Shop Products
Houzz Logo Print
aliris19

Are your uppers lower than 18'?

aliris19
13 years ago

In one of the design articles I think it was plllog has posted recently (and in the past too), there is mention of measuring a better height countertop than the standard 36", and the article went on to note that reflexively placing the upper cabinets 18" above the countertop height may not be the wisest move either. But they didn't have any nifty formula for calculating where the uppers are optimally placed (not that I noticed at least), so I'm wondering if you have done anything different? If, say, your countertop happens to be at 37", did you place your uppers 18" above that or at a different height? And if so, at what different height please?

Thanks!

Comments (23)

  • John Liu
    13 years ago

    My existing counter is 38'' and the uppers are 16'' above that.

    So far it has not been a show-stopper, but a number of common-ish appliances are 16'' tall (my Osterizer beehive blender) or just a hair taller (Kitchenaid Pro mixer), so it has been slightly inconvenient and would be quite so if I wanted a Kitchenaid Pro.

    I'd go measure everything you keep on the counter, or might someday want to keep on the counter, to see if lower than the current standard (18''?) will work for you.

    The disadvantage of high-mounted uppers would depend on your height and arm length, I'd imagine. Seems to me the ideal, for having lots of counter-to-upper clearance, would be to have the proportions of a gorilla. Short with looong arms. Gorillas can have 25'' tall VitaMix ''commercial'' blenders on their low counters, handy for those banana smoothies, while still reaching their uppers just fine. Since you and I don't have those proportions, we have to make tradeoffs. Lucky Nature gave us those big brains :-)

  • aliris19
    Original Author
    13 years ago

    Big brains and step stools.
    Sounds like a good subtitle for this forum.
    Actually, I am a little gorilla-shaped; long arms and we'll just let the comparison stop right there....

    Apart from the countertop appliance-fit problem, do you find that the overhang interferes with comfortable working beneath the upper cabinets?

  • John Liu
    13 years ago

    I prefer working in an area with no uppers and a window. It just feels better. Plus no-one is opening the upper's door in my face. I think I am generally anti-upper. Must be a class thing. But I can't say I've ever bonked my head on an upper while working at the counter below, or that the uppers have otherwise tried to keep me down.

  • debrak_2008
    13 years ago

    I currently have 16" to the bottom of the upper cabinets but the 1" trim effectively brings it to 15". The new plan calls for 18". Now occasionaly I will pick up something from the counter and hit the edge of the uppers. I do plan on getting a step stool for the upper shelves.

    If anyone knows of a formula to figuire this out, please post.

  • Circus Peanut
    13 years ago

    Try these two excellent articles on kitchen ergonomics:

    Mise en Place: What we Can Learn from Commerial Kitchens

    Body Friendly Design: Kitchen Ergonomics

    My upper cabs are 15" above the counter and it's worked brilliantly for me, much better and fuller use of the cabinet shelves. But I have lots of open space without uppers for taller appliances and prepping -- others will point out that if you have uppers over every countertop, you will feel cramped with this arrangement and your huge coffeemaker won't fit.

    Do what feels most comfortable for you and works for your appliance set; there are no codes dictating this and the 18" is an arbitrary distance determined by builders' tradition not ergonomics.

  • mtnrdredux_gw
    13 years ago

    I think the traditional kitchen, w cabs 18" above counters, has been rejected aesthetically and functiinally. Who wants a cab in your face?

    In my kitchen, the only upper cabs I have, sit on my counter. Everywhere else there are no uppers. I get a lot more utility out of the uppers I do have .... And save on countertops, too!

  • bostonpam
    13 years ago

    My uppers are 15.5" and 16.25" with light rail off the counter. I asked my contractor to install them that low. I love it. I'm short and can reach the 3rd shelf. I have younger kids and they can reach the 1st and maybe 2nd shelf. I don't have anything tall on my counters but I did measure everything to make sure it was OK. I use my island for almost all my prep so no problems if something taller comes along.

