Kitchen Island help - is clearance too small?

crashballSeptember 9, 2012

Our original design my wife and I had planned for our island for our reno has been questioned by a designer that we are buying our cabinets from. Uur kitchen is sort of Galley style in that we can only use opposite walls for cabs and appliances. the usuable length is about 150 inches. with std cabs on both sides that brings it down to 102 inches. We had planned to build an island out of base cabs

and 12 inch uppers, for a 36" island. not including counter top over hang, this leaves about 33" of clearance on both sides.

So the main issue is our designer says we can't do this because it isn't enough room for clearance. They said we could do a 24" island, but we can't put the range there like we wanted because it should have 9" behind it. So either we give up the range in the island and go with 24", which drastically limits our options, or we do a 36" island and have 32" of clearance.

From what we have now, its only 3" less clearance. I plan on mocking it up so we can be positive. But what are peoples opinions on 32" of clearance?

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I think it is fine, but after the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act all sorts of standards changed. A wheel chair needs something like 42" and so that is now the standard that everyone uses. We have the same problem and are going with roughly the same clearances as you. Before the AWDA, common design practice was to keep clearances to the bare minimum to save steps while working and moving between different work surfaces...

    Bookmark   September 9, 2012 at 5:44PM
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32" is much, much too small for me. Don't forget that with a standard 1.5" counter overhang, you reduce your usable aisle by 3". Some folks here have narrow aisles, but 29" aisles is just...well, horrible.

My narrowest aisle is about 41.5" and I would not want to go more than an inch or so narrower than that. I also mocked up various aisle widths in the galley kitchen of our temporary housing during the whole house reno. I started to feel claustrophobic in less than 40". While you're checking it out, pretend to cook a meal with two people moving in the narrow space.

Another issue is the island hood system you'll need to vent an island range. They are more expensive than a wall mounted hood and need to be larger than your range to suck up all the smoke and grease particles. If you put the range on a wall, you'll get better aisle widths and cheaper and better venting options.

No offense to your designer, but I suggest posting your kitchen space and proposed layout done to scale here on the forum. Some of the layout pros might be able to work up a better layout for you. Good luck!

    Bookmark   September 9, 2012 at 5:53PM
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WAY WAY too small of a clearance Code minimumm is 36", but even that is pretty small. 42" is a one butt kitchen and 48" for a two butt kitchen. You really do not have room for even a one cabinet island by the time you factor in that your cabinets have countertops. Countertops overhang each cabinet by 1 1/2, so by the time you factor that in, that 150" with cabinets on both sides is 99". If you want to be able to have more than one person work in the kitchen, subtract out two 48" aisles. You've got 3" left. No island for this kitchen. And don't forget that appliances stick out 4"-10" from those cabinets!

Perhaps you might have room for a shallow 72" peninsula from one side of the galley, but it won't have room for a range in it there either. Your range needs to go on a wall, but if you configured it correctly, that peninsula could be a great prep spot with seating on the other side so that you could prep while having company.

Post your diagram here if you'd like additional feedback and suggestions.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2012 at 5:53PM
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Sophie Wheeler

Your math forgets counter overhangs and real sized people. What you propose wouldn't be adequate aisle space for a 6 year old, much less an adult. Either eliminate the cabinets on one wall of your kitchen, or eliminate the island. You don't have room for both.

Now, if you did an 18" vanity cabinet as an island, you could have SMALL aisles on both sides, but if it were in the middle of everything, it would most likely be one of the famous "barrier islands" that you have to constantly walk around and bark your shins on.

Post your existing layout and indicate if you are open to moving around anything like the sink or windows or doors, etc.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2012 at 6:24PM
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We're winding up with 36" wide aisles (countertop to countertop or countertop to appliance handle) and I'm not thrilled with that narrow of aisles, but an island is pretty important to making the kitchen work for me. I'm a one-cook kitchen, and as much as I love my DH, if he was going to be there helping also there is no way that 36" aisles would make me happy.

Also, we are "average" sized people, not super skinny, but not overly heavy, weight can factor in as well. If we were heavier people, I wouldn't even begin to consider 36" aisles.

