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The way that a set of cabinets is arranged, both on the floor and against the wall, is referred to as the layout and represents an important component of kitchen planning. The layout has implications for both form and function. From an aesthetic perspective, it is important to create a sense of balance and ensure that the visual lines created by the cabinet runs are consistent with the desired look of the kitchen space. From a functional perspective, it is important to ensure that the cabinets are arranged in a way that is convenient and accessible, that provides sufficient storage space and appliance room, and that supports common tasks and work triangles. 
The cabinet layout will be dictated in part by the floor plan of the kitchen. The shape of the kitchen, meaning single wall, galley, L-shaped, U-shaped, G-shaped, or double L-shaped will determine the specific lengths of walls available for cabinet placement. In kitchens with unutilized walls, such as L-shaped kitchens with an available third wall, and in kitchens with wide central areas, such as large U-shaped kitchens, the addition of another run of either wall cabinets or island cabinets can be considered. However, this is more of an overall kitchen layout question rather than simply a cabinet layout question. In this section, we assume that the kitchen layout has already been determined and a particular floor plan selected. If not, you can access more information regarding how to design an optimal kitchen floor plan in our kitchen layouts section here.

The floor plan provides a constraint with respect to floor and wall space which is available for cabinet placement. However, even within the confines of this constraint, there are multiple possible arrangements and placements for the cabinets. There are also multiple possible ways of configuring individual cabinets. These decisions will affect not only the look, accessibility, and storage capacity of the cabinets, but also the placement of certain appliances and the amount and availability of countertop space. In the case of RTA or stock cabinets, there are a limited number of standard layouts available, so these decisions may be somewhat out of your hands. There will be only so many configurations which fit your particular floor plan. However, in the case of semi-custom and especially custom cabinets, you will have a lot of latitude with regard to cabinet layouts. In those cases, it is vitally important to identify not only the right materials and finishes, but also the configurations and placements of the cabinets which will best serve your needs.

Before you can begin to plan an optimal cabinet arrangement, you must first understand the primary cabinet configurations which are available. These are the building blocks from which you then construct cabinet runs, where a cabinet run means a single, uninterrupted row of adjacent cabinets. These are also the building blocks from which you construct islands and peninsulas.

The three main configurations for kitchen cabinet are base cabinets, wall cabinets, and pantry cabinets. Base cabinets are the cabinets which sit on the floor and which support the countertop. Wall cabinets are the cabinets which are attached to the wall, or sometimes the ceiling, and which hang above the countertop. Pantry cabinets, also known as tall cabinets, are the cabinets which sit on the floor but which extend past the countertop, usually rising to the same height as the wall cabinets and providing more storage space than a base and wall cabinet combined.

Among each of the main configurations, there are further distinctions based on how each configuration of cabinet is then divided into compartments. There are six primary types of base cabinets: standard, drawer, sink, corner, blind corner, and pullout. A standard base cabinet has a separate drawer at the top and shelving down below. A drawer base cabinet has several stacked drawers and no shelving. A sink base cabinet has a dummy drawer front and an open space down below for the piping associated with the sink. A corner base cabinet often has no drawer and only shelving. A blind corner base cabinet has an unreachable portion that is wedged in between the reachable portion, the two walls forming the corner, and the adjacent cabinet along the perpendicular wall. A pullout base cabinet may or may not have a drawer atop a single slide-out bottom shelf and is used to hold trash receptacles and recycling bins.

With respect to wall cabinets, there are also six primary types: single door standard, double door standard, split, corner, peninsula, and appliance. Single door and double door standard wall cabinets have anywhere from zero to three shelves, depending on their height, and either one or two doors, depending on their width. These comprise the majority of wall cabinets in most kitchens. Split cabinets have two separate sections, one above the other, each with its own door. There are different designs possible with split cabinets, such as shelves above and drawers below (like an upside down base cabinet), two separate divisions of shelves (like a utility cabinet), or shelves above and a wine rack below. Corner cabinets, as their name suggests, go into the corner and can either be constructed as blind corner cabinets, or as diagonal corner cabinets, where the door is at a 45 degree angle to both perpendicular walls. Peninsula cabinets are like standard wall cabinets, but they are suspended from the ceiling and instead of a back wall, they can feature a second set of doors, allowing access to the contents of the cabinet from either the inside or the outside of the peninsula. Appliance cabinets are designed to have an appliance mount, usually beneath the cabinets, such as a range hood, a microwave, or a wall oven.

