distance between island and counter

pearl2007January 13, 2008

I'm looking for what people's thoughts are on what the minimum distance could/should be between the main counter top and the island. Is 30 inches too small a distance? I think 4 feet is typical, but I'd like to try and keep it less.... thanks for your suggestions.

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I'd say that 30" is way too shallow IMHO. There is a huge difference (1 1/2 ft) between 30" and 48". In our new kitchen, we will have a large rectangular island and we have 4'-6" between the long portion of the island and the main wall of cabinets. This was as narrow as I was comfortable going. One side of the island is open to the nook and the other side has a 3'-4" aisle. I would suggest finding a "real" kitchen and with a narrow aisle and then measuring back 30" to see how skinny that will actually be. It obviously depends on what will open into that aisle (dishwasher, fridge, etc) but also remember you will also "lose" up to 2" because the counter will probably have a 1" overhang on the base cabinets. Betst of luck with your decision.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2008 at 8:24AM
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First of all, no matter what the "standards" say the aisles should be, this is one thing that is largely a matter of opinion. I just went through having to decide on aisle widths. I had read repeatedly that they should be at least 48 inches, and tried to plan accordingly. But, then I measured a girlfriend's aisles after noticing hers felt good to me. They varied around the three sides from 36" on one side to 39" on another to 43" on the third. Her largest aisle was a full five inches smaller than what was "recommended" and it felt plenty large (almost too large) for its purpose. I was shocked that aisles so narrow could feel so right.

I think a lot of it should be determined based on what you expect to be happening in those spaces. If you need to be opening a refrigerator or oven door while someone is passing behind you, then four feet probably is the minimum. Even then, other factors come into play. For example, is your fridge side-by-side or single door? If people will be sitting in stools at the counter while other people are opening cabinets behind them, you probably need even more than four feet. For two cooks to be working simultaneously, back to back, 48" seems to be the minimum recommended. For a single cook to pivot between a prep area and a cooking area or between cooking and clean-up, 38-40" is plenty. I can't think of an example where I would go with aisles smaller than 36", so yes, I think 30" is too small.

My island also has three sides with other cabinets nearby. I went with a 42" space on the side facing the stove, 45" on the side facing the fridge (a side-by-side), and the side with stools has approximately 50-52" (my walls had to be adjusted slightly, so I no longer know the exact measurement across the room). The stool side is also the main traffic passage area and a main mingling zone during parties. On the working sides, I wanted to be able to pivot easily from the stove and fridge to the island without having to really take a step each time. If someone wants to pass behind be while I'm there, that's just tough. It's my kitchen and they stand there can wait for me to close the door or walk around the other side of the island. ;-)

    Bookmark   January 13, 2008 at 8:29AM
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Aisle width really depends on your situation. 30" is too small for anyone, so don't do that. You have to think both about yourself and resale. It also depends on the layout of your kitchen. A shallower width along a section is not as bad as being narrow along a long island.

As far as what's "standard," you can go anywhere in the 36" to 48" range and be normal, fine. Depending on your layout, you might be able to do 36" quite happily. Do you have kids? Kids get bigger and those aisles start to look smaller. 36" might look fine when they're little and leave you tripping over each other when they become teenagers. We had narrow aisles at my old house and went to 51" in this one. (51" from cabinet face to cabinet face, meaning 48" from overhang to overhang.) The wide aisles are FABULOUS when you have multiple cooks and a long space to be in. My current island is a restaurant prep table and the dishwasher opens into the long side of it. With the 51" aisles, you can have the dw open and still get by. At the end of the prep table, where it's only a small section (30"), we actually push the table closer to the perimeter cabinets, more like 42". You don't even notice the difference, because it's a SMALL section. If it were 42" along the length of the island, I guarantee you we'd notice, lol.

So think about how many people will be in the space at once, what doors will be open, and how much clearance you need around things. If you're wanting to make the aisles that narrow, it may be you haven't found the most efficient layout for your space yet. Sometimes a peninsula or U-shape will leave you more floor space and be more effective than an island with an L perimeter. It just depends on your space. My personal suggestion, just mho, is I'd shoot for at least 42" and I'd rearrange till you get that. It's a width that allows for a lot of situtations (family dinners, kids, resale, etc.) and will definitely work. If you have space for more in front of problem spots like the frig or dw, by all means do it. You can make your aisles tighter in some places (42") to give you that extra space in more highly trafficked areas. I like to have the frig door swing plus 15" for a person to get by. That may or may not necessitate wider aisles, depending on your frig (single or french door). That's just me.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2008 at 9:37AM
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The other posters made a good point about whether you are measuring from the cabinet face or the edge of the countertop. This obviously makes an important difference. All the measurements in my post above were from countertop to countertop.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2008 at 9:59AM
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I do think 30" is a bit narrow, even for a small end. You are likely to be carrying things around the ends of an island and you also need to make sure that you have room to stand and open anything that may be on the island or across from it. How many people will be in the kitchen also has an impact on the room you need. Tight can be efficient or it can be a PITA and dangerous if you have 2 or more handling hot food and pans.

I have 36" on one side of my island and 42" on the other. I have 42" or more on one end and a lot more on the other -- it is open to the breakfast room. The 36" side has the sink and SW on the outside and 13" deep shelve cabinets for small appliance and other storage on the island. It is an easy swing for prepping on the back side of the island. The 42" side has my cooktop, warming drawer, micro drawer and is more likely to have multiple people working or added traffic. The 42" is enough for me, and I think that overall, I'd rather have the prep area and sink 6" closer to the cooktop and baking counter than have 6" more aisle.