We've mocked up a 36" aisle in our current kitchen with a rolling cart that we have and it's workable, but tight. 32" would be an absolute nightmare. 42" is the recommended minimum. We managed to get 42" between our fridge and our island.

Also, keep in mind that you may have physical difficulties getting appliances in and out if your aisles are 32".

If you do 24" cabinets on our walls and you have 150", you can probably do a 24" island, but just barely. (These dimensions are with standard 1.5" countertop overhangs - 25.5 (counter) + 36 (aisle) + 27 (island) + 36 (aisle) + 25.5 (counter)) = 150"

Why don't you post a layout of your kitchen here and let some of the design people here help you out a bit to see what they can come up with?

    Bookmark   September 9, 2012 at 8:32PM
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A 36" island has 39" of counter on top plus each wall of cabinets also has overhang so the counter is around 25.5" deep. So 150" - 51" = 99". 99" - 39" = 60".

So the starting point is a pair of 30" aisles. Your room may not be perfectly square and your walls not perfectly flat. You can lose an inch or two due to "fitting" the cabinets over these imperfections in the walls or floors.

You also lose inches at refrigerator doors, dishwashers, ovens or ranges because of their depth and allowances for handles that protrude into the space.

As a very small example if the dishwasher is behind the island, and the dw is a tall tub and the room is out of square, you may not be able to open the dishwasher past the edge of the island counter.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2012 at 9:44PM
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Too small. Would you even be able to stand infront of opened appliance doors without bumping into the island? Sounds like a barrier. What about a small peninsula? Please post your layout.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2012 at 9:59PM
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Thanks for the comments so far. I'll try to get a layout posted soon. We are used to working in smaller areas now, and the oven and dishwasher doesn't really hang open to trip on, we'd just stand to the side like we do now to open it. Having an island is a must to make our kitchen work. Going to a 24" island is better than nothing, but that's still 6" smaller than what we have now. It seems, at least with they layout the presented to us so far, we may actually be losing total cabinet space - defeats one purpose for doing a reno.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2012 at 8:25AM
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I will provide an opposing opinion to everyone else's. We live in a very old home with a small kitchen. An island is a must in this house due to the layout of the kitchen, it will be the ONLY real work space.

I face the exact same question. I have chosen to go with 33" walkways on either side of my island. I know it is not to code, but this is an old family home (my husband's family has been here 100 years) and we are not planning on ever leaving so don't need to worry about selling. My in-laws got old in this kitchen and had something very similar, even more narrow, and my father in law got by with a power chair without incident.

We are making sure that the island is very easily moved if needed however as we are putting our range and dishwasher opposite the island. If we need to remove them for replacement or repair we do not want a huge hassle. So our island will be large, but it will be like the rest of our kitchen and be more "unfit" and be move-able if needed.

I am not quite sure why everyone thinks a kitchen needs to have 4 ft isles on every side. I would have a 2 ft square butcher block to work on in the middle of an empty space simply so people could comfortable walk around when I entertained? My house is small, it will be cozy, inviting, and the people I have over will not mind if I have 33" isles.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2012 at 11:04AM
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I think you might be able to make narrower-than-usual aisles work (though I agree you've got a math error in not accounting for the countertop overhangs), but not if you have the range on the island. Move it to a wall and use the island for prep space. Then you can have a smaller island to accomodate the overhangs. Having a range on an island without sufficient space behind it is not a matter of convenience, it's a safety issue.

A drawing of the space would be a big help. It doesn't have to be fancy, just clearly to scale, with immovable objects marked and a proposed plan. You'll get much more help (and more useful help, too) with a plan than from a written description.

My own kitchen plan is pretty narrow for an island (13'6") and I have a restaurant-style range which is deeper than a normal counter. I have it against an exterior wall (makes venting much cheaper and more effective). I have a normal-depth counter run along the opposite wall with sink and DW.
And for much-needed prep space I have a working island, (with small prep sink) plunked in the middle of the remaianing space. My aisles are 41/42" and that's the minimum I felt comfortable with. I created a mock-up of that width in my current kitchen and cooked with it for awhile. My DH and I are skinny people; if we were more "average sized", I think even 42" might be a bit crowded. We don't stand in front of the oven door or DW, but to the side as you do. So I think 33" (really 29" once you take overhangs into account) will be too tight. I have cooked on boats with aisles that narrow and it can be done, but without the compensating pleasure of being on the water, I don't think I would enjoy it very much.

