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alouwomack

Does it matter if the upper cabinets are super low?

12 years ago

I've been following the current thread about the standard 18" distance between upper cabinets and countertops...Its made me wonder about my 13" gap.

Have you dealt with tiling such a short backsplash by any chance? I'm wondering if a shorter than usual space should cause me to consider certain sizes of tile? Or am I over analyzing?

Either way, my favorite style is subway tile (3X6)...who knows what I'll finally decide on. I really like the 6X12 subways too...

Comments (28)

  • 12 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I have less than that. Annoying as h*ll, as very little will fit under them, e.g., coffee maker, etc.)

    I'm going with standard 3x6 field subways, but adding in a 1/2 x 6 tile to make it work without having to cut tons of tiles. (I'm using Subway Ceramics, but others make similar.)

  • 12 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    We had approx 16" tall in our last kitchen and it was a royal pain. 13" would be even more annoying, unless you have plenty of room for your small appliances elsewhere.

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    hi herb, thanks so much for your thoughts. yes, with 1 year old twins in the house we are working to keep the kitchen useable while my husband moves forward on it during the weekends :) the base cabinets and counters are in (one counter still has to be cut down and permanently installed but we are waiting to see what trim we do around doors etc.) we will be getting a different range (Watching craigslist right now). i should give you some background - we are in our first home and will probably be outgrowing it in the next few years, and hoping to keep it as a rental, as we live in an area where it serves as a great condo alternative. that said there are tons of new condos going up all the time around here - so we need a space that both appeals to a young contemporary couple but also fits with the character of our quirky 100 year old cottage. plus, it needs to be timeless enough to still look pretty "new" in 5 years. we might replace the butcher block counter tops at that time - will see how they and the trend hold up. so - this is not our dream home nor dream kitchen, but we look forward to enjoying it over the next few years. my husband is a talented hobby carpenter, with a nice shop in the basement, and because he has built cabinetry in the past, it was quite hard for me to get him to use ikea cabs at all! but we chose to in the interest of time. but we do have the freedom to do anything we dream of - given time and materials are budget friendly. (for example - while marble subway tile would be dreamy for the backsplash, we're going to be using ceramic) you're totally right - the kitchen feels very open without the uppers, and we'd love to preserve that. i need at least as much closed uppers as you currently see - but they don't need to be in that exact location.. if you have any thoughts on how you'd lay the space out - i'd love to hear them.
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  • 12 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I think you should be fine with 3 x 6.... You would have at least four rows, which would look nice.

  • 12 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Thankfully I have this bar area to do most of my prep work (right next to the range)...you can see the old cabinets surrounding the sink. They are the culprit shorties!

    And when we added this section of cabinets, opposite wall, I purposefully left the new countertop open and free from any upper cabinets. This is where we keep my mixer and microwave. We really don't keep any other small appliances out all the time.


  • 12 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I put mine at 15" above the counter and love them. Much easier to reach all the shelves and it's marvelous for keeping baking supplies close to the mixer. That said, I only have 3 uppers and most of our appliances live in other open spaces in the room. I'm not a fan of appliances under uppers; looks cramped and there's the risk of steam, etc, damaging the bottoms of the uppers. I pull my mixer, toaster, etc, out towards me to use them in any case.

    There is no rule for this, just standardized norms that have developed from builders' grade kitchens (18" is where a 30" wall cabinet falls on 8' high walls when it's installed above a 36" high countertop under a 12" soffit.). That's why countertop appliance makers shoot for 18" high or less.

    If that height doesn't bother you, and you are not paranoid about theoretical future "buyers", just keep them there. I have 5 rows of 3x6 subways under mine, but cutting tile is absolutely simple unless it results in a really awkward visual measurement, which is hard to do with subways or 4x4's.

  • 12 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Thanks for your input circuspeanut,

    I definitely cannot afford to change out the cabinets so I must figure out how to live with them...aside from being really dirty and ugly, these cabinets havent really bothered me. (Painting and adding hardware are fixing those gripes.) I am a little OCD when it comes to symmetry so I really want to get the tile right! I've never dealt with laying subway tiles before...so forgive me if my next question is silly...

