Giovanni Valle is a licensed architect and LEED-accredited professional and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). He is the author and managing editor of various digital publications, including BuilderSpace, Your Own Architect, and Interiors Place.
Islands and counters have always been significant elements of a kitchen’s functionality and aesthetics. However, it’s not always clear whether these two kitchen installations have or should have similar heights.
Kitchen islands can be the same height as counters if both kitchen installations are set to their standard height of 36 inches (91.44 cm). However, it isn’t mandatory to stick to the standard height for both, and you can customize the height to suit your specific needs and aesthetic preferences.
Remodeling your kitchen? Keep reading for an in-depth discussion on the standard height for kitchen islands and counters, whether both kitchen installations should be the same height, how to determine the perfect height for each, and so much more.
What Is the Standard Height for Kitchen Counters?
The typical American kitchen counter is 36 inches (91.44 cm) tall. As with many home design standards, there’s a couple of reasons why most homeowners opt for this counter height.
- It maximizes ergonomics for the average-height American adult, who stands at about 5 feet 9 inches (175.26 cm) tall.
- Sticking to the standard height makes renovation easier, especially for the DIYer. It does that by ensuring that when you need to renovate a few years down the line, you’ll use common installation standards and measurements instead of having to tweak things to fit your custom counter height.
Kitchen base cabinets, for instance, typically come with a height of about 34.5 inches (87.63 cm). Meanwhile, the typical countertop is 1.5 inches (3.81 cm) thick. If you add up these two values, you get 36 inches (91.44 cm)一the standard kitchen counter height.
Suppose you’re looking to renovate your kitchen counter or install a better one as part of your home improvement.
If you opted for the standard height, you wouldn’t need to do any expensive customization to the countertop or base cabinet because it’s already in the correct dimensions. On the other hand, any homeowner looking to deviate from the standard height would need to customize these two elements of a kitchen counter to get their preferred height.
So, if sticking to the standard kitchen counter height maximizes efficiency for most Americans and makes renovation/home improvement easier, why do some people deviate from it?
- Difference in height. One of the most common reasons is the difference in height among individuals. The standard countertop height doesn’t always make life in the kitchen easy for exceptionally tall or short people. For such individuals, customizing the counter height to their height is the only solution.
- Improve accessibility. Another common reason people deviate from the conventional kitchen counter height is to improve accessibility for people with special physical needs. Generally, homeowners looking to improve accessibility for the disabled opt for a counter that’s 34 inches (86.36 cm) tall because this height fits most wheelchair designs.
Of course, there are other individual-specific motivations for choosing/not choosing the standard kitchen counter height. All said and done, it all comes to personal preferences.
A quick tip: To determine your ideal kitchen counter height, stand up and bend your arms to mimic your natural position when chopping something on a cutting board. In this position, measure about four inches (10.16 cm) below your bent elbow. This is how tall you’ll want your kitchen counter to be to maximize comfort and efficiency.
What Is the Standard Height for Kitchen Islands?
A standard American kitchen island is 36 inches (91.44 cm). Kitchen islands of this height are primarily used for cooking and food preparation (as opposed to eating/seating).
Seating at a kitchen island with this height is somewhere between bar stools and kitchen table seating in terms of the feel, which isn’t always the most comfortable height for dining and is why standard-height kitchen islands are better suited to food preparation.
Should Kitchen Island Be Same Height As Counter?
If they’re both in standard height, a kitchen island can be the same height as a counter. However, the height of both kitchen installations is entirely a personal choice. The island can be taller or equal to the counter, depending on the homeowner’s height and other specific needs.
So, should the kitchen island be the same height as the counter? Or is it okay to have different heights for both kitchen installations?
Let’s make a case for each setup.
Matching the Kitchen Counter Height to Island Height
Many homeowners opt to have their kitchen islands and counters in an equal height of 36 inches (91.44 cm). Such a setup comes with the following advantages:
- It allows you to showcase the beauty of your granite or quartz countertops, something that doesn’t always stand out when kitchen islands sit a few inches higher than counters. For most people, this is the main reason for matching the island height to the counter height.