As far as tall cabinets, there are three main types: pantry, broom, and oven. A pantry cabinet generally has either regular, rollout, or swing out shelving, providing multiple compartments for a variety of storage needs. A broom cabinet has one tall compartment at the bottom for broom, mop, and bucket storage, and a short compartment at the top for cleaning supplies. An oven cabinet provides a space for a wall oven in the middle of the cabinet, with shelving above and drawers below. Double oven and oven/microwave cabinets are variations on the oven cabinet, providing space for two wall ovens, or an oven and a microwave, respectively.
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In addition to cabinet configurations, another important element to consider with respect to layout planning is the infrastructure of the kitchen. By infrastructure, we mean the water pipes, gas lines, air vents, and electrical circuits which are integral to the kitchen's operation. The cabinets have to be constructed and subsequently laid out in such a way as to mask the infrastructure on the one hand, yet support its function on the other.

The sink base cabinet has to be constructed wide enough to fit the basin of the sink. In case of extra wide sinks, or multi-compartment sinks, the width of the cabinet may need to be increased beyond standard dimensions. In addition, the back of the cabinet has to have appropriately placed openings to accommodate the water and drain pipes connecting to the sink. In case of corner sink placement, the undersink cabinet has to be a corner cabinet, constructed either as a blind corner or as a diagonal corner.

Appliance cabinets need to be placed in such a way as to ensure access to electrical outlets and, depending on the appliance, gas lines and air vents. Cabinets with an undermount for a microwave or a convection oven, need to be placed directly above an electrical outlet. Cabinets with an undermount for a range hood need to be next to an electrical outlet as well, but they also need to have a built in space and exit opening for the air vents, much as sink cabinets need to have a built in space and exit opening for the water pipes. Oven cabinets need to have outlet access in the back and, in the case of gas-powered or dual-powered wall ovens, access to and openings for gas lines.

Wall cabinets designed to go above the refrigerator need to be measured carefully to ensure that they provide the requisite width to cover the span of the refrigerator and the requisite depth to extend from the wall all the way to the front of the refrigerator. Otherwise, the refrigerator will interfere with your ability to access the cabinets.

In addition to these elements, there is the physical infrastructure of the room with respect to window placement. Traditionally, the sink has been placed in front of the kitchen's main window. This provides natural light to the sink basin, as well as the work areas on either side of the sink. It also allows the cook to look out over the yard while cooking. Thus, if the window is already in place, it will dictate the placement of the sink cabinet. In addition, it will provide a natural break in the run of wall cabinets.
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Another element that has to be considered vis-a-vis cabinet layout is the placement of individual appliances. The cabinets have to be spaced appropriately in order to provide room for the range, the refrigerator, and the dishwasher. Measurements have to be precise, so that there is just enough space for the appliances to be flush with the cabinet walls. There should be no unseemly holes between the appliances and the cabinets.

In the case of exterior appliances, the appliance control panels, along with refrigerator, oven, and dishwasher doors, should extend slightly beyond the edge of the countertop, which means that the base cabinets should be measured to be more shallow than the appliances. Otherwise, the appliances will look they are recessed into the cabinet runs and, unless the appliances are built-in, this is neither an aesthetic nor a functional look.

In the case of built-in appliances, such as wall ovens or undercabinet microwaves, the corresponding cabinets have to be constructed specifically to accommodate those appliances. That means the appliances have to be precisely sized in advance and the dimensions communicated to the cabinet maker. In addition, the placement of those appliance cabinets relative to the other cabinets is an important consideration. A wall oven can either extend the existing work triangle or provide the vertex for a new work triangle. As such, it should not be placed too far from either the sink or the refrigerator.

In addition to dimensions, the storage space and configurations of cabinets which are adjacent to particular appliances should be considered. From a convenience standpoint, the closest cabinets to individual appliances should hold the cookware and ingredients most commonly used with those appliances. For example, dishware, pots, and pans are usually stored next to the range; plastic wrap, aluminum foil, and plasticware are usually stored next to the refrigerator; cutting boards, knives, and cleaning supplies are usually stored next to the sink. Thus, placing the broom cabinet next to the range or the pots and pans storage next to the refrigerator may not be the best way to lay out the cabinets.
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From the perspective of cabinet layout, not only appliances, but also islands deserve a separate discussion. A major benefit of an island is that in addition to incremental work space above, it also provides significant additional storage space below. The additional storage space comes in the form of an auxiliary group of base cabinets which support the island countertop.