    Considering I have 13" to work with, and I use the 3x6 tiles, what will I do with that 1" or less that meets the bottom of my upper cabinets? I really didn't want to add an accent tile. Would I literally cut a 5th tile to fit? Or would anyone even see that gap under such a low cabinet?

    Perhaps I should buy me a book specializing in this type of tiling. The only tiles I've ever dealt with are slate flooring and ceramic "stone" tiles that could be cut without obviously messing up the look of the edges.

    Thanks again to all of you for your suggestions!

  • 12 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    My BS has five rows of 3 x 6s with a thin row about an inch thick on top. Because of the trim at the bottom of my cabinets and my plug molds, you can barely see that extra inch. If those weren't there, it would still be hard to see. The extra inch that exists under my vent hood is very obvious, but I am not worried about it. It looks fine.

    This view is from underneath, so you can see it:
    {{gwi:1928237}}


    This view is from straight on. You can't see anything at an adult height:
    {{gwi:1928238}}

  • 12 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Thank you so much for the pics lolauren! Your backsplash looks awesome. What tile maker did you use? I love your cabinets and counters too.

    I'm thinking I'll probably need to add the inch of tile like you did. I hadn't thought of it until now, but our kitchen opens into the den. I'm setting in the den now and I can see the bottom edge of those cabinets due to the differences in floor elevations.

  • 12 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    alouwomack, technically you are OCPD, not OCD (I say this as something with the same affliction) ;)

    Here's what I did: I went to HD / Menards and picked up 10 tiles or so. They sell them in open stock for like a quarter each or something, and then take them home and play with them. This is how I realized I was going to need that border piece, or have to do a lot of cutting. But, after seeing some of the backsplashes in Jane Powell's Bungalow Kitchens book, I realized I really liked how that looked. (You might check that one out, there are quite a few shown there.) There's one that has a black accent interspersed with a blue green tile that I just love.

    I do agree with lolalauren though, I doubt you'd see that from a normal view, unless you were craning around underneath or cleaning the countertops or something. If you don't want to add that accent piece, I wouldn't sweat it. I just *hate* cutting tiles, so I'm happy to find a way to avoid having to do an entire row.

  • 12 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Ha, ha badger. I'm not familiar with OCPD? Is that for placement? Yes, I probably do have that!

    I'll check that book out. I've tossed back and forth the idea of an accent tile so I'm not completely opposed. And cutting is not ever fun...

    Thank you again!

  • 12 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Thanks!

    Mine are American Olean, but they look exactly like the ones from HD or Lowes. I wouldn't suggest my brand over the HD/Lowes one, unless you wanted a specific color. They had more color choices. :)

  • 12 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Oops. I take that back. American Olean is the brand at either Lowes or HD. Our brand is US Ceramics!

  • 12 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I always thought it stood for perfection, but, alas, it does not.....

    I actually feel better knowing that there is a name for it. I always felt odd when people didn't understand, that, no, it has to be straight or symmetrical, or whatever.
    While I don't like dirt/dust, I can live with it if I'm in the middle of something else. If the blinds or a picture are crooked, I have to stop whatever I'm doing and fix it. Now.
    Maybe it's a little obsessive, but I don't know any other way, so it works for me; it's just who I am.

    I offended some a while back when I mentioned someone's subway tiles were crooked - I didn't know it was a picture of a forum member. Lots of folks said that's rustic and were a model install that people loved and bookmarked. I felt bad, but all I saw was crooked. Had that been mine, I would have had to rip the wall off and start over. And over. And over. Until it was perfect.
    Perhaps I need medication. :P

    Back to the actual kitchen talk, I mentioned Subway Ceramics before, they have both a 1/2" and a 1" liner tile. Not sure what your budget is, but if you're covering a fairly small area, the price difference might not be that bad. Restoration Tile has a 3/4" as well. I'm pretty sure both offer half round tiles that could be used as an accent also.