  • sayde
    13 years ago

    My uppers are only 11.5 inches above the counters. That's because we are re-using our 80 year old gumwood cabinets. Long ago (like 80 years ago) the spacing I have was common. The drawback, as others have said, is that many countertop appliances won't fit. That's OK with me as I have now planned to have a place for everything but the toaster and espresso machine off the counters. The advantage -- especially if you're short -- everything on that lower shelf is so much easier to get to. Since these are used for dishes and glassware, that's important to me. I don't think what I have is ideal, but it can be worked around.

  • sabjimata
    13 years ago

    What about extending the lower countertop a few inches? Wish I did that at my baking center. Hate the cabinets right in front of me.

  • rnest44
    13 years ago

    Yes, the uppers on my range run are 16" above the counters. The carpenter took one look at my 5' self and suggested this for JUST this run. Counters are 28.5" deep, uppers are 15". Plans are to use magnetic stainless on the panels inside the cabinet doors for spice storage. This is the only wall in the working area of my kitchen.
    My Kitchen Aid (non-tilt) sits on a 120" long, 19.5" deep desk (counter height), hutch run on the other side of the island. Vita-mix base and lid can go anywhere (and it does seem to float depending on the season) since I use it at the front of the counter.

    Unexpected surprise for how well this works. I still keep a folding step stool in my vertical storage base cabinet. It gives me that extra foot some people have build in. :)

  • stacieann63
    13 years ago

    One other consideration is an OTR microwave which will probably not work unless you have 18" or more between the uppers and counters. I wanted one to free up the in wall microwave to replace with double wall ovens and could not due to the lack of space above my cooktop. Ended up with convection wall ovens with the upper being convection/microwave. It works out fine, but I have dead space above the down draft vented cooktop.

  • norlandian
    13 years ago

    I have one section of uppers, that holds all of our dishes. If I had gone with the standard 36" + 18" + lightrail, the bottom shelf would have been just above my eye level, not a bit comfortable. To bring those shelves down for my short family, I reduced the counter height here to 34" and cut the distance from countertop to lightrail to 16 1/2".

    This isn't so much a working counter as much as a staging space. We us it for coffee, a fruit bowl, occasionally for a toaster, and for setting out food for buffet or on it's way to the dining room. There is nearly always a half-drunk bottle of wine there. We pull the coffeemaker forward when it's brewing so that the water vapor isn't caught by the underside of the cabinets. 16 1/2" is perfectly adequate for these uses for us.

    I have to add that like Johnliu, Mntrdredux and others I vastly prefer to work at counters with no uppers but windows instead, so much so that "no uppers over work areas" could be said to be the guiding principle of my kitchen's design. It's the biggest reason that we love it so much.

  • caryscott
    13 years ago

    Being an apartment or highrise dweller for so many years with small windowless kitchens I would privilige storage and counter over most things. I salute those whose cooking skills let them gaze around when cooking I need to keep my eye on the task at hand or I might lose a finger, coat the wall or double up on one ingredient while ommitting another. With small kitchens the only time you stand back and notice them is when your on the outside looking in when your using them it is about how they work not how the look (you can't get far enough away to appreciate how it comes together from the outside). My Mom has 18"and a bit minus 2" light rail with uppers over all her counters.OK but she doesn't have a stand mixer or blender.

  • lascatx
    13 years ago

    If I were working on a new build and could have the space and the windows, at least part of my kitchen would be more open, but that wasn't the case. I had the space that was here with no possibility of anything more and the window in a wall of brick that couldn't be matched was all I was going to get. Besides, I needed the cabinets. I kept my uppers but I did make sure they were 18" above my counters. They were supposed to be 18 after the light rail, but I didn't quite get that. My KA Pro mixer clears (it didn't in the last kitchen), so we're good. My counters were supposed to be 38" but I got 37+ -- not sure if it was short workers or they didn't take things like a 2x4 not being 2 inches by 4 inches into account. It works for us though. I think it really depends on your height -- there is no one size fits all, just kitchens that are built that way.

