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Kitchens for short folks

last month

While I am 5’9”, my wife is 5’ tall, and our kids are very likely going to be short as adults. Our kitchen ceilings are 7’6”. Do you have any suggestions about optimizing useful storage when one or more of the cooks are short? Right now the top shelves of the upper cabinets are useless for my wife. We will be putting in drawers in all the base cabinets of course, but is there something we can do to make the uppers more accessible (other than a step stool, which we use now)?

Comments (25)

  • last month

    My mother was an avid cook and entertainer. She led the design on her kitchen, in 1971, with a lot of research, and incorporated things that were not common then but are now, like nearly all drawers, zones. She was 5’1” then, and had the bases built a little lower than standard, and had some uppers come a little lower, those in areas where you wouldn’t be prepping and cleaning, but storage and landing areas.

    It worked great! until...the day a couple of decades later when a dishwasher repair necessitated pulling the dishwasher out…but because DWs are standard height, it was installed lower than the level of the floor. There would be two ways to get it out: remove the countertop above it, or cut out the floor in front of it. The solution was, to basically disassemble it from the inside. Fortunately, it was a workhorse of a 1971 KitchenAid, and with some repairs lasted 47 years, until the repairman, who is amazing, said he could no longer find the part that it needed. Since Mom by that time was 4’8” and 90, it became a great drying rack until they moved to senior living. (We figured whoever bought the house would do a gut remodel anyway, even though everything else still was in excellent condition. It was just so 1971.)

    Anyway, my DFIL also replaced their kitchen uppers with cabinets that came lower, for DMIL who was also 5’.

    Isaac thanked bpath
  • last month
    last modified: last month

    I don’t have experience with either but here are a couple of options

    Various companies make pull down shelves-

    https://www.shelvesthatslide.com/mm5/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Product_Code=RV-5PD

    I ran across this too. It seems interesting but also like you would need one on every other cabinet so it wouldn’t be a solution for all the cabinets.

    https://hideawaysolutions.com/step-180/toe-kick-step-stool-kitchen-cabinet/

  • last month

    I'm 5' 2" so this was a concern for me. My previous kitchen had reduced countertop height because hardwood floors were added after the kitchen cabinetry was in place. I remember the DW being an issue and I don't recalled how that was resolved.


    When it was time to renovate, we went with standard-height countertops and 18" spacing between the countertop and wall cabinets (you could reduce that to 17" but it might be an issue with some countertop appliances). My upper cabinets go all the way to the 8' ceiling and there are three shelves in each cabinet (providing four levels of storage). I arranged the interior shelving so that the bottom two shelves are spaced as close together as is practical for the storage I need, and I try to place items that are not too tall on the two lower shelves. I can reach partway into the third shelf, but the fourth level is 100% out of reach. I know you said that you didn't want your wife and kids to have to depend on a footstool, but I reasoned this was an important convenience to me, so I splurged on a really nice and attractive footstool that I could happily leave out full time.

    https://www.schoolhouse.com/products/schoolhouse-utility-stool-10?variant=39424115114028. 

    Isaac thanked theresa21
  • last month

    Just speaking today with someone shorter than I am about having useless, unreachable upper kitchen cabinets. My solution is pretend you are a Manhattanite and need to use every inch of vertical space: buy a grabber.


    I have a small NYC kitchen and I store soft items in cabinet shelves well above my head all the way up to the ceiling and use a grabber (aka really long tongs) to reach them - bags of chips, popcorn, boxes of cereal, bags of pasta, paper towels, paper plates, things that won't hurt if they fall on you and that you can shove in with tongs.


    Also, much depends on your sq footage. If you can't go high, can you go wide with lowers? Many people these days find ways to go with all lower cabinets and no uppers for a cleaner aesthetic. Can you do the same?



    Isaac thanked Kendrah
  • last month

    I'm the same height as your wife, and want to age in place in this house, so these are ways I have addressed storage: I planned where everything we used would be placed in the kitchen in deciding what cabinets went where. In the upper cupboard with dishes, I used what I reached for most on the bottom shelf. I can just reach the second shelf, everything else is stepstool territory. Higher storage will be for less used or less breakable items. We have full height pantries around the refrigerator, giving lots of storage below 5 ft of height.

    Isaac thanked Jenny
  • last month

    Thanks, everyone! It sounds like there is no silver bullet. I don’t want lower than 36” counters but we could maybe have some uppers come closer to the countertop than is standard. Otherwise I think we will rely on a folding stepstool and maybe a grabber.


  • last month

    Are you working with a good kitchen designer to make sure you are maximizing layout and can get as many lower drawers as possible? If you post a simple drawing with measurements on here you will get lots of really useful feedback from pros on your layout and how to possibly get more lowers.


    Lowers can be great for things like...

    Portland Oregon European Contemporary Kitchen Remodel · More Info


    Rockville, Maryland Kitchen Remodel · More Info



    Hickory & Blue Modern Farmhouse Kitchen with A Deep Divided Drawer for Pantry an · More Info


    Large Deep Drawers · More Info


  • last month

    I'm the same height as wife. I reach first and the front items on the second shelf. I wouldn’t lower the standard inches for the uppers.

    As suggested above, concentrate on getting drawers and having most sailing itmens down low.

