Since the 1970s, the standard American kitchen has ballooned in size. Once only 150 square feet, the average kitchen now offers about 300 square feet of space. The new normal means more countertop space. To help kitchen designers create efficient rooms, the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA) publishes guidelines that outline the ideal countertop measurements. Though most designers adhere to these principles, you can break the rules if your space simply doesn't meet the criteria.
To provide adequate surface area, the NKBA suggests 158 inches of countertop frontage. This width allows enough room for food preparation, small appliances and utensil racks. You'll need more space if you want to accommodate a television or an eating area at a bar. To provide enough landing space, your counters should stretch a minimum of 24 inches deep. At 158 inches wide and 24 inches deep, the standard counter surface offers just more than 26 square feet of work space. For ample clearance, allow at least 15 inches between the counter and the upper cabinets.
To get the most out of your kitchen, uninterrupted blocks of countertop space at critical points will ensure proper work flow. For example, you need 36 inches of continuous frontage next to the sink to handle larger cooking tasks and food preparation. If the area next to the sink won't receive heavy use, then you only need 24 inches of frontage on one side and 18 inches on the other. If there's a peninsula 3 inches from your sink, you can count that area as frontage. To accommodate pots and pans, put 12 inches of frontage on one side of your cooktop and 15 inches on the opposite side. For safety purposes, island cooktops need additional countertop space behind the burners.
If you want to eat meals at a countertop peninsula or bar, you'll need to factor in enough space to accommodate dinnerware. To not feel cramped and crowded, each guest needs at least 24 inches of countertop frontage. (References 3, Guideline 9) The proper depth ranges from 12 inches to 18 inches, depending on the height of your counter.
Though a small kitchen with limited counter space doesn't function well, neither does an enormous kitchen with too much space between work centers. The sink, refrigerator and cooktop form the three major work stations in your kitchen. Designers refer to these hubs as the three points of the kitchen work triangle. To maintain an efficient cooking triangle, the sum of the three sides of the triangle should total a maximum of 26 feet. (References 3, Guideline 3)