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Kitchen planning...with a counter depth refrigerator.

What's wrong with this new kitchen?

What's wrong with this new kitchen?

Freestanding vs counter depth refrigerators

I've been a professional kitchen designer for a few decades now. I enjoy the challenge of creating the best possible kitchen (form & function) within whatever limitations I am dealing with. In fact, I'll discard some plans that would be perfectly acceptable to many.

When I plan a kitchen on paper I can mentally put myself in the room and walk through all the motions. I can think through the whole process from when you set down your groceries to when you unload your dishwasher.

OK, knowing all that, here is my all-time #1 despise...freestanding refrigerators. Nothing will destroy the visual impact of a new kitchen more than a massively deep refrigerator projecting out 12" beyond the front edge of a countertop.

The kitchen image above is actually a newly remodeled kitchen with new cabinets and granite tops...but what's the first thing we see? The refrigerator....just awful, right? It was very difficult for me to find an image of a new kitchen with that type of refrigerator. They (the ugly refrigerators) are always cropped out of any professional images and promotional material.

In the race for more and more interior cubic feet, refrigerator manufacturers just keep adding to the only dimension they can...the depth. The width and height were already max'd out, as in your existing refrigerator space. (less than 36"w. x 69"h).

Don't panic though, I am not suggesting you must spend 7K or more on a new Sub Zero®. You have other options, I promise.

Refrigerators on display


Refrigerator..installed surprise.


What not to do...

Never go out and buy a refrigerator on your own in advance of a full kitchen renovation. It happens all the time..."Let's get that new refrigerator while it's on sale".

Pictured at right is what most people see when they select a refrigerator. Two dimensions only. On the other hand, I am 6' 3" tall. I see what most don't, the front-to-back depth.

So a typical buyer (without advice) will spend weeks of time shopping for, and researching on, a given refrigerator. The price gets right, it's on sale. It will fit the space (w & h). It has great features, so it gets paid for and delivered. It's dragged through your home and with a great deal of effort, placed in your kitchen. "OK honey, let's push it back to the wall"...whoops, why didn't anybody tell us's too deep!

Return it? Nobody ever does after that...Too late...Too much trouble.

A year later is when I see that same consumer, now ready to remodel. I walk in the existing kitchen with my fingers crossed, but no avail... "Well we just bought that refrig a year ago, so we're not going to change that" . I hate when that happens.

Right refrigerator, bad fit & finish


Now you recognise the importance of your refrigerator selection within a complete new kitchen. But it's not enough to simply purchase a counter depth refrigerator. Your kitchen designer has to know about it and is responsible for the actual fit and finish.

Pictured at right is $4,000 dollar counter depth refrigerator. But, it was a poor choice on configuration...and location...and integration. If a kitchen designer was involved in this kitchen, it's not properly fitted and not typical of the aesthetics for these refrigerators.

What's going to happen when they open the left upper door? Its gonna smack the wall and rebound before it gets even half open (see handle). Any interior trays will not pull-out... The upper right door is backwards for the kitchen. When that door swings open to the right, it's then blocking the landing counter space to the right. Not good.

The 2 images below are from my portfolio...both using a counter depth refrigerator properly integrated into the flow of the kitchen. Now, try to visualize either one of these kitchens with a free-standing refrigerator as in the very first image at the top of this article.

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Counter depth refrigerator planned and fitted

Using a Counter Depth Refrigerator.

Using a Counter Depth Refrigerator.

Another counter depth refrigerator...properly placed

Using a counter depth refrigerator.

Using a counter depth refrigerator.

Top refrigerator, hinged from the left

Top refrigerator, hinged from the left

Regarding hinging..

As I suggested earlier, the choice of door configuration for a refrigerator is extremely important to the daily function of a kitchen. Just because you love a certain style double door side x side in a showroom does not mean you'll love it in your kitchen!! I cannot emphasize that enough.

Cabinet depth refrigerators are important for the 'form' of a kitchen. But the door swings and hinging are vitally important to the function. And form follows function, always.