A drawing of your space will likely garner some excellent ideas to noodle on. All is not lost if you have a small space - plenty of people here do too!


    Bookmark   September 10, 2012 at 11:38AM
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I lived with a 155" wide kitchen for 18 years, into which I crammed a U-shaped cab configuration with an island. There were 31" between sink and island, and 33" between range and island. I still enjoyed cooking, but was always tripping over myself, and having to use very inefficient movements/paths to get the job done.

I still live with a 155" wide kitchen, but have gone to a modified galley, where a long island forms one side of the galley, and the cabs on the far side have been eliminated, so there's room for traffic and seating behind the island. The narrowest aisle is now 41.5". I can finally breathe! Who knew that cooking could be so relaxing? (Before/after floor plan link below. My actual new floor plan is slightly different, though.)

Just a little anecdotal evidence that narrow aisles are not ergonometric. I hope you can rework the plan to get a little more breathing space.

Here is a link that might be useful: Before/after floor plan

    Bookmark   September 10, 2012 at 12:49PM
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We initially wanted a wider island also...and with seating. What an nightmare that would have been. And believe it or not, the contractors were going to do it. And it would have been a nightmare. Oh wait, I already said that. But it would have been. All that money and we would have had a kitchen that we hated trying to work in.

I've kept my rolling cart where it is for a few weeks now - and while it's inconvenient in our current kitchen layout, I'm doing okay with the 36" aisles. Our current drawers aren't full extension, so I can stand in front of them right now when I open them completely - that may not be the case with the full extension.

In the end, when looking at usability of our kitchen, the 24" island and 36" aisles were what would work for us. If somehow we could easily stretch our kitchen an additional foot, I would readily welcome those extra 6" in each aisle. But, that's not going to happen, so we'll make due.

Hope that you'll find the plan that works best for you.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2012 at 10:52PM
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I'm a bit new to these parts, so this might be a dumb question. But those who suggest i post my plans, you are speaking of our new layout, not our existing one?

Also is there a decent program to plan it out without speding tons of dough.? I find plenty of free ones, but they are more of a 3D CAD type of program. They tend to be a bit more complicated and i don't have the time to figure them out.

I do have two proposed layouts from our cabinet designer, is it OK to share those - it seems "not cool" in my book, but hey, they are done. I'll start a new thread with my layout once i get it

    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 8:50AM
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My sister's cabinet maker resolved this problem by putting her island on rollers. When the island is centered, she has 34" on each side inc. countertop overhang. You can't see the rollers at all. Save for the absence of toe molding, it looks just like the rest of her cabs. If you did this, of course appliances are out. But it's a thought.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 10:44AM
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Post the plans you have. Scan them in or take a photo. I found that graph paper and a sharpie was quick and easy for posting plans.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 10:58AM
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Crashball--not dumb questions. Many people post both in the opening post of a layout thread. Show what you've got now with measurements, windows, and doors. Indicate which objects are fixed that you will not consider moving. Then post the proposed layout, again with measurements, etc. Many people post layouts from kitchen designers, architects, or other cab layout folks without issue, although some designers forbid that. The easiest way to draw up a layout is to scale on graph paper. I worked off graph paper for over a year while planning my whole house reno, which included moving the kitchen within our space. Even if a KD wont allow you to post his/her special drawings, you should at least be able to use graph paper to show general cab placement. If someone still has heartburn about that, post your existing layout and then a blank one.

The best place to start with all of this is a thread called 'New to Kitchens?' Its the very first thread, a sticky thread, on the front page of the Forum. Good luck!

    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 11:06AM
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You don't need a program, just graph paper, a fine Sharpie and a partner to do the measuring with.

Make a well-measured outline of the space, note windows and any unmoveable feature. Depending on the size of the graph paper, one square can be 6 inches or one foot. The tighter the space the bigger the scale I think is best so you can accurately work out those 1.5 inch over hangs, etc.

