Kitchen Function: The silent but equal partner to form

With form at the forefront of your client’s thinking, it’s important that function be of equal standing in the overall design.

October 25, 2012
Seating and table arrangements come in a range of sizes and shapes.

Seating and table arrangements come in a range of sizes and shapes.

With form at the forefront of your client’s thinking, it’s important that function be of equal standing in the overall design. Functionality plays the quieter, less obvious role that will no-less lend itself to the homeowner’s needs and wants. In creating the ideal kitchen for your client, your knowledge and attention to clearances, traffic paths and countertop heights will ensure comfortable and convenient living. The National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA) recommends the following guidelines.

Clearances for Dining

The required floor space needed for seating depends on the type of chair and the height of the table or counter. A typical table is 30 inches high, and a person seated in a chair at this height table requires 18 to 24 inches of clear floor space beyond the table edge, depending on the size of the person and the type of chair used. An eating counter used for dining could be 36 inches high, which is the same as a typical work surface counter, or 42 inches. Seating height should be sized to match the counter height. A knee space depth of 12 to 18 inches is needed, decreasing as the height increases.

In order for the person to get up out of the chair, a 32-inch space is required from the edge of the table to a wall or other obstruction. If a person must edge past a seated diner or move behind a chair parallel to the table, then 36 inches of space will be needed between the edge of the table and the wall or obstruction. Allow at least 44 inches if a person needs to walk behind the seated diner. This would allow the person to walk perpendicular to the table and would be the most convenient clearance. A distance of 60 to 72 inches would be generous and allow for a server to serve the table or for a person with a mobility aid to maneuver around the table space.


Most people enjoy sitting down to eat, although standing up to finish off a bowl of cereal during the morning rush may be common in some households. Several different seating arrangements are common and require minimum clearances for the dining area and the diner.

The minimum space needed for a place setting is 24 inches wide. This allows space for a plate, flatware, and glassware arranged in the typical setting. A more generous space would be 30 inches wide. This would allow for a little more arm space while eating and would allow for a more formal table setting. The 30-inch width would also allow for a person in a wheelchair to sit.

The size and shape of the table will determine how many place settings and people can be served. A banquette, with some bench seating, can be planned in a corner or bay window area. The diagram above, at left, illustrates various sizes of tables and the number of seats that can comfortably fit at the table.

The depth of the place setting depends on the height of the table (see diagram above, right). For a table height at 30 inches, allow 18 inches depth for a seated diner. This depth below the table will provide the knee space to allow the diner to sit comfortably and the top area will provide a generous space for a place setting or serving pieces.

When seating is at a raised counter, allow 15 inches of depth at a 36-inch high counter and 12 inches at a 42 inch high counter. Clearances below the counter will allow legroom for the tall chairs and stools used at these counter height. Such counters will not be deep enough to accommodate a typical place setting, but can be used to serve snacks and small meals. PR


This design education article was excerpted from a forthcoming book published by Wiley for the National Kitchen and Bath Association: Kitchen Planning: Guidelines, Codes, Standards. To purchase copies of the book go to www.nkba.org

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