Published on May 18, 2021

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Apartment 34 founder Erin Hiemstra's San Francisco kitchen.Photography by Seth Smoot

We ask a lot of our kitchen cabinets. They have to stow away our snacks in a somewhat organized fashion and be strong enough to hold an always-growing collection of dishware—and where else would we hide away the appliances we never use? (Talking to you, spiralizer.) Just as important, the cupboards have to look—and feel—proportional, whether you’re chopping vegetables or mixing Negronis for friends. 

That brings us to what the standard height for kitchen cabinets is. Does it vary? And how do you know what is best for your home, its architecture, and how you intend to use your space? Here to help is Minneapolis-based interior designer Victoria Sass, owner of Prospect Refuge Studio, who has designed her fair share of kitchens. Good news: The answers are straightforward, so hopefully this takes one decision off your plate. 

Yes, There’s a Standard Kitchen Cabinet Height

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Photography by Canary Grey; Design by Prospect Refuge Studio

Remember this measurement: 36 inches. That’s the current conventional kitchen base cabinet height, making for the most comfortable cooking experience (it will hit most people at their hip). “I don’t usually see a lot of variation in that,” says Sass. “It’s like stairs. People have largely grown accustomed to that height and find it off when you deviate from it.”

The Right Countertop Thickness Depends on the Material

When looking at base cabinet measurements, remember that they only include the cupboard itself, from the floor to the top of the box, so you’ll need to factor in the thickness of your countertop, too. Most factory-made cabinets are technically 34.5 inches tall, leaving you with a little wiggle room for that dream slab of colored marble.

Countertop workhorses like quartz and stone are typically stocked in slim 1-centimeter (2/5 of an inch), 2-centimeter (3/4 of an inch), and 3-centimeter (1 1/4 inch) thicknesses. Concrete, meanwhile, is usually cast as a thicker slab, usually somewhere between 1.5 and 2 inches. Wood countertops, such as butcher block, are also chunkier to prevent warping and splitting. Ultimately, says Sass, the exact measurement is a personal preference and driven by the design of the space.

If you’re on a budget, you could always fake it. “If you are trying to achieve the look of a thicker slab of stone, that can be created by adding a mitered edge piece to the front of the countertop,” explains Sass.

You Might Want to Tack a Few Inches Onto the Island

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Photography by Canary Grey; Design by Prospect Refuge Studio

Here comes that 36 number again, but with a twist. While the standard height for a kitchen island is also 36 inches, raise that up to 42 if you plan to use your island for dining (same goes for a kitchen bar or peninsula). Make sure you have at least 2 feet of clearance between your barstools and the countertop so you’re not knocking your knees. 

Floor-to-Ceiling Kitchen Cabinets Have Their Own Rules

With tall kitchen cabinets, the ones that extend from the floor to (almost) ceiling, there’s more measuring involved. Standard ones usually come in three heights: 84, 90, and 96 inches. It always looks nice when a pantry goes from floor to ceiling or to where it aligns with your upper cabinetry,” explains Sass. No neighboring cupboards? Match the height to an architectural element, like a doorway. 

The style of your cabinetry will help determine whether you could give a tall piece a little breathing room up top. “Contemporary cabinets tend to look best floor to ceiling, while a less-than-full-height cabinet can resemble a lovely piece of furniture in a more traditional space,” she says.  

How High to Hang Upper Kitchen Cabinets

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Photography by Canary Grey; Design by Prospect Refuge Studio

The sweet spot for upper cabinets, according to Sass, is 18 inches above your countertop. However, “in historic homes, a lower mounting height of around 16 inches may have been common, especially in smaller kitchens or on nonsink walls,” she notes. 

Large-scale kitchens, on the other hand, might call for loftier uppers, 20 to 22 inches above the counters, to balance everything out. Sass wouldn’t recommend going beyond that, though—uppers, where blenders go to get dusty, can quickly become unreachable and therefore unusable.

How to Determine the Best Kitchen Cabinet Height for You

Going custom is always an option—especially when you have a vetted pro ready to make your vision a reality—“but remember, your family members/guests/future owners of your home might feel very differently” about your choice, Sass points out. To find your perfect fit, “stand upright, bend your arms at 90 degrees, then drop them about 4 to 5 inches. That will be a good work-surface height for you ergonomically,” she says.

Use blue painter’s tape to map out your plan so you can really visualize the proportions, or go one step further and mock it out in 3-D with cardboard cabinets. When in doubt, though, Sass advises sticking with 36 inches: “It’s best for resale, families with differently sized people, and guests who like to help cook.”

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