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Kitchen cabinet space utilization challenge

detailscount's picture

I've been looking at a lot of kitchen cabinets, and designing some as well.  I keep stumbling on an issue no one seems to mention in reviews, articles, or catalogs.  It has to do with the volumetric efficiency of cabinets.  Face frame cabinets waste a lot of space.  For a drawer base cabinet, much vertical and horizontal space is wasted.  We all know kitchen space is extremely expensive, to waste it is priceless.  I would like to see percentages of space available published as a spec for all cabinets.  

I also take the position that for base cabinets, drawers are the only way to go.  Let's consider only drawer base cabinets for the moment.

Take the inside volume of all the drawers, divide by the external volume of the cabinet, multiply by 100.  Simple, no?  

As an example, a face frame 3 drawer unit in my kitchen today that I want to replace is 23 wide, 34.5 high, and 24 deep.  this is 19044 cubic inches (I know I didn't subtract the toe kick space).  The inside dimensions of the drawers are 18-3/8 wide, 18-7/8 deep and 3, 8-3/4 and 8-3/4 high.  This gives 7100 cubic inches useful volume, or 37%  I think this is awful.  Narrower drawers are worse.

 The cabinets I have looked at purchasing, and I use Ikea just as an example (of a frameless design), all have 21 inch deep drawers (the outside dimension) for "full extension" drawers.  They don't mention this little detail.  What gives?  Why not 24 inch deep drawers that move 24 inches for 24 inch deep cabinets?

OK, I can design better cabinets, right?  One of the first choices to make is which drawer slides to use.  Guess what?  I can't buy 24 inch travel drawer slides for 24 inch deep drawers.  I called Blum, thinking I was not reading the catalog correctly.  Nope, you need 27 inch deep cabinets to use 24 inch drawers with 24 inches of travel.  I have cheated in the past by making 24 inch drawers and setting the drawer slides 3 inches back from the front of the drawer.  This means they are not full extension, but at least I get full volume.

I want to do better this time, I am designing new kitchen cabinet drawer units.  I am proficient with Solidworks, so I have a nice 3D model.  I have a big stack of cherry waiting in the barn for me.  Does anyone have suggestions for drawer slides and/or other tricks that can help me squeeze every bit of useful space within my fixed exterior dimensions?

I have considered using Lista and Vidmar metal cabinets, used in industry, and just adding nice wood fronts, but they do not make sizes suitable for use in kitchens with standard counter heights and cabinet depths.

I have a forestry management plan and harvest sustainably.  I take my logs to the mill down the street and used the air-dried matched boards to make the cabinet fronts.  I like the way it looks with a great clear finish.  The drawer boxes are made of the sapwood containing boards with 1/4" birch plywood bottoms, little goes to waste.

A couple of tricks I have learned is to make fewer sets of wider drawers.  The drawer units I am focusing on making are about 60 inches wide, two banks of drawers 3, 4, and 5 high, that are sized to fit the kitchen items that go in them.  Making one big unit saves space compared to two small units.  I measured the cookie sheets, baking pans, pots, covers, etc. and have worked out the most useful sizes for each bank of drawers.  I made them modular in increments of 7/8 inch, the pitch of my dovetail jig.   This took a fair amount of head scratching.

Please enlighten me with your take on volumetric efficiency.

Alan Sliski 

Lincoln, MA

Well, why don't you design (post #214619, reply #1 of 4)

Well, why don't you design your own drawer slide?


Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.  --Herman Melville

HI there, Admittedly I just (post #214619, reply #2 of 4)

HI there, Admittedly I just skimmed over your post...   I think I got the idea though.  You are trying to maximize storage inside your cabinets.  I know storage space is important to most people when designing kitchens, but aesthetics usually wins out for the jobs I tend to build.  Is there a reason you are trying so hard to eek out as much space as you can?  Is this a tiny house application or a small apartment or condo kitchenette?  I am all for efficiency but I think most cabinets end up gettting jam packed with mostly useless items anyway.  I would suggest designing with accessibility and function first, capacity second.  

Hi there, Kitchen space is (post #214619, reply #3 of 4)

Hi there, Kitchen space is the most important and expensive. Cabinets are the best option for storing and designing drawer is the best option. There are many professional who provides cabinets services and I think they will really help you on this issue. Last spring when my friend was moved to his new house he hired professional   Damn, spam link removed even tho I might appear to be a conscientious poster....   who provided him cabinet service for kitchen. According to him their service was quality driven.

When we had our cabinets (post #214619, reply #4 of 4)

When we had our cabinets refaced, the guy who did it (a very clever fellow) suggested sliding trays behind doors (with a single row of drawers along the  top) for most of our units.  This has worked out well.

The double doors of the cabinets open to reveal two giant sliding trays, where normally there would be shelves.  The trays are on extension slides and can be pulled pretty much all the way out (haven't bothered measuring how far), so it's easy to reach stuff in the back.


Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.  --Herman Melville