Should you surround your refrigerator with full height cabinets?

November 6, 2019

I’m working on a remodel plan for our kitchen. I see a lot of photos of refrigerators surrounded by pantry cabinets. I’ve also read that you should have a minimum of 15” of counter space on each side of the refrigerator as a landing zone. For those of you who have opted to surround your refrigerator with cabinets, can you tell me how this functions in day-to-day living? Is it a pain not to have counter space next to your refrigerator?

Comments (28)

  • sunshine home

    My refrigerator is next to my wall oven, so theres no counterspace next to it. everything basically goes on the island. Right infront. Wouldn’t the doors block the counter space when open anyways?

  • Hillside House

    My landing space is the island.

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  • PRO
    Flo Mangan

    I have had it both ways, and I really like the landing space to the side of the refrigerator. You do have to be enormously careful that you design the cabinetry so the doors of the refrigerator fully open without hitting side cabinets, so it does take really careful measuring and don't count on the manufacturer's specifications. Go see the refrigerator in person if at all possible so you can visually measure and see what swing the door needs. This is most common problem I have seen folks run into in kitchen designs. I have one client who meticulously measured and spent a lot of time on this and low and behold, the manufacturer's written specification for installation was WRONG, SO big last minute issue to fix and it doesn't look right. So even when you are super careful it can still be an issue. Especially problematic for counter depth units. Also, keep in mind depth/clearance needed for any water supply line for ice maker, etc. Another issue.

  • Sammy

    Like others, my island serves as landing space for my fridge. Never, not once, have I wished I had kept the countertop space on the side that I had prior to a remodel.

  • wilson853

    Even when I had counter space next to the refrigerator I used the island, so really never gave it a second thought when we placed pantry cabinets on both sides of the refrigerator when we remodeled. I use one for baking items and the other holds everything else.

  • PRO

    The fridge is the incredible hulk, even when counter depth. At least put it WITHIN a cabinet ..........: ) whether or not you have adjacent landing space. It much depends the kitchen on whole. Post your plan : )

    j_yamnitz thanked JAN MOYER
  • Ephma

    I have landing space next to the fridge, and I use the island 99% of the time anyway.

  • herbflavor

    How many people at busy times are there retrieving and needing counter to assemble cereal or get their leftover or pour themselves a drink . Fridge is the center.....I have landing next to it :one side only, and a peninsula across and any less would not be good ....more would be better but not essential.

  • PRO
    Norwood Architects

    I vote yes for the cabinetry surround. A refrigerator that is just sitting by itself makes a kitchen look unfinished at this point. Also, who doesn't need additional storage in their kitchen?

  • Isaac

    Depends on what kind of fridge you have. For a single door fridge, a countertop on the handle side is good as a landing zone. For French door fridges, a landing zone across from the fridge (often an island) makes sense.

    We have a single door fridge that we will not box in because it is at the end of a run and if we ever replace it with something a little wider I want the room to do so.

  • PRO

    Building in a fridge by using pantry cabinets or a full-height panel is a very easy task and helps even a modest kitchen appear a bit more upscale. It also hides the contrasting side colors of refrigerators.

  • PRO
    Patricia Colwell Consulting

    IMO side spaces for loading the fridge make no sense . The only side that helps is the one on the other side of the hinge and with french door neither works I find it much easier to unload groceries and load the fridge from the island . I do walls of pantries and fridge often in my kitchen designs and have never had an issue. If you don’t have an island then the design needs to address that issue

  • PRO
    The Cook's Kitchen

    Islands or peninsulas often work better than side adjacent spaces for landing. But you can have both.

    East Memphis Family Kitchen · More Info

    Gorgeous in Germantown · More Info

  • j_yamnitz

    Thank you all. I appreciate your thoughts and ideas. Thanks for the suggestion to post my plan, JAN MOYER. Here it is with some renderings. It's still "in process." This is literally plan 19, so I've been playing with a lot of ideas.

    Even after we tear out a wall and take over the laundry room, it won't be a big kitchen. At 13'X14' it's just a little too small for an island, and we have an angled brick mid-century fireplace jutting into the room, as you can see at the bottom center of the plan. It looks cool, but that thing has really been a challenge to design/decorate around. The door next to the cabinets is an existing door that will lead to the new laundry room, and the windows and patio doors are all located where we currently have windows and doors. We have a nice long run of 87" tall windows along the back of our kitchen and dining area. Also, I've had corner cabinets with lazy susans in my last two homes, and I don't really like them, so I'm opting to forgo the space in order to have more drawers. I hate clutter, so I want a lot of space to hide appliances too.

