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Counter depth fridge that can be installed w/o gaps

Missie LaVeroux
December 1, 2019

I am researching counter depth stainless side by side (not French doors) refrigerators for a friend who’s house burned down in the California fires last year. She wants the look of built in but prefers to splurge on the gas range, rather than over priced fridge. I’m trying to figure out which side/side models might have the right hinges so the fridge can be wrapped in cabinetry without those annoying gaps that ALWAYS seem to happen come installation time, even though the marketing photos show the fridge looking snug and tight in every pic. I understand the fridge will stick out from the door on, but the ugly plastic sides will be completely hidden in cabinetry.

Does anyone have any recommendations? I’ve noticed a few KitchenAids look like they might do the trick but it’s so hard to sort through all the ads disguised as reviews these days. I miss google before all the ads took over, circa 2002. Thank you in advance and keep in mind, she wants side by side

, not French doors.

Comments (38)

  • ci_lantro

    You need some gap to ensure the refrigerator has ventilation. Kitchenaid recommends 1/4" gap. But that may vary by specific models.

    FWIW, I would allow more space than required. Buttoning a refrigerator up too tightly will likely lead to a premature death of the unit.


  • mackdolan

    You can’t make a non built in be a built in. A side by side is the worst type of refrigerator that exists. Even a top freezer fridge is more functional, with better organization.

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  • Missie LaVeroux

    Why is side by side the worst?

  • live_wire_oak

    If your friend wants a built in, she needs to buy a built in. A French door one. The tiny little small boxes that make up a side by side don’t give you enough shelf space. A French door has the most continuous shelf space and holds at least 50% more because of that. Storage ability isn’t about cubic feet. Its about shelf space and how it’s organized.

  • kudzu9

    I don't have a built-in, but I do have a refrigerator that fits very tightly into the opening (with about 1/16" clearance on each side). What I have found is that over time my refrigerator shifts around a little bit from the continuing opening and closing of the door. As a result, mine needs to be re-positioned every so often because the hinge side of the refrigerator starts rubbing when the refrigerator has moved a little bit. My advice is to either spend the money on a built-in, or make the opening with more space than I have around mine.

  • Kristin S

    If she has abundant space, Electrolux/Frigidaire have the 32" all fridge and all freezer option with trim kits that make them look built-in. That's a lot more space than a standard fridge, though.

  • Dawn Y

    Why do you say buttoning up a fridge to tight can cause it to go quicker?

  • wdccruise

    Here are a few stainless steel, side-by-side, counter-depth refrigerators that meet these requirements. Note that these refrigerators cannot be pushed back into the opening so that the doors are flush with the adjacent cabinets. Rather, the doors must be in front of those cabinets so they can swing open. Also, these refrigerators cannot be placed against a wall; the doors must be able to open more than 90 degrees.

    I'm sure you can find lots of refrigerators that meet the requirements. Requirements are in the refrigerator specs and/or installation manuals. appliancesconnection.com is a good place to search as it has an excellent search engine.

    -- amateur

  • kudzu9

    Dawn-

    Refrigerators need good air circulation so that the compressor(s) can be kept at proper operating temperature. If air flow is restricted, a compressor can overheat and have a shortened life.

  • PRO
    Jeffrey R. Grenz, General Contractor

    rear & top gaps required for ventilation.

  • Missie LaVeroux

    Thanks for the info guys. I think she’s set on a KA side by side and since she’s hiring a custom cabinet maker I think I might have a solution...Build the cutout space for the fridge to manufacturers specifications (and then some) for proper airflow, but do custom cabinetry trim flaps on both sides and top with drop down hinges that tightly wrap the fridge when down and look seamless with the cabinets for a totally built in look. For proper air flow the wood trim can be opened on all sides at night and when she’s at work during the day. Simply close at all other times.

    Of course this would just snuggly fit the fridge, the door would stick out as many built in do.


    - Missie

  • Missie LaVeroux

    Wow, mack you sound a wee angry. There’s nothing overly complicated whatsoever about three simple narrow cabinet flaps with hinges. Do I detect an irascible underemployed Kitchen Designer perhaps?

