Slightly shorter distance between counter & uppers?

lisa_aAugust 9, 2014

My remodel plans call for a 16.25" deep base below a 15.75" upper next to the wall oven cab (base cab will sit against wall studs, upper against drywall, hence the difference in depth). This is to replace a 29" wide standard depth base and upper between wall and oven cab. It was a dead zone that attracted junk, which drove me batty, up until we bought a toaster oven last summer (our oven died and was too old to be repaired and cab was too narrow to fit a 30" oven; the toaster oven and other small appliances got us through until we could remodel). So now that space has a purpose, yay!

Before the oven died an untimely death, I had planned for a floor-to-ceiling cabinet to house small appliances, etc. That's still the purpose of the cabs but now I've designed an opening between base and upper for the toaster oven. It will be like this but with closed door storage above the toaster oven

Contemporary Kitchen by Charlotte Appliances DCI Home Resource

And this but with the toaster oven where the MW is and no MW.

Contemporary Kitchen by Falls Church Kitchen & Bath Designers Cameo Kitchens, Inc.

I don't need a full 18" of distance between counter and upper, 14.5" would work just fine since the toaster oven only specs clearance requirements for sides, not back or top. Since it won't be a standard base/upper set-up, I'm wondering if I could get away with reducing the distance between the two. I like the idea of a slightly shorter reach to items in the upper cabinet since I'm height-challenged.

Anyhoo, I'm curious to know if anyone here has opted for a shorter distance between base and upper cabs in their k1tchen. Any regrets or wisdom to share?

If it makes any difference, the upper and base will be connected by a 3" thick corbel to house the light switches. The corbel will be shaped somewhat like the ones pictured in this image.

Traditional Kitchen by Louisville Kitchen & Bath Designers Kenneth Fromme

The corbel detail will be repeated for the hutch, which is on the other side of the kitchen entry, just not as thick or deep.

I imagine the scale and appearance between the two units would be something along the lines of the corbels for the hood and adjacent cab in this kitchen

Traditional Kitchen by Piedmont Architects & Building Designers robert kelly

btw, If we decide to ditch the toaster oven, that height would also accommodate my KA stand mixer. That's the only other small appliance I'm okay with leaving out. I wouldn't use it there, just store it there; the counter will only be 26.5" wide.


This post was edited by lisa_a on Sat, Aug 9, 14 at 18:46

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My husband and I are both vertically challenged and we chose to have our uppers mounted 15.5 inches above the counters.

Due to an uneven floor and the amount of shimming required to bring the base cabs level, the distance on one side is actually 14.75 inches.

I like having my cabs lowered so I can reach everything, even on the top shelf and I've never had any problems with using the prep space either.

My toaster oven and KA mixer both sit on that side.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2014 at 8:01PM
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Thanks, Texas Gem! Good to hear from someone who's done this.

Anyone else?

    Bookmark   August 9, 2014 at 9:36PM
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In the last house we lived in (for 9 months while remodeling) I noticed I couldn't tilt up my KA mixer without it hitting the uppers. I then measured and realized how low they were. I can't remember how much at the moment, but I kind of liked it and it never bothered me other than the mixer tilting. I'd just make sure your mixer could tilt up, if you have that kind, if that's where you plan to actually use it.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2014 at 8:17AM
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When my oh-so-petite mom designed her kitchen, two runs of cabinets are lower and it's great. They are not over heavy-duty working areas, so no worries about the mixer tilting or the rest of us bumping foreheads, but they are adjacent to working areas and the lower cabinets make the contents you need easy to reach. Go for it!

    Bookmark   August 10, 2014 at 9:18AM
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In my parents house, their upper cabinets are lower with 16" (and one side 15.5") in between and just those two inches makes it easier to get to things in those upper cabinets for sure. I did not realize that until I was measuring things for my own cabinets to remodel. She did have to measure carefully for a few things to fit under there but she preferred the easier reach inside the cabinets daily. I'm 5'6" and I found them easier to use. I imagine the shorter you are, the easier that would be.

