16" space between counter and upper cabs too short?

geomegMarch 11, 2013

Demolition started today!!!

Basically we are demolishing ceiling and walls and then will determine how high the cabs will go.

The builder suggested doing 36" cabs but lowering them and having only 16" between counter and upper cabs. Over the sink we'd raise them .

If not I can only get 34" upper cabs. He said with 36" you have 3 shelves instead of 2.

My kitchen is really tiny, 96" by 81" of cabinet space so every inch counts. On the 96" run where the sink and DW will be the cabs will be shorter above both sink and DW.

What do you guys think?

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I only have 16 inches now, and I hate it. I am also 4'11 and would be happy to reach a little more if it meant more space between counters and cabinets.

I really do not have much sitting on my counters. An Oster toaster oven and a KA Stand Mixer (which I had to slide over to a space with no upper cabinets because it doesn't fit).

Even standing at the counter cooking or plating things I feel like the uppers are closing in.

My next kitchen will be much smaller than what I have now. It will be a 8'x10' U shape, and I will have 18" between counter and cabinet with 42" uppers. The house will have 8'6 ceilings with 6" moulding.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 12:20PM
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I think with 96 in it's better to have one continous bottom dimension for the wall cabs. It makes that small of a run feel a little more expansive...you basically have 3 segments of 30 in a piece with sink,and left and right of it.You could do cabs at 20-21in above counter..much cleaner look..
another strategy above sink is to get reduced depth or void a door and have a finished interior [so no door is coming at your head while you are at sink]. You can also install base sink cab or all the base cabs out from wall for more depth of counter so even if 12 in deep wall cabs sit 18 in above counter you are standing furthur back...a few inches like that makes a difference. I had a smallish run with sink and hated the rise above sink because it is too many lines: moving up/across/then down again...does not look good. Open shelf sits there for the time being.....that's another way to deal with 96 in-get three 24 in cabs with dbl doors and 24 in of open shelves....or two 30 in cabs and some shelves...play with some options on graph paper a bit.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 1:20PM
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I do think 16" is too low. You won't be able to open a kitchen aid mixer, you'll find yourself using only the front edge of the countertop, and it's extremely frustrating. 16" is what we have in the kitchen we are tearing out. It's probably the thing I hate the most about my current kitchen.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 2:09PM
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I am putting in 16". The typical 18" is a ludicrous waste of space and makes shelves unreachable. However, I also have 30" lowers there, so there's still plenty of counter space under those cabs, as well as an island plus a couple of stretches of counter with no uppers at all (windows instead). 16" will fit in most countertop appliances (you can't open a KA mixer with 18" either!) but you need to make sure you have enough free workspace.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 2:42PM
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If your cabinets are abutting a gas range, cooktop or rangetop, they need to be at least 18" off the counter.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 2:58PM
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That's why I'm doing shallow shelves under the uppers. I will put my everyday things on the shelves. Right now I have them in mostly drawers and don't like it. I have a lift up KA mixer, but it will go in a little place with no uppers in my baking center. Maybe the cabinet height is a difference in aesthetics.

Raising cabinets does seem to be something that seems to automatically happen on here with remodels. Perhaps you can do a mock up to see if the cabinets would feel in your face or fit the things on your counter.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 3:06PM
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If you are doing custom, you can pretty much do any height for anything that you want. If you are using standard sized cabients, they are all made to have similar top alignments as they work together as a system not as individual stand alone elements. If you have any tall cabinets or use a cabinet above the refrigerator, you need to go with the standard 54" bottom alignment for the wall cabinets or they will not align at the top.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 3:09PM
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Circus Peanut

No building code regulates this space, it's simply become standardized at 18" due to the most economical use of plywood panels and 8' ceiling heights. As LWO says, it's become a useful norm for cabinetry systems. Buehl has a good post with all the details advocating the 18" height; it's floating around here somewhere. It's not necessarily the most ergonomic height, though, especially if you are shorter than 5'5".