  • live_wire_oak

    ”do custom cabinetry trim flaps on both sides and top with drop down hinges that tightly wrap the fridge when down and look seamless with the cabinets for a totally built in look. For proper air flow the wood trim can be opened on all sides at night and when she’s at work during the day. Simply close at all other times.”



    A running electric motor needs correct air flow at all times. It’s not like a plant that only needs 8 hours of sun a day. So unless she only wants to plug in and use use the fridge at night and when she’s at work, that’s not gonna work.

    A built in is a built in because it can be built in. Everything else isn’t.

  • kudzu9

    I have enough trouble remembering to lower the garage door and zip up my fly when I leave the house without adding more complicated tasks to my list ;-)

  • PRO
  • Michelle misses Sophie

    Refrigerator cooling systems need air flow any time they are running. They DEPEND on the air flow for proper function and heat transfer. Violating the gap requirements set by the manufacturer will result in poor cooling and premature cooling unit failure (due to overheating). This isn't overcome simply "opening flaps at night", unless the only time the fridge is operating is at night and is otherwise shut off/unplugged during the day.


    If your friend wants the gap-free look of built in, they he/she must accept the cost and cabinetry required to do a real built-in, not kludge a free-standing fridge to look like one.

  • Missie LaVeroux

    I met with the cabinet maker earlier this evening and we decided to go with vertical narrow wine shelves on each side of the fridge that are actually open on the fridge side to allow for air circulation - diagonal shelving will allow empty triangular open spaces for plenty of air flow. For the cabinet above the fridge there will be a single flap cabinet door, hinge on top, with pull out shelves Inside. The lower shelf will be raised 1.5 inches above the top of the fridge to allow air flow, but the flap door will be just 1/16th above the fridge for a seamless, built in look.


    Thank you to all with helpful advice.

    And, why not...thanks to the snarky snarksters.

  • kudzu9

    Missie-

    That sounds like a terrific solution!

  • PRO
    The Cook's Kitchen

    Be aware that the heat produced by the refrigerator will be terrible for wine. It will spoil rapidly.

  • kudzu9

    I’m not convinced that the amount of heat being generated by a refrigerator and then being dispersed by air circulation will raise the temperature of the surrounding air significantly. It’s true that compressors get hot, but the average heat output of a refrigerator is about the same as a 60 watt bulb, and that amount of heat would be damaging only to something directly exposed to it and in relatively close proximity. By the time the heat is dissipated by the surrounding air, I don’t think it’s going to significantly raise the temperature of wine above the ambient air temperature of the kitchen. (Of course, it’s always better to have a wine chiller for expensive wine, but the stuff I drink isn’t going to be harmed if it’s a degree or two warmer than it already is sitting around my kitchen.)

    I would be interested to hear other views of the thermodynamics of this situation, but I’m inclined to think this is ok.

  • mackdolan

    Worst place possible for wine. Best place to convert it to vinegar. https://www.wineperspective.com/how-temperature-affects-wine-aging/

  • ulisdone

    There are fridges with “ Euro” hinges, where the doors open within the unit width. I.E., the doors do not extend outward on the sides when opened. We have used these in some kitchen projects, but I don’t recall the brands.

  • mackdolan

    Those euro hinges are what make a built in a built in. Those fridges cost 80% of SubZero, but without the customer service of SubZero. Thermador. Liebher. Some Meile. Some Fisher Paykel. Some DCS. None of the cheap ones.

  • wdccruise

    "we decided to go with vertical narrow wine shelves on each side of the fridge...to allow for air circulation...For the cabinet above the fridge there will be a single flap cabinet door... The lower shelf will be raised 1.5 inches above the top of the fridge to allow air flow, but the flap door will be just 1/16th above the fridge for a seamless, built in look."


    I don't get it. The GE GZS22IYNFS counter-depth refrigerator (for example) requires only 1/8" clearance on the sides but 1" at the top. That flap door will reduce the top clearance from the required 1" to 1/8".

  • Michelle misses Sophie

    One person on Houzz solved the upper gap problem by PROPERLY designing the clearances and using stainless bars above to mimic a top-compressor built in design. I couldn't find the topic, but here is a photo I saved from that topic




  • live_wire_oak

    This is one of the most bizarre postings in recent memory. Just buy a built in.

