent to the food preparation work station. Such a grouping based on function allows multiple cooks to work efficiently and without getting in each other's way. Indeed, for many large U-shaped and G-shaped kitchens, for most double L-shaped kitchens, and for kitchens with large or multiple islands and peninsulas, the work zone approach is often the most effective.

In certain situations, it may be useful to incorporate incremental work centers in addition to the three base ones. For households with a sweet tooth, a baking work zone can provide a lot of mileage. Such a work zone would typically feature a rolling board, an electric mixer, baking tins, cookie sheets, pie forms, rolling pins, measuring cups, mixing bowls, cake decorating kits, dry food storage, and specialty cookbooks. In addition, a snacking or eating nook, while not a work zone per se, can nevertheless make a convenient addition to many kitchens. Such an area can be stocked with a microwave, a toaster, a coffeemaker or electric kettle, coffees, teas, and condiments, cereals, instant oatmeal, and energy bars, mugs and cups, microwave safe dishware, a water cooler, and, optionally, a mini refrigerator, a popcorn maker, and a panini maker.
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