French style doors are a terrific solution to eye level fresh food storage...but in some cases they just don't work within a given layout. If you are planning a full remodel, or building a new home, it is essential the refrigerator placement allows for side x side doors. .
In some cases, it simply makes much more sense to use a single door, over/under model. Yes, the french doors are 'sexy'...but sometimes hinged left or hinged right just makes more sense.In many cases with the refrigerator placed at the left end of a kitchen leg, a hinged left refrigerator makes more sense.

Every kitchen I have ever planned, the refrigerator was always my #1 consideration. Make it yours also. Again, if you have questions regarding your particular circumstance, feel free to contact me using the comment form below.

My other kitchen articles

Problems, questions? I will get back to you..

Jason Vincent on July 28, 2020:

I liked the part where you speak about measuring the fridge area.

Lisa S on June 24, 2018:

Hello. We are replacing a sub zero with a counterdepth refrigerator. The opening is 36. Is it okay that one side of the refrigerator will show? It will not be incased in a cabinet, but will be between two cabinets free standing. Is it better to buy a smaller 33” refrigerator and pay to have a new cabinet made to encase it?

scout501 on May 06, 2018:

I agree with author however I encountered the following problem. I would have loved to purchase a single door model with freezer on the bottom. Yes, in my kitchen that would have been a more ergonomic choice. However, I opted for a french door model because I found that single door refrigerators with bottom freezer come with ice makers and no water dispenser. My heart was set on black stainless. I wanted a suite of kitchen appliances. So, I opted for a french door model with an interior water dispenser. As a result, this now necessitates one extra foot step when opening refrigerator.

Nahteem on June 29, 2017:



To u


mrhubbub on October 12, 2016:

Thought-provoking post, but now I'm so confused. I have a decent sized kitchen that was built in 1966, do you think I can fit a modern french door in it? Pictures here:

Mohiuddin Shawon Mudds from Malaysia on March 15, 2016:

Wow this is lovely .... how many is this important for my kitchen ?

Erin on November 02, 2015:

I am currently looking to replace a refrigerator that is just not user friendly. I am running into a space issue with the width. On the right side of the refrigerator is the kitchen wall-so not really room there. On the other side, however, is a 'filler' panel for the kitchen cabinet. I am contemplating removing that panel to make the space I need. Any suggestions for cutting this piece out? It looks very similar to this:

Mia on October 18, 2015:

For me it's not about sexy. I just cannot stand how the single door refrigerator looks. I also dislike double door combos as the freezer is way to narrow. So for me it is about function. However, we decided to keep our old refrigerator for storage (in the attached garage) and the new one will just be for milk, eggs and other staples. Which is kind of ridiculous but in order to have a sexy kitchen we have no choice.

Jes on April 03, 2015:

my house recently flooded in the kitchen but before that happened we were in the process of remodeling our kitchen. Kitchen was measured and about to be installed the day of the flood. After the flood they fixed my kitchen but we wanted to stay with the original design since it was 80% paid off. Needless to say when all was done, just like you mention in your page, I had bought a huge lovely refrigerator. They had made measurements with my existing fridge. Yet, both refrigerators are still big. Now I'm looking for a 25-26 depth fridge that won't brake my wallet. The space left for the fridge is 36-38 in. Now I'm left with the hard decision of either buying a counter depth fridge; which I already have 30in depth or buy a smaller fridge that is small in width - usually 30inches wide. What do you recommend ????? Please help

LinStory from Seattle,WA on September 17, 2014:

We are currently in the process of planning our kitchen remodel. What has us really "stumped" though, is where to place our fridge, & what style to use, etc...Excellent article because it did answer so many questions that we had on this topic.

Silva Hayes from Spicewood, Texas on September 15, 2013:

Great information to have. Thanks!

Toy Tasting from Mumbai on June 06, 2013:

Well written hub! I agree that in every kitchen the refrigerator is the number 1 consideration.

healthmom on June 06, 2013:

Really informative! We recently built a new home, but had been given a used industrial fridge that we have been using till we save more money and buy a fridge that will fit in the designated spot. I'm pinning this so I will have it to reference when this massive fridge dies. It makes weird noises on occasion so I know it's days are numbered!

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