Sketch in the room walls with pencil first then go over the lines with a Sharpie guided by a strait edge (ruler or triangle, which ever you find easiest.) You can make as many iterations as you need to try out various large scale layout things.

Concentrate on your working paths and the path the food takes within your proposed space. I have drawn colored lines on my plans to indicate my steps while making many of our favorite meals. When you you double-back or cross paths, study what that tells you about your layout.

Once you have a tentative layout that you like on graph paper photograph it (cell phone pic may be OK, especially if you use a Sharpie.) Stick the drawing up on one of those free photo-sharing sites and then bring it here, or link it, or use the more recent method of embedding it in the post for all of us to see and comment on.

You'll get much better help, and also begin to see your room more clearly if you make a plan (view from top), not an elevation (side view showing fronts of cabs, etc.) at this point.

Almost no drawing skills are needed if you use graph paper. You can freehand it, but keeping the scale from wandering takes more attention and experience. With graph paper, you just count the boxes and you're good to go. Even keeping the lines straight is easier on graph paper.

Some people (like me) even go to the trouble of making photocopies of the graph paper with the basic lines of the room on it. Then I can sketch away without having to redraw the room dimensions each time.

The other thing is to try not to focus too much at this stage on the looks and style details of the room; focus primarily on function now. It's much less frustrating in the end to do the function planning first.

There is tons of really good basic kitchen design stuff to review in the Read Me First Sticky, and even more in the floating version of it.


    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 11:16AM
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Here are the layouts - Visio to the rescue, i would have needed a lot of paper to get this done.

This is what my wife wanted to do. This does not account for the counter tops, and the cabinets aren't specific. We'll come up with what types of cabs, but the usable space is about the same.

And yes we have a lot of doors. Exterior door, dining room, bathroom, to basement, and to upstairs.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 10:40PM
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This is our current layout. One thing i could not quite edit, was the uppers on the fridge side are 17" deep. They are also built-ins, they are not separate units.

Getting the type of island as our "proposed" layout above would really meet our storage reuirements by helping to get the range off the wall. It's also hard to have to the two smaller counter tops that are broken up by the range, they both too small to be useful.

The new layout has the fridge moved to the opposite wall and would really make prep and clean up easier if we could keep it all along the sink wall. The wall behind the range in the island would basically be pantry storage and plates/silverware etc. Right now our island is a "work bench" that we made into an island, so its al open. we have to constantly walk around the other side to get utensils, bowls, pots/pans. Having it in the island with the cooktop would be great.

Any way let me know what you all think. And thanks in advance, you have all already been very helpful with your comments.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 10:52PM
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Personally it looks to me like you have already worked in a kitchen that is very close to the same with a 3" difference. Split between the two isles are we really only talking an inch and a half on either isle? Is the only real concern for spacing the fact that your DESIGNER said you should be concerned about spacing? I mean I just re-read your original post and now seeing the actual images it makes more sense. I say your designer is looking at numbers and has no idea about actually having to LIVE in a space. If you and your wife have lived in that space and it was comfortable, you will not miss the other inch and a half from either side of the counter. It is not worth rearranging your dream kitchen layout to gain extra "butt" room.

I personally want my stove where it is nice to cook. I do a lot of canning and stand at the stove all day sometimes so I made sure it was right near a large door open to overlook the garden. I think little things like that make a huge difference. Much larger than an inch and a half!

You know how you and your wife will use the kitchen and be happy. Don't let them talk you into anything because of a few numbers.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2012 at 10:33AM
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that was the primary concern, that our designer raised an issue. It look like instead of the 12" uppers to place on the back side of the 24" base cabs for the island, they might be able to do a reduced depth cab - down to 6". I think that would allow us to offset the distance a bit and have 37 on the range side, and 32" on our "non-working" side. Or split evenly 34.5" on each side - plus that would address their additional issue of having 9" of space on the back of range.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2012 at 7:25PM
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This is my personal opinion - I think it would be awful - its likely to feel way more cramped than your existing layout.

The dishwasher, range and refrigerator doors can hit each other. In your drawing, you show the proper depth for a counterdepth ref, but ranges are 27" - 28" deep and their doors generally need to stay in front of the cabinet line - you ain't countersinking it into the island - it would void your warranty right there - aside from driving a blding inspector insane. So - you know that 30" aisle - it goes down to about 22" right in front of the ref and range.

