13 June 2009

Optimal Aisles

The next milestone that we have been working towards, is getting the precise island position determined. The way my cabinetry firm works - a new way to me - is that you can specify your desired aisle dimensions in advance during the "Design Phase", but then they get all the key pieces clamped in place and put the island in position per your specs during the "Installation Phase." They let you live with the spacing for a few days to see how it feels before they screw it down to the floor. Pretty cool. I love being able to adjust a few inches here or there as necessary. We can't adjust a LOT, because there are plumbing and electrical rough-in locations related to the island. I do have a small margin to adjust the island in each direction though, which to me is a huge bonus.

I'm very much a math nerd and a rule follower. I can recite many of the NKBA clearances in my sleep. Truth of the matter, though, is that they are usually just guidelines, and you have to figure out what works for you and your family's habits. Sometimes your local Code will require certain dimensions, but in other cases, it's a matter of preference (or wheelchair accessibility, if that applies to you).

We are a two-cook family and want to encourage our whole family to help in the kitchen and enjoy cooking, when the kids get older. The recommended aisle width, counter to counter, in a two-cook kitchen is 48". (A lot of people measure from cabinet box to cabinet box -- which results in a misleading extra 3" of aisle, assuming standard counters.) We don't quite have the space for that, but we can manage 43" all the way around the island. This is much better than our old kitchen -- where the work aisles were as narrow as 33" at some points.

I could have made the island narrower, but decided I didn't want to lose 10" of countertop and storage to gain a full 48" aisles on each side. We have windows, upper glass cabinets in a key spot, and pony walls to make the space feel bigger, as well, which helps. The walls will definitely float away from the island to give the feel of more space. Another good thing is that you can really work in multiple spots in this new kitchen, so it's rare that two cooks will be working back to back. The primary concern is allowing enough space for Person A to pass behind Person B working at a counter.

A key player in the aisle dimensions was our standalone griddle. This appliance sticks out from the wall nearly 29"! This is because of the way the Viking griddle, and most pro-style cooktop appliances, are constructed with a counter edge, big knobs, etc. The cabinety team set the griddle in place to assist me in feeling out the aisle clearance in my "cooking aisle." One of our most common activities in the kitchen will be standing at the island to chop/prep/mix ingredients, then moving across the aisle to the griddle/induction area to cook them. Too small of an aisle and we won't have room for traffic behind the cook. Too large of an aisle and the work area will feel inefficient. For the time being, I had them put this work aisle at 42" and it seems to feel pretty good. I'll keep "pretend cooking" over the weekend to see if I'm still happy with it then.

Another key factor in the aisle dimensions was the clearance needed between the corner of my breakfast nook table and island. You can barely see both corners in this photo:

The above picture is a bit misleading because the space actually feels pretty good to me, and this photo angle gives the impression that it's a pretty tight passage to enter this "cleanup aisle." You can tell from the overall top photo though that there actually is more space (the nook table didn't even make it into that photo).

As a side note, one thing I'm quite satisfied with, is the griddle cabinet pictured above. I asked them to make this cabinet 25.5" deep. The typical Viking installation has the appliance installed "proud" (jutting out) from the adjacent cabinetry. Safety-wise, I didn't want sharp metal corners sticking out at toddler-forehead height. Design-wise, I also wanted to reduce the industrial-ness of the appliance, since it sits directly adjacent to a sleek euro induction cooktop. So, I very consciously requested a deeper cabinet (within the range specified by the appliance installation specs). I am really, REALLY happy with how the appliance is now actually flush with the adjacent cabinet faces (specifically the drawer below). We put a 1.5" angled filler to the side of the griddle (and there is another mirror filler to the right side of the induction top) to make the transition from a standard 24" depth cabinet to a 25.5" depth cabinet. I like the effect of bumping out the entire cooktop area as one focal point, too.

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