    For the rest, i use a chair for the infrequent times I need something.

    I also store a lot of kitchen things that i don’t use daily in my basement.

    Look tonother places to store things. Consoles, china cabinets etc.


  • last month
    last modified: last month

    I seem to remember someone here who had their toe-kicks designed/built as "steps" so they didn't need a stepstool. I don't remember who did it nor do I remember what was involved to allow the toe-kick to handle the weight of a person.

    Anyone who's been around for awhile remember?

    It won't be a complete solution since toe-kicks are only 4.5" high, but it might help get to the next shelf up!

  • last month

    Depending on how much counter space, you could add some hutch style cabinets to bring the storage all the way down to the countertop. Most pictures show them with glass fronts but you could do solid doors so that what is stored doesn’t have to be “pretty”. Hutch style cabinets are usually deeper (18” I think?) than uppers so that would provide even more storage down low. Or even do pantry cabinets with pullouts - they can hold more than food.




  • last month
    last modified: last month

    I am short also. The cabinet on top of the countertop wouldn't work with the layout of our smaller kitchen. Instead, I put a 15" pantry at the end of the "L". IMO, this addition is one of the most favorite things I did to our house. It provides an amazing amount of storage for such a narrow cabinet. It is placed between the dishwasher and the kitchen table. So I loaded it full of dishes that we use at the table. It is SOOOO convenient! the dished are one step from the dishwasher to the pantry/ utility cabinet. Then, the dishes are one step from the pantry cabinet to the table! It takes two minutes to set the table for dinner. I also loaded it up with all my spices and put both side labels and top labels on top of the spices so I can find the spices I want in a split second. I am all about efficiency...

  • last month
    last modified: last month




    These were taken before adding the crown molding. We are currently undertaking a remodel and I have chosen to keep the same layout and went with a 24" deep pantry instead.

  • last month

    I did see a display kitchen at HD that used the same idea that I used, except I think they used a 30" stack of cabinets to form the pantry (with no countertop). I think stacking different types of cabinets looks good with the larger size of the pantry to give interest to the design, but I like the plain pantry from a visual standpoint for a pantry 24" wide or less.

  • last month

    We have a shortage of counter space (medium-small kitchen chopped up by doorways as is common in old houses) so I would rather keep every inch of countertop we can and not cover any with wall cabinets that come down to the counter.


    I think we will just keep light objects (boxes of pasta, etc.) up high and accept that the top shelf or two will be less useful than the bottom ones. We have few lower cabinets now and minimal drawers, so adding lots of drawers should help a lot with storage.

  • last month

    Many people here store their dishes and glasses in drawers, so consider that as well.

  • last month

    I am 5 ft. I store all the frequently used things in base drawers and make sure things in uppers are toward the front. I am lucky to have a big kitchen so have lots of drawers. It is very rare for me to have to get a chair to get something down.


    My brother and his wife are both short. I think my brother is around 5' 3 and his wife is the same. They put 2 of these in:


    https://hideawaysolutions.com/step-stools/

    Isaac thanked vinmarks
  • last month

    Install kick outs in the toe kicks. They are little slide outs to step on. Depending on how high your toe kick is, you can get a good 2-3" worth of step up in there.

    Isaac thanked beesneeds
  • last month
    last modified: last month

    Toe kick steps would be great! and leave a slot somewhere that will fit a slim stepstool. I’m 5’4”, kind of average, and do like my grabber! and a wooden chair. Or a Copco step-chair.

    If you did custom lower base cabinets, you could have side by side dish drawers instead of a dishwasher. also google ADA dishwashers.

  • last month

    I was about to write EXACTLY what theresa21 wrote about positioning shelves as low as possible - I mean word for word!

    I am 5'4". I have a folding stepstool that fits under the sink, and is simple to grab, use, and put away. It gives me access to the top shelves.

  • last month

    2 to 3 inches from a toe kick step for a 5 ft tall person still wouldn't be enough to reach upper cabinets.

    Isaac thanked vinmarks
  • last month

    All the built in solutions are interesting. My inclination is just to go with a standalone step stool which would allow more height, could be moved around to access all the uppers (which will be broken up by windows, doorways, and a range hood into 6 blocks) as needed, and which would be significantly cheaper.

  • last month

    When each of my nieces and nephews passed me in height they took the pledge to reach things for me if I couldn’t. It works very well when they are around (they are proud of themselves for helping), less so when they are not. 😊

  • last month

    Buehl's toekick comment got me thinking about the old garden web days and my neighbor down the street who introduced me to this forum. Her name is Jodi_SoCal and she has her toekick drawer photos and info on these two posts from 14 - 16 years ago.

    Toekick Step Stool - Have it? Like it?

    Anyone have a cabinet to store a step ladder?

  • last month

    I had a Hafale toe kick pull out step stool put in our last home's kitchen. It was a clunky, inconvenient PITA. I ended up never using it and climbing on the counter instead to reach up high. (Stupid yes, I'm part monkey I guess.) Fast forward to our current kitchen and I have a $5 step stool. We keep it in the kitchen corner and use it as our dog's food bowl stand. When I need to reach something I pull it over. Multi-purpose, cheap, sturdy enough.

    Isaac thanked Kendrah