Kitchen Cabinet Design
At Centex Cabinets, we will help you with design. But, the information below
will help you do your own design or at the very least give you some things to
When it comes to kitchen cabinet design, most people are intimidated. In fairness,
this can be a fairly deep topic. For that reason, the majority of people decide to
pay a professional $100 to $200 or more to design their kitchen for them. The
problem, from my experience, most of the people the big box stores and even
some cabinet shops have designing cabinets are not properly trained. However,
this guide is intended to give you a few basics that will start you in the right
direction or at the very least let you know if the person doing your design knows
what they are doing.
To do any design, you need to know the measurements of your kitchen. Measuring
your kitchen is another topic completely. You can find step by step directions
here Really all you need are your wall lengths. But, you should know:
The shape of your kitchen – Usually a U, L or galley style, though common things
include islands and peninsulas. Click here to see examples of U, L and galley
The length of each wall
The height of your ceilings
The location and size of any windows or doors
The size of each of your appliances – your dishwasher is most likely 24? inches,
your stove most likely 30?, our fridge 30, 33 or 36? and your sink is most likely
30, 33 or 36?. You should also know the height and width of any built in ovens
Where are those appliances (more importantly the water or gas lines) in relation
to your cabinets and walls.
Now let’s get into things you should consider when designing your kitchen. Let’s
start with a few simple questions:
What are you looking for?
What would you like changed?
What do you want to keep the same?
Is it more important to get your dream kitchen or to stay within a budget?
Wall cabinets come in various heights. The most common heights are 30”, 36”
and 42”. How tall should your wall cabinets be?
Before we make that decision, you need to understand that your base cabinets are
generally 34.5”, add in the 1.5” for the counter-top and your going to be at 36”. A
standard back-splashe is 18”. So, assuming a standard kitchen, your wall/upper
cabinets will begin 54” up the wall.
That being said, some people work a bigger back splash into their design. Some
people make it smaller. Either is fine. It’s really just personal preference. Making
it bigger, placing the wall cabinets higher on the wall, give you more back splash
which some people do for aesthetic purposes and some do because they have
certain items they want to have room for on their counter tops. It will make it
harder to reach the upper cabinets though, depending on your height. Designing a
smaller back splash will limit which items you can place on your counters, but
make it easier to reach your wall cabinets. Again, 18 inches is standard.
If you have 84” (7') ceilings (usually if you have a fur down/soffet), your only
option will be 30” uppers. Many people choose 30” uppers on taller ceilings too.
Why? Many do it because that is what was there before. Some do it to save
money or stay within a budget. The smaller the cabinets, the cheaper they will be.
These days most people want 36?s or 42?s. Most people feel that taller cabinets
look better (especially if your ceilings are taller than 96” (8 feet). The other
reason to choose taller cabinets is that it gives you extra storage space. Most
people find this true when they jump from 30?s to 36?s. The jump from 36?s to
42?s tends to primarily be for aesthetic purposes though since most people have
trouble reaching the top of a 42” cabinets (it’s 8 feet high at the top).
Some people like having their cabinets go all the way to the ceiling (42's go to
the ceiling if you have 8 foot ceilings). Again, this could be for aesthetics. Many
people site not wanting to dust the tops of their cabinets. There are a couple
potential negatives to this. First, it doesn’t allow you to put crown molding above
the cabinets, because there is no room left. Second, very few if any ceilings are
perfectly level. This isn’t a huge problem. If it’s close, it probably won’t be
noticeable. If it is noticeable, you can add molding (scribe or other) between the
cabinet and the ceiling to cover any gaps.
It is also possible to go all the way to the ceiling by leaving the cabinets a little
short and using crown molding to fill the rest of the space. Though, this often
changes the amount of back splash you will have since the wall cabinets will
usually need to be raised or lowered to allow the crown to fit exactly between
the top of the cabinets and the ceiling.
One big design question is, what are you going to do with your corners if you
have a U or L shaped kitchen. In almost all of these designs we use a corner wall
cabinet that has become very popular in recent years, replacing the blind corners
that were popular in the past.
Designing corners can be a little trickier when it comes to base cabinets. The
best use of the space is to use a lazy susan – sometimes known as an easy reach.
A lazy susan usually requires 36” each direction from the corner – 33” versions
can now be found as well. The first 24 inches in each direction is hidden under
the counter. The last 12 is a door which opens up to the hidden space. Generally
the lazy susan has two turntables you can use for storage.
Many builders use blind bases because they are cheaper than lazy susans. A blind
base looks like a normal cabinet, but it is open on the side and runs back under
the counter. This makes the space useable but hard to reach. This is the cabinet
where you almost have to crawl into your cabinets to reach the stuff in the back.
Most people prefer a lazy susan. But, if you don’t have enough room, this is the
next best thing. The blind base only requires 24” from the wall (the same as a
standard base cabinet) and come in various lengths – starting at 36”.
The final and cheapest option is to just leave the corner space empty. Very few
people choose this for their home. This is most common in rentals where the
owner isn’t really concerned with usable space. Click here to see corner
Some design options come down to your personal preferences. For example, do
you prefer regular base cabinets or drawers? Regular base cabinets have a
drawer on top and one or two doors on the bottom (21” and smaller have 1 door,
24” and above have 2 doors). Some designs use all regular bases and some all
drawers. Most people prefer a mix of the two, with 1 or 2 drawer bases being the
most common. Keep in mind that having all drawers will cost a little more.
