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Is 16" enough from the counter to the uppers?

Posted by dad4diy (My Page) on
Thu, Jun 27, 13 at 22:21

We met with a KD to go over our "final" plans for our kitchen remodel. She suggested placing the bottom of the uppers at 16" above the counters. I seem to remember from these threads that almost everyone does 18". She said the larger space just screams of a stock cabinetry look and a shorter space looks more in line with the custom cabinets we are getting. Anybody have experience with this?

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Is 16" enough from the counter to the uppers?

I would think about function first. I had 16" and went up to 18" so I could easily fit my blender etc. under the cabinets or open doors when appliances are being used on the counter. I think it looks more spacious but again function first.

RE: Is 16" enough from the counter to the uppers?

She's just trying to be different for difference sake, which is always a red flag in a designer. There are functional reasons for the 18" beyond just the fact that many small appliances won't fit in 16" of space. If she doesn't know that, then she's not really a KD. She's a cabinet sales person with high falutin ambitions and lacking the knowledge to realize them. You should post the layout to see what other idiocy she'd foisted off on you.

RE: Is 16" enough from the counter to the uppers?

I've doone and have 16 BUT on the sides of the range I have 18 which is code in most jurisdictions. KD should know that.

RE: Is 16" enough from the counter to the uppers?

Check the range manual for required clearance to adjacent cabinets. That establishes local code and what the manufacturer feels is safe.

This post was edited by snookums2 on Fri, Jun 28, 13 at 12:40

RE: Is 16" enough from the counter to the uppers?

My wife's mixers are 16.5" high. The pair of them park under the upper cabinets, which are 18" off the counters.

RE: Is 16" enough from the counter to the uppers?

18" all day long. We've got 17" clearance between the light rail (the decorative trim piece that attaches to the bottom of the uppers) and the counter due to an error in accounting for concealing the outlet boxes and undercabinet lighting. It means the blender won't fit and I can't upgrade to the Pro mixer I've had my eye on if I want it to sit on the counter. Thank heavens we had it at 18" to start with or we'd be at 16" or less now. Knowing what I now know, I wish we had specced the uppers to sit at 19" to accomodate the light rail and end up with 18" free & clear. Make sure you know if you will have a light rail/trim piece before speccing the final height & wall placements so you can account for it.

Hope this helps!

RE: Is 16" enough from the counter to the uppers?

Mine are at 17", because I'm 5'3" and DD is shorter, so I brought the cabs down a touch. But the idea that lower cabs "look more custom" sounds like hogwash to me. Who can tell, without a measuring tape?

16" can work, but higher can be more functional for storing appliances and for working space under the cab. That said, if I had an island for my prep work, I might have put my cabs at 16" to make them even more accessible for my short self, since I don't keep tall appliances on the counter. You just have to think about how they will function for you.

RE: Is 16" enough from the counter to the uppers?

Your KD sounds like she misjudged the height of the upper cabinets and/or crown molding, and/or ceiling, and is trying to make up the inches somewhere else. She is covering her error by telling you a cockamamie story about "screaming stock cabinetry" and her cabinetry "looking custom". We've heard all the lines of hooey here on this forum at one time or another, and this is one of them.

Has the KD mentioned undercabinet lighting? And the light rail for the undercabinet lighting? Typically the light rail is 2". The standard distance between a counter and upper cabinets is 18", with the lighting and light rail making up 2" of that. So if you will only have 16" between counters and upper cabs, you will be really cramped at actual 14" once that light rail is installed. There's a reason 18" is standard, and has NOTHING to do with whether the cabinetry is custom-made or not.

RE: Is 16" enough from the counter to the uppers?

I agree with Ginny20's point about who is going to know or be able to tell that a shorter distance "means" it's custom? First of all, that's not true; as others have said 18" is standard regardless of custom or stock. It's just Kitchen Design 101. Second of all, what people will see when they come in your kitchen is an overall cramped feeling from the short distance between counters and uppers.

