The Standard Kitchen Base Cabinet Height for Comfortable Cooking—And Resale
Plus how high to hang your uppers.
Updated Mar 16, 2023 8:29 AM
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We ask a lot of our kitchen cabinets. They have to be roomy enough to stow away snacks in an organized fashion and strong enough to hold an ever-growing collection of dishware (or the appliances we had to have but probably only use once a year—looking at you, ice cream maker!). Just as important, the cupboards have to look—and feel—proportional, whether you’re chopping vegetables next to the sink or mixing Negronis for friends at the island.
All of this brings into question the standard height for kitchen cabinets. Does it vary? How do you know what’s best for your home and its architecture? And does it change depending on how you 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
Remember this measurement: 36 inches. That’s the conventional kitchen base cabinet height 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.”
An Exception to the Rule: You’re on the Tall Side
The “most comfortable” kitchen cabinet height doesn’t always take into consideration those who are vertically blessed, as was the case with one of Shannon Tate-Giordano’s clients. “She’s almost 6 feet tall, and she has brothers (around 6-feet-5 and 6-feet-4) who come to visit,” says the Massachusetts-based designer. “Everything was so small around them.” For this family, comfort came in the form of raised kitchen countertops that started with the toe-kicks (that sliver of recessed space at the base of the floor-mounted cabinets). Rather than go with a standard 4-inch-high strip, the designer raised it to 7 inches, which ultimately brought the countertop up 39 inches from the ground. To align the appliances with the surface, her contractor added a cement foundation underneath and painted them black to create a seamless extension.
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 the 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, most often 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, you can do so 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
Here comes that 36 number again, but with a plot twist: While it’s also the standard height for a kitchen island, you’ll have to bump that up to 42 if you plan to use your island (or kitchen bar or peninsula) for dining. 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 cabinets that extend from the floor to (almost) the 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 aligns with the top of your upper cabinetry,” explains Sass. No neighboring cupboards? Match the height to a nearby 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
The standard cabinet height for uppers, according to Sass, is 18 inches above the countertop. However, “in historic homes, a lower mounting height of around 16 inches is common, especially in smaller kitchens or on nonsink walls,” she notes.
Large-scale spaces might call for loftier uppers, 20 to 22 inches above the counters, to balance everything out. Sass wouldn’t recommend going beyond that, though—they 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 for your kitchen cabinets’ height from the floor, “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 3D 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.”