Designing Above-Standard Kitchen Cabinets

When embarking on a kitchen remodel or designing a new home, most people default to the standard 36 inch kitchen base cabinet height. However, for taller-than-average homeowners or those desiring extra storage, going above standard can provide better ergonomics and functionality.

We’ll look at key measurements, construction options, storage solutions and other considerations that come into play when exceeding standard dimensions.

Determining Your Ideal Height

As with any major home project, the first step is identifying your needs. When assessing base cabinet heights, consider the following:

  • User height and reach requirements
  • Typical countertop tasks like food prep and cooking
  • Placement of fixtures such as the kitchen sink and stove
  • Ergonomic factors like bending and accessibility over time

Study your existing kitchen layout and usage patterns. Are you constantly bending down uncomfortably to reach into low cabinets? Or do you have a lot of wasted air space between your countertops and wall cabinets? Addressing these issues starts with gathering key user data.

Ergonomics and Dimensions

Consider the main kitchen tasks and motions you’ll need to make regularly: chopping ingredients, moving hot dishes, reaching for spices, etc. Make sure there’s adequate clearance for you to stand comfortably at standard countertop height while accommodating movements.

standard kitchen base cabinet height

If you’re over 6 feet tall or have mobility issues, chiropractors typically recommend at least a 40 inch counter height for suitable ergonomics. Standard cabinet depths and widths don’t need adjusting but focus on adding those extra inches of toe kick space and overall height.

Measuring Above-Standard Dimensions

Most off-the-shelf kitchen cabinets come in standard heights, widths and depths to conform to typical residential spaces. Custom-built cabinets provide more flexibility to choose non-standard dimensions tailored to a homeowner’s stature and kitchen layout.

Establishing Height

While the standard kitchen base cabinet allows for a 36 inch finished counter height, you can size up for greater comfort:

  • 38-40 inches – For above average heights up to 6′ 2″
  • 42+ inches – Best suited for very tall users 6′ 4″ and over

Remember, base cabinet boxes themselves will be an inch or two shorter than the finished height to allow for the countertop thickness. If installing 3/4 inch granite counters, for example, order base cabinets at 37 or 39 inches accordingly.

Accommodating Toe Kicks

The toe kick space underneath base kitchen cabinets typically measures 3-4 inches tall. When raising countertop height, you’ll need to increase this toe kick allowance proportionately to avoid reducing storage capacity:

  • Standard toe kick – 3 to 4 inches
  • Raised cabinets – 5 to 6 inches minimum

Not accounting for toe kick height is one of the most common oversights made when ordering custom-height base cabinets. Without adequate under-cabinet clearance, your knees will constantly bang into low overhangs!

Specialized Cabinet Construction

From a construction standpoint, kitchen cabinets fall into one of two categories:

  • Stock/Modular Cabinets – Pre-fabricated in standard sizes
  • Custom Cabinets – Built to your exact specifications

While big box home improvement stores predominantly sell stock cabinetry inheights up to 36 inches, custom shops offer much more height flexibility. Let’s look at some key differences in how they’re made:

Frameless vs. Face Frame

Within both stock and custom cabinet formats, you’ll choose between:

  • Frameless cabinetry with full overlay doors mounted directly onto cabinet sides
  • Face frame construction with inset doors between front frames

Both formats have pros and cons, but frameless cabinets more easily adapt to handle atypical interior dimensions. Their durable modern style also suits more contemporary kitchen designs.

Materials and Finishes

Whether choosing stock or custom construction, you want to select a sturdy material able to withstand years of regular use. Durability also becomes more critical as cabinet size and weight capacity increases.

Options like plywood, engineered wood and thermofoil provide budget-friendly choices. Premium materials such as solid hardwoods and stainless steel offer artisan touches with higher labor expense. Partner finishes like paint, stain and laminate with appropriate cabinet materials to determine the best pairing for your kitchen style and wear threshold.

Also analyze flooring, appliances and lighting finishes during the design phase. Creating a cohesive palette where cabinetry complements other elements helps appliances and decor shine rather than look disjointed.

Integrated Storage Solutions

One benefit of installing taller base cabinets is the opportunity to really amplify storage using space-saving fittings and dividers. Some ideas include:

  • Pull-Out Shelves – Ideal near cooking areas to access spices, oils and condiments hands-free
  • Vertical Partitions – Tiered cabinet dividers to neatly organize/separate items
  • Drawer Organizers – Custom inserts for utensils, pots, and lids
  • Waste Bin Storage – Built-in garbage/recycling separation receptacles

Don’t limit yourself to traditional shelf configurations. Get creative with ways to maximize unused space. Install extra middle shelves for small appliance storage. Use a cabinet’s side walls for mounting magnetic knife racks or hooks to hang utensils. Identify all the items you need access to in your prep areas and design accommodations into cabinetry dimensions.