    Here is a link that might be useful: OCPD vs OCD

  • 12 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Oo, badger, you'd go nuts in my girls' bathroom -- there's a corner backsplash tile a little amiss. I see it always but I don't feel the need to dig it out. There are so many little dings and problems, it would feel silly to start singling that one out... but you'd maybe find it crazy-making!

    How man rows of tile will there be to your counters? Could you just incrementally increase the space between the tiles, just by a smidge so that up top it's even lesser? That might be a question for your tile-r. I would think if there wasn't too big a surface to carry this fudging over, spacing things out evenly this way might work perfectly.

    Our counters are less than 18" by design. I had to fight for this with the KD. She was certain I'd hate it; I don't. But now that I've gone to measure I see they're all over the place! I think with leveling between ceilings and floors being off a little they wind up being surprisingly differently height from the countertops. I don't notice (or didn't!)

    On the island they're 16 3/4" and 16 7/8". But there's tons of open island space there and some in between the uppers that's free against the wall as well. Plus, these uppers are narrow because I was worried about them looking "heavy" in this location. Their low height here is not a problem.

    Flanking my range I have deep uppers at 15 3/8" and 15 1/2". The counters are also at 27" deep. I can't remember how deep in fact the uppers are, maybe 15"d - but while these are a little low, like circus I wanted to be able to reach them for spices easily. I thought about bringing the uppers right down to the countertop, but this solution works. To the left is a stretch of very open counter, so food prep there can work fine, avoiding the low overhang. Also there's open island behind me at the range.

    Then there's one more low upper but it's in a corner, and a heavily-used one for cleanup and storage purposes, not food prep. Again, I wanted to be able to reach stuff - wanted the kids to reach stuff in particular! So the tradeoff seemed worth it and the loss of function not so much of a problem in that locale. There's one more upper at the same height but it's above a lowered countertop so there's an additional 6" below the upper.

    Thus ... I think it depends. You can have lower uppers, and for good reason (i.e., to be able to reach stuff) and design away the traded-off problems of diminished working and storage space below, if possible. I don't think there's a rule-of-thumb, KD's prescriptions notwithstanding.

    You've already got your cabinets in place I guess. So as I think others have mentioned already, can you try to find a way to grab extra prep space elsewhere unencumbered? ... I see you have it already though. So ... seems like bs proportions is the question. I guess I have no expetrise or even opinion there. My esoteric opinion regarding backsplashes is: pick a tile you love. Pick a design you love. Put them together. smile. First make sure they won't clash or be overtly a problem with your extant surrounds....

    Sorry, I thought it was about planning you were worried ... I think everything's going to be just wonderful - it looks it so far!

  • 12 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Mine are only 11 1/2! That's how they did things in 1927 and since we were re-purposing our uppers, that's what they still are. Before coming here I never realized that 18 was the standard, though I wondered why so few appliances could be found to fit! Now all those appliances have homes in the big pullouts and drawers, and I am just enjoying having those bottoms shelves in the uppers so accessible. It's nice to know I'm not the only one who is out of "compliance."

  • 12 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Oh and I forgot to clarify a few things that were mentioned or questioned . . .

    The total Sqare Footage I'm dealing with is right around 55 SqFt, so I do need to stay in a decent or lower price range per SqFt or I'll be going a little overboard in my opinion. If I can use the tiles from Lowe's it might be even better since we do have a project card that could be utilized if need be. I considered using American Olean 3x6's and then taking a nicer accent piece from another maker to jazz it up. I want to keep it solid white though...and I know how broad a spectrum "white" can be. All my crown molding and baseboards will be a bright glossy white from Olympus so it would be best to keep it bright I'm thinking. And our ceiling is a nice white plank system that looks like a floor. I'm hoping the white backsplash with the dark brown cabinets will really make the ceiling show nicely.

    So, yes proportion and price are both concerns!

    Thanks again everyone!

