Aisle widths? Disagreement w/ architect...

lmfoodieJune 1, 2009

We're finalizing our kitchen remodel plans, and our architect keeps insisting that our two work aisles (in an L-shaped kitchen with an island) should be no less than 48" wide. This seems overkill to me. Wouldn't 42" be plenty? I'm usually the only one cooking. There is no seating backing into either aisle.


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I thought that 36" was the minimum for one cook, 42" should be plenty for 2 cooks. DH and I make do with 39" between the center 5ft of the island and the area between the sink and stove - our 2 main work areas.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2009 at 4:54PM
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I have 48" aisles, but because of 2 dishwashers on one side of the island, the oven on the other, and multiple kitchen I think it would be a lot just for you. I have only 36" between the island and the rangetop, and I wouldn't want more for the activity of prepping at the island and turning to the stove. One thing, though, that I noticed recently that made the 48" aisles very nice was the replacement of our very heavy and awkward double oven. While watching this get accomplished, I would have been much more concerned about possible cabinet damage if the aisles were narrower.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2009 at 5:24PM
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even 40" would work. i was very concerned about this too. i have right at 41" with my overhang from my countertop.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2009 at 5:27PM
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I also thought 42" was standard.

If it's any comfort, there are a lot of architects out there who know very little about kitchen layout. Mine gave me a preliminary sketch that had cabinets, cabinets, cabinets as far as the eye could see. I swear, every inch where there was no appliance, he drew in a cabinet, upper AND lower. I could probably house my extended family in the linear footage of cabinets he gave me, plus skateboard on the looooonngg countertop runs atop the cabinets, but it would be an ugly, ugly kitchen. ;)

    Bookmark   June 1, 2009 at 5:36PM
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The link below has the guidelines from the NKBD. It recommends 48" for two cooks, 42" for one cook. There are quite a few GWers who get by quite happily with less. We're happy with 42" on average in our kitchen.

Here is a link that might be useful: work aisle space

    Bookmark   June 1, 2009 at 5:50PM
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We have 36". Would have preferred 40", no more.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2009 at 5:57PM
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From which point to which point will the measurement be taken? This is one thing you should clarify with your KD, your installer, and everyone who will be laying out your kitchen. In one part of my kitchen I had specified I wanted 42" between the cabinets. The point to point measurement I had in mind was counter top edge to counter top edge. The KD did cabinet box to cabinet box for his measurement so I ended up with a 39" aisle. This is actually fine for me because my prep sink and main work area are on one side of the aisle and my cooktop and oven are just a pivot and step away. But I'm sure glad I didn't specify 39" and end up with a 36" aisle.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2009 at 6:11PM
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I design kitchens and I always start with 40" aisles then I look the layout, if the aisles will be more than 1 person, if the house is bigger etc.. but if one day I will have an island I will make sure that I don't have to make 2 steps to reach from one side to the other side.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2009 at 6:12PM
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I'm gonna say ours are 42" and that I'm satisfied with that. I like it! It works out great. BUT everone I have discussed it with expresses suprise that we don't feel it's too tight. Once they are IN it feels good but I think visually it seems narrow when you look at it over the penninsula.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2009 at 6:50PM
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People are getting larger and taller. Where 36" used to be comfortable for the average 5' high American single woman cook's kitchen, that's not enough for today's family. That average woman's height is more like 5'5" and she cooks in that kitchen with at least partial help from a spouse or child much of the time. So, aisles have gotten larger. 42" for a single cook, and 48" for two cooks does work best for most average families. Be sure to take into account overhangs and your particular family size, and you might try mocking it up. Having roomy aisles is one way to make a kitchen seem spacious. Contrarily, having a kitchen with too much space dedicated to aisles means that you don't need a treadmill to get your workouts! Too much room is too much walking. You want Goldilocks for your family.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2009 at 7:18PM
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I had to chuckle because our builder tried to get me to make my aisles smaller - definitely a multiple cook kitchen and I stood my ground. I would have been very unhappy with less than 48 inch aisles - that said 48 inches is perfect with more than one person in the kitchen and I am sure 42 will be very adequate for your mainly one person kitchen.

As others suggested you can also map it out with boxes and see how it feels.

In some ways I think too big can be worse than a little snug. Our rental while we remodeled had 56 inch aisles and it always felt like I could not really turn from anywhere to place things on the island without some effort.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2009 at 7:35PM
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Okay, I had to go get out my tape measure (not uncommon with this forum, btw).

I have 42", 43" & 46" (fridge juts out more than the counter), and 39-1/2" between the island and perimeter counters. I never realized that final distance was less than the other sides until I measured. It doesn't feel tight to me. In fact, if I made the aisles 48", I'd feel like I had wasted space in my modest-sized kitchen (about 150 sq ft). And I'd end up with an island that was 4'x 3', which wouldn't be an issue if I had another spot for my 30" cooktop.

