Kitchen Planning Guidelines

Let National Kitchen and Bath Association guidelines help you create a safer and more functional kitchen.


Enlarge Image Here's a good example of an efficient work triangle -- the distance between the primary cooktop, sink, and refrigerator.
  • Doorways should be at least 32 inches wide and not more than 24 inches deep. When two counters flank a doorway entry, the minimum 32-inch-wide clearance should be allowed from the point of one counter to the closest point of the counter on the opposite side.
  • Walkways (passages between vertical objects greater than 24 inches deep where not more than one is a work counter or appliance) should be 36 inches wide.
  • Work aisles (passages between vertical objects, both of which are work counters or appliances) should be at least 42 inches wide in one-cook kitchens, and at least 48 inches wide in multiple-cook kitchens.
  • The work triangle (the shortest walking distance between the refrigerator, sink, and primary cooking surface) should be no more than 26 feet, with no single leg of the work triangle shorter than 4 feet nor longer than 9 feet. The work triangle should not intersect an island or peninsula by any more than 12 inches.
  • If two or more people cook at the same time, a work triangle should be placed for each cook. One leg of the primary and secondary triangles may be shared, but the two should not cross one another. Appliances may be shared or separate.
  • No major traffic patterns should cross through the work triangle.
  • No entry, appliance, or cabinet doors should interfere with another.
  • In a seating area, 36 inches of clearance should be allowed from the counter or table edge to any wall or obstruction behind it if no traffic will pass behind a seated diner. If there is a walkway behind the seating area, 65 inches of clearance, total, including the walkway, should be allowed between the seating area and any wall or obstruction.
Wall Cabinet Frontage:
Enlarge Image A short stretch of countertop allows for a secondary sink. The depth of a countertop should be no less than 16 inches.

Small kitchens (less than 150 square feet): Allow at least 144 inches of wall cabinet frontage, with cabinets at least 12 inches deep and a minimum of 30 inches high (or equivalent) that feature adjustable shelving. Difficult-to-reach cabinets above the range hood, oven, or refrigerator do not count unless devices are installed within the case to improve accessibility.

Large kitchens (more than 150 square feet): Allow at least 186 inches of wall cabinet frontage, with cabinets at least 12 inches deep, and a minimum of 30 inches high (or equivalent) which feature adjustable shelving.

Difficult-to-reach cabinets above the range hood, oven, or refrigerator do not count unless devices are installed within the case to improve accessibility.

Enlarge Image When planning for a full-height cabinet (one that goes to or almost to the ceiling), determine the maximum reach of the primary user.
  • In either small or large kitchens, diagonal or pie-cut wall cabinets count as a total of 24 inches.
  • Cabinets 72 inches or taller can count as either base cabinets or wall cabinets, but not both. The calculation is as follows:
  • 12-inch-deep, tall units = 1 x the base lineal footage, 2 x the wall lineal footage.
  • 18-inch-deep, tall units = 1.5 x the base lineal footage, 3 x the wall lineal footage.
  • 21- to 24-inch-deep, tall units = 2 x the base lineal footage, 4 x the wall lineal footage.
  • At least 60 inches of wall cabinet frontage, with cabinets at least 12 inches deep, and a minimum of 30 inches high (or equivalent) should be included within 72 inches of the primary sink centerline.
Base Cabinet Frontage:

Small kitchens (less than 150 square feet): Allow at least 156 inches of base cabinet frontage, with cabinets at least 21 inches deep (or equivalent).

Large kitchens (more than 150 square feet): Allow at least 192 inches of base cabinet frontage, with cabinets at least 21 inches deep (or equivalent).

  • In both small and large kitchens, pie-cut or lazy Susan base cabinets count as a total of 30 inches.
  • Cabinets 72 inches or taller can count as either base or wall cabinets, but not both. The calculation is as follows:
  • 12-inch-deep, tall units = 1 x the base lineal footage, 2 x the wall lineal footage.
  • 18-inch-deep, tall units = 1.5 x the base lineal footage, 3 x the wall lineal footage.
  • 21- to 24-inch-deep, tall units = 2 x the base lineal footage, 4 x the wall lineal footage.
Drawer/Roll-out Shelf Frontage:

Small kitchens (less than 150 square feet): Allow at least 120 inches of drawer or roll-out shelf frontage.

Large kitchens (more than 150 square feet): Allow at least 165 inches of drawer or roll-out shelf frontage.

  • Multiply the cabinet width by the number of drawers and roll-outs to determine the frontage. Drawers or roll-out cabinets must be at least 15 inches wide and 21 inches deep to be counted.
  • At least five storage or organizing items, located between 15 and 48 inches above the finished floor (or extending into that area) should be included in the kitchen to improve functionality and accessibility. These items may include but are not limited to lowered wall cabinets; raised base cabinets; tall cabinets; appliance garages; bins and racks/swing-out pantries; interior vertical dividers; and specialized drawers and shelves. Full-extension drawers and roll-out shelves greater than the 120-inch minimum for small kitchens or 165 inches for larger kitchens may also be included.
  • For kitchens with usable corner areas in the plan, at least one functional corner storage unit should be included.
  • The top edge of a waste receptacle should be no higher than 36 inches. The receptacle should be easily accessible and should be removable without raising the receptacle bottom higher than the unit's physical height. Lateral removal of the receptacle which does not require lifting is preferred.

At least two work-counter heights should be installed in the kitchen for different uses and functions, with one between 28 and 36 inches above the finished floor and the other 36 to 45 inches above the finished floor.

Countertop Frontage:

Small kitchens (less than 150 square feet): Allow at least 132 inches of usable countertop frontage.

Large kitchens (more than 150 square feet): Allow at least 198 inches of usable countertop frontage.