If you had your heart set on a gorgeous backsplash, it will be diminished by the shorter height.

Regarding the point about having a shorter distance to upper cabinets if you are shorter: Actually, those 2" aren't going to help you in reaching a higher shelf. If you are short you'll need a stepstool regardless.

RE: Is 16" enough from the counter to the uppers?

I vote for 16" because I'm barely 5' tall and because I am planning a nice island that'll have a lift for my Kitchen Aid. A year or so ago we rented a lakeside cabin that happened to be handicap-friendly, and it had low upper cabinets . . . I loved them.

However, those things may not fit your situation,

RE: Is 16" enough from the counter to the uppers?

I have always loved my 16"-off-countertop upper cabinets precisely because they are more accessible than higher ones. That said, I only recommend this height when you have plenty of other space without uppers to store tall appliances etc, and if you decide to do slightly deeper counters (mine were 27").

There is no firm rule save the code regulation about distance from the stovetop/heat source. It's all about your personal ergonomics, and those vary quite a bit from person to person. Play around with it in your current kitchen and see what feels most comfortable to you. I quite literally had my cabinetmaker hold a cabinet at different heights for me until I had it just right.

RE: Is 16" enough from the counter to the uppers?

The only reason you might want a shortened blacksplash is if you are very short...but there are drawbacks. Your KD's comments sound, to me, like she's trying to cover her you-know-what b/c of mistakes she made and she's hoping she can convince you to not make her do it right.

18" vs 16" (or anything < 18")'s what I usually post when people start asking about deliberately planning for a shorter backsplash height:

The standard is 18"...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. I'm assuming that since you are getting fully custom cabinets, your KD/cabinetmaker can make these adjustments.)
    • 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 deeper upper cabinets...say 15", there's even less counter frontage in front of your upper cabinets...3" less, so 9".)

Vertical workspace...

Another consideration is vertical work space for you and your family. If anyone in your family is tall, you want to be careful not to make the backsplash area so short that it makes the work area cramped vertically.

Measuring for your minimum backsplash height...

So, how do you determine the minimum backsplash height for your kitchen and how high to install the upper cabinets?

  1. Measure all your small appliances and anything else you'll be using on the counter, If they have a lid, measure with the lid open (i.e., the tallest the appliance would ever be). Not just what's planned for the space, but what could potentially be used....stand mixer, coffeemaker, blender, food processor, breadmaker, etc. For a tilt stand mixer, measure when the head is tilted up as well.
  2. Take the tallest measurement and add 1/4" to 1/2" (I recommend 1/2")

    Why did you add 1/4" to 1/2"? It's to give you some "wiggle" room in case everything isn't perfect and to accommodate any "settling" that might occur after you fill the upper cabinets with dishes, etc. You may also have slight differences in stone thickness or even how the cabinets and/or light rail was installed. It will also keep you from scratching the cabinets/light rail w/the top of the appliance (or vice versa!)

  3. This is the minimum height you will need for your backsplash

    But wait, you're not done! To be sure you have that space, you need to determine how high off the counter to mount your upper cabinets...

  4. Determine how tall your light rail will be. [Light rail is the molding that goes on the bottom of the upper cabinets that hides under cabinet lights, unfinished or differently-finished cabinet bottoms, and Plugmold (if you have it).]
  5. Now, add this to the backslash height from #3
  6. This is the distance above the finished counter your upper cabinets must be installed.
  7. Usually, though, your countertop has not yet been installed, so you will need to do one of two things...
    1. If you will have standard height cabinets & counter, then add 36" to the distance in #6

      1. This is the distance off the floor the upper cabinets should be installed

      2. If you have lower (or higher) cabinets + counter, use the finished height you are installing instead of 36"

    2. If you cannot measure off the floor b/c your base cabinets are already installed, then add 1-1/2" to the distance in #6

      1. This is the distance off the top of the base cabinets (with no counter material) the upper cabinets should be installed

    3. Note: If you are using countertop material thinner or thicker than 3cm or so, you will need to adjust the finished counter height measurement by the difference b/w the standard 3cm or so and your height. [If you will have a thicker counter, add the difference to the measurement in this section; if thinner, subtract the difference.]

