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10 Details That Make the Kitchen

Kitchen with ample countertop space

Ample countertop space adjoins this stovetop and ovens, allowing landing areas for pots, dishes and anything needed while cooking. Photo by PhotographerLink, courtesy of Nar Fine Carpentry.

Small design details make a big difference in functionality.

Myriad details determine the success of a kitchen design. Some are basic to optimal kitchen functionality, while others are personalized to the homeowner’s lifestyle. Still others have been culled from years of experience and are often what separate a professionally executed kitchen from one that serves up frustration.

Following are 10 kitchen areas where attention to detail can improve usability, comfort and visual appeal.

Aisles. Islands are a must-have in today’s kitchens, but just as important is the ability to maneuver around them with ease. Designer Nicolette Patton, CKD, of Nar Fine Carpentry in Carmichael, Calif., recommends an aisle space of 42 inches to 48 inches between an island and perimeter cabinetry. If there’s a dishwasher or refrigerator, widening the aisle to 48 inches or more allows the door to open with ample room left over for someone to pass by.

Pro-style ranges. Because some models are deeper than typical base cabinet depth, they may prevent adjacent cabinet doors and drawers from opening when placed too close to a corner, notes Jean Stoffer, eponymous owner of a Chicago-based interior design firm. Don’t assume all 36-inch pro-style ranges are equally deep. Consult the appliance specifications before finalizing the design.

Panel-ready vs. fully integrated refrigerators. Educate homeowners on the difference between the two, Patton says. The latter costs more but, when installed, is completely concealed; panel-ready units protrude a few inches and look like refrigerators with cabinet paneling. With fully integrated models, the base cabinets may need to be pulled 1 inch forward during installation or made deeper to ensure they’re flush with the refrigerator, Stoffer says.

Countertop corners. If opening the refrigerator causes the door to bump into a countertop corner, round the corner or angle it back, Stoffer suggests. Alternatively, install a 90-degree stop on the refrigerator door. If the refrigerator is housed in a tall cabinet, extending the side of the cabinet so it’s even with the countertop edge eliminates the corner altogether.

Landing space. Make sure there’s at least 18 inches of counter space on either side of the cooktop or range, notes Courtney Ziething, owner and head designer of C.C. and Company in Newport Beach, Calif. Similarly, wall ovens, microwaves and refrigerators also require nearby landing areas.

Counter seating. Provide enough room to accommodate “at least the family and possibly a few friends,” Ziething says. For the comfort of those seated, Patton recommends an overhang of at least 15 inches for a 36-inch-high countertop and 12 inches for one that’s 42 inches high.

Wall space. Not all wall space is an invitation to install cabinets, especially if it’s narrow and next to a window or a ventilation hood, Patton says. Instead, consider leaving it as is, which may enhance the kitchen’s overall aesthetic appeal and add a feeling of lightness.

Lighting. Position the lighting over work surfaces to eliminate shadows. And be mindful of scale when selecting pendants or chandeliers for suspension over an island or peninsula. The bottom of the light fixture should be at least 72 inches above the floor, Stoffer says.

Pot fillers. In northern climates, if the plumbing for a pot filler is located in an outside wall, it should be insulated against cold temperatures, which requires installing a thicker wall during framing, Stoffer says.

Natural stone countertops. For a cleaner look, the veining should align across seams when possible. On islands, which are centrally located and brightly illuminated, Patton eliminates this problem, as well as seams, by staggering counter heights and using different materials.