Appliances and Kitchen Planning

    January 4, 2010

    I wrote the following article in 2007 for the website of the NKBA (National Kitchen and Bath Association).

    Its content is important to designers who are fairly new to the process of cabinetry planning, Viking rangetop with island stye hoodbut it is also helpful information for the home owner who wants to embark on a kitchen renovation.

    No matter if you work as a designer for a bigger cabinetry supplier or design custom cabinetry, technical knowledge is essential for a successful, long lasting career in the cabinetry field.

    Nowadays I work about 99% of the time with custom cabinet makers, which allows me the full flexibility of a customized design, and- contrary to popular notion- custom cabinetry is not necessarily much more expensive than working with a large supplier.

    On a personal level I also prefer to support the small businesses in my community, I appreciate the individual level of craftmanship and attention to detail executed by the cabinet makers, and I enjoy nurturing the relationship between client and cabinetmaker. Not only do we bring clients to previous jobsites, so that they can get a feel for the work of a particular cabinet maker, they are also always invited to go and see the cabinet makers workshop to experience the skill, effort, machinery and knowledge that is required to create the pieces which are going to be an integral part of the client’s life.

    I plan on writing more about different appliance brands, my experiences with them, and customer feedback over time, so make sure to check back in!
    I will also introduce the cabinetmakers and their shops to you in the near future…

    A designer’s take on appliances

    Kitchens are the most complex and intricate part of a house, and a successful design requires a combination of both creative and analytical skills. Each and every job will expose you as a designer to appliances you haven’t worked with before, and their specification sheets are your most important source of technical information.
    NEVER start without studying them carefully!

    With all this state-of-the-art equipment being an integral part of the kitchen we Viking gas rangetop with powerpack vent inside decorative hoodplanners/designers need to know how to deal with it.
    Due to inconsistencies in specifications, especially with high-end models, often the cabinet makers I work with request to have the actual appliances in their workshop before they begin to work on the cabinetry. This request will certainly have an impact on the timing of a kitchen remodel, so make sure to allow for appliance ETA’s in your work schedule.

    Ideally, I talk with clients about their wish list of appliances before they go out and purchase them, as their choices of appliance types will have an impact on the positioning of the workstations in the kitchen.
    This has nothing to due with personal preference of specific brands -it’s the technical and functional considerations which will have an effect on the design and use of space, and vice versa.

    As a designer I want to make sure my clients understand their options, and the consequences, before spending a considerate amount of money on appliances.


    Fridge depth:

    When I started designing kitchens in Canada I worked with what I call ‘big box’ suppliers – companies that produce cabinetry with standardized dimensions, with a set amount of door style and colour options.

    I noticed very early on that the standard industry standard of 26 inches for a standard fridge gable was falling short of the typical 28 inches required to cover the carcass depth of a regular (non-countertop-depth) fridge. This bugged me to no end – as a designer you go through lengths to create a beautiful space, and then I have to look at 2 inches of a black fridge carcass?

    When you look at the specifications of a fridge, notice that it will give you a number of different dimensions for its depth- one for the carcass only, one for the carcass with door, one for the carcass with door and handle.

    If you want to cover the full carcass of a fridge, you have a number of different options:

    One approach is to order a deeper gable. This adds to the cost, however, and manufacturers are resistent to this request, as customization is contrary to their standardized business approach. Modification can also lead to ordering or manufacturing mistakes quite easily. If you use a deeper gable, you would also have to adjust the depth of the upper cabinet above the fridge (should you have one), as this cabinet would either have to be build out from the wall to be flush with the gable front, or you would have to order yet another customized, deeper cabinet.

    Usually, a better way to save a few inches is to move the refridgerator back into the wall. This is an easy step if you are dealing with typical wood stud and drywall construction. You have to remove the drywall behind the new fridge location, cut out the two or three studs in that area either fully or at least by half of their depth, and then either install a 5/8″ plywood backer panel (when you take out the studs completely), or 1/2″ drywall.

