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Kitchen Cabinet and Bench Design

The Design of Kitchen Cabinets and Benches

In the related article "Planning Your Kitchen Layout" we looked at designing the layout of a kitchen. No we need to make sure that your kitchen cabinets and benches are designed to make our kitchen functional. We must make sure that the placement and size of the cabinets and benches are of the correct size and postioned to suit the person or people that will be working in the kitchen and the practical functionality of the units.

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Standardised dimensions for kitchen units

Last issue we started talking about kitchen design and the various layouts you can use. Let us move on and consider benches and cupboards that will make up your kitchen.

In Europe and Australia kitchen units have been standardised for many years and there are many manufacturers who supply "flat pack, assemble yourself" units that make up kitchen cupboards and cabinets to these standard sizes. These units come with a range of options such as doors, handles, benchtops, shelves, drawers (both large for pans and small for cutlery), pull out racks, waste bins and rotating storage racks for corner units.

These standardised units are becoming available in many places across the world through multinational companies such as Ikea and with the spread of kitchen design and manufacturing companies.

Kitchen design companies can be very expensive and a lot of money can be saved by buying and assembling flatpack units.

The important point that is relevant here is that, over time, standard sizes have evolved and these standard sizes have been adopted by manufacturers of most of the equipment we use in our kitchens. If we have a kitchen made up for us, unless you are a particularly tall or short person, it is a good idea to use these standard sizes.

Standard sizes of kitchen cabinets and appliances

A standard kitchen cupboard unit is 60 cms wide (side to side), 60 cms deep (front to rear) and 90 cms high to the surface of the bench top. Different widths are available but these are usually still based on the same 90 cm high 60 cm deep size. Typical widths are 45 cms 60 cms and 90 cms. Standard door widths are usually 60 cms and 45 cms. Wall cabinets are also standardised at 60 cms wide, 70 cms high and around 37 cms deep.

These mass produced "flat pack" units have a standard frame (known as a carcass) and then you choose whatever doors, handles and bench tops you wish to personalise your kitchen.

Across the world manufacturers of appliances such as kitchen cookers, washing machines, dishwashers and to a lesser extent refrigerators have adopted these standard sizes making their units to fit within the 60 x 60 x 90 size. Cookers are often 90 cms high and 60 cms deep so the kitchen work height continues along the benches and across the cooker. Front loading washing machines and dishwashers tend to be less than 90 cms so they will fit underneath the bench top.

Benchtop heights

Note that for average Europeans a kitchen bench top height of around 90 cms has been found to be best. Indonesian people are generally shorter than Europeans and so if the kitchen is to be used mostly by Indonesians it is a good idea to reduce this bench top height to say 84 cms or even less.

Anyone who spends a lot of time working in their kitchen knows that the height of the bench tops makes a huge difference in how you work so take the time to give it some thought. If you have a wonderful though somewhat diminutive 5ft tall housemaid who cooks for you don't expect her to cook your eggs properly when she has to stand on a box.

It is also important to remember that short people tend to have short arms and that a standard 60 cm deep unit may make it difficult for a short person to reach the plug sockets on the wall.

Kitchen wall cabinets

The height of wall cabinets above the bench top level must also be worked out to suit the height of the people cooking. The cabinets need to be low enough to reach but high enough to not get in the way. 60 cms from bench top to wall cabinet is probably a good height.

These standard sized units make kitchen design easy. Measure the dimensions of your kitchen, choose an appropriate layout that gives you a reasonable spacing between the benches and measure out the lengths of the units in standard 60 cm wide units.

There are some things that need careful consideration. The standard flat pack units we get in Australia and Britain are made from melamine laminated water resistant particleboard. Unfortunately the laminated particleboard (and plywood) available in Indonesia is not, generally speaking, water resistant. Take care in selecting the material to be used or you may find your beautiful kitchen starts to absorb water and the particleboard will swell up.

Think carefully about benchtops, you can get some pretty exotic materials these days but think of the practicality, marble might look luxurious but has a tendency to stain. Granite is very good and black granite can look stunning in the right place. Tiles are practical but collect dirt in the cracks. Melamine laminate is very practical, comes in a wide range of colours but can scratch easily. Wood looks great when it is new but once the moisture gets in it can quickly deteriorate.

Finally make sure a skirting board is fitted and this needs to be rebated (set back) or you will be banging your toes all day long.

Gas Storage

Gas Storage is very important. Many kitchens in Indonesia have gas cylinders which are stored in cupboards under the kitchen benches or within the cooker itself. This is very dangerous. Gas regulators with poor seals are very common and the closed space of a kitchen cupboard and a kitchen without open ventilation are death traps. You should always keep the gas cylinder in a separate place (best outside) away from the enclosed environment and away from naked flames on your gas stove.

Designing houses for small people

Standard sized units do have drawbacks particularly for non standard sized people.

Years ago I was involved in an interesting project. We had a customer who was small, no I mean really, really small, only about 3 feet tall in fact. But this lady was unusual in that everything about her was perfectly in proportion - just very small. The powers that be quite rightly decided that she had a right to live her life just as anyone else does. She shouldn't have to use a hoist to get into bed or a step ladder to wash her hands. How do you live your life when you can't even reach the light switches?

Being small is not easy in a world of standardisation around that mysterious entity "the average person". As I said small people are not disabled, they are in fact just as "abled" as anyone else and they do deserve equal consideration to anyone else. Most gentlemen's toilets these days have one urinal lower than the rest to suit those who are lacking in size department but, if you think about it, other than kindergartens this is about as far as consideration for small people goes.

It was decided that Miss Diminutive should have a house that would allow her to live a "normal" life. It was a revealing exercise and it is only when you put yourself in a such a person's shoes you start to understand the problems that people who are lacking in the tallness department have to face each and every day of their lives. Once you start to consider the heights of steps, doorknobs, light switches, washbasins, tables, chairs, toilets, beds, baths, shower heads, the list goes on and on, a thousand and one things to make life difficult. For Miss Diminutive the whole house had to be designed in miniature. The exercise also highlighted just how many standard items we buy only come in one size. Imagine trying to get into, and worse out of, a standard bath if you are only 3 feet tall and going to the toilet- forget it.

Working in a kitchen can be particularly challenging for small people.

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Copyright © Phil Wilson November 2012
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