Help! How much space is between your upper cabinets and counter?

deniseannhJune 25, 2011

Hi Everyone,

My cabinets are already installed. I have 19" between upper cabinets and counters. Am I crazy for wanting to have the installer move them down an inch? The crown molding has not been installed yet. I know the standard is 18". The installer never discussed any of this with me. I ordered the cabinets from someone other than him. He probably installed them 19" due to the size of my crown molding. I wish he would have mentioned that the cabinets would be higher than the standard before he installed them. I have had other issues with him as well. The person I ordered from miscalculated. She should have had me order wider molding so that the cabinets would have been spaced properly. I could go with a wider molding. I feel the installer should have discussed this with me before installation. Should I leave them or buy the wider molding and have them moved down an inch?


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Place them where you feel comfortable. I've always lived with 18" but I don't know that I'd notice 19" and I'm picky. If it matters to you, move them. It should have been discussed with you.

And no, you're not crazy! You want your kitchen your way. So do we all.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2011 at 12:56PM
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Oh wow. I just measured the gap at the temporary house we're staying in. It's only 16.5". 19" would definitely bother me.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2011 at 12:58PM
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I have no idea what is "standard". I have undercabinet lighting and the height from the counter to that is 18" and then to the base of the upper cabinets is 20". I have standard 8' ceilings with a very simple crown molding.
I think, in this case, have them changed if it will bother you and IF you like the looks of the wider molding.

The other thing, for us, is that I am the shortest in our family at 5'8" and so reach is not an issue.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2011 at 1:01PM
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Mine is 18" from the countertop to the bottom of the uppers.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2011 at 1:11PM
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Will you have moulding installed under the cabinet to cover up undercabinet lighting? If so, this should bring the level down to where you want it. Or install moulding anyway, even if you don't need it to cover lights. The cabinet company should have matching material for this purpose.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2011 at 1:14PM
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We have 19" and being I'm only 5'3" they are much too high for me. We are contemplating getting horizontal cabinets and place them as low as 16-17". We will only have a few uppers though so that might enter into the equation for you as to what height.

Aren't these measurements of placement maddening!

    Bookmark   June 25, 2011 at 1:26PM
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I'm only 5'3", too, and my old cabinets are only 15" up - that is too close to the counter for comfort, but it does make it easy to reach the cabinet. In my new kitchen, I specified 17". They should have asked you what you wanted or else had them 18". I don't know if it's "standard," but it is typical nowadays.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2011 at 1:42PM
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Mine are 18 1/2 and I specifically had them hung that way. That is from the counter to the small crown or trim below my cabinet. Prior to my new kitchen the old cabs were too low - I can't tell you how many times a coffee maker /decorative item etc., didn't fit - now they do. The added inch or two is a benefit space wise for me which is why I specified early on. I also have under cabinet lighting and it is hidden behind the trim moulding. If it were me I would appreciate the added space as it's a bummer to not have the necessary height. If I had that extra 1/2" I would be able to keep the top on my vita-mix that we use all the time instead of storing in the drawer.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2011 at 2:00PM
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Agree with above poster. Light bar should bring it down another inch.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2011 at 2:09PM
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I think there is an ideal minimum of 18" (often happily ignored sometimes by design, sometimes out of necessity). You don't mention what bothers you about it other than it isn't 18" and they didn't discuss it with you. I assume you selected\approved the molding. Personally if I was going to fret over an inch I would have done it while I planning not after the cabinets were installed. If you want to wait for a new molding and have the cabinets lowered that's OK but take some ownership for it and admit you didn't think about it and now you want it that way. Kitchen folks are often very intuitive but they're not mind readers, there is nothing wrong with 19" other than it wasn't what you expected.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2011 at 2:32PM
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I've seen 18" being the norm (for me) sometimes I see a little more to 19 ish.. but my vote is for 18"

    Bookmark   June 25, 2011 at 2:36PM
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Ours are at 17". I'm 5' 1" and wouldn't want them any higher. I can reach the bottom shelf and the front of the next shelf up that way. I have to stretch on tip-toes to get things at the front of the third shelf.

We did end the molding and under cabinet lights a few inches short of the end of one cabinet so our Kitchen Aid mixer could fit under the cabinets because that is just under 17" high.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2011 at 2:53PM
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Our present measurement is 16 and I never noticed the difference from previous kitchens. Now we are remodeling and we were told in our ridiculous city, the code is 18 inches. Code? Did I say we live in a ridiculous city? I can understand the need for upper codes around cooktops but carrying that around the entire kitchen is ridiculous.
Sorry, just letting off steam as I wanted a 17 inch gap.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2011 at 3:02PM
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We had 17" in our last kitchen and hated how tight it was for counter appliances. I planned on no uppers in this kitchen so it would not be a concern in some areas, however, we have cubbies that are 18" wall cabs that I had expected to fit those in. I figured my mixer and food processor would fit nicely, but the interior is not the 18" so that is a problem for those (my error for equating exterior dimensions as interior). I can squeak my fp in if I don't keep the top on it in full position but the mixer is a no go. That extra inch would have made a world of difference. Luckily, I use the fp way more often, so can banish the mixer elsewhere.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2011 at 3:15PM
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Has the light rail on the bottom of your upper cabinets been installed yet? If not, once it's installed you will have the 18" you expected.

To help you and others when determining the distance b/w your finished countertop and the bottom of your base cabinets (including light rail)...

First, 18" is the "standard" backsplash height...regardless of the reasons why, it's still the standard.

How this affects your kitchen....