Their house has the original kitchen with wooden cabinets with laminate counters from the late 60's, (that they lived in since the mid 70's) and it has worked and looked great (un-remodeled) all these years. So maybe 16" was the standard then? Several of those original cabinets also had (unadjustable) short shelves on the very bottom, say about 4-5" clearance which is great for shorter glasses, which makes the next shelf up easier to get to as well. Pretty cool planning for a 50+ year old kitchen!

I would think it would be just fine, in fact preferred, as long as things you have can fit under those uppers. If you have something that IS taller, you could have a portion, or baking center for example, that you might have taller for the example of a mixer (or coffee maker) that you need to lift up to use. You could even have a bit deeper counter there as well if you wanted to pull it out to open or lift with a better workspace in front of the uppers.

Your corbel idea sounds interesting. I knew someone several years ago who had installed the vent hood controls on a lower section hidden by a corbel (or something), instead of the standard location of ON the vent hood in the center. She was shorter and with the extra height of the hood, she found it inconvenient and even dangerous to reach up to operate it with their gas stove. I remember thinking that was a brilliant solution.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2014 at 9:46AM
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I strongly support lowering the cabinets. I purchased a new condo only to realize the cabinets are so high I can only reach the first shelf. I am 5'2" and never experienced this before. Most of my neighbors have issues reaching too. Unless you want to have a step stool on hand or someone tall, go for the lower cabs.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2014 at 10:34AM
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I am OK with the shorter distance. I am concerned about using the toaster oven. Some of them create a lot of heat. If you use it a lot, or for extended periods of time, I would be concerned about the bottom of the cabinet above it having the finish damaged or worse. I think I would also be concerned about the back of the cabinet, but you could mitigate that by tiling the back, I suppose.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2014 at 10:52AM
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In general, I would say no, dont lower them. I wanted mine at 20" and find the 18" I got stuck with too low for my preference. And I am on the short side. I find the larger space makes the kitchen feel less claustrophobic, especially if there are a lot of uppers. However, for the application and location you describe, I think lower is just fine. It isnt really a countertop, it is a toaster oven cubby. Make it convenient to reach.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2014 at 1:17PM
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Thanks, everyone, for the encouragement!

Exactly what I was thinking, OOTM_Mom; it's a toaster oven cubby so I likely can treat it differently than my uppers elsewhere in the kitchen.

It will only be 26.5" wide so it would never do as a baking center. If I were to get rid of the toaster oven and store the KA mixer there instead, it would only be stored there, never used there. I'll have a 59" island that I'll use for baking projects.

Our coffee maker is on the counter over the DW, between sink and fridge. The only other appliance we keep out is the toaster, which will stay where it currently is, on the counter by the back door; bread is stored in a drawer below it.

localeater, the toaster oven vents out the sides, not out the back or top. The instructions warn that the top can get warm - it can be used as a plate warmer - but even with the upper 15" above the toaster oven, I'll still have 4.5" of clearance above it, which is more than the required side clearances, so I think it will be fine. I've checked it when it's in use and I don't feel heat emanating more than an inch or two above the oven. The bottom of the current upper never feels warm, much less hot.

If I can make the cubby a little less tall, I may increase the base cab height so that the toaster oven is closer to eye level, maybe at the same height as the Advantium (48" above floor). That would give me room for either an additional drawer or taller cab storage or both below the toaster oven cubby. Perhaps something like this:

Contemporary Kitchen by San Francisco Design-Build Firms Nerland Building & Restoration, Inc.

Notice that the venting for the toaster oven is above it. I thought maybe that was because that toaster oven vents above, not to the sides, but it sure looks like my Breville toaster oven. If so, that doesn't seem like a good idea at all.

The toaster oven cubby in this kitchen is definitely less than 18" high.

Traditional Kitchen by Pensacola Architects & Building Designers Dalrymple : Sallis Architecture

'Course, I've seen enough poorly designed kitchens on houzz so I shouldn't assume that if it's done in this kitchen or others, it's okay. I will definitely double check with my KD, contractor and cab maker before moving ahead with this idea.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2014 at 3:39PM
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For a cubby with a defined purpose, I see no reason not to make it shorter. And raising it up seems a good plan.

My counter to cabinet space pre-remodel was only 14" and always annoyed me although I never realized why!

    Bookmark   August 11, 2014 at 2:22PM
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