New Ways to Calculate Cabinet Space

With more open-plan kitchens, and rooms with lots of windows and no space for wall cabinets, providing adequate storage for a client today requires a new approach to planning. The NKBA book “Kitchen Planning” presents a revised system for determining storage, which is excerpted here.

Base, wall, drawer and pantry storage are still the main elements of a storage system in the kitchen. Storage recommendations are based on shelf/drawer frontage, not just cabinet size. Different amounts of shelf/drawer frontage are recommended for small, medium and large kitchens:

  • 1,400 inches for a small kitchen (less than 150 square feet);
  • 1,700 inches for a medium kitchen (151 to 350 square feet); and
  • 2,000 inches for a large kitchen (greater than 350 square feet).

The NKBA recommends using the guidelines in the chart below as a means to calculate the location of storage:

Miscellaneous storage is storage more than 84 inches above the floor. It is also furniture pieces, pot racks, etc.

The chart recommends the allocation for different types of storage in each size kitchen. However, these specific recommendations do not have to be met as long as the appropriate total shelf/drawer storage is met for kitchen size. For example, it is not necessary for a small kitchen to have 180 inches of pantry storage. The kitchen may have no pantry storage and instead have more base, wall and drawer storage than indicated on the chart. The guidelines do indicate that only the amount specified as miscellaneous storage can count toward the totals. Since this is pretty inconvenient storage, it would not be a good idea to substitute lots of storage above 84 inches for base storage.


Cabinets have various shelf and drawer configurations that affect the amount of shelf/drawer frontage the cabinet offers. For example, a wall cabinet with three shelves offers more storage area than a two-shelf cabinet. A base cabinet with two 24-inch shelves holds more than one with one 24-inch shelf and one 12-inch shelf. Use the following formula to calculate the amount of shelf/drawer storage provided per cabinet:

Cabinet size X number of shelf/drawers X cabinet depth in feet =Total Shelf/Drawer Frontage
Cabinet size: Standard cabinet width dimensions are usually given in 3-inch increments, i.e., 12, 15, 18 inches.
Number of shelf/drawers: Each cabinet will have a number of shelves and/or drawers specified. Check the cabinet catalog.

Cabinet depth in feet: Different cabinets have different shelf depths and designs that affect how much space is actually available for storage. Use the following measurement in feet (or fraction of feet) to calculate the actual amount of storage space provided in each cabinet. Wall cabinets of 12 inches have a depth of 1 (12” = 1’). In most base cabinets, the depth would be 2 (24” = 2’). Drawer frontage is calculated using the depth measurement as well.

Various cabinet depths provide different capacities for storage, and a multiplier based on 1 = 12 inches is used to calculate the depth. For example, a 12-inch deep wall cabinet is 1, a 15-inch deep wall cabinet is 1.25, an 18-inch deep pantry cabinet is 1.5, a 21-inch deep wall cabinet is 1.75, a 24-inch deep base cabinet is 2, a 12-inch deep drawer is 1 and a 24-inch deep drawer is 2.

Example of Storage Calculations. Let’s examine how to calculate the amount of shelf/drawer frontage in a wall cabinet, a base cabinet, a drawer cabinet and a tall utility/pantry cabinet.

Wall cabinet calculation. The following example provides an application of the formula for the 36-inch wide (W3630) cabinet:

Multiply the cabinet frontage size (36 inches) by the number of shelves in the cabinet (3) and by the cabinet depth (12 inches = 1):

36 inches x 3 x 1 = 108 inches

Thus, a 36-inch cabinet with three shelves would provide 108 inches of actual shelf frontage.

Base cabinet calculation. The following calculation is for the 27 inch wide (B27) base cabinet with two 24–inch deep shelves. The cabinet also has one drawer. Multiply the cabinet frontage size (27 inches) by the number of shelves in the cabinet (2) and by the cabinet depth (24 inches = 2). Calculate the drawer by multiplying the frontage (27 inches) by the number of drawers (1) by the depth (24 inches = 2).

Cabinet: 27 inches x 2 x 2 = 108 inches
Drawer: 27 inches x 1 x 2 = 54 inches

The 27–inch base cabinet has 108 inches of shelf frontage and 54 inches inches of drawer frontage storage.

Drawer cabinet calculation. The following calculation is for the 18 inch wide drawer cabinet with 4 drawers (BD18D4).

Multiply the cabinet frontage (18 inches) by the number of drawers (4) by the depth of the cabinet (24 inches = 2).
18 inches x 4 x 2 = 144 inches

This is the same formula used when calculating a single drawer in a base cabinet.

Pantry cabinet calculation. A tall 24-inch wide utility cabinet (U242484R) has three fixed shelves. The following calculation would be used. Multiply the cabinet frontage (24 inches) by the number of shelves (3) and by the cabinet depth (24 inches = 2).

24 inches x 3 x 2 = 144 inches

If pull-out shelves were added, they could be calculated as drawer storage.