Is Your Kitchen Designer Going to Kill You?

Safety is a huge part of your kitchen design

An edited version of this article appeared in the May 2011 issue of the national publication of Kitchen & Bath design news.

One of the greatest challenges for a kitchen designer is to create a design that the customer appreciates aesthetically and simultaneously provides them with a functionally well-designed kitchen.  It’s equally difficult to not make any mistakes.  Sadly, that’s something very few kitchen designers can actually accomplish.

When customers show me designs done elsewhere, I can usually rattle off 10 blatant errors before I even closely examine the floor plan. Even more alarming, many designs actually have the potential to kill, and these same fatal designs have even won awards!

In the last few years, I have yet to pick up a kitchen trade magazine without a featured kitchen having major mistakes. Often, they possess one of the possibly fatal design flaws listed below. Here is my list of the 8 deadly kitchen designs that I see over and over again.

  1. Wall cabinet, spice pull out or an appliance garage too close to the cooktop or range
    Kitchens with hearths or grottos are the biggest culprits with the Professional high BTU burners being mere inches from the sides of the wood cabinetry creating a fire hazard.                                                                                                                                                                       
  2. Range too close to the window
    Most building codes require a range to be a minimum of 12 inches away from a window for a number of reasons.  A fire on the stove can jump to curtains on the windows. A breeze from an open window can blow out the flame on a gas burner and allow gas to accumulate possibly unnoticed prior to a potential explosion. I have seen many, many, examples of designs with the range actually underneath the window.                                                                                                                                                                                                 .  
  3. Range or cooktop on the end of the run
    Handles of pots and pans can be left extending out in space to be flipped onto homeowners or their children. This is usually seen in high traffic areas and next to doorways where people are entering the room unprepared for the foolish design flaw.                                                                                                                                                                                                                             
  4. The deadly cousin or number 2 and 3.  A range next to the exterior kitchen door for all the reasons listed in 2 and in 3.                                                                                                                                                                              
  5. Wall cabinets extending out over where there is no countertop or by themselves without protective bases below them
    Usually this tends to be customer driven. Out of the need to create storage space literally everywhere in their kitchen, cabinets get put in places where someone leaning or bending over unsuspectingly can stand up and fracture their skull.  I actually know of a contractor that fractured his skull this way and is now blind.                                                                                                                                     .
  6. This one is a little bit of a stretch. Today many children and adults have respiratory issues such as asthma, severe allergies, or emphysema.  Placing cabinets with moldings approaching but not reaching the ceiling can create a space that is impossible to clean and yet accumulates over time inches of dust, dead skin, and dust mites.  This could cause potentially fatal health reactions to those sensitive. I have seen where this is done intentionally to create a “shadow line” on the ceiling. Once you get 3 or less inches from the ceiling, you must go all the way.                                       .
  7. One of the biggest issues on the kitchen design horizon, today’s powerful hoods coupled with tightly sealed energy efficient homes create negative pressure inside the home. When the windows are closed in the winter and the exhaust fan is on. Without a heat/air exchanger or a heating system designed against negative pressure the exhaust fan will pull carbon monoxide back down the water heater exhaust, the furnace chimney, or more dramatically pull the smoke right out the customers fireplace into their home. Nearly all designers and appliance salespeople never even consider this and only in the most expensive and usually colder climate neighborhoods like Jackson Hole, Wyoming are there any building codes regarding this. Just a note: 12 months after this was published Pennsylvania became one of the first States to regulate this very issue. Presently all 50 states require replacement air systems for all hoods over 400 CFM.                                                                                                                        .
  8. This one is almost no longer an issue but still exists.  Customers must have GFCI outlets within 4 feet of their sink but if they have an electric range with spiral coil heating elements and the kitchen designer places the range too close to the stainless-steel sink, the 110-volt outlet issue will be benign in comparison to the 220 volt range, sink, and water shocker.                                       

Kitchen design is a profession I love for many reasons including the creativity involved, the people you meet, and the sense of accomplishment when you do a good job. The biggest reason I love designing kitchens is that it is an incredible challenge.

To answer any questions regarding the significance of today’s date (originally posted March 15th 2011):

“Beware the ides of March”

Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

Paul’s speech on the topic:

Hoping you don’t have any of these issues.

Paul McAlary

66 Replies to “Is Your Kitchen Designer Going to Kill You?”

  1. Gen Uy

    Hi Paul,

    I’m planning to renovate my small u shaped kitchen in the near future. However, I have a dilemma as my rangehood and ceramic cooktop is on right side of large horizontal window. I can’t move the hob on other side as there is another big square window where the sink is located. Appreciate your input on this.

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Hi Gen,
      WAY, way to little information to give a suggestion. You should call into our podcast on a Friday between 2-4 pm at 610-500-4071 and have a floor plan of the complete room ready to email. Pictures would help too if you can send them. Leave a message when you call and I will call back with directions when your turn comes up.

  2. diana chambers

    I am designing an open style kitchen and will have bamboo plywood 3ft up from floor and subway tile 5 ft up to ceiling. My question is do we panel behind the stand alone stove?
    Thank you!

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Hi Diana,
      No you shouldn’t be able to see the wall behind the range so just run the backsplash in back a few inches down.

  3. LeydiY

    Very informational and insightful. I am in the process of doing a kitchen remodel and trying to move the cookstove from the kitchen island to be against the wall and our limitation is that we have two big windows on the left and right side of the kitchen corner. In this case, what would be your suggestion as far as location for the cookstove?

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Hi Leydiy,
      I would have to see a floor plan or photos to know how to advise you. Sending them before calling for our 2pm -4pm Podcast on a Friday would let us advise you.