    This process will gain a minimum of 2″, which might not sound like much, but- believe me- in a typical kitchen setting 2″ mean a lot.

    The only time I would caution or even advise against this method is, if you are dealing with an Freestanding Subzero stainless fridge with sidepanelolder home from the first part of the 20th century, which uses lathe and plaster construction. The vibrating of the cutting action on the studs will loosen the brittle plaster, thus resulting in cracks, especially on the other side of the wall. Be sure to never undertake this step without prior approval of the homeowner – they are the ones who will have to pick up the bill of potentially necessary plaster repair work.

    In new construction, or on bigger renos, I generally ask for a niche to be framed in for the refridgerator.

    The 2×4 studs in that location are either being turned sideways, or completely left out, and the back will receive a plywood backer panel for stability.

    Don’t forget to consider the location of the refridgerator receptacle carefully.

    If you have an outlet right behind the fridge the standard electrical plug will add at least an inch to the fridge’s overall depth. You could have the plug changed to a flat unit (consider the warranty issues, though), or move the receptacle out of the way, either further up or off to the side, accessible through the cabinetry.

    Fridge height:

    For a reason that is beyond me, manufacturers can’t or don’t want to agree on one or two standard fridge heights. If you are dealing with a big box cabinet supplier you will find out that they typically offer only one standard height for the cabinet sitting above a fridge. This usually results in a rather large gap between that cabinet and the fridge. The solution for this is either to order a custom height fridge cabinet, or you can use a face frame filler strip to bridge this gap.Slide in electric stove, microwave hoodfan and standard fridge in guest apartment

    Even if you work with a cabinet maker and custom made cabinetry, you might still run into issues. Cabinetry that’s suppossed to fit like a glove around the fridge can easily be too tight. This has usually to do with floors and/ or ceilings which are out of level.

    On one of my jobs the overall height for that upper cabinet couldn’t be adjusted, and then the floor right underneath those 3 feet of fridge space was ? inch higher on one side than on the other. Even when we dropped the fridge down to it’s lowest level, the hinges, which sit on top, were still 1/8 of an inch too high!

    Luck was on my side with a Jack-of-all-trades kind of cabinet installer who had previously worked as a delivery person for an appliance company. He invisibly carved out the plastic cover plate of that hinge just a tiny bit – it worked…

    Ever since that incident I request about ? inch of extra clearance above the fridge- you can always raise the adjustable legs on the fridge to make up for this.

    Side Clearance:

    Another refridgerator-related issue is the side clearance.

    In order to get the crispers out, modern refridgerators require at least a 90 degree opening of the doors. If you have the fridge positioned perpendicular to a wall or cabinetry, you will have to allow for the thickness of the refridgerator door, plus a possible plant-on door panel (should you have one), plus the fridge handle.

    This can result in a required space of 2 3/8 inches and go up to 4 inches!

    If the specs are unclear about this – which they often are – make sure to go to the appliance dealer to have a look at the fridge yourself.

    Don’t ever assume that a fridge will just fit in it’s allocated spot!

    Fridge door panels:

    If you don’t want to look at the large front of a black, white or stainless fridge, plant-on doors are the way to go.

    Now, with many fridge models you have to consider the fact that not all fridges are made to be equipped with these kinds of doors. Many an experienced designer and cabinet maker has encountered the problem of the panel weight.

    As a customer you would want to discuss with your appliance sales person what your expectations and plans are in regards to the finished look.

    Many refridgerators are sold as ‘panel ready’, but once you read further you notice a disclaimer that the fridge hinges can only handle a ? inch flat panel in the cabinetry finish, which then sits inside a narrow metal frame. This will never look the same as the cabinetry finish, and in my opinion you rather totally forego
    the idea of a plant-on front in this case.

    I might have some news for the manufacturers of such fridges – hardly ever is that what my clients or a designer are looking for!

