Distance from countertop to cabinet bottom

carecooksFebruary 10, 2010

I'm doing two custom built-in cabinets on either side of a banquette as part of my dining area which is part of the kitchen. I've attached a link below which shows the cabinets as initially designed. We've decided to put countertops in both cabinets. The counters will be used to serve wine, coffee, desserts, appetizers, and will be extra space to use when actually sitting at the table. The cabinets will hold extra dishes, serving platters, etc. The current design calls for an 18" space in between the counter and the bottom of the upper cabs. I think that is too big a space. First of all, it intrudes upon the most easily accessible part of the cabinet. Second, the tallest item that I can think of that will go there is about 13" high. I have a ton of stuff in storage that will come out when the kitchen is finished, but I'm hard-pressed to think of anything taller. I'm thinking of making the distance between 15" and 16". Anyone else confront this issue? Opinions?

I'm also thinking of slightly reducing the countertop to cab distance with the kitchen uppers. Once again, a picture is in the link below. I will have one cabinet that is 22" above the countertop to make the coffeemaker and coffee grinder more accessible. (This is one of DH's few requests). The rest of the cabs are also supposed to be 18". As I'm trying to keep everything else off of that countertop except when in use, I think that 18" is too big. I will, at times, be using my KA stand mixer which is 16.5" high. Any reason why I can't drop the cabs another inch?

Please excuse the scribbles on my designs. We're still working on them.

Here is a link that might be useful: Cabinets

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Due to the physical constraints of living in an older (not antique) log house, my cabs are just under 16 inches above my counter. It works for me because there's counter space w/o cabs above for the coffee maker. I wish I had the wall height to have taller upper cabs, but that's how it goes.My upper cabs also float on the wall so there's more air space below the ends of each cab.If you don't need the extra height and aren't worried about future buyers, I say install them to suit you!

    Bookmark   February 10, 2010 at 5:46PM
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Thanks. What a warm and inviting kitchen. I love the big workspace! I plan on being in my house for quite awhile so I am going with what I want within the limitations of my kitchen size, style and budget. But my concern is that there is something that I haven't thought about that could change the sizes needed. I remember moving years ago into an older home that had low cabinets and I couldn't fit in my food processor or my coffeemaker and it was really irritating. I do think that there are different requirements for the kitchen cabinets vs. the storage cabinets and I would love to hear more thoughts.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2010 at 6:04PM
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I think the tallest things would be your small appliances. If they are all going somewhere else (blender, coffee maker) then I think you would be fine.
Although my coffee pot isn't 18" high and I pull it out to use it anyway. But new ones might be bigger?

A knife block or utensil jar that required you to pull an item UP to get it out would need more headspace too. And you might want more space over anything that gets hot? Toaster? Would that be there?

I know what you mean, I sometimes wish my lowest shelf was an inch or two lower for easier reach.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2010 at 10:20PM
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I've had uppers 13 inches above the counter. I loved it. I could reach the second shelf! I pull small appliances out from under anyway so my new cabs will be low again. You just have to get into the habit of pulling the toaster out. You probably can't fill the coffee maker without pulling it out.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2010 at 10:45PM
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Is it hard to work at the counter (chopping, etc.) when the top cabinets are so low? The distance from the countertop to the bottom of the light rail on my current upper cabinets (from 1951) is 19-1/4" on one wall and 25" on the other (the light rail is 1-1/2" inches), so it's hard for me to imagine what it's like to have the upper cabs so low.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2010 at 11:49PM
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I finished my kitchen a little while ago and I absolutely 100% agree that the cabs don't need to be 18" above the counter (unless you have tall things on the counter). I wish I had mine at least an inch lower. With the cabs higher from the counter, it seems to take away the coziness factor, too.

Go with your instincts!

    Bookmark   February 11, 2010 at 12:19AM
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18" is the "standard" distance b/w countertop and cabinet bottoms OR the bottom of your light rail, if you have it. Yes, you can buck the standard and go with a shorter distance but, be sure all small appliances you might use there (not just "plan" to use there) will fit.

It doesn't really matter why the standard is 18", the fact that it is a standard means that manufacturers use it when designing small appliances for kitchens. My KA mixer, for example, is 17" tall...

The other thing to keep in mind, as TresGirls also brings up, is that you need room to work under the cabinets...and if it's too short a distance you will be "cramped" when working there. If you and your entire family are short, it probably won't be a problem, but if any of you are at all tall (or even average height), it may very will be an issue. Do you plan to sell in the next 2 or 3 years? If so, then I would think twice about lowering the cabinets. OTOH, if this is your "forever" home or you plan on being in your house for many years to come, then do what works for you and your family.

However, this is what I recommend you do:

  1. Measure the height of the tallest appliance you might use on that counter.

  2. Add 1/4" for "wiggle room"

  3. This is the minimum distance you need b/w the top of your countertop and:

  • If you will have light rail on the bottom of your cabinets, then it's the distance b/w your countertop & the bottom of the light rail (and remember to account for the light rail in all upper cabinet measurements & installation!)

  • If you will not have light rail but will have undercabinet lights, then it's the distance b/w your countertop and the bottom of the cabinets OR the lights...whichever will be lower.

  • If you will not have light rail or undercabinet lights, then it's the distance b/w your countertop and the bottom of the cabinets.

Even if you think you won't be pushing the appliance under the cabinets, you must still have room for them under the cabinets. It is very difficult to confine your work area to the 12" or so in front of the upper cabinets. You will at some point need to move your mixer (or other appliance) out of the way so you can work and you don't want to not be able to b/c it's too tall to fit.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2010 at 12:27AM
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Thanks all. Very helpful advice. Buehl, I hadn't thought about the light rail situation nor about the extra space needed in front of the cabs. I plan on doing most of my prep on the island but I do know that there will be times when I will use the counter under the cabs, mostly for baking. So I have to think about this further.

But what about the other built-in cabinets? I can't think of any appliance that I'll put there. I have a thermal coffee maker so only the thermal container would go there. For desserts, the tallest thing would be a cake on a cake stand. Wine bottles with the corks pulled out and put back in them still come under 13". I know that I need room to get things in and out, but I can't think of a reason to go higher than 15 or 16 inches. Can anyone else think of something that I might serve where I would need it to go higher?

    Bookmark   February 11, 2010 at 1:35AM
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