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How to Plan for Kitchen Cabinets

  • Comments 4

Last year, my son and I bought a 25-year-old, rundown foreclosed house, really cheap. Part of the remodel (a.k.a., a complete rebuild) was of course replacing the kitchen. There really wasn't much to replace because the previous owners had already ripped out the old kitchen. Plus, we had torn out and replaced all the old walls so the kitchen footprint was completely new as well. So how to plan the new kitchen? I put down rosin paper onto the floor, snapped chalk lines to mark the depth of the 24-in. base cabinets and 12-in. lines for the upper cabinets, and he and I figured out the best layout for the kitchen.


Laying out kitchen cabinets
You can create a layout for your kitchen cabinets by laying down rosin paper and snapping chalk lines to represent the depths of your base and upper cabinets.

The truth is that even though I'm no designer, I've planned quite a few kitchens for customers, relatives and friends with few complaints so far. The fundamentals of kitchen design are really pretty simple. This is what I've figured out:


The working triangle: This is the most basic architect's rule of kitchen design. You should be able to walk—without hiking—between the refrigerator, the sink and the stove.


• You need, at the very least, 4 ft. between rows of cabinets.


• Make sure everything can open. That means make sure that dishwasher doors don't run into anything. That drawers can open freely without dragging into adjoining cabinets. That doors can swing open all the way without bumping into anything.

Use the pros if you lack confidence

Take advantage of the home center's design software and the people who know how to use it. It's amazing. Show up with a really accurate plan of your existing kitchen footprint, complete with carefully measured dimensions. The staff want to sell you cabinets and they're happy to help! Spend a half hour or so with them and you'll walk out with a computer rendering of exactly what your kitchen will look like from any angle you want to see it from.

Or, design your own kitchen

After all, who knows more about how you use your kitchen than you? It's easier than you might think.

Go to any home center and ask for a cabinet catalog from any manufacturer and bring it home with you to plan your kitchen. Inside the catalog, you'll see drawings of cabinets that show door swings, heights and widths. Those basic cabinet sizes will be the same among companies, so any catalog will work. The important part is to get the layout right. Forget about wood types and styles of doors and drawers while you're planning. You can hash out those details when you place the actual order.


All cabinet manufacturers build cabinets in increments of 3-in. widths: 9, 12, 15, 18, 21 and so on. And all those companies build pretty much the same options. The cost depends on things like dovetailed drawers, the wood used and the quality of the hardware. They'll give you options for all that stuff. Choose whatever works for your kitchen and how you use it, then place your order and go from there.

— Travis Larson, Senior Editor


For some great articles on planning a kitchen and installing cabinets, check out these articles:

10 Tips for a Happy Kitchen Remodel

Installing Kitchen Cabinets

Frameless Kitchen Cabinets






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  • Comments
    • by posted on

      Very good blog Travis. I am currently doing a <a href="www.thertastore.com/.../2148.htm">white kitchen cabinets</a> renovation for my home. I have hired a contractor and they are doing their best. As I am not a DIY person, I am facing some difficulties while doing all such things. I am glad to read your blog and useful tips. This will surely help me to complete my DIY kitchen renovation project.

    • by posted on

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    • by posted on

      Fantastic help Travis, If you don't mind I would like to add a few things. You can go down to 40" between cabinets. Yes things will start to get tight, however many kitchens are not wide enough for 48". There are  spacer mullions available for some situations. Use a 1" spacer mullion to widen the vertical rail at an inside corner, at the end of a bay of cabinetry where it meets a wall, and in a refrigerator space. A standard refrigerator is 36" and a standard refrigerator cabinet is also 36". This leaves no wiggle room to get the refrigerator in and out.

    • by posted on


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