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What is a U-shaped kitchen?

A U-shaped kitchen has three adjoining worktops along successive walls of the room, creating an unbroken flow of worktops and units that make for a practical and space-efficient kitchen layout. They can vary in exact size and shape - for example one side may extend further than the other, the central space could be long and narrow or wide and square - but all these formats are still u-shaped kitchens if they feature the 3 joining worktops.

What are the advantages of a U-shaped kitchen?

The U-shaped layout is generally considered to be the most practical kitchen layout, as it’s ideal for the ‘golden triangle’ concept of positioning your fridge, cooker and sink within reachable distance of each other, while still allowing each appliance its own space.

U-shaped kitchens also offer plenty of worktop and cupboard space, often making use of the space more efficiently than other kitchen layouts such as L-shaped and galley kitchens.

How wide should a U-shaped kitchen be?

Like a lot of things, U-shaped kitchens work best in large spaces, but it is also possible to implement a U-shaped kitchen in a smaller space.

Ideally you should have at least 1.5 metres of floor space between the opposing units, so the kitchen doesn’t feel too cramped, but you may be able to get away with less.

Your ideal width will also rely on other factors, like how many people are likely to be using the kitchen at one time or if you’re planning to install extra elements like a kitchen island or breakfast bar.

How to lay out your U-shaped kitchen

Ideally, your kitchen will have a window at a point that can act as the bottom of the ‘U’. This allows a direct route for natural light to flood through the window and down the length of the room.

How To Layout U Shaped Kitchens
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We’ve already mentioned the ‘golden triangle’; in many U-shaped kitchen designs the sink sits under the window, with the fridge and cooker on the opposing sides to make up a 3-point structure for the main fittings.

How To Layout U Shaped Kitchens 2
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If one of your opposing units is longer than the other, it’s recommended to put your cooker on this side. This provides you with extra food prep space close to where you’ll be cooking, and allows space to put down hot trays without having to cross the kitchen.

Colour schemes for your U-shaped kitchen

Small U-shaped kitchens would benefit from lighter colours, using white or cream as the dominating tone and accenting with darker or brighter colours. Light or pale colours will expand the space and reflect the light, making your kitchen feel larger.

Accent colours can be splashes of one consistent colour or different shades of the same colour, added in small but regular point around the kitchen to bring the look together. Consider varying hues of grey, bright pops of coral or subtle touches of pastel green for appliances, accessories or lights.

U Shaped Kitchens Accent Colours
Instagram: @pembskitchens

If you’re wary of overdoing the white, keep dark colours on your bottom units and light colours on the top. In a U-shaped kitchen with unbroken runs of cabinets, this will create effective ribbons of colour on two levels around your kitchen.

In a larger kitchen where you’re not so limited by light considerations, darker colours can make a bold statement. Consider black or darker shades of blue, green or grey for your worktop cabinets paired with a lighter worktop, or keep your cabinets light with a dark gloss worktop for a dramatic finish.

U Shaped Kitchens Light Worktop Dark Cabinets
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Strong colours can also add warmth in a large kitchen and ensure the space maintains a familiar, homey atmosphere. Think rich autumnal shades of yellow, orange and brown, or dark wood with cream accents.

Colour can also be used to divide zones in your kitchen. Draw attention to your hob with a brightly coloured splashback, or brighten up open shelves by painting the wall behind them in a contrasting shade.

Choosing your kitchen units

If your kitchen is large or wide and you need the cupboard space, it should be fairly straightforward to fit top and bottom cabinets around the whole ‘U’, with just one break at the bottom.

U Shaped Kitchens Choosing Cabinets
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However this can make your kitchen feel a little boxed in, so it’s worth maximising corner cupboards and thinking outside the box a little more to arrange your units. Consider keeping base units on all three sides but exchanging top cabinets for open shelving, statement features, or just empty wall.

U Shaped Kitchens Choosing Cabinets 2
Instagram: @chippendalekitchens

This is even more crucial in a small U-shaped kitchen, where top cabinets are more likely to make the space feel cramped and gloomy. Limit your top units to just one wall, and keep the others empty to make the room feel airier.

If this feels too minimalist, add open shelves or an interesting statement piece like a wall-attached wine rack or feature wallpaper.