  • 12 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I know this is really a tile post and it's hard to tell from your photos but I have a suggestion that might work for the future. When your current microwave gives out GE makes one called a spacemaker that is 12" tall. It is a bit more expensive but it might fit nicely under the 13" upper cabinet area and free up more space on that new prep area shown without the countertop. I found mine as an open box purchase and that saved some money so if this seems a good use of space keep your eyes open. Hope this helps.

  • 12 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    hi Alou,

    I think you'll be just fine. I love Lauren's backsplash - virtually nobody has a backsplash where tiles fit exactly without any cutting, and I'm betting you won't even notice after it's in. (Ironically, because I DIY and love using my tile saw, my own uppers are a bit over 15" off the counter and thus 5 courses of 3x6 tile fit exactly with no trimming.)

    One tip for anyone who is concerned with tile "straightness", as Badgergirl mentions, whether OCD, OCPD, or just plain anal-retentive ;-) -- the smaller the groutlines, the more uneven the tile will look. Human vision will parse the vertical lines as creating 'hills' in the horizontal lines, even when they actually don't.

    This is Edlakin's backsplash using Subway Ceramics, which are a pricey but lovely vintage reproduction tile. It's the one Badger mentioned as driving her crazy:

    You can see how in reality the tiles are actually set very straight - it's just that they're so close the corners and any infinitesimal size differences catch the eye. (I have the same issue with mine, but I'm as far from OCD as it gets.) You can also see how Ed's uppers are something less than 18" off the counters.

    Another thing I'd recommend: make your backsplash go above the line of the uppers' bottoms. This will allow you to finish off with a full tile regardless of where the uppers fall, and create continuity throughout the kitchen. I went higher because I had a deco tile I wanted to incorporate, but you needn't go quite as high as I did, just a tile or two: (the colors are weird here, my grout isn't blue!):

    And a final photo in case this is helpful for organizing your low uppers. I had some extra shelves, so I ripped one down to 4" pieces and set them in the back of the first two shelves. Works brilliantly for us:

  • 12 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    The smaller the space/lower the upper cabinets, the less you will see that top line of tile below the cabinets. My tiles are 2x6 subway so there are six rows and the top row is trimmed just a little (the space must be close to 11 3/4) but you have to bend down to see that top row. The top row below the window is also trimmed. I thought it might bother me and considered a trim tile, but decided to just keep it all plain and it looks fine.

  • 12 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Well, if you have enough space for working, no problem. In fact, you've got me thinking hey, I can do that! And they'll look better from the nearby room for being so low because the bottoms will be less visible.

    I think subways will be a really good choice (not the jumbo ones though!) and since you're painting the cabinets, can't you just paint the wall when you paint the undersides of the cabinets? Then, instead of having to do a skinny tile, it'll just look like cabinet from the next room. Not the whole wall in cabinet paint, just the strip between last row of tile and cabinet. So if there's a tiny gap you can leave it a tiny gap.

  • 12 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Low uppers can prevent the use of some gas cook-tops.

    The listing for the gas unit will have a clearance required to flammable objects both above the top and also adjacent on each side.

    18 inches is not an uncommon requirement.

  • 12 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Owls4me--
    Thank you! This is a great suggestion. It seems like that section of countertop space (aside from the sink in the middle) does not get used hardly ever. The microwave we have now is 14" square. (Its in that 3rd pic I posted...looks like a bread maker.) A lot of people laugh at it but I like the space it saves. It would be great to find one to put under the 13" cabinets someday.

    Hi Circus--
    You bring up some very good points about "straight, level, even" tiles & grout lines...I am at work under the scrutiny of corporate internet use...unfortunately this keeps me from viewing the pics you've posted. I can imagine that the minute grout lines might cause an illusion of wavy appearance. I'll take a look at all your photos when I get home!

    I also like your idea of bringing the backsplash to a stopping point above the bottom of those upper cabinets. I don't know the tile term for it, but I like the "molding-looking" strip that some people are using at the top of the backsplash as the "crowning" piece. It actually reminds me of crown molding on a ceiling!