Your aisles could be 6 feet wide and people would still wind up in the same places, but if you arrange your kitchen and your work flow well, the aisles can be on the narrower side and not be difficult to work with. If I had 48" on both sides, my island would be 16" deep and totally ridiculous. At 3 ft (34" plus the countertop) it is a very workable surface. The kitchen overall seems rather spacious to me -- it's the same footprint as before but more room than I've had in the past, and the work flow is cleaner.

You can go smaller than 48", but don't take it to the other extreme and force an island with the result being that neither the island nor the aisles work well.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2008 at 10:02AM
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I'm always chiming in here on my opinion that you can live with MUCH narrower clearance than the "ideal" - based on my experience in two homes. However even I would say 30" is too tight. The least I've had is 33" which I personally can live with - though a little more space is certainly better if you have it. The narrowest clearance between my island and counter is 33" - other aisles range from 36-39. I'm used to working in a small, galley kitchen where everything is in easy reach - and I like that. Someone who is used to or prefers a larger kitchen with more open space (aisle space) would probably find it rather congested.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2008 at 10:46AM
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My island is 36" from the counter wall on the prep side. I love it. It's just a step and pivot from the sink to prep area etc. Very functional. I really wouldn't want it any wider. The side of the island with bar stools and traffic flow can be wider, though you can get away with 36" if your stools are small scale and store under the island. Also the side that meets up with the oven is 46" to allow the oven door to open. (the short side of the island)

    Bookmark   January 13, 2008 at 10:59AM
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Something else to think about - make sure you are up to the local code... I live in NJ which has strict local requirements around code. So just make sure you are up to code for your locality because some townships not only require inspection when you redo your kitchen, but they require an inspection to make sure everything is up to code when you sell it. When we bought our house the inspection to make make sure you are up to code was not required - but now it is.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2008 at 11:30AM
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I was also going to chime in about code - in our city (not sure about the entire state of MA ) but it is code for 36" from counter to counter. :)

    Bookmark   January 13, 2008 at 11:50AM
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In the basic KD manual---42" is the minimum and if an eating counter top is involved--it's 60" (to allow for chair or stool pushback yet still allow for person passage behind the chair/stool)

    Bookmark   January 13, 2008 at 12:42PM
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Don't forget esthetics...the overall look and proportion. If you have a traditional enclosed kitchen as a separate room, you'll probably want to keep it no larger than 48", unless you have the space.

36" is definitely too small...if you get more than one person in there, you'll feel really cramped.

We have a great room kitchen...it's one end of the entire living/dining/family/kitchen area. 3 walls were taken down to connect all of these rooms, and it's about half of that level of the house (typical 1970's suburban home). Because the kitchen was so open, we had the room to enlarge the space between the island and the perimeter counters. We also wanted to make sure that 2 or 3 people could be in the kitchen cooking together and never have to bump butts or run into each other.

To that end, we pushed the island out to 56" on one side, and 49" on the other side. It doesn't look too big because of the openness of the entire great room, and it allows for 2 people to be cooking dinner and easily move around each other. The entire kitchen is 22 x 10 (formerly a tiny 10 x 8).

Also take into account your cabinetry. If you have big traditional cabinets with lots of detailing and crown molding, you might want a larger distance to the island to counteract the visual heaviness of the cabinets. It allows the cabinets to shine and be seen, and not be all crowded in together.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2008 at 12:56PM
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FWIW: Check your building codes. If you are having to have your kitchen inspected by the local building department, you had better check for minimum clearance counter tops, etc.

Here in our county, they measure from the edge of the counter to wall or opposite counter. The clearance can be no less than 36".

We have at minimum 48" in my hall passageways and around my island. We entertain frequently and it gives ample room for people to pass. If I had to have a minimum space, then 42" would be minimum for a movable island.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2008 at 12:56PM
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IMO 36" is definitely NOT too small. It depends on the room and what you are working with. We in fact have an island that on 2 sides is 33 1/2" apart from the counters, and 36" on the third side. 33" is very workable for us - we have had it this way for almost 17 years - no real issues.

The pic below shows you some perspective (this was taken when built 17 years ago) - the aisle between sink and island is one of thse at 33 1/2" (we are in planning stages of redoing the kitchen now - but we will keep the same general dimensions between the island and other counters)

    Bookmark   January 13, 2008 at 6:24PM
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I agree that it's a matter of personal preference, room dimensions and code. Mine are generally about 40 to 41" from counter to counter. These distances work for me and I think my aisles are PLENTY big, even for 2 people. Frankly, I can't imagine them bigger, but I am a small person (5'1").

    Bookmark   January 13, 2008 at 6:50PM
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I want to chime in with another opinion, I think 30" is way too small. I have 36" from counter to counter now and I think it is too small. When ever I have the dishwasher door open, I cannot move. I also cannot stand in front of the dishwasher to load it. I always have to stand to the side. I have visited many show rooms in the quest for the best kitchen for me, and 48" is the minimum that I will do now. I also pulled a groin muscle while doing something I should probably have thought twice about, but it gave me real perspective on how to use my space. I have one hallway that is 60" wide and it much appreciated over the 36" hallway that leads to the bedroom.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   January 13, 2008 at 7:02PM
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Here are some thoughts I have about the width of aisles in the kitchen

Make sure there is room to pass by when your appliances are open.

Since your having an island you might want to position it so it doesnt interfere with your traffic pattern from sink to refrigerator to stove.

Keep in mind, the bigger the aisle the more steps you have to take to complete a task.

if your going to have more then two cooks, make sure the aisle is big enough to pass.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2008 at 7:15PM
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