A tower unit can also be a nice variation to break up the countertops or make more of a definite separator between your kitchen and living area of you have an open-plan space. They work particularly well next to a full-height fridge.

U Shaped Kitchens Tower Unit
Instagram: @mackintoshkitchens

Planning your storage

In a kitchen layout that is already optimised for space, your storage solutions don’t have to be very complex. Straightforward cabinet units should be sufficient for your needs; just bear in mind that if your kitchen is narrow, you should minimise top cupboards as much as possible.

In a narrow U-shaped kitchen, consider replacing top cabinets with open shelves, or simply swap the solid doors for glass ones that will reflect the light and open up the space.

One of a U-shaped kitchen’s shining features is its huge corner storage space potential. While not the most accessible, corner cupboards have a huge depth that comes in useful, particularly in smaller kitchens where space is at a premium.

Keep your everyday items to hand in more easy-to-reach cupboards, and use corner cupboards to store lesser-used items and bulky appliances. Alternatively, make the cupboards more accessible with a carousel that can pull out of the cabinet.

U Shaped Kitchens Storage
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Whatever your cupboard choices, bear your golden triangle in mind when choosing where to store things. Keep your cooking utensils on the same side as the hob, cutlery and crockery on the opposite side, and cleaning products under the sink.

Lighting up the room

While natural lighting should flood quite easily through a square or wide U-shaped kitchen, this won’t be the case in longer, narrower kitchens. A U-shaped kitchen can really benefit from well placed artificial lighting.

Simple spotlights in your ceiling will effectively illuminate your kitchen, or track lighting with individually angled lights allows you to focus spotlights on key work areas or features in the room.

U Shaped Kitchens Lighting
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LED lights under the edges of cabinets or counters can really help define your space, and eradicate dark spots and corners. If positioned around the outside of a counter in an open plan kitchen, LED strips can provide a glowing border around your kitchen zone.

In a modern kitchen with glass worktops, you could even consider under-counter lighting for an added wow factor. Softer lighting is advisable here to avoid harsh glare but, if used properly, is effective mood lighting.

Adding extra features

Kitchen island

If your U-shaped kitchen is wide, you may want to break up the space in the middle with a kitchen island. This provides extra storage and worktop space, as well as an area for people to hang out - perfect if you want the kitchen to be the centre of your home!

A long, slim island will work best in most U-shaped kitchen designs, as this will leave plenty of space for walkways on either side. Extra cupboards can be installed in the base, while the top provides extra food prep space or an area to decorate with accessories.

If you want to use the island as an alternative dining spot, allow an alcove underneath or extend the worktop slightly on one side, so you can neatly tuck dining stools under the unit.

U Shaped Kitchens With Island
Instagram: @spillersofchard

Breakfast peninsula

If you don’t have room for an island but still want a dining space in your U-shaped kitchen, a breakfast peninsula is your answer.

Simply extend an additional counter out from one of the opposing units of the ‘U’ shape; this will work best if installed as a floating unit rather than solid, as this maintains the open flow of the room and provides space for stools to be tucked under.

If you have an open plan U-shaped kitchen, you also have the option to install a breakfast bar on the outside of one of the counters. This keeps the dining area out of the way of anyone cooking, and also adds a nice segue into the living room.

U Shaped Kitchens Breakfast Bar
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If you have an open plan U-shaped kitchen, you also have the option to install a breakfast bar on the outside of one of the counters. This keeps the dining area out of the way of anyone cooking, and also adds a nice segue into the living room.

U Shaped Kitchens Breakfast Bar 2
Instagram: @buildbaseboston

Statement wall

The bottom of the ‘U’ is the perfect place for a statement wall, where a window or key unit will often break up the space, allowing the wall to draw attention without dominating the room.

Try pairing dark navy kitchen units with a bright red wall in a contemporary kitchen, or white and wood units with a sunny yellow wall for a cheerful farmhouse feel. This is also the perfect place to get creative with patterns; a bold black and white patterned wallpaper would create a distinct feature in a monochrome kitchen.

Looking for inspiration for your U-shaped kitchen design? Browse our ranges for kitchen unit options to fit your needs.