Selecting Complementary Countertops

With custom cabinet heights, it’s especially important to coordinate countertop dimensions for proper alignment. Using a durable, top-quality countertop material suitable for the kitchen’s purpose will also prevent sagging or cracks from heavyweight use.

Countertop Materials

Higher-end countertop materials like quartz, granite, marble, and soapstone have the best structural integrity for heavy usage. However, they require knowledgeable precision when fabricating thicker surfaces.

Using conventional countertop thicknesses as a starting guideline:

  • Granite – 1 to 1 1/2 inches
  • Quartz – 1 1/2 inches
  • Solid Surfaces – 1/2 to 1 inch
  • Laminate – 1/2 to 3/4 inches

Keep in mind, thinner countertop materials can bow or crack under pressure over time. Using adequate supports like corbels or braces minimizes this risk for larger surface areas.

Edge Profiles

The sink and exposed dining areas should employ rounded or beveled edges for safety. Opt for standard 90-degree butt edges along backsplashes and walls where no seating exists.

Common choices like bullnose, ogee, chamfer, eased, and dupont offer distinct aesthetic options. Just make sure edge build-up gets factored into the overall countertop thickness.

Layout Factors

When adding height to kitchen cabinetry, consider adjustments required to primary prep and cooking work zones. Here are some key areas needing re-assessment:

Working Triangle

The working triangle connecting the main kitchen workstations – the oven/cooktop, refrigerator, and sink, should contain 60 to 90 inches total across the three adjoining legs. Expand dimensions proportionately with above-average height gains.

Landing Areas

Just like kitchen aisles, clear adequate landing pad space around workstations – 25 to 32 inches minimum suggested. Expand clearance zones wherever seating gets added like kitchen island or peninsula overhangs.


Task lighting height, typically 30 inches above the counter, should increase in unison with cabinet elevation. Use adjustable fixtures to readily modify directionality and intensity. Check wire length to avoid excess exposure.

Cost Analysis

Price stands as the primary disadvantage to installing custom-height kitchen cabinets. On average, expect to invest:

  • Custom base cabinets – $300 to $900 per linear foot
  • Standard stock cabinets – $75 to $350 per linear foot

Factor extra expenses for modifications like:

  • Cabinet upcharges – 20%+ more for custom heights
  • Specialty hardware and fittings
  • Thicker countertop materials
  • Qualified designer fees
  • Professional cabinetry installation

Bumping up the budget compared to stock cabinets often makes sense long-term due to greater durability and storage efficiency. Like most home projects, identify key needs first before pricing out options.

Return on Investment

In general, expect 60-80% return on investment for upscale kitchen remodels due to enhanced livability and real estate demand. While designing above-standard cabinetry qualifies as a luxury improvement, the personal enjoyment over time offers intangible and immediate benefits.

  • Reduced back and joint strain through improved ergonomics
  • Greater ease preparing food with accessible storage
  • Safe, comfortable usage for children and aging in place
  • Higher resale value from larger, customized kitchens

By carefully planning dimensions that suit your space and needs, elevated base cabinetry also maximizes unused niche storage potential compared with standard sizes.

Enhancing Storage Capabilities

Taking base cabinet height to the next level creates exciting possibilities to stash items previously crammed into mismatched pantries or garage spaces:

Display Glass Front Cabinets

Glass-front cabinet inserts showcase fine dishware and collectibles all while protecting them from dust and grease.

Oversized Cookware Drawers

Sized up utensil compartments neatly file bulky pots vertically and slide seamlessly while staying organized.

Vertical Baking Sheet Holders

Pantry-style dividers allow instant access to pans of all sizes without them crashing around loosely.

Think multi-purpose when it comes to storage accessories paired with your expanded cabinet space. Revamp how often used tools get stashed but remain easily accessible.

Defaulting to standard 36 inch high kitchen base cabinets without evaluating room dynamics does everyone a disservice. Just an extra inch or two of toe kick clearance and height makes ordinary kitchen tasks far more comfortable daily.

For the tall, elderly or mobility impaired, breaking base cabinet convention enhances quality of life through improved ergonomics and access. With some careful upfront planning around exact measurements and construction choices, creating an elevated custom kitchen costs less than you may think.

Dare to dream when envisioning how to best use your cooking space. Identify needs first before pricing options. In the long run, the positive impact extra height delivers far outweighs initial expense, especially on resale.

Stop crouching uncomfortably to grab pots. End lower back strain from hunching over counters. See your dream kitchen come alive by going above standard!

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