  • Refrigerator and other tall cabinet heights...Because wall cabinets are meant to be mounted at a standard height, cabinet manufacturers take this into account when designing tall cabinets. Tall cabinets are designed to be the same height as the installed wall cabinets so the tops all line up. When you change the height a wall cabinet is installed at, it affects cabinet top alignments. (Note: With custom and some semi-custom cabinets, this is a non-issue b/c the cabinetmaker/manufacturer can adjust for this.)
  • With the refrigerator you can usually mount the upper cabinet a little lower OR order a shorter upper cabinet, but be sure you don't make the alcove any shorter than 72" tall b/c newer refrigerators are 70" to 72" tall (and seem to get taller each year!)

With other tall cabinets like oven cabinets and pantry cabinets, they're a standard height and designed so they're the same height as the wall cabinets when those wall cabinets are installed 18" above a 36" high counter. If you have custom cabinets, this may not be an issue b/c your cabinetmaker can adjust the cabinet heights. But, if you are using stock or even some semi-custom cabinets, you cannot change the height. You can often get taller cabinets for use w/36" or 42" tall wall cabinets, but not shorter for 30" mounted lower. But, even those that are taller are also adjusted based on standard wall cabinet heights + an 18" backsplash height. Small appliance height...Small appliance manufacturers often design their products to meet this 18" standard...for example, my KA stand mixer (bowl lift) is around 17" and many coffeemakers and blenders are just short of 18". So, you need to be sure you have room under the cabinets + light rail to fit those appliances.

Small appliances...

Keep in mind that if you're using an appliance on your counter, you must be sure you have room under the base cabinets to move that appliance around easily. Don't, for example, tell yourself you're only going to use it in front of your upper cabinets so you don't need to worry about its fit. In reality, you will be moving things around on your counter while you work and most likely your appliance will be moved under the cabinets at some point. You don't want to tear your light rail off or damage it (or the cabinets).

Also remember that "standard" upper cabinets are 12" deep + 1" for the they stick out 13" over your counter...leaving you only 12" or so of workspace in front of the upper cabinets...not much room to work in by itself! (If you have...

    Bookmark   June 25, 2011 at 3:16PM
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Unless you are particularly short, why not go with the standard 18'' (i.e. 19'' then deduct 1'' for undercounter light rail). Almost every small appliance will fit (with a few exceptions, that are commercial appliances like Vitamix blenders, some Robot Coupe food processors, etc - they don't design these to fit the residential standard).

Anyway, I wouldn't blame the installers for mounting your uppers at the standard height. As for the designer, I don't know - if it is just someone working for a cabinet company, probably too much to expect that he walk you through all the non-standard dimensions that you could have chosen. This probably falls under the category of ''needed to care about this before it was done''.

Regardless, shouldn't be terribly costly to change, if it is a problem.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2011 at 4:50PM
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I'm only 5'2, and the uppers where I'm living are 20" (without the light moulding) from the countertop. This does not inconvenience me in any way, as I stand on my tiptoes for everything else in my life, so why not this, too? It does make a lovely, unobstructed working area where my mixer can slide in and out comfortably, and I can take the lid off my crock pot without it hitting anything.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2011 at 11:06AM
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I have been dreaming just lately about what backsplash I'll install when the rest of our kitchen renovation is coming to an end...feels like it will never be done!!! Anyhow, I just got out the measuring tape to figure my square footage for my dream and I've discovered I only have 13, yes 13 inches between my upper cabinet and countertop! I've lived in this house over 4 years and never noticed either! I suspect it's not bothered me because all the countertop spaces I use for cooking and small appliances is free of overhead cabinets. Thank goodness I have this option!

    Bookmark   July 9, 2011 at 7:14PM
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I don't think it is his fault. If your cabinets go to the crown which goes to the ceiling, he was just putting the pieces together. His job is only assembly.... not design. For all he knew, you or the designer planned on a 19" gap.... I would have been annoyed at my installers for questioning any atypical design choice I made! :)

Our space is something like 16" in the kitchen, but 19" in the laundry room (the 16" one has a trim piece, the 19" doesn't... so really they aren't too far off from each other for shelf height.) I don't think that inch will matter much in the long run for you.... unless you are very short or it if were the opposite (cabinets too low and you couldn't fit appliances in.)

    Bookmark   July 9, 2011 at 7:34PM
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Mine are only 11.5! We re-used our 80 year old cabinets (all new insides and refinished) and in 1927 when they built houses, that's what they did. The downside -- very few appliances will fit under, but that's alright with me because I want them put away off the counter. The toaster and the Breville convection oven both fit (the Breville, just barely). The upside -- the plates and dishes inside are very easy to reach. I'm 5'3". Now 11 would be way too low for most people but going lower than the standard 18 can have its benefits.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2011 at 11:05PM
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I keep reading these posts telling people who say that it's an uncomfortable height to add light rail to bring it down. Light rail isn't going to do a darned thing to make the cabinet shelves more accessible, which is what I presume people find uncomfortable.

I currently have about 19-1/2" (installed high to leave room for one of those monster first generation microwaves), and while I'm not short, it does make the upper shelves surprisingly more awkward to reach. But adding light rail wouldn't do diddly to change that!

    Bookmark   July 10, 2011 at 12:24AM
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Mine measures 18". I'm 5'4" and my DH is 5'10". I need my step ladder to reach the top 2 shelves. I keep my most frequently used items on the lower 2 shelves.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2011 at 11:13AM
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Circus Peanut

I'm 5'7" and love mine at 15". LOVE them. I can reach every shelf, plus have little 1/3 shelves in the back to store the vanilla bottles, etc.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2011 at 11:28AM
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I currently have 18 inches. I used to have 13 or 15 (can't remember exactly) inches and I liked it better. I am short, 5'2". I don't work on that space. I have a large amount of counter space without any uppers and that is where I work. If you use the counter to a significant amount of work, it may be too short.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2011 at 10:25PM
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