  • norlandian
    13 years ago

    Caryscott, the view out my windows is across a driveway and to the two-story brick wall of the next door school, not expansive by any means. It's not so much about what you can see as about a feeling of openness. I know that many kitchens are too small to do without uppers, but wanted to emphasize for anyone contemplating trading storage for openness, I for one have found it very worthwhile. That's what the forum is about, sharing experience of what we've found to work so that others have real feedback, right?

  • marble_com
    13 years ago

    18" is USUALLY standard, and I've found that it's the most comfortable.

  • lolauren
    13 years ago

    My kitchen uppers are just under 17" above the counter, not including the trim. To the trim it's 15.25 - 15.5. I never requested anything but standard. I'm not sure if the cabinet installers put them lower than standard or if the cabinet company designed it that way. *shrug* I didn't even realize it until I measured now.....so that might tell you how much it has mattered to me or bothered me? :)

    My coffee pot is the only appliance I need clearance for under a cabinet, and it fits fine. My mixer is stored and used at the island. The island offers lots of work space without cabinets in the way. Things to consider:

    * Make sure your appliances fit
    * If you have deeper than standard uppers, you might want them higher up. Since mine are normal depth (12"?,) they don't feel "in my face"
    * Do you have other space to work, without uppers, like an island?

    At 5'5, I can reach the first three shelves of my uppers. (I have stacked cabinets, so I essentially can reach everything in the bottom cabinet, which is standard height. The third shelf would require a step stool for anything pushed to the back.)

    Finally...in my laundry room, the counter is at 41" (because it's over my w/d.) The cabinets are 19" above that. Thus, they are very high compared to normal uppers. We made this decision because the uppers are primarily for storage and we wanted a lot of usable counter space. I knew I only needed to reach the bottom shelf. As it turns out, I can reach the bottom shelf easily for all my often-used cleaning supplies. I can (barely) reach the second shelf's items (which is 12.5" above the bottom one.) I would never do this set up in a kitchen, but it works for a more storage-oriented upper.

  • kaysd
    13 years ago

    DH and I are tall and prefer taller than 36" counters, but I need clearance for my almost 18" tall blender and KA mixer. Doing 38" high lowers + 18" BS + lightrail would make the upper shelves of the upper cabinets hard to access without a step stool. Our plan for now is to use 36" lowers on the one perimeter wall that has counters and to have the 8'x4' island be somewhere between 38" and 40" tall. I expect we will do almost all our prep work on the island because we prefer to work without upper cabinets in our faces.

  • blonde1125
    13 years ago

    We have the standard height base cabinets. But I did 18 1/2+" to the bottom of the uppers. It was supposed to be 19 but didn't quite happen. The 2 things that I wanted to be able to do were lift the head of the KA mixer without hitting the uppers and open the lid to the coffeemaker to fill it without hitting the uppers. I am only 5"4" so I need a step stool to reach the top shelves of the uppers, but I store things that I don't use a lot up there. My old kitchen had barely 16" and it was one of the things that drove me crazy on a daily basis! But it is all about what works for you.

  • aliris19
    Original Author
    13 years ago

    Thanks everyone for these comments.

    Circusp - those are exactly the articles I was reading that are great, but omit any mention of a working formula for calculating placement (in the way they do note about optimal counter height, for example).

    All things considered, your comments do give me the confidence to just make those uppers a little lower. I will have an island for prep work w/o uppers threatening my pate. And there will be a section there with no upper for storage of the coffee maker and tall blender.

    Blonde -- I completely agree about how annoying it is to have to haul the coffee maker forward to open the lid before adding water! But I think as a trade-off there will be good-enough places to store the coffee maker without having to sacrifice the convenience of access that the lower uppers afford. So personally, I'll lean toward lower rather than higher....

