Before you get started on your kitchen renovation project, you should be aware of a few golden design rules that will ensure your kitchen is as functional and enjoyable as possible.

Certain standards apply to kitchen design: the size of cabinets, counters and appliances, and clearance space to ensure an efficient and comfortable kitchen without traffic problems. A number of trends are making an appearance and revolutionizing the modern-day kitchen. Follow the recipe and you’ll find out!


Today’s kitchen has three kinds of cabinet modules:

  • Upper or overhead cabinets
  • Base or floor cabinets
  • Pantry cabinets

Although sizes vary in width, standards must be adhered to so that all your cabinets will be functional and accessible to everyone.

Upper cabinets

Sizes for upper cabinets vary a great deal. Standard depth varies between 12" to 13" with the exception of microwave cabinets which are between 15" and 18" and cabinets above the fridge which are 24’’. In height, cabinets often extend to the ceiling in order to maximize storage space.

Base cabinets

The height of base cabinets is generally 34", on which a counter 1 ½ “thick is placed. The final height of 36" ensures an ergonomic working surface while standing up. A depth of 24" makes it possible to recess the sink or the cooktop. Stove and dishwasher measurements respect these standards concerning height and depth.
Kitchen island cabinets respect the same standards as those for base cabinets.

Pantry cabinets

Pantry cabinets are taller cabinet units used to store dry goods, canned food and grains. The depth – 24” – is the same as for base cabinets in order to recess the oven or microwave.


The time is long past that appliances had a standard width. The huge range of models and sizes makes it necessary to refer to manufacturers’ specifications to allow for the necessary clearance.

A few things to keep in mind:

Dishwashers are 24" wide and positioned next to the sink. You will need a base cabinet that is large enough to install your sink: 24” for a single-bowl sink and 36” for a double-bowl sink.

Refrigerator and stove

Your preliminary kitchen design plan should include a space of 30" to 36" for the refrigerator and a space of equal dimension for the stove or cooktop. If you opt for a built-in oven, set aside a space 33" wide in a pantry cabinet unit. You can also position the microwave oven directly above.

Stove: gas or electric

Make sure you have a 30” clearance between the cooking surface of an electric stove and the bottom of your upper cabinet and a 36” clearance for a gas stove. This means that the bottom of the cabinet with the range hood should be 66" to 72" from the finished floor. Choose a kitchen hood the same size as the cooktop.

Small appliances

An 18" clearance is required between your upper and base cabinets for your small countertop appliances, such as the coffee maker and the toaster. With sufficient clearance you can move around easily as you perform your tasks, reducing the likelihood of those small kitchen accidents. The National Building Code recommends that you install electric outlets on a kitchen counter 42” from the floor. Close to the sink, they should be grounded outlets.


The secret of a well-designed kitchen is the attention paid to the openings of all the kitchen’s components. For example, an open dishwasher should not hinder the refrigerator door from being opened and vice versa. To prevent such a situation, avoid placing two major appliances side by side and always make sure two appliances are separated by a cabinet. This way, each appliance is accorded a working surface to accomplish the tasks associated with it.
For increased functionality and your comfort, leave a passing corridor of 42" between your kitchen wall units and the island. If someone in your family uses a wheelchair, leave a 60" corridor.
Only when you have calculated your available space will you be able to determine whether an island or peninsula

Cooking sitting down or standing up

Whether you opt for an island, a peninsula, or a simple dinette-table, the seating you choose should be 12" lower than the eating surface. The 36" island and lunch counter requires 24" stools, whereas the standard 30" table requires an 18" chair. Working with pastry and performing tasks sitting down will be much easier on a work surface lowered to 30".


Incorporating universal, or barrier-free, design into the kitchen is increasingly gaining ground. The principal of accessibility for all has led us to reconsider certain standards, such as the height of work surfaces and base cabinets in particular. The cooktop, for example, can be lowered to 30" or 32" and the microwave installed below the counter. Appliances can be accessible to people in wheelchairs without detracting from the comfort of other members of the family. With this perspective, bottom cabinet storage is maximized and drawers are promoted over traditional doors.
This overview of standards, practices and trends will enable you to design a functional kitchen accessible to all. Consult a kitchen-designer in one of our RONA stores to help you achieve your project.