Another option that has become popular in recent years is pull out or roll out
shelves. These are similar to drawers. But, the whole shelf pulls out and can be
adjusted upon installation for big items like large pots or placed closer together
for smaller items. These can be added to any base cabinet or pantry between 15
and 36 inches in width.
Trash pull outs are also very common. These are generally cabinets with one
door – so 21” or less. The common sizes for these are 15, 18 and 21 inches.
Generally speaking, the 15” pull out will have room for one can, while the bigger
versions have room for two.
If you really want your design to maximize your usable space, you can add a
pantry(s). Pantries allow you to store a lot of items. Also, there are a lot of add
on features available these days to maximize your pantry space. A pantry will
add to the price though.
Similarly, a built in oven or wall oven will add to your price. But, many people
like these either for the practicality or the aesthetic value. Be sure your
appliances fit inside the cabinet. This is one of the most common mistakes from
inexperienced designers. For example, a 30” wide oven will not fit in a 30” oven
cabinet since the 30 inches is the width of the cabinet face, not the inside width.
Generally, the better built the cabinet, the greater this difference will be. As a
general practice, a 33” oven cabinet gives you more room to work with and more
options in buying or replacing appliances.
Most of us have the standard cabinet above the fridge. It’s 12 inches deep and
since you have to reach over the fridge to get to it, it’s pretty much unusable
unless you play in the NBA, therefore worthless. A design option that has become
popular to counter this problem is the built in fridge look with a deeper cabinet
above the fridge. The cabinet above the fridge becomes 24” deep instead of 12
and therefore not only twice the size but more importantly usable. For this to look
good, you need something on the sides. Sometimes you have a wall or pantry on
one side or both. If not, you need to add a fridge panel – a tall panel that gives it
the nice built in look. This takes an additional inch and a half for each panel. It
also costs more since you have to buy a bigger cabinet as well as any panels.
Click here to see a pic of the fridge panel and the deeper cabinet above the
As long as were talking about the fridge. Make sure your design leaves room for
all doors to open properly. In particular, this needs to be addressed for your
fridge or dishwasher doors. If they don’t have clearance, they wont open. I’ve
heard stories of things like, “we can’t put a knob on the cabinet next to the
dishwasher or the door won’t open” or “our new fridge fits in the space, but the
door won’t open all the way because it hits the wall”. This is a simple fix, just
add a little filler to give the proper clearance.
Many people want to add an island or peninsula to their current kitchen. These
can be very nice and often give you some creative design options. But, many
people go a little crazy trying to make them as big as they can. The first rule of
islands is to make sure you keep a big enough walk way. Never let your walk
way become less than 36 inches. 40 to 42 is better. A good way to see if it is
comfortable is to put something on the floor where the island would be and see if
you have enough room to get around comfortably in your kitchen (tape or boxes
tend to work well).
Other than the width and length, you should also consider the height. Do you want
it to be the same height as your counters? Do you want it to be bar height. Do you
want half of it one height and the other half another height? Do you want an over
hang? By using a combination of base cabinets, wall cabinets, building a box
under certain cabinets and other methods, all of these things can easily be
Let’s talk about a few things that will directly impact the look of your kitchen.
The first thing you want to consider in any design, is symmetry Symmetry is not
important with lower cabinets. Your lower cabinets are broken up by sinks,
dishwashers, stoves and other things. Plus, someone would have to be looking at
their feet when they walk into your kitchen to even notice. What does that mean
for you? That means you should focus on usability when designing the lower
cabinets. Make them practical for your needs.
Wall or upper cabinets are a different story. The symmetry of these will impact
the look of your kitchen. You want the width of the doors to be the same as the
doors next to them. For example, let’s say you are filling a 45 inch area. Most
people’s instinct would be to use a 21” cabinet and a 24” cabinet. The problem
is that these cabinets do not go well together. The 21” cabinet has 1 door that for
simplicity we will say is 21”. The 24” cabinet has two doors, each 12”. It just
isn’t visually appealing. What’s the solution? Use a 30” cabinet and a 15”
cabinet in your design. It will fill the same space and have three doors that are
each 15”. It gives you the exact same space at the same cost. Only it is more
Another decision that can really impact the look of your kitchen is choosing to
use bumps and pulls. A bump is using different heights for various wall cabinets.
For example, most of the cabinets in a given run may be 36” tall, but a corner
cabinet may be 42”. This can really make a kitchen “pop” if used properly. Of
course, this will not be possible if you can only fit 30” cabinets. The heights can
be varied on base cabinets too. Most commonly with islands or bars having
multiple or different heights. But, some people like a section of counter a little
higher to give them a work space. This can be done either by using a wall cabinet
as a base cabinet or by building a box under a normal base cabinet to achieve the
Pulls are most common in sink base cabinets and corner wall cabinets, though
occasionally found in other cabinets as well. A pull is simply done at the time of
installation, by placing two 2×4?s behind the cabinet(s) that you want to “pull”
out. This makes the cabinet face stand out 3 inches from the rest of the cabinets.
The varied depth can add to a kitchen much like the different heights of a bump.
They are often used together on a corner wall cabinet.
That should give you a pretty good over view of various design options. Other
things to consider include:
Pulls, knobs or no hardware
Trim – crown, light rail, etc.
Inserts – silverware & cutlery dividers, spice racks, door shelving, dividers and
To see some of the knobs, pulls, hardware, inserts, pull outs, and other things we
carry, click here.
Again, we will help you with your kitchen design at one of our locations (Austin,
Waco and Tulsa - San Antonio coming soon).
If you want to try it on your own, a great tool can be found at cabinetplanner. It's
easy to use and they have a free trial version you can use.
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