  4. Shawn

    Thank you. I will have to think more.
    My neighbor bought her house with same layout, and previous owners inset a microwave, oven and warming drawer in the under staircase space, with no trimwork around it. It seems like a good use of the space, but right in front of it is a walk-through space to the kitchen table area, family room and main hallway entrance. Most people come through my side door driveway entrance. People could go through on the other side of the island though, passing by the refrigerator, sink and cooktop line. If I’m opening the wall oven, I’m not at the sink or cooktop. And if someone else is simultaneously at the cooktop or sink, people could go through the doorway into the office/extra tv area, which is just before that closet, then hang up coats by front door, then see everyone by kitchen table and family room.
    What do you think about the understairs micro, oven and warming drawer? Any safety issue there? Seems like the same as inserting into cabinetry.

  5. Shawn

    I have a protruding wall in my kitchen area that is a staircase to 2nd floor. Has a typical closet with door underneath it which previous owners used as a pantry, done badly. As enter the room from side driveway entrance, I think the closet door facing me looks somehow wrong. There is a doorway (no door) opening to another room on the high side of the staircase, which the closet door halfway opens into that opening. On the other side of the doorway opening i was planning to put 5 feet of cabinetry, bases and uppers. So I was thinking of continuing the line of base cabinetry on the other side of the doorway opening where the under-staircase closet is now. I would have to open staircase wall, exposing the staircase, and put 48” wide of base cabinets with drawers (so easier to actually get stuff out) into it, with the 18” backsplash above as usual, and two shelves (one top shelf really tiny) above going into the narrowing triangular space going towards the ceiling. I could put my dishes on the shelves, or just decorative things. The base cabinets would be inset under the staircase, not flush, about 10.5-11 inches since staircase is 36” wide, to match the 5 foot line of cabinets on the other side of the doorway opening.

    I thought it might be good to embrace the staircase, since the top 8” sticks out into the room anyway, not enclosed by the closet. It might be less of a visual blockage, and add architectural interest, I thought. There would be my tiny bit of open shelving for interest, also.

    What do you think?

    If I don’t do this, how to make a functional pantry under the stairs? Just shelves lining the three walls so none are too deep? Right now, there are shelves just straight across. With a frosted glass door instead of solid door? Right now there are just straight across shelves 23” deep in the two bottom and then the floor, with a couple shallow shelves above. It’s not good.

    I have had three kitchen designers in, and showed closet. None addressed it except for giving a regular 24” wide pantry elsewhere in the kitchen which gives a visual blockage. With not opening the staircase, A contractor suggested to insert a 24” deep 36” wide base cabinet with drawers with wall cabinet sitting directly on the base cabinet. This would be flush with where the closet opening presently is. I note this would leave unused space behind the cabinets. And I don’t think it would look good stacked like that. It would be way below the other 36” height wall uppers..

    I could just leave the space under stairs empty after opening up, just visually opening the space. Or, where the closet door was, entering space that way, putting small desk and chair under stairs for laptop spot. It’s questionable whether my husband would use it since he seems to like being right next to the bay window where kitchen table is!

    I’m sorry. I plan to try one more outfit, but wanted to see what you might think! I value your opinion.

    Thank you!

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Hi Shawn,
      Because you will hit your head on the stringer for the stairs if you try to use the countertop over the base cabinetry or in reaching cabinets that are recessed 10 inches under the staircase, you need to pull all the cabinetry flush with the face of the staircase. We have used the triangular area above the base cabinets as wine cubbies in the past. Doing this is an expensive though. Keeping the area accessible from the side by using the closet as a pantry and possibly getting to the front with a triangular door is much less expensive. The desk area under the stairs is a bad idea for many reasons.

  6. Denise

    We are considering putting windows on either side of the range hood. Our cabinet guy says that the windows will get very dirty and is advising against it. I’d appreciate your insight.

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Hi Denise,
      Windows usually need to be 12″ away from any cooktop unless the wall is unusually thick or the windows are unusually high. This prevents more than dirty windows, it keeps any blinds or curtains on the window from becoming a fire hazard and also prevents the seal on an insulated glass window from being broken excess heat from the burners.

  7. carol

    We have a cottage by the lake in Michigan. We are changing our kitchen around since natural gas is being brought to our home in the spring. We would like to move our gas stove 4 burner under the window in the kitchen next to a main door opening. The hot water heater which is also being changed then to natural gas will be close to this stove with a stack of drawers in between hopefully. Can a gas stove be under a kitchen window? If we leave the stove where it is, our electrical box is above it in a cupboard and we would have to move this to another wall. Any suggestions are appreciated.

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Hi Carol,
      Generally gas ranges can not be under a window. But there are exceptions when for example the window is glass block or very high up set very deep. You need a good kitchen designer’s help. That’s where you need to start.

  8. Jo

    Hi! Very enlightening article. May I ask, can the back of an electric oven be placed against a wooden wall (about 2 inches away from the wall?)

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Hi Jo,
      Yes that would not be a problem. When you say oven I am assuming you actually mean a range. And any range should be attached to the back wall wilth an anti tip device making the range almost touching the back wall. If the range was a slide-n range then the backsplash should be tiled making the back wall above the burners not flammable.

  9. Terri Scott

    What a great article. I just finished creating a second kitchen on my lower level. I am relived to see I didn’t make any of these mistakes. But my husband is insisting that using an electric range/over in the 15′ x 9 room is going to be a fire hazard. The only exhaust I can have is an over stove microwave that has to recirculate the air back into the room. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. It is currently 100 degrees outside here in MD!
    BTW, it is my pet peeve of 22 years that internet articles rarely include the DATE they were written. I tip my mouse to you for doing so!

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