  • Missie LaVeroux

    What’s so bizarre about trying to save around $7 to $10 thousand dollars by getting a refrigerator to have the same look as how it’s been advertised? If you look at how counter depth refrigerators are marketed there are usually one or two photographs showing the unit looking completely built in. Thats the look she wants. And I was hoping that people on this forum might give a little creative advice as to how to go about that. She cannot afford a built in refrigerator, so it seems very elitist of several peeps here to simply say she should just go buy one. We are working with a cabinet maker who not only loves solving this problem, but plans on implementing it with many of his clients in the future, since many of them request it due to the marketing materials they come across.


    We discussed the possibility of the wine being a degree or two above room temperature, but without any vertical cabinetry directly against the side of the refrigerator we don’t believe this will be a problem. Regardless, the family are hearty Pinot drinkers and don’t think any bottle will be around long enough to be affected. Each wine shelf will be six inches wide on each side, and will be completely open on the interior fridge side allowing much more than the minimum requirement for air circulation. The wine will rest in diagonal squares with open air triangles on each side, allowing for further more air circulation. The top clearance will be well above requirements also, and we discussed putting open slats in the bottom of the door flap, much like the photo above with the steel bars in the PROPERLY designed kitchen. This would also mimic the look of a built in compressor grill, yet made of cabinetry. We also discussed this grill area being an open rectangle of copper mesh, since she will be using copper mesh in the pantry area uppers, and copper throughout (sink etc).


    My friend has her heart set on one big splurge for her new home, which is a powerful gas range with appropriate vent hood. She’s probably going to get a bluestar platinum or possibly a capital culinarian. She‘s admired my subzero pro48 from afar, but is also aware that it arrived brand new without the ability to hold a proper temperature (it went from 35-53 randomly without being opened, nor full) and the mind boggling repair visits it took to correct this unacceptable problem over the course of 5 frustrating months. Witnessing my struggles with SZ and her sister’s with a built in Thermador have been a learning lesson.


    Her house burned down in the devastating fires in California last year. All we wanted here was a little creative advice on making her new dream kitchen come true.

    Jeesh. You get the feeling many peeps just don’t listen or process what you’re saying, they just want to jump straight to mansplaining.


    Happy Holidays y’all.

  • Michelle misses Sophie

    There is a reason the manufacturers provide clearance specifications - they know how much airflow is needed for the refrigerator to operate reliably and properly. Violating those specifications makes no sense. If one wants a certain look and that is of built-in appliances, one buys built-in appliances and follows the manufacturer's installation specifications. One does not take an appliance with specified clearances and violate the clearances just to get things to look a certain way.

  • Missie LaVeroux

    One isn’t violating said clearances. One is actually making more space for airflow than specified. Much more. If one had read one’s post then one might understand. One misses more than just Sophie, methinks.

  • Missie LaVeroux

    This morning, Suzy and her cabinet maker decided on a thick pure copper unvarnished mesh for the rectangular opening in cabinet face directly above the fridge, which will be installed in a diagonal pattern to echo the wine shelves below. The mesh has half inch openings which allow plenty of air flow. She’s also using a smaller opening version of this mesh in the pantry uppers for continuity, as well as an unvarnished copper apron front sink and small copper bar sink near the wine fridge. Her big splurge, the BlueStar platinum 48 might have a copper plated door.


    Now on to curly birch sap/heart, mixed width/mixed length plank flooring. And translucent white onyx slabs for the island. Gorgeous!

  • Kris

    Missie LaVeroux, I really like your idea of using the wire racks! I have a pony wall next to my frig that I have been thinking of removing. Putting a wine rack in that space would be very clever!

  • M

    Her big splurge, the BlueStar platinum 48...


    I love our Bluestar. It's an amazing range. Would absolutely buy it again in a heart beat. But a 48" Platinum would be unlikely to be anything I'd normally recommend. That model is all about looks and not really that great for functionality. I understand about splurging. But if I spend all that money, I'd want it to actually be something I like to use.


    The 25kBTU Platinum burners are fun (we have one of those in our range), but the 22kBTU burners of the RNB are very similar; if this is the only reason for the Platinum, then it doesn't really justify the much higher cost.