    Anyhow, I figured I would need to go higher for a couple of reasons.

    If you take a look at the pics I posted earlier, you'll notice (in the 1st photo) a deficit of lower cabinets to the left side, towards the window/bar area. This is actually where our cooktop and vent-a-hood are now installed. Somewhere beyond the edge of the vent I must choose a height to stop at, right? As for the other edge, I plan on tiling to the window frame in the pic. ((This house is so funky! Notice the bar area is built into that window...ugh what a mess.)) I'm hoping if I run the backsplash to that window frame it will look more deliberate? BRING ON THE OPINIONS for this one PLEASE!!!

    And then there's the other end of that section of cabinets...you'll see the beautiful vintage rose wallpaper in the photo and my embarassing renovation mess in the dining room ;)> I guess after I figure out how high to go near the vent-a-hood on the left, I'll follow suite here.

    If I use a tile accent like was mentioned, I can only showcase it on the wall at these 2 high points because the kitchen sink window is literally sandwiched between those upper cabinets. Do you think it will be enough to bring some extra visual interest to this wall? And "raise it up a little too?

    Speaking of symmetry and placement, I am excited that I can carry the tile (and possible accent tile) across the room to the new section of cabinets/countertop (shown in pic 2 & 3). This would be the 3rd area of higher tile. Maybe this little workspace area will tie the knots all together?!?!

  • 12 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Sayde & Fori--

    I guess not being able to see under those low cabinets might be a hidden blessing since countertop space is not an issue for me! I like that way of thinking!

    I am going to take Badger's advice for sure and play around with some sample tiles from Lowe's. I'm concerned the bottom of my cabinets are more apparant than most from the room next door...the sucken den. I'm going to "set" around my den and decide how much of that under cabinet space I really do see! ((And no one else but me will probably stare under those cabinets while sitting in the den anyways!))

    I've never thought about painting the deficit with my cabinet paint! That's very clever! I, on the other hand, did think of adding some type of quarter round/decorative trim there. I normally make more work for myself by complicating a project though.

  • 12 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Hey Brick--

    Our cooktop is placed directly to the left of those lower cabinets! Thank goodness we have a nice clearance there because it is GAS-powered!

    --Amber

  • 12 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    You know circuspeanut, now that I look at it, they might actually be quite straight, but maybe some intense grout scrubbing would reveal the corners on a couple of those tiles that might make them visually straight again? I think one or two 'crooked' elements is much more recognizable to the eye than a lot of them - your eye is just drawn to the distortion in the pattern.

    It really is very lovely, and I realize now looking at that picture I must sound certifiable. Upon reexamination, I think it's actually just excess grout? That could also be caused if the surface wasn't super flush to start with - a problem most of us have in older houses....

    alouwomack - get some wide painter's tape and then you can make loops (multiple small works better than one big 'un) on the back and 'glue' them in place to see what you think.

  • 12 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I made it home to the faithful iPad that shows me photos!

    I believe the "squiggles" or "whatever imperfections" in Edlakin's backsplash that the eyes "think" they see are due mostly to the PHOTO angle...not just the narrow grout line. And the contrast of colors between grout and tile always lend a hand in broadcasting any little differences for the eyes to catch too...like a few corners here and there. With that whole OCD/OCPD/anal retentive scenario, it's possible to pick at just about ANYTHING...ha, ha. All in all, I too believe it is a lovely & superb backsplash. I only hope mine can go so nicely!

  • 12 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Also, Circus--
    I really love your raised backsplash placement compared to the bottom line of your upper cabinets. And the way you chopped the front off of some of your shelves...genius! It makes an awesome solution to avoiding stacking items beyond reach and out of sight. Love, love, love it!

    And yes Badger, I can't wait to utilize that blue tape! So many other aspects of our renovation drag me down...this on the other hand really gives me a boost of excitement that I dearly need right about now! Thank you for the suggestions.