- Equal-height counters and islands provide a clear line of sight in the kitchen space. If you have a relatively small kitchen, this can help make your space feel a bit bigger and more open than it really is.
- Counter-height island seating is more suitable for the elderly and children. It makes it easier for kids and the elderly to get up and down and make your kitchen feel more like home than a restaurant or a bar. It also allows the island to double up as usable space for other things like homework projects, eating breakfast, reading the newspaper, and so on.
Having Different Heights for Kitchen Islands and Counters
While local building codes vary, there’s generally no legal requirement to match your kitchen island and counter in terms of height. The only thing that exists is the standard height for each type of kitchen installation, and even they aren’t final. You can customize the heights of your kitchen island and counter to suit your specific needs.
At this point, it makes sense to introduce a term that we’ve not mentioned so far: bar height. According to Eastwood Homes, the typical kitchen bar height is 42 inches (106.68 cm). So when we say a kitchen island is at bar height, it means it’s 42 inches (106.68 cm) tall.
Bar height kitchen islands are becoming more common. Most commonly, a bar height kitchen island will be complemented with a standard height counter.
This staggers the island-counter heights, creating a kitchen setup that can be advantageous in the following ways:
- The elevated bar height island functions as a space divider in homes without a clear separation of the kitchen from the rest of the space. With a well-designed island, this setup can significantly improve the aesthetics of your interior space.
- The taller island can help hide unwashed dishes and other kitchen clutter from the line of sight. This particularly comes in handy in interior spaces with an open floor plan. You’re bound to have dirty dishes now and then and don’t want to have that out in the open when impromptu visitors catch you off guard. An island that’s slightly taller than the counter helps you achieve that.
- An elevated island makes it easier to host guests in your kitchen as you cook. If you love to keep your guests engaged with wine and chats as you cook, a bar height island allows them to interact with you without infringing on your “work area.” And when you make a mess, the extra island elevation helps hide it from your guests’ view because chef prep tables are about the same height as a standard kitchen counter.
How To Choose the Perfect Island and Counter Heights
So far, we’ve established that you can either have your kitchen island at counter height or elevate it to bar height such that it sits slightly higher than the counter. We’ve also established that the heights for both kitchen installations are more about your personal preferences than the standard recommendations.
Now that your choices are clear and not bound by any building code requirements, how do you go about deciding whether to match the island height to counter height or elevate the island by a few inches?
Here are the most critical questions you’ll need to ask yourself when making that decision:
- Is making the kitchen accessible to kids and the elderly a priority? If so, make the island counter height.
- Is anyone with a physical disability going to be using the kitchen often without your intervention? If so, make both island and counter heights 34 inches (86.36 cm). You can even go lower depending on what works best for your disabled family member.
- Are you planning to dine and host guests in your kitchen? If so, make the island bar height and keep the counter height standard.
- Does your kitchen seem small or have beautiful countertops that you want to highlight? If so, keep both island and counter height standard.
- Is the kitchen clearly separated from the rest of the living space? If not, consider a bar height island and keep the counter height standard.
Hopefully, you now understand the intricacies behind the heights of kitchen islands and counters, and what we’ve covered will help you build your dream kitchen. Remember, there are no “hard rules” for how tall your kitchen island or counter should be. It’s all about what works best for you and your family.
- Eastwood Homes: Standard Bar Height or Counter Height – Which Is Best?
- Kriers Construction: Which Is Better: Counter- or Bar-Height Kitchen Islands?
- Dura Supreme: Counter Height VS. Bar Height: The Pros & Cons of Kitchen Island Seating Styles
- Liveaco: Bar or Counter? Selecting a Height for Kitchen Island
- Caesar Stone: Standard Counter Height: Finding the Right Fit for You
- The Kitchn: The Right Kitchen Counter Height & Other Key Kitchen Measurements
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