    A raised panel wood door the size of a fridge door is REALLY heavy, and the hinges of the fridge doors have to be able to support that extra weight without sagging over time – otherwise your fridge won’t close properly after a very short time.There is a possibility that as the designer you have to find out how much your particular choice of doorstyle weighs, and then discuss the issue with your client.Elegant kitchen in rustic log style ski mansion

    Been there, done that – even though we paid attention to the weight issue a fridge door started to sag very soon after we installed the plant-on doors. Interestingly enough that very manufacturer offered very shortly afterwards a new model with French doors instead of the single door model my clients had purchased.

    Built-in versus Integrated

    Built-in appliances are a pet peeve of mine. How misleading do manufacturers want to be?

    Typically this term relates to fridges, compactors, dishwashers and warming drawers. The most important fact every kitchen designer should know about this category is that ‘built-in’ does NOT mean that the appliance, once equipped with the plant-on door panel, will blend in seamlessly with the rest of the cabinetry.

    In fact the plant-on door will stick out ? of an inch from the face of the cabinetry!
    Would you have expected this from a built-in anything? I certainly didn’t…

    If a client is looking for an appliance that sits totally flush with the rest of the cabinetry they have to look- and pay- for the so called Integrated models.Viking double ovens next to integrated subzero fridge ( hidden behind cabinet doors)

    With compactors, warming drawers and dishwashers a designer can adjust the overall depth of the base cabinetry to accommodate the additional depth of a built-in kind of appliance. You can either pull the base cabinets away from the wall by an inch, or simply order deeper cabinets.

    But remember, this also means that your countertops will have to be an inch deeper, which might have an impact on the amount of material you will need, and on the cost.
    Also, make sure your installer knows about your plans, and be aware that your plant-on side gables have an allowance to accommodate the additional depth as well.

    You can’t take this approach with fridges, though! Built-in Fridge doors need to protrude past the cabinetry doors in full- otherwise you won’t be able to open them… ( i tried it- doesn’t work…)

    If your client is really set on not seeing the fridge at all, they will either have to spend their money on an integrated model, or they have to consider purchasing a European model like a Liebherr fridge, that can sit inside a cabinet.Liebherr fridges 'hiding' inside tall units left and right

    Make sure to discuss those issues with your clients up front, don’t rely on an appliance sales person to educate a client- many appliance people are not aware of the implications either.

    To this very day I am haunted by the memory of my first encounter with this Built-in issue.
    I designed a very elegant kitchen with a long wall of tall units, which included the fridge. The client had purchased a rather exclusive appliance package before they even spoke with me about the design, so I simply took what I was presented with and followed the instructions for the door panels per manufacturer’s specifications.

    The kitchen turned out beautifully, with many special and well thought-out details, but the refridgerator door stuck out by 3/4″, which totally spoiled it for the client.
    I was blamed for not pointing out this fact to the client in the first place…
    The homeowners would have rather spend another $ 5.000,- on an integrated fridge model, than have the door stick out.

    You can bet I never received a referral from this client!

    Ovens and Cooktops

    Nowadays we have a very wide range of cooking appliances at our disposal, which can be incorporated in our layouts.

    In addition to slide-in stoves, free standing ranges, rangetops and cooktops there are various kinds of wall ovens, steam ovens, speed ovens and microwaves.

    For cooktops alone you can choose from electric, gas and induction heat, go with glass surface or sealed burners, or create your own cooking surface made from individual cooking elements like Griddles, Woks and Teriyaki elements.

    One of the easier appliance to plan for is a slide-in stoveFreestanding gas AGA cooker.

    They tend to be fairly straight forward, although you should determine how far back you can actually push the unit, which is important when templating for the counter top.

    The best way of dealing with these ovens is to allow for a filler on either side of the stove to create air space. Depending on the model a convection oven needs side clearances due to the extreme heat during the self-cleaning process, which could singe the side of the cabinetry. Allowing for a minimum ? inch of air space is mandatory for a lot of those models, and even if an existing stove doesn’t require this clearance, i would always allow for this space in case a client ever wanted to exchange their stove for a different model.