Please note that this recommendation has nothing to do w/upper cabinets that are installed down to the counter. Cabinets of this type have no backsplash b/w them and the counter, so the above does not apply.

Lowering wall cabinets/shorter backsplash...

If you lower your upper cabinets a couple of inches b/c you and your family are short, how much more can you realistically reach? The depth of one or two plates? What makes more sense is to plan your storage so that frequently used items are on the bottom shelf (or in drawers in your base cabinets) and progressively less-used items move up the wall cabinets.

Another thing that will make it easier to get into upper cabinets is to make them a little deeper...say 15". Not only will it bring things in front 3" closer to you, but those 3" add a surprising amount of extra storage...and allows you to store platters and larger dinner plates in your cabinets when 12" isn't quite deep enough.

In the end of course, it's up to you and your what will work best for you. But, if anyone is considering a shorter backsplash (or going against any other standard or guideline), be sure you're doing it with all the information available so you can make an informed decision.

Good luck!

RE: Is 16" enough from the counter to the uppers?

DW is 5' with short arms and torso- dropped cabinets (frameless, 13 d" , 15-1/2 to counter, then 1-1/8" light rail) careful shelf placement and loading allows her to access second shelf on all of the dropped cabinets -A significant differance IRL

She has trouble with second shelf of cabinets by range (15"d-18 to counter). We used standard depth counters- deeper would create a problem- we tested it.

I'm 5'-6" and 4 cooks who've worked in it are 6'ish- working is not an issue. Small appliances need careful selection. I got a Cuisinart stand mixer which fits fine and lives on counter.

The hardest part of designing these kitchens is getting the range cabinets to work at 18 and all to look good. Mine are bumped up to standard-so pantry and fridge cabinets on adjacent wall are also at standard ht. Just happened to work with the space.
Other ways to make it work involve hood size/ design or eliminating wall cabs next to range. It gets tricky, been unable to achieve it half the times I tried.

The only reason to do this would be for user access.

RE: Is 16" enough from the counter to the uppers?

buehl - great info! I do have a question though about the standard 18". I believe someone mentioned this includes the light rail. But if one point of the standard height is to align with other cabinetry, would this really work out correctly? Wouldn't the bottom of the cabinet *without the light rail* have to be 54" from the floor to allow the tops of the cabinetry to align correctly? [I had also read elsewhere that the bottom of the cabinets w/o the light rail should be 18" above the counter.]

The only appliances I leave on my counter are the toaster and toaster oven, so I think I'm ok regardless, but was just curious in a general sense.


This post was edited by seosmp on Sat, Jun 29, 13 at 10:04

RE: Is 16" enough from the counter to the uppers?

I've had 16 inches for 30 years & it's never been a problem, but I don't keep appliances on my counter or use them under the cabinets.

RE: Is 16" enough from the counter to the uppers?

Wow! Thank you for the great mix of opinions. I don't think our KD is trying to cover a mistake. Nothing has been built or finalized yet. My wife is shorter and she felt the reach would be easier for her, but as mentioned above we will need a stool for the upper shelves regardless. Another great point about doors opening above appliances even if the appliance is not stored under the cabinet. I think we are leaning toward the 18" mark at this point. Or maybe 17.5" would be a good compromise. :)

RE: Is 16" enough from the counter to the uppers?

For the first 37 years we lived in this house, our uppers were about 14-15" above the counter. Not good for appliances, but it didn't really matter because there was always the peninsula. At 5'5", it worked fine for me. When we renovated a year and a half ago, we hemmed and hawed about what we wanted to do. In the end we went with 17". I like it.

I absolutely don't buy that designing for less than 18" makes your installation look more custom. There might be other reasons to go shorter, but that isn't one of them. If you keep your coffee maker out on the counter, you might want to measure it and see if it will even fit in a shorter space.

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