Refrigeration Center

The main activity is storing food items in the refrigerator and freezer. An organized cook may only go to the refrigerator one or two times while preparing a food item, taking out all of the ingredients needed for preparation at one time. A chaotic cook will likely go to the refrigerator several times to take out items. It is probably true that having the refrigerator close to food preparation areas is much more important to the chaotic cook than the organized cook, because the trips to the refrigerator may be numerous and tiring if it is placed too far away.

The refrigerator will also be used when ingredients and leftovers are stored. Again this may require several trips or only a few, depending on cooking style and number of items. The following recommendations are excerpted from the book “Kitchen Planning,” part of the NKBA Professional Resource Library.


The refrigeration center is often placed at one end of a kitchen work arrangement. The typically tall unit will not interfere with other work areas if it is placed at the end of the workflow, and often this will make it more accessible to family members getting beverages or preparing to serve the table. However, avoid placing the refrigerator directly beside a wall. There may not be room to open the refrigerator door beyond 90°, making it difficult to access the interior for storage and cleaning. If a refrigerator must be placed adjacent to a wall, plan additional space between the refrigerator and the wall to provide room for the door swing.

Make sure there is adequate floor space in front of the refrigerator for the door to swing open and for a user to maneuver in front of, and around, it. In some wider built-in units this could be as much as 48 inches of clear floor space.

Because the refrigerator is most often used in food preparation, it is a good idea to place a preparation area next to the refrigerator. Remember, the 36-inch primary preparation area could be placed between the sink and the refrigerator, or a secondary preparation area could be planned there.

Undercounter style refrigerators allow for placing multiple refrigerators in multiple locations, adding flexibility and improving access. A refrigeration unit might be placed in an area where salads and vegetables are regularly prepared. Or a small unit for beverages might be placed close to the serving area of the kitchen and completely out of the food preparation areas. Wine coolers and beer kegs can help make entertaining convenient. Refrigerator drawers may be particularly useful for placing cold food storage at a height that does not require bending.

The style of refrigerator should be selected based on volume and access needs of the household, as well as the general parameters of the space.

Landing Area

The landing area at the refrigerator should be a minimum 15 inches wide, measured as countertop frontage. (Remember a landing area is at least 16 inches deep.) The placement of the landing area can vary depending on the style of refrigerator used. It should be on the door handle side of a top or bottom mount refrigerator-freezer, so that when the refrigerator door is open, an item can be transferred from the refrigerator to the landing area without interference of an open door. In a side-by-side refrigerator, the 15-inch landing area can be located on either (or both) side(s), since both refrigerator and freezer doors are narrow. Because most food will be removed from the refrigerator side of the unit, it is probably best if a landing area is on the freezer side, but other planning considerations may indicate the opposite.

NKBA guidelines allow a landing area to be placed on a counter or island across from the refrigerator. The landing area must be within 48 inches measured from the front of the appliance to the edge of the landing area. This will allow the user to remove an item and turn to place it on the landing area. It is probably not as convenient as a landing area next to the refrigerator, but it is manageable for most users.

If undercounter refrigerators are used, a landing space 15 inches wide by 16 inches deep should be planned above the refrigeration unit.

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