    The advantage of a slide-in stove over a freestanding range is its cleanliness.

    Freestanding units and rangetops always have a tiny gap on either side of the counter, in which crumbs gather no matter how meticulous you or your housekeeper are.

    Another consideration is the controll panel on the standard freestanding stoves, and the splash guard on the exclusive gas ranges – if positioned on the back of a stove this panel will take away from any decorative backsplash option your client might want to have.

    Some Rangetop models require to sit up about 3/8 of an inch above conter top level – make sure that your client is educated about this, otherwise they might think it’s a planning mistake!

    Also, be sure to understand how far out those range panels protrude out from the counter top edge – especially the models with those very sought-after big controll knobs. These controlls could potentially impede the opening function of perpendicular positioned cabinetry, especially drawers.Viking Gas rangetop with powerpack inside decorative hood

    Another concern is the clearance issue to combustible surfaces around gas burners. Make sure to perform due diligence on this topic, as building inspectors are quick to cite even the smallest clearance infringement.

    In one kitchen design I had very confidently allowed the typical 36 inches of clearance overhead, only to be reminded by a luckily very attentive cabinet maker that we were dealing with a special sealed burner unit, which required 42 inches!

    With the upper cabinetry only going up to 84 inches, which would have resulted in a rather unuseful upper ‘cabinet’ height of only 6 inches above the range, and it would have ruined my whole design idea.

    The solution was to make the underside of those upper cabinets non-combustible.
    This can be done with tile, glass, stainless steel, concrete board and laminate, to name a few.

    I designed a panel made out of a stainless steel frame with an insert of frosted glass as the bottom panel for those upper cabinets, which does double duty as a light panel at the same time.


    There is a myriad of great appliances out there now, with dozens of new products coming onto the market each year.

    Steam ovens are a big favorite in my native Germany for example, as they offer fast and healthy cooking solutions for a wider variety of foods.

    The multi-purpose units, for example the Miele Speedoven, are a very interesting trend as well.

    If you are really passionate about cooking make sure to visit appliance showrooms that offer presentations and cooking classes prior to making a decision on which appliances to purchase.

    Another issue to consider is appliance packages from the same manufacturer.
    Different brands use varying types of stainless steel, not mention the various shapes of handles and designs of control panels.Walloven/Microwave combination unit

    If you have a number of stainless steel appliances close to each other in your kitchen a consistent look would certainly be of advantage, and give you a nicer overall look.

    One of my favourite appliances to plan with is the Sharp Microwave Drawer. It comes in 2 sizes, but the 24 inch version should be totally sufficient for the regular homeowner.
    If you want to integrate a microwave into your kitchen, a Microwave drawer certainly provides easy access to all family members, and it is very comfortable to operate as well with its tilted controll panel and push-button soft opening, and easy on the lower back.

    In smaller kitchens, where space is at a premium, an Over-the-range microwave/ hood combination is a very great space saver. You would only want to combine this with an electric stove, though, NEVER with a gas unit!

    However, the one thing that really bugs my designer’s eye is that those units have a carcass depth of more than 13 inches.

    In addition to this is the thickness of the microwave door, which can’t be covered on the sides, because it houses the venting grilles.

    Overall the microwave will protrude from a standard size 12 inch deep upper cabinet by at least an inch.

    Over the range microwaveTaking the same measure as on the lower cabinets, you can always ask the installer to pull out the upper cabinets to cover the microwave carcass in total, but you have to make sure that your plant-on panels, which you might use on the side and on the bottom, have been ordered oversized to allow that step.

    Otherwise we are back to working with extra depth custom cabinetry.

    Alternative locations for conventional microwaves depend on the lifestyle of the clients.
    Clients with school aged children seem to like the under-counter height, so that the little ones can warm up their milk, or make their own pop corn.
    Parents with toddlers however tend to request a higher location, perhaps right above the countertop.

    For those clients who would like to hide their microwave behind one of those sleek European lift-up doors or stainless steel tambour doors – Designer beware!

