The Kitchen Designer

Thanks for stopping by! I'm Susan Serra, certified kitchen designer, and my mission is to take kitchen design style, function and analysis to a higher level. Here's why the kitchen has the most honored place in the home - all five senses reside in the kitchen.  Best...Susan  Contact: susan@susanserraassociates.com

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Kitchen Backsplash Height

The height of the backsplash, the space between the countertop and the bottom of the wall cabinets, is often left as an afterthought by many kitchen designers and homeowners. It's rare in my experience that the client expresses an opinion about the backsplash height. However, If the height of the backsplash is not considered carefully, comfort and function could very well be at risk and affect one's lifestyle in the kitchen - for a very long time.

Below, a backsplash height calculated for a variety of issues: a concealed microwave, height of the client, function and display.

Just this morning, I received a question from a fellow kitchen designer. I wrote back an answer and realized that the answer was good information for a blog post. 

Hi Susan,

In discussions with my design team I am questioning the distance between the counter top and the bottom of the wall cabinets.  Two of my designers, who have over 75 + years of experience feel strongly that “custom design” should be a distance of 15” to maybe 16.5” 

I, on the other hand , being 6’3” tall feel that anything less than 18” (or with a molding applied to hide lighting) 17.5” is too tight a space.  I’m not asking for a definitive answer, but I thought with all of your travels and experience in the marketplace you might be kind enough to share your design thoughts with me about this.

I wish you and yours a very safe and enjoyable Holiday Season, and I very much enjoy reading your blog. Thank you for your time.

My answer:

Sure, I'm very happy to weigh in on this issue. However, you answered your own question! Where possible, which is nearly always the case, one should attempt to customize the height of the backsplash depending on the height of the homeowners and/or primary chef/bottle washer. It's a nuance, actually.

Below, calculations based on multiple criteria as above: client height, storage needs, display.

Two tall homeowners? Increase the height.

Two short homeowners? Shorten the height but beware of countertop appliance heights since that must be dealt with.

Two homeowners, one short/one tall, both helping out? That's a negotiation that might take a little more time and is a personal decision between the homeowners. In that case, the proposed/negotiated backsplash height really must be mocked up so each can experience the height and decide what works and what does not work.

Perhaps, then, tall pantry storage can come into play where access is more "democratic." Or, one area may have a lower backsplash and another could have a higher backsplash if designed to make sense visually. A countertop wall cabinet will help too.

The other issue, of course, is if trim is added below the wall cabinets, potentially shrinking an already short backsplash or not allowing countertop appliances to fit.

Then, you have children. Do the homeowners wish children to take an active role in the work within the kitchen? If so, storage should be planned to be at lower levels via base cabinets (dish drawers) or a pantry with better access.

Below: Kitchen of Cynthia Bogart, editor of The Daily Basics

I'm always compelled to note that there is a 15+" wide cabinet to the left of the range :)

For my clients of typical height, I usually opted for a 17" backsplash and ran it past them to verify that worked for their lifestyle and did not interfere with countertop appliances. I was taught way back that the average backsplash height could be from 15-18". That, however, is like saying "I'd like a brown stained cabinet" ... it's only a starting point.

I hope that helps!!

What I did not add into this note (and should have) was the issue of physical abilities of the homeowners. Having a family member (in my own home) whose reach and bending ability has changed dramatically, the physical ability of family members is a critical question to ask as well.

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Reader Comments (2)

Good post and yes, we've had some discussion in our own firm. People (other than me) are getting taller!

I'm currently designing a kitchen with wall cabinets at 16" where the 5'3" baker works, and 20" high where the 6'2" cook works (also partly due to range-top requirements).

I also check to see where small appliances, such as a coffee pot or stand mixer, might be placed. Some won't fit within a 15" height.

We haven't had much time to chat this year, Susan, but I wish you and your family very happy holidays and all the best for next year!

December 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKelly

I am so glad you brought this up! I am 4'11. In most houses, any shelf above the first shelf is useless to me. I flat out cannot reach it. If the person installing the shelf has raised the shelves above the standard 15-16 inches, then I may not be able to reach the first shelf.

My grandmother had the same problem. She asked everything to be lowered 2 inches. The cabinets the back splash everything. When it was done, they had raised it all 2 inches because the workers could not understand why anyone would want it lowered.

Apparently, tall people just do not get that while they can bend down we can not magically sprout wings and fly up to top shelves. And no one wants an old person climbing up on stools where they could break a hip.

December 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKitchen Cabinets

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