Wait, I should rephrase that it doesn't feel cramped. It does feel tight when the rest of the family decides they must be in the kitchen while I'm cooking. I've been known to holler, "get out of my kitchen!" but even 48" wide aisles wouldn't provide enough room for 4 people to be in the same spot at once. ;-)

live_wire_oak, you're being kind about today's average size. We're taller but we're also wider. What's roomy for string bean 6-footers would be cramped for rotund 5-footers.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2009 at 8:16PM
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42" would be more than enough for me and I would not care for 48". That would be too much. Right now I have between 36 and 39 inches and I like it. This is a two adult household and we're often both in the kitchen at the same time. We are relatively thin by today's standards. It's also a relatively small galley-ish kitchen. I do think in a gargantuan kitchen you need the aisles to be larger so they are to scale with the rest of the kitchen.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2009 at 10:17PM
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The minimum according to the standards established by the National Kitchen and Bath Association is 42" for one cook, 48" for multiple cooks. Below is a link to the The Thirty-One Kitchen Design Rules.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2009 at 10:37PM
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We have 36" and the only time it really doesn't work (for one person) is when the dishwasher door is open. Another 6" would solve this problem - if you want 42", I'd insist on it.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2009 at 10:56PM
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This is such a personal preference thing. I listened to people who told me I needed at least 44" aisles, and I regret it to this day. I did manage to scoot the island over an inch or so during the install, so I ended up with 43" on the side that backs up to my stove, but the plumbing prevented it from going any closer. Even after 18 months of getting used to it, I still feel like it's too wide. I would much, much prefer a 39" aisle. We often have two people working back to back and have never felt the slightest bit cramped. I'm 5'11" and my husband is about the same (and neither of us is particularly skinny!).

My original KD was also insisting on aisles of at least 48", and had I gone with his plan, I would have been miserable--and I would have had a substantially smaller island!

Don't listen to what anyone else says! Mock it up and see what feels comfortable to YOU. That's all that really matters.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2009 at 11:04PM
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I agree -- I think I would feel 48" was too much. I have 42" on the cooktop side of my island and 36" on the sink side. We often have 2 people working at the cooktop, prep sink and baking area and it's fine. The 36" side can get crowded, but only if there are two or more people cleaning up and doing dishes, and that isn't that big a problem in my house. Even when we do have 2 in there, it works. I'm just glad the cooktop isn't on the sink side like it used to be. Everything was crowded into the narrow side and the wide aisle was wasted space for the most part.

I like an efficient kitchen. I've had the run track to cook dinner kitchens and I'd much rather set things up so that isn't needed -- work in place and then running into other people and things just isn't as big a problem.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2009 at 11:19PM
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I read the The Thirty-One Kitchen Design Rules in the link posted by jime-e.

It says NKBA says to measure from the cabinetry, so this would answer flseadog's post above "....From which point to which point will the measurement be taken? This is one thing you should clarify with your KD, your installer, and everyone who will be laying out your kitchen...."

Then, 42" is available for knees thighs and hips, and the space between counter edges can be less. E.g. 39".

    Bookmark   June 1, 2009 at 11:27PM
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Is your architect older? I think as people age, or if they have had to care for someone elderly, they often think wider is better. Our house was built by our older neighbor (he is in his late 70's early 80's now so he would have been nearly 70 when he built our house with his son 10 years ago) and every hallway, doorway, etc. is huge! It adds up to a lot of wasted space for us 40 something's but after having a father who for the last few years of his life needed a scooter to get around, we actually think it's not such a bad idea now. We may not need that space now, but if we have aging parents who need to be with use and need the accessibility or if we ourselves live here for a long time and need it, at least we will have it.

Kat :)

    Bookmark   June 1, 2009 at 11:28PM
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I have 48" on the two working sides and over 60" on the walking area/seating side. I could probably do with less on the end where the range is, but I couldn't do with less on the side. The long (not eating) side of the aisle has the sink, dishwasher, beverage fridge, 48" fridge, and plate and glass storage. With the 48" aisle the dishwasher can be fully open and someone can still walk by. It's a busy area, the width makes it not too crowded when people inevitably butt into my space when I'm cooking.

If the space was 42" I could live with it, but I'd probably be annoyed if someone tried to get a drink or something when I was busy walking back and forth. No way I could live with less than that (on that busy side). My ovens are outside the budy area of the kitchen, so I could do with less where the range is. If the ovens were there as well I would want enough space to open the oven, stand at the door and have someone walk behind me (which I can do where the ovens are, they are near the 60"+ aisle).