  • Cheryl Smith

    Everyone says they use the island. Since I have never had an island a landing space is needed. Until my current house I always had counter on one side of the refrigerator. My current house has full wall cabinets both sides. Although it looks nice they are too deep for my liking to be useful. I use the closet counter to the fridge opening for drop site. Loading and unloading. It looks like you won't have an island. I guess its personal preference

  • j_yamnitz

    I’m worried about the cabinets being too deep too. I think that is a good point.

  • suezbell

    IF your "landing space" ( as suggested by Hillside House ) is a convenient island, then, yes, but no if the cabinets might impede FULLY opening the doors -- in which case know for certain the exact amount of the space between the refrigerator and what is across from it so you can either be prepared to pull the refrigerator out away from the wall (and still have walking room) or redesign the cabinets to not be as deep.

  • suezbell

    IF the cabinets on both sides of the refrigerator are NOT the same anyway and IF (as in the Sheryl Smith pic less than ten minutes ago) one of the cabinets beside the refrigerator would have its side serving as a "wall" beside a doorway, then consider moving the refrigerator farther off center toward that doorway and put only a single (perhaps shallow) cabinet beside the refrigerator with its front actually facing the side -- a wood wall on that side of the refrigerator since the door would face the side.

  • j_yamnitz

    That would bring the refrigerator closer to the peninsula to make the peninsula the landing zone, right?

  • acm

    peninsula as landing zone, pull-out drawers in pantry so nothing ever gets "lost" in the back. couldn't live without them!

  • Cheryl Hannebauer

    following so I can post a photo

  • Dormelles

    If you proceed with total surround cabinetry, just make sure your refrigerator is meant to be a built-in unit (usually meaning that venting is located at the lower front) and that you have adequate cabinetry clearances as specified for that model to allow for air circulation and heat escape, or the life of the refrigerator will be shortened.

  • live_wire_oak

    Only the cheapest of apartment top freezer fridges have the exposed condenser coils anymore. All standard refrigerators cool their internal coils from the toe space at the front. Any rear or top space requirements won’t be due to ventilation issues. That’s usually due more to ice maker lines and top hinge clearances.

  • suezbell

    In the Cheryl Smith pic, yes, moving the refrigerator off center farther to the right does appear to bring the fridge close to the island. If you're right handed, that looks as if it would work out well to use the island as a landing zone.

    If you do have the cabinet door on the right side of the refrigerator open to the side (left of cased opening/doorway, you might consider specifically what you would put in it before deciding how deep to make it. You might also at least consider how you might use the short wood "wall" being created on the right side of the refrigerator.

    You could add more countertop to the left and use only two narrower vertical drawers on each side of the refrigerator.

    You can add custom venting above the refrigerator (wood frame around rectangle heat/ac grill) but that raises the "floor" of any cabinets above your refrigerator another six inches or so in height .

    A peninsula between the kitchen and adjoining room can often be more practical than an island, especially if the room is small. An island, by definition, requires walking space all around it.

    An other thought: If any kitchen corner base cabinet is hard to reach from the kitchen but has another room on the opposite side of it, then adding wainscoting or other paneling to the back of the peninsula could enable you to add a hidden door to access that corner.

  • suezbell

    There is no reason why you shouldn't consider using a peninsula in ways others use an island. With a room on the other side and the countertop overhanging into that adjoining room, a couple of comfortable bar stool could enable guests to sit and visit with the cook without getting in the way prep for the meal.

  • suezbell

    A peninsula would work far better than an island with the rest of the layout in the plan you posted.

    Your plan shows a single sink. If you haven't already chosen your sink for the style, for practical use, I recommend a deep double stainless steel kitchen sink.

    What is that ?appliance? behind the angled wall (bottom left).

  • j_yamnitz

    Thanks for all the ideas. The angled wall is a brick fireplace that opens on 2 sides, living room and dining room. It’s an original mid century feature of the house.

  • Isaac

    I agree that moving the fridge to the right and using the peninsula as a landing zone makes sense.

    One suggestion that someone made to me which might work for you is to put a shallow (12" or so) pantry cabinet to the right of the fridge and facing away from it. See Lisapoi's comment in this thread:


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