I had about 15" between upper/lower in my last kitchen, on purpose, and loved it. Like Marcolo I had 30" deep counters in that area and never felt I was banging my head or working in the dark, not at all. But I had plenty of open workspace with very few uppers, which made all the difference.

To wrap up:

-- if you have plenty of other open space, go short. You will really love the surprising accessibility of the shelves in the upper wall cabinets. At 15" off the counter, it felt like I had more storage, since I could reach every shelf fairly comfortably and nothing languished up top.

-- if you have uppers on top of all your lowers, go high. You will feel like you're working in a cave, otherwise, and have nowhere to put your giant countertop appliances without damaging the underbelly of the uppers.
Appropos of pretty much nothing, it occurs to me that in northern Europe, ceilings are usually much higher, yet their standardized space between uppers and lowers is shorter than ours. Go figure:

This post was edited by circuspeanut on Mon, Mar 11, 13 at 15:35

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 3:32PM
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I am going custom so the uppers can be any size.
It seems now that at 36" the backsplash would be 17" high based on the ceiling height.

Although on either side of the range there are cabs, so
does that mean I need 18"?

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 3:54PM
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If your vent is at least 6" larger than the cooking surface, the cabinet height adjacent can be anything you want. Otherwise, that particular bit IS covered by the building codes that incorporate your cooking appliance's requirements as part of the building code. If your cooking appliance requires a minimum of 18" in that instance, then that is what MUST happen. And a big issue that most don't think about is that if you use light rail molding, then the vent above MUST be that 6" larger, as the light rail will intrude over the heated surface otherwise and you will fail inspection. Ask me how I know that one and how much it cost to fix!

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 4:00PM
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I am going custom so the uppers can be any size.
It seems now that at 36" the backsplash would be 17" high based on the ceiling height.

Although on either side of the range there are cabs, so
does that mean I need 18"?

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 4:06PM
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Live wire- I'm going to have an over the range microwave that vents outside.

I'm in Canada, so not sure but we don't have any inspection , at least not on redoing an existing kitchen ( as far as I know)

Although if it's not safe then I don't want to have the cabs beside the range lower than 18".

I will have a light rail.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 4:14PM
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Geomeg, check your range or cooktop installation specs and that will tell you if you have a minimum 18" safety height or not.

Since you're in Canada (same here) I wonder if you are doing frameless cabs with inset light rail molding. If so, it won't protrude over the cooking surface and you don't have to worry about the 6" dead space. I think lwo is speaking of the light rail that protrudes out from cabinetry kind of like a small skirt, which is more common in the States but isn't seen too much in Canada.

This post was edited by taggie on Mon, Mar 11, 13 at 16:28

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 4:27PM
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I have 16" and I love it. It's what I had in my last kitchen, and it worked so well I did it again.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 4:34PM
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Beside the range means right beside the range. If the cabs are set 6" back from the range -- as they are with a bigger hood -- then they do not need to be 18" high even there.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 4:44PM
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Taggie- yes I'm doing frameless. I'll ask the cabinet maker about the light rail. Thanks for pointing that out.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 4:46PM
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I currently have 14" and find it very frustrating. I don't usually keep too much out on the counter but my coffee pot and I can't even keep that out since it wont fit underneath the cabinets. I had the same problem with my old knife block it wouldn't fit either. I never really noticed the cabinets were so low when we bought the place but it is one of the biggest things I am looking forward to changing with this remodel. I know the cabinets that are in my kitchen now are custom so they must have worked for the owners before us. I think if that height works for what you need and the issues I have had don't bother you then go for it. It's your kitchen and needs to work for you.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 4:55PM
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I put my cabs at 17" instead of 18" because I'm short. It's fine. Plenty of room under the cabs, and I can reach the first two shelves easily. It seems so much better than the 15 1/2" I used to have! My cabs flank the 30" cooktop, and since the hood is 36", there's no problem.