Do you know how far out a cabinet drawer comes these days? 21-23" depending the mfg - not including the handles.
Do you know how big a tall tub dishwasher door is? 28"
How far a range door sticks out? From 16" to 21" from the already extended depth.
How much front clearance does the freezer door/drawer need?
How the heck will you get the ref or range into place? Or take them out for service or replacement.

Plus, now you have the chance to knock pots off the range if you make even a small mistake on the other side of the island. Plus, plus YOU END UP WITH LESS PREP SPACE because you moved the ref and the range.

Personally, I would put the sink/ref/dish storage/micro on one side wall and the range on the other. I would shorten and narrow the existing island (maybe 30 x 51 finished counter) to allow for better clearances, but also better access from one side to the other. I would think about pushing it all the way over to the window (more like an ungrounded peninsula).

    Bookmark   September 12, 2012 at 8:32PM
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I think you don't have enough room to work in that kitchen, let alone walk around the island. Also, where would you vent the range? Have you considered re doing the double windows to create a "U" shape?

    Bookmark   September 12, 2012 at 9:13PM
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The range would be vented through the ceiling. As i said our footprint would be nearly identical, so if we work in it now, we can work in the new space. However our new refrigerator is quite a bit bigger in width and depth. We played with putting it in the opposite corner where we wouldn't fight with the range, but the cleanance from the corner of the refrigerator to the corner of the island was 25-26". We're slowly coming to the realization that ths isn't going to work as well as we had hoped.

Any other ideas?

    Bookmark   September 13, 2012 at 8:25AM
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Is the area at the top of the plan a window or a sliding door?

If it is a sliding door, would you be open to making it into a window and a door that is mostly glass?

If it is a window, what is the distance between the bottom of the window and the floor?

    Bookmark   September 13, 2012 at 9:16AM
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That is a double window. The sill is just about 34.5, but the apron extends down 3-4 inches from the sill.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2012 at 5:17PM
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Alex House

"Any other ideas?"

You're in the awkward stage of having more floor space that you think is ideal but not having enough to put in an island, so why not eat up some of that floor space by increasing the depth of all of your cabinets and countertop and buy more storage volume and more countertop square footage by going deeper.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2012 at 7:18PM
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We have a 36" aisle on the working side of our island and it's fine. I am not a fan of huge aisle widths on the working side - I like things reachable. I was concerned about working with the range doors, but we've used the range a bunch now and I hadn't even thought of it again until I saw this post.

We have more aisle width on the other side because it's a through way and has seating - to get the extra space we made the cabinets on one side shallower. They were custom so it was easy to do.
They start out normal depth before where the island starts (and that's where we have the fridge) and then jut back a few inches behind the island. If you don't have appliances on the wall behind the island maybe you could make those shallower to allow you to pick up a few inches there?

Good luck!!

    Bookmark   September 14, 2012 at 7:48AM
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You only have room for a 24" deep island(just barely) with countertop overhang UNLESS you cut the depths of the wall cabinets on the left of the diagram and recess that fridge. Where is your sink anyhow?

I can fit sideways into a 9 inch broom closet (that's another story), but 36" aisles are really the smallest I would consider. Sounds like you can mock up the aisles now with boxes since you already have the galley configuration. Try out bmore's idea of an ungrounded peninsula- that will give you more wiggle room around the fridge.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2012 at 1:24PM
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I am the kind of person who HAS to mock things up. Use cardboard or thin plywood or something and see how the space seems.

I can't do that kind of thing without trying it in real space.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2012 at 2:16PM
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Sink is in the corner of the range wall. And we already purchased a fridge on line to grab some labor day deals, and it's not counter depth. I think we are planning to keep the range where it is and the refrig will go where the pantry is. The island will be cut down in size some - not ideal, but as long as flow is good. We'll also send back our island hood (frownyface :( ) and instead do a over the range convection microwave. That 'll be our hood, plus get our MW off the counter, and even maybe replace our toaster over for some things.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2012 at 4:37PM
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