Enlarge Image This kitchen beautifully adheres to the guideline for at least two work-counter heights.
  • Counters must be a minimum of 16 inches deep, and wall cabinets must be at least 15 inches above their surface for the counter to be included in the total frontage measurement. Measure only countertop frontage; do not count corner space.
  • If an appliance garage or storage cabinet extends to the counter, there must be 16 inches of clear space in front of this cabinet for the area to be counted as usable countertop frontage.
  • There should be at least 24 inches of countertop frontage to one side of the primary sink and 18 inches on the other side (including corner sink applications), with the 24-inch counter frontage at the same counter height as the sink. Countertop frontage may be a continuous surface or the total of two angled countertop sections. Measure only countertop frontage; do not count corner space.
  • The minimum allowable space from a corner to the edge of the primary sink is 3 inches; it should also be a minimum of 15 inches from that corner to the sink centerline.
  • If there is anything less than 18 inches of frontage from the edge of the primary sink to a corner, 21 inches of clear counter (measure frontage) should be allowed on the return.
  • At least 3 inches of countertop frontage should be provided on one side of secondary sinks and 18 inches on the other side (including corner sink applications), with the 18-inch counter frontage at the same counter height as the sink.
  • The countertop frontage may be a continuous surface or the total of two angled countertop sections. Measure only countertop frontage; do not count corner space.
  • At least 15 inches of landing space, a minimum of 16 inches deep, should be planned above, below, or adjacent to a microwave oven.
  • In an open-ended kitchen configuration, at least 9 inches of counter space should be allowed on one side of the cooking surface and 15 inches on the other, at the same counter height as the appliance. For an enclosed configuration, at least 3 inches of clearance space should be planned at an end wall protected by flame-retardant surfacing material and 15 inches should be allowed on the other side of the appliance, at the same counter height as the appliance.
  • For safety reasons, countertop should also extend a minimum of 9 inches behind the cooking surface, at the same counter height as the appliance, in any instance where there is not an abutting wall or backsplash.
  • In an outside-angle installation of cooking surfaces, there should be at least 9 inches of straight counter space on one side and 15 inches of straight counter space on the other side, at the same counter height as the appliance.
  • Allow for at least 15 inches counter space on the latch side of the refrigerator or on either side of a side-by-side refrigerator; or, at least 15 inches of landing space that is no more than 48 inches across from the refrigerator.
  • Although it is not ideal, it is acceptable to place an oven adjacent to a refrigerator. For convenience, the refrigerator should be the appliance placed next to the available countertop. If there is no safe landing area across from the oven, this arrangement may be reversed.
  • Allow for at least 15 inches of landing space that is at least 16 inches deep next to or above the oven if the appliance door opens into a primary traffic pattern. At least 15 x 16 inches of landing space that is no more than 48 inches across from the oven is acceptable if the appliance does not open into a traffic area.
  • Plan for at least 36 inches of continuous countertop that is at least 16 inches deep for the preparation center. The preparation center should be immediately adjacent to a water source.
  • The preparation center can be placed between the primary sink and the cooking surface, between the refrigerator and the primary sink, or adjacent to a secondary sink on an island or other cabinet section.
  • No two primary work centers (the main sink, refrigerator, preparation, or cooktop/range center) should be separated by a full-height, full-depth tall tower, such as an oven cabinet, pantry cabinet, or refrigerator.
  • Countertop corners should be clipped or curved; counter edges should be eased to eliminate sharp corners.
Enlarge Image A narrow island provides a comfortable dining spot in this kitchen while still allowing a 36-inch-wide aisle.
  • Knee space, which may be open or adaptable, should be planned below or adjacent to sinks, cooktops, ranges, and ovens whenever possible. Knee space should be a minimum of 27 inches high by 30 inches wide by 19 inches deep under the counter. The 27-inch height may decrease progressively as depth increases. Surfaces in the knee space area should be finished for safety and aesthetic purposes.
  • Allow for a clear floor space of 30 x 48 inches at the sink, dishwasher, cooktop, oven, and refrigerator. These spaces may overlap, and up to 19 inches of knee space beneath an appliance, counter cabinet, etc., may be part of the total 30-inch and/or 48-inch dimension.
  • Allow for a minimum of 21 inches of clear floor space between the edge of the dishwasher and counters, appliances, and/or cabinets that are placed at a right angle to the dishwasher.
  • The edge of the primary dishwasher should be within 36 inches of the edge of one sink. The dishwasher should be accessible to more than one person at a time to accommodate other cooks, kitchen clean-up helpers, and/or other family members.
  • If the kitchen has only one sink, it should be located between or across from the cooking surface, preparation area, or refrigerator.
  • Allow at least 24 inches of clearance between the cooking surface and a protected surface above, or at least 30 inches of clearance between the cooking surface and an unprotected surface above. If the protected surface is a microwave hood combination, manufacturer's specifications may dictate a smaller clearance.
  • All major appliances used for surface cooking should have a ventilation system, with a fan rated at 150 cubic feet of air per minute minimum.
  • Do not place the cooking surface below an operable window unless the window is 3 inches or more behind the appliance and more than 24 inches above it. Windows, operable or inoperative, above a cooking surface should not be dressed with flammable window treatments.
  • Place the microwave oven so the bottom of the appliance is between 24 and 48 inches above the floor.
Designer tip:

Kitchen seating areas require the following minimum clearances:

  • 30-inch-high tables and counters: Allow a 30-inch-wide by 19-inch-deep counter or table space for each seated diner, and at least 19 inches of clear knee space.
  • 36-inch-high counters: Allow a 24-inch-wide by 15-inch-deep counter space for each seated diner, and at least 15 inches of clear knee space.
  • 42-inch-high counters: Allow a 24-inch-wide by 12-inch-deep counter space for each seated diner, and 12 inches of clear knee space.
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