What I regret is not making the cabs for the dishes and glasses 13" deep instead of 12". They are on a different wall from my prep space, the extra inch wouldn't have mattered visually, and it would have made a big difference in how much I could store. Since you're getting custom, you might be able to consider this.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 5:28PM
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We had 15" in our old kitchen and I hated it, but it really depends on how you're using the space. In our kitchen, it was the primary work space so I was always hitting the cabinets, and the stand mixer kept gouging the underside of the cabinet when I'd forget to pull it out all the way before flipping it back. But if, in contrast, you're using the space to house a microwave or toaster oven or what-have-you--16" will be fine (and better to have the storage space there).

Don't forget that you can put three shelves in a 34" cabinet, too, though. We have three in a 32" cabinet and love it--every shelf doesn't need to have a full 12" of clearance. I can reach all of our shelves (intentionally designed that way) and we keep cans/jars on the lowest shelf since they don't need height.

How tall are your ceilings? If you post that with a floor plan, I'm sure you will get lots of feedback and ideas on how to plan the cabinetry! If you're doing custom cabinetry, I wouldn't feel hemmed in by standards sizes and distances--one of the benefits is that you can mix it up and do what works best for your space.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 6:30PM
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Yes, what artemis78 said re. the shelving! I hadn't noticed that you were thinking you could only have 2 shelves in a 34" cab until I read her post above.

Here are our 3 shelves in 30" uppers ... let alone a 34 or 36! Never for a moment would I have wanted or expected less shelving. In the right hand cab each shelf is 10" high. Fits mya 12-piece place setting plus all our regular glassware and stemware no problem. On the left I adjusted the lower shelving even smaller for coffee cups so it's 8" bottom, 9" middle, then a taller space for big water bottles at top.

So whatever way you go, ensure your cabinet maker gives you 3 shelves and that they are adjustable ... regardless of your cabinet height.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 6:56PM
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Our custom cabinets will have uppers 16" above the counter, with no uppers about the sink (there's a window there). We don't have any appliances sitting out on the counter, except a microwave.

The uppers are 42", and I am going to ask him for at least one extra shelf for each upper. Because they are custom, few of the uppers are the sale width, so the shelves won't be interchangeable.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 7:29PM
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We put our uppers at 20" and I wish they were lower. I'm 5'8" and really gotta stretch to get to the top shelf. I was considering 17" for our remodel.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 8:53PM
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Can you do deep counters with the upper cabinets at 16" ? Sounds like that might be the best of both worlds. Maybe mock it up. It sounds like some people love them lower and some hate it. You'll have to figure out how you personally will feel about it. Maybe put cardboard up and cook a meal with it like that. Another thing to consider is if you have an island or other counter space that doesn't have upper cabinets then that would help. In my kitchen I have limited counter space and it feels like I can only use the front area when I cooking. I'm short too so I guess, in my new kitchen, I'll be sacrificing some ease of reach for more comfortable counter space. That's another way to look at it - which is more important to you personally? Hope it works out well for you!

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 9:33PM
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I have 15" and it irritate me. I do alot of baking and my kichen aide doesn't fit under cabinets so it is on a corner, and awkward to use. My KA is a professional model where the bowl lift ups. My KA that swivels to get to the bowl is used alot less. The 15" feels cramped to me but I am tall so perhaps that is part of it.

In our kitchen redo I am planning on 18", and I may do deeper lower cabinets also. It is what works for you and how you plan to use the space. I don't think there is a right or wrong, just what you prefer for your kitchen.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 10:08PM
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I have 30in deep base cabinets and 18in deep uppers. As my ceilings are lower than 8ft, I was planning 16 or 17 inches but when I mocked it up there were definite line of sight issues. 18in worked best to make sure that the lightrail had space etc. I definitely recommend mocking it up with cardboard boxes and tables. The reach of the uppers are fine and I am just 5ft tall. Our counter height is just 34in though.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 10:41PM
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