    The griddle on the RNB is IMHO a better design. Can't comment on the grill, but I personally don't think an in-door grill is a great option anyway. The fancy oven burners in the Platinum are great for faster pre-heating, but are overall a more questionable design than the more traditional burners in the RNB. A 48" range is much less ergonomic than a rangetop plus wall ovens. The venting requirements for a 48" range are crazy. You need somewhere on the order of 2000 CFM, which means a loud expensive vent hood, a very complex make-up-air system, and no upper cabinets.


    Unlike a 30" range, a 48" range doesn't have spacers in-between the burners. So, you will need to put the grill or griddle in the center between the burners. Otherwise, your burners are too close together and you can't ever use big pots. But with the grill/griddle in the center, you have to always walk a long distance left-to-right when using more than one pot. Alternatively, you can decide for eight burners and no grill/griddle, but I have yet to hear of anybody who can actually keep all eight burners in active use. Again, a more reasonably sized rangetop and wall ovens work better; the wall ovens can be used for simmering much more evenly than any hobs.


    We have four hobs and three ovens in our kitchen. I use all three ovens every so often. But I can't remember the last time I used more than two hobs. I wouldn't have any idea what to do with eight of them.

  • nycbluedevil_gw

    I think it depends on how you cook. I have a 36” RNB and a Miele speed oven. There are plenty of times that I am cooking on all four burners and not even using any oven, or maximum one. In my country house, a have a 30” induction range and I really miss the extra burners. So it’s about what you cook.

  • cpartist

    And translucent white onyx slabs for the island. Gorgeous!

    As long as she doesn't mind the eventual chips in the onyx, the staining or the etching. Onyx is a very soft stone and it will do all those things and I am speaking as someone who put onyx on my master bath vanity. I am however quite aware of how it will eventually look.

  • M

    Both 30" and 36" ranges are perfectly good sizes. After much soul-searching, I determined that for my style of cooking, a 36" range wouldn't be the optimal choice (mostly because the oven would be too big). But it was a close call. I could absolutely see having a 36" range top and loving it.


    But a 48" full range is an entirely different beast. I have an extremely hard time envisioning a situation where this is the best option, unless the only decisive factor was looks. There are just too many trade-offs that come with this size.


    If I absolutely had my mind set on a larger range, and if looks were important to me, then I'd go for a LaCanche instead. They actually have a useful configuration for the ovens, and at just under 40" it is still a size that can actually make sense.

  • Missie LaVeroux

    I‘ve had the platinum 48“ since it was introduced in 2013 and it was the perfect choice. It’s the one over priced appliance we don’t regret and highly recommend. Don’t get me started on the lemon subzero pro48 fiasco. We got the platinum because of the reversible griddle/grill that can be placed anywhere on the stovetop. I’m not sure why you think it should only be placed in the middle? We’ve moved it a few times in the beginning but it’s been settled on the right side for years now. The griddle is used almost every morning and the grill a few times a week. There have been several times during social gatherings where we have 5 burners going at once. I encourage all our foodie friends to come over and cook rather than waiting in crazy Bay Area lines for overpriced restaurants. The 36” and 18” ovens work much better for us than two unsightly wall ovens taking up too much cabinet real estate, not to mention having to look at them. We very much prefer the standalone range to range top and separate ovens.

    Also, my friend Suzy is getting a white onyx slab because that’s what we have on our island and it’s lovely. It’s been 5.5 years and there have been no chips, luckily. It has lots of etching, as does the bianco Namibia marble counter against our wall, but we love the fact that it’s evolving over time. The 48“ high powered range is in the center of the onyx island and at first there was worry about staining and etching, but it hasn’t been an issue at all. The vast majority of etching has been from wine glasses during dinner parties. I think in a few years I might just rub both the onyx and marble with lemons to let it get that old world Italian cafe look. They‘re both honed right now but I think the matte finish might be a nice evolution in both look and feel. Plus no more coasters needed.

  • John McBash

    I wouldn't suggest you to get the one that tightly fits, because there's a good chance that the sides would rub against the wall and could cause issues with the refrigerator. You shall consider getting any built-in model, but make sure there's a bit of space, just to be safe.

  • Missie LaVeroux

    It won’t be rubbing against anything because there won’t be a flat panel against either the sides, nor top, of the refrigerator. Internally it’s all open space, 6-8 inches on all three sides.

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