Countertop Layout, Design

Clients do not consider their new countertops as merely mundane working surfaces, but rather as a design statement — an integral part of the aesthetic and a reflection of themselves. How we determine which surface material to use and how to effectively configure the layout will determine the success or failure of our projects.

Client preferences and room configuration will determine the best layout for the space. In a perfect world, the designers may be able to configure an “L” with an island and “U”-shaped kitchen for the same space. Both layouts accomplish the client’s goals without compromise. The choice is now up to the clients and the way they want to work and move through their new space.

When faced with the request for an island, peninsula or any particular countertop configuration, basic dimensions and functions should be agreed upon by the clients and designer. Will the desired configuration fit the allotted space?

Will the island or peninsula house a cooktop, sink, dishwasher, wall oven or microwave? Will the island or peninsula have seating and will it be lower or higher than standard counter height? Does the client desire a prep or hospitality sink? If a cooking surface is included, will it be drafted up or down? All of these questions need answers.

When these questions are answered, you are ready to plan the proper landing areas for appliances, seating or the other functions. All islands and peninsulas should perform at least two vital functions. At a minimum they should provide additional prep space and direct traffic away from the main work triangle.

The NKBA Kitchen Planning Guidelines recommend specific clearances for countertop spacing and landing areas as well as walkway clearances:

  • The guideline for wall oven, refrigerator and microwave landing space is a countertop a minimum of 15 in. wide by 16 in. deep immediately adjacent to or within 48 in. directly across from it on an island or other work surface.
  • The primary sink should have landing space of at least 24 in. on one side and 18 in. on the other side, again, with a minimum of 16-in. of depth.
  • A cooking surface should have at least 12 in. on one side and 15 in. on the other, also 16 in. deep.
  • If the cooking surface is on an island or peninsula, a minimum of 9 in. behind the cooking surface is recommended for safety.

Oftentimes, landing space and preparation space is combined, such as between a sink and refrigerator or sink and range. To accommodate this combined space, NKBA suggests adding the maximum space recommended of the two areas plus 12 in. as the minimum. For example, a sink with a recommended minimum of 18 in. on one side and 24 in. on the other sharing the space with a refrigerator with a recommendation of 15 in. on the latch side would require 36 in. of space to meet the recommendation. These are clearly spelled out in the NKBA Kitchen & Bathroom Planning Guidelines booklet, available to all NKBA members and associates.

Spacing requirements between an inside countertop corner and a sink edge as well as the spacing between a corner dishwasher and sink front provide access to cabinetry and prevent interference of open appliance doors and aid traffic flow.

When placing an island, the recommended minimum work aisles should be a minimum of 42 in. wide for a kitchen designed for one cook and 48 in. wide for a two-cook kitchen. This space should be measured between countertop fronts or the face of opposing tall cabinets. This takes the countertop overhang into effect. Measuring from cabinet face to cabinet face would reduce that space by as much as 3 in.

A critical countertop spacing location falls between a wall or other fixed surface and a seated eating area. This could be an eating area on an island or a peninsula. If this is a passageway the minimum recommended space for an ambulatory person is 44 in. and for a wheelchair is 60 in. If this space is to provide counter access only, a minimum of 36 in. is recommended for traffic to edge past.

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