It is important to think about which appliances will be incorporated into the island, as that will affect the configurations of some of the island's base cabinets. In case of an extra sink, another sink cabinet will be necessary, which may need to be customized for placement in an island rather than against a wall. In case of an extra cooktop but not a range, the design of the cabinet below will need to accommodate the basin of the cooktop. Additionally, the island cabinets adjacent to particular appliances should be configured for storing items which are commonly utilized with those appliances.

The space between the island cabinets and the regular base cabinets will have to be measured to ensure that there is a sufficiently wide walkway. The doors of the island cabinets and the doors of the regular base cabinets should not touch or interfere with one another to any extent. Nor should the doors of the cabinets on either side touch or interfere with the doors of any of the large appliances, including refrigerators, ovens, and dishwashers.

The sides of the island which face outward from the kitchen and toward the living space of the home should be considered in a different light from the sides of the island which face inward into the kitchen. The inward sides are better suited for functional storage cabinets, while the outward sides may be used for either decorative cabinets, such as glass-fronted showcases, or for particular uses, such as the storage of cereals and snack foods made easily accessible for the children.
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The final element - and it is one of critical importance - to consider with respect to cabinet layout is accessibility. The cabinets have to not only provide a storage space, but also offer convenient access to that storage space, so that items can be stowed or retrieved with equal ease. Having to repeatedly pull up a step stool or stand on a chair to reach a high shelf is not only cumbersome, but can lead to items falling out or being dropped, not to mention the possibility of a dangerous fall. Needing to rummage haphazardly in the depths of a blind corner cabinet is not only tiresome, but can lead to pricking the hand or scraping the arm. With a proper cabinet layout, however, these problems can be avoided.

The most important elements with respect to accessibility are the design of corner cabinets, the vertical placement of wall cabinets, and the width of walkways between cabinet runs. With respect to corners, an L-shaped kitchen has one corner where two cabinet runs meet, a U-shaped kitchen has two corners where two cabinet runs meet, and a G-shaped kitchen has up to three corners where two cabinet runs meet. At each corner, the challenge is creating a design where the part of the cabinet that is wedged into the corner with walls and other cabinets on all sides is still accessible. One solution is to use a diagonal cabinet for that space, where the door is cater-corner to both perpendicular walls. Another solution is to use a blind corner cabinet with either a lazy susan or swing out semi-circular shelves which allow items to be brought from the rear of the cabinet to the front for easy access. Yet another solution, and one that has become increasingly popular, is to place the sink in the corner, thereby opening up additional storage cabinet space elsewhere.

As far as vertical placement, most wall cabinets are placed 18 inches above the countertops and most countertops are placed 36 inches above the floor. This means that the lowest shelf of the wall cabinet is still nearly 5 feet above the floor. For children, wheelchair users, and short statured individuals this height can be anywhere from uncomfortable to unreachable. Moving the wall cabinets lower, even by a few inches, can make a major difference with respect to accessibility. In point of fact, many cooks prefer 14 to 16 inches between the countertop and the bottom of the wall cabinet, rather than the standard 18 inches. For special situations, you can consider placing cabinets as low as 12 inches above the countertop. However, as most small appliances assume 18 inches of clearance above the countertop, this can create spacing problems. One way to deal with this is to place some wall cabinets lower and others higher.

With respect to the width of walkways between cabinet runs, the issue is most relevant for galley kitchens, narrow U-shaped kitchens, and kitchens which feature islands. As mentioned earlier, the walkways have to be sufficiently wide so that the open doors of the cabinets on either side do not interfere with one another. However, in addition to that, the walkways also have to be wide enough to accommodate a person bending down, squatting down, or kneeling down in front of a cabinet without bumping into the cabinet run on the opposite side. At least 36 inches of clearance is recommended for aisles, with 42 inches preferred. If there are multiple cooks working simultaneously in the kitchen, then you may need additional clearance for someone to pass behind another person who may be bent over in front of a base cabinet. In that case, 48 inches of width is recommended for the aisles.
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