One of the great dreams for avid home cooks is that of designing their kitchen from scratch. For foodies, it just doesn't get better than a kitchen that works the way you want it to work. Maybe you're looking at replacing your kitchen countertops on a budget, but this is the time to do it right. After all, an efficient cook is a great cook, especially when it comes to food that's fast and furious, such as wok cooking and sauteeing delicate ingredients like scallops, where every moment counts.
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Average Kitchen Countertop Square Footage
The problem is in thinking there's an "average" size for kitchens because kitchen size varies tremendously based on urban homes versus suburbs, 1950s versus contemporary and so on. Back in the 1940s, the average kitchen had hardly any appliances and was designed accordingly. By the 1960s, kitchens had grown a bit and, as the decades wore on, space needs continued redefining kitchens. Now they're one of the most commanding spaces in a home.
Once, kitchens took up just 100 to 150 square feet. In contemporary homes, they're averaging at 300 square feet, and the bigger the better. So, the "average" is about 30 square feet of counter space, but those numbers don't reflect the extreme variety of kitchens.
But if you're asking these questions because you're planning to overhaul your kitchen and you'd like to maximize counter space, it's important to understand that counter space and people space are equally important in a kitchen. Space for moving around is key to being efficient in the kitchen, so keep in mind that floor space and space for opening doors and drawers on both cupboards and appliances is critical too.
Understanding Spacing in the Kitchen
In a perfect world, you'd have 6 feet of counter space on either side of the sink and a beautiful island just arm's length away, but those "dream" kitchens are sometimes not all they're cooked up to be. Sometimes, too much space can make a kitchen inefficient too. Spinning around to take two to three steps to reach the opposite counter or nearby workspace works best for kitchens. Here are some industry guidelines about counter space:
- Length: Total, 150 inches of counter, lengthwise, is recommended. (This includes the appliances and sink, but not the fridge.)
- Depth: The depth of a counter space is recommended to be 24 to 25 inches deep. Anyone doing the cooking should be able to easily reach the back wall.
- Clearance: Usually, it's recommended that overhead cupboards be at least 15 inches above the countertop to offer plenty of space for blenders and other counter appliances.
- Kitchen Sink: This is the kitchen hub, and insufficient counter space next to it is a major fail. Experts recommend a minimum of 18 inches between a wall or fridge and the sink. Between the sink and the stove, it should be 24 inches of counter, but 36 inches of continuous space on at least one side of the sink is perfect.
- Stove: A minimum of 2 feet of workspace on at least one side of the stove is recommended. If the stove needs to be near a wall, there should be 15 inches between it and the wall.
The sink is recommended to be adjacent to or across from the cooking area and refrigerator for the greatest efficiency. This is the kitchen "triangle" — the stove, sink and fridge — and design wisdom dictates these three spots be no less than 4 feet from each other and no greater than 9 feet apart.
How to Measure the Countertop
If you're keen to replace your countertops, you know that countertop installation cost per square foot is key to your project budget. Being able to install it yourself is great, but you know the adage — measure twice, cut once. To get the right-sized countertop, it's not just about length and width, it's about precision in marking out the space and dimensions for cutouts like the sink. The section with the sink should be one large section and a hole should be cut for the sink. You want any seams on the surface to be as far from the sink as you can to avoid a potential moisture issue.
Measuring needs to be exact for things like composite or marble countertops. Laminate and others can often be trimmed or cut if you're long on the measurement, but don't underestimate!
Length times depth of each counter section, in inches, is your surface area for that section. Once you measure all sections, tally their surface areas for a grand total. Then, divide this number by 144, and that gives you your total square footage.
Countertop Estimation Sheets
If all the math daunts you, some national home centers like Home Depot offer estimation worksheets where you can diagram your kitchen and figure out surface area math. These are often downloadable and printable off the web too. Alternatively, use some graph paper to diagram your kitchen, noting lengths, then doing the math for surface area/square footage or linear feet.
Wait — What’s a Linear Foot?
If ordering countertop, you may see the price for "linear foot," which is 12 inches long by whatever the product's dept is, usually 25 to 27 inches. They're designed to cover the full depth of the counter, so that's a fixed depth, but they're available in custom lengths. These pre-ordained depths are great for standard-size counters, but they may not have a width suitable for any islands you might be covering or adding later, so be sure you see what depth options include.
Smart Solutions for Small Counters
If there's nothing you can do to expand your countertop space, it's time to turn to design because there's more than just "making it bigger" that can increase less-than-average counter space in kitchens.
- Cover Stovetops and Sinks: Stoves and sinks consume much of the space in small kitchens. Source or make a stovetop cover to expand your food prep space. Store-bought solutions exist for these and are often to be used as cutting boards that can easily be picked up and moved when finished, but storing them may be your next conundrum.
- Use the Wall: Pegboards are brilliant in the kitchen, and Julia Child's iconic pegboard is now in the Smithsonian Museum. Using hooks, you can hang pots and pans off a wall-mounted pegboard, making it easy to quickly grab what you need. Things like sieves, butcher knives, big ladles and anything else with a hole, hook or handle that can be hung are ideal here to free up the cupboards, counter and drawers. If you've got a bar counter in your tiny kitchen, the wall under the counter is a perfect spot for a pegboard!
- Magnets: Magnetic strips for knives are a genius solution for any kitchen, as steel utensils and gadgets can all go on the strip, including veggie peelers, whisks, sharpening steels, shears and more. Get magnetized gadgets like meat thermometers to put on your fridge.
- Carts: If you don't have the floor space for an island, maybe a cart can help. Think beyond your standard kitchen carts, as some carts designed for workshop use are fantastic, and you can customize a cutting board surface for a heavy-duty, movable cart and a valuable chunk of workspace.