    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 12:29AM
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I have 47 from the fridge to the island (my main work area) and 40 from the island to the stove. I do feel that 47 is a bit far when taking things out of the fridge to place on the island. But that's also a high traffic area (the aisle also has the sink and leads to the mudroom door) so it's probably going to end up being for the best. (I'm still breaking in my new kitchen and getting a feel for everything.) I feel that the 40 between the island and the stove is perfect for me - even when there are 2 of us in the kitchen. But we're not big people.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 6:15AM
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I think what works in one kitchen, won't work in another. If the only traffic pattern from point A to point B is through that aisle you won't be happy with 42 inches. If you're a one cook family with alternate traffic patterns, then it's probably fine. I too have an L shaped kitchen with an island. I fought hard with my contractor to keep that aisle as wide as possible. I couldn't stand the thought of being boxed in. I moved it waaayy back and now I have 50 inches from countertop to countertop at it's narrowest point. For me this is perfect. I can cook and have a conversation at the same time. People tend to end up with their rear ends perched against the island talking to me while I'm doing dishes/ect, the kids can run through the aisle, and there's still plenty of room to breath. I love it but I agree for someone else it would be overkill.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 6:48AM
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We're mostly a 1-cook kitchen (DH will do a salad sometimes and then the 39" aisle isn't a problem, it's that he's using the sink while I need to drain pasta!). It's 39" from counter edge to counter edge, and 36" from "point" of angled cabinet on ends of island to the opposite counter (little bit less to handle of oven). I'm 5' 2.5" and while I'm not as skinny as I used to be, maybe I'm not "average" either. I don't want to sound cruel, but my mom has gotten large all over, incl. below countertop level, and when my SILs were here I noticed they have gotten more "pear-shaped" and while I don't think anyone had problems getting past the stove (about 33" b/t handle and the 1" radiused corner on the island), it might have been too tight for one of them to even stand to side (in 39" space) and open the oven door. I guess it depends on the size of your family - not the number of people.

I know I had trouble with bathroom stalls when I was pg - the darn doors always open *in* and i was afraid I'd get stuck! Once in a restaurant I was wearing a button-front jumper and did get snagged b/t the buttons on a chair back trying to squeeze behind a diner while leaving. How embarrassing! But at 8mos pg, I was almost as big around as I was tall LOL! (though the place was jammed, I'm sure there wasn't even 36" b/t chairs when people were sitting in them)

I just couldn't do wider aisles in a 13ft wide kitchen - and I'd rather have more on the seating side/traffic/door side of the island than I do now (54" from countertop to wall, but we've got barstools and doorknobs to contend with).

    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 9:03AM
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A Pax on the NKBA! Seriously, I'm glad there are general quidelines to read on any given subject when I move into a new area of study (like crochet, hand guns or cooking) but those "guides" are not infallible.

By their very nature they are a generalization about what "most" people feel comfortable with. It drives me nuts to see people put them forth as anything else. Even now they discuss work triangles in mathmatical terms as if it was written in stone.... Despite the fact that the theory originated in 1913 and was used for efficiency apartments/tenements and then was adopted in 1944 (way before the ages of multiple appliances like the expresso machine and microwave and bar fridge) at the university of Illinoise by the Small Homes Council AS A WAY TO SAVE MONEY ON BUILDING THROUGH STANDARDIZATION.

Don't get me wrong. The NKBA is a great place to look for information but it's just one more "association". It is NOT the end of the discussion for sure.

(Sorry if this became a rant but that group annoys me! Lol)

Here is a link that might be useful: Super Good Read

    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 10:30AM
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We have 42" between the sink/dw wall and the island, 48" between the range and end of island, 48" between opposite wall (fridge, pantry) and back of island (no seating but it's a traffic aisle from entry to dining area). In my old house I need to squeeze as much as I could out of a smaller kitchen and had just 39" between dw/sink/range wall and island, and that worked fine at the time.

I agree with morgne about NKBA, every time I see an article about the "work triangle" I have to laugh.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 12:10PM
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davidro1, the info at the link jime-e posted actually says "Measure between the counter frontage, tall cabinets and/or appliances." So measure at whatever point sticks out the farthest so that you know how much clearance you have.

btw, that's the exact same info as in the NKBA link I posted earlier.

Good rant, morgne! I totally agree. It's good to have a starting point but it shouldn't be cast in stone as the be all, end all. Interesting info about how those guidelines got their start, especially the work triangle.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 1:26PM
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ok, good to know, i must have mis-read, or misremembered.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 1:44PM
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Hey, thanks for all this feedback. I did go back and mark off my floors with blue painter's tape and boxes and indeed, 42" seems more than adequate.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2009 at 2:53PM
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To me it has so much to do with what's on the perimeter--DW and oven in particular--frig to some extent especiallly if is at an entry point into the L. So one family might have only one "cook" but someone might have the frig door open frequently and that aisle might need to be bigger--whatever. Aisles can also be tighter if there is some other way that a helper can help other than to enter the primary work zone--for example, if an island is open to a larger space on one side and it's easy for someone to work there.
So in addition to variations in personal comfort zones for distances, a lot depends on the flow through the work zones. But this is such a good reminder of the "you gotta have's" needing to be backed up with reasons or the architect's being able to discuss it with you rather than following some list of how to make a kitchen.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2009 at 6:14PM
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