    If anyone encounters another's opinion as to optimal placement as a function of, say, one's height and/or counter, I'd be interested to hear it. Obviously this is all a matter of taste and opinion, but it's helpful to understand how others have come to their conclusions and their experience with it, and it's always interesting to read someone's calculation of "ideal".

  • Circus Peanut
    13 years ago

    I'll scout around, Aliris. This and a few other tips really helped make my kitchen the functional paradise it is (for me) today -- when I began, I was quite uninformed regarding design issues that are just accepted traditions and design issues you can change with impunity for the better. I'll quote the above Starcraft Builders article here just for reference:

    "The ideal maximum height of upper cabinets is about 32". The top shelf should be not more than about 26" from the bottom of the cabinet. Anything higher is "stool storage" -- you have to stand on a stool to get to it. There is no harm in having taller cabinets, even right to the ceiling, so long as you recognize that the top part of tall cabinets is usually unreachable and should be used to hold things only rarely used. Even the top shelf of a 32" cabinet is for most of us in the extended rather than the primary arc of
    reach. We can usually reach just the stuff in front of the shelf. (Lazy susans installed on the top shelf can remedy the problem, however -- everything at the back of the shelf can quickly be brought within reach with a little twist of the wrist.)

    The placement of upper cabinets can hamper efficiency. Most commonly they are placed 18" above the counter top. This has become the standard, not because it is the best height, but because it's where the typical 30" wall cabinet happens to fall when installed on an 8 foot wall under the usual 12" soffit and above a 36" high counter. This is, however, too high for efficient use by the most people under 6' tall.

    The best reach height for most people is just 57" -- about shoulder height. If the bottom of the cabinet is at 54" then almost everything in the cabinet is above the best reach height. Lowering the cabinet slightly makes the stuff in the cabinet more readily accessible.

    The best height for a wall cabinet is 14-15" above the counter top.

    A lot of countertop appliances, however, especially coffee-makers, assume an 18" height above the counter, and use every bit of it. If you have these tall appliances, then at least some of your cabinets will need to be placed higher than the optimum height.

    Lowering the upper cabinets just this 3-4 inches makes all of the bottom two shelves of the cabinet easily reachable, as well as at least the front half of the third shelf. Upper cabinet storage is now much more efficient with just this modest change."

  • lithigin
    13 years ago

    So many interesting replies here! DH and I are both 6'+ and plan to have our counters in the 38-39" high range, with just under 18" of head space, light rail, and then 36" cabs darn near to the ceiling with a very small amount of finish molding up top. We have no lower counter space that does not have uppers there. We've had uppers in front of our faces forever, so it didn't really occur to me to NOT have them! I might re-evaluate the two uppers flanking the windows to see if we can trim them down (don't need all of the storage) and gain some no-upper space. Trick is symmetricality of garden window, sink, and cabinet run. But it's something interesting to ponder.

    Likewise, with the coffeemaker, ours lives in storage and when in use has to be pulled to the front as the water lid is probably 6" across and there is no way to get water in without hitting uppers, so it is a given to pull it to the front. I suppose if we were countertop coffee people, that could get annoying on a daily basis.

  • beachlily z9a
    13 years ago

    I'm 5'2" and hubs is 6'3". I'm the only cook. Our bottom cabs are 36" tall and the upper cabinet is 17" from the counter, but the light rail makes it 15". I can easily reach the first two shelves, but anything over that required a step stool or small 3-step ladder. The upper cabs are 42" tall, so the top shelf is hurricane storage. When we update the kitchen, I'll increase the countertop by 2 or 3" but that won't affect my reach. The coffeemaker resides on the peninsula (no upper cabinets) and my Hobart stand mixer is on a thick butcher block Boos stand where I can use it without moving it. That Hobart weights about 50 lbs!