    Hard-wired appliances inside cabinetry could potentially be illegal in your Province or State, so make sure to check your local building code, and discuss potential insurance issues ( fire hazard) with your client.

    Baking centre/ appliance garage with retractable doorsOverall is the idea of a clutter free counter always very appealing, but in my practise I always discuss the pro’s and con’s of receptacles inside appliance centres with my clients, and make their choice their responsibility.

    Of course it seems logical to have receptacles inside an appliance cabinet, but I would then specify that plug to be connected either to an interrupter switch, which works with the door mechanism on that particular cabinet, or to a pilot light switch outside that cabinet, which indicates via a red light that the receptacle is ‘alive’.

    I would wish magazines would point out potential legal issues around such devices, when they feature fabulous space saving design ideas. Quite often a good time of my consultation is used for telling clients what they CAN’T have…


    Electric slide in range with powerpack vent inside decorative hoodfanVenting happens either up or down.
    You can use so called downdraft systems, which pull odors and fumes away right at the source, and vent them either directly out through the back of the stove, or down through a vent and out between the floor joists.

    Some ranges have an integrated downdraft system – I know from my customers feedback that people either love those models, or totally despise them. Fact is that the grille will gather a large amount of residue, which looks unsightely, and it is constantly in your field of vision when you are around the stove.

    An sleeker option is a pop-up downdraft, and by now you have the choice of 2 different heights.

    First of all- a pop-up only works in conjunction with a cooktop, as the vent unit requires cabinet space underneath.

    When you are not cooking, all you see is a band of stainless steel, about 2 inches wide, running along the length of your cooktop in the back. When pressing the ‘On’ button this unit lifts up and starts venting. Currently there seem to be 2 different general height options available – for an electric cooktop a lift of about 8 inches suffices, but if you want to combine a pop-up with a gas cooktop you should look for a model that rises about 12 to 15 inches up. That way you avoid that the flames are being drawn towards the vent, which results in an uneven spread of the flame, and uneven heat.

    Viking rangetop with pop up downdraftThe use of a cooktop in combination with a pop-up vent is very useful, when you want to cook on an island, or a peninsula, without having to deal with the visual impact of an island hoodfan, or if you want to enjoy the scenery outside a window without disrupting the view.

    Updraft systems give you a wider range of design options – like contemporary stainless steel and glass options, seriously commercial looking stainless units, including a high stainless backguard complete with warming shelf, a discret narrow band of stainless steel mounted on the bottom of an upper cabinet, which pulls out only when in use (ideal for a small apartment kitchen), or power packs which sit inside a decorative hood made from wood, cast stone or various metals.

    Determining the right amount of airflow is critical.

    A typical hood fan might have a CFM rating of about 350, but power pack systems can easily go up to 1200 CFM. 900 CFM’s are recommended for gas ranges, but there are 2 things to consider when dealing with higher rated exhaust systems – noise and make-up air.

    Noise can be dealt with in form of an exterior blower. This is a box-shaped device mounted either on an exterior wall or on the roof. It will require certain clearances to allow for sufficient air flow, so make sure to educate yourself about it before considering it for your project.

    The effort of dealing with make-up air depends largely on your local building code, and your particular jobsite.

    In older homes, which are naturally drafty and often still sport single paned windows, you might be able to get away with a few additional dryer vent sized holes drilled somewhere in the basement wall, to allow for additional air intake.

    This approach does not work in new construction, though – make sure to discuss the necessary steps with your mechanical engineer and/or your contractor, as you might have to integrate a small furnace into the system, or heat up the incoming air in another way.




    THE SKY IS THE LIMIT DESIGN is a national and international award winning, full service architectural and interior design firm. We service Vancouver, Kelowna and the BC Mainland, Victoria and Vancouver Island, Seattle and the Gulf Islands as well as international clients. Principal Ines Hanl and her team specialize in the creation of artful, bespoke interiors in any style for their discerning clientele.

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