Cherry kitchen cabinets with marble countertops


Apr 15, 2024

In very old houses, you’ll find that the height of their countertops can vary. But in the mid-20th century, homebuilding exploded and countertop heights became standardized. That way, cabinets could be built in factories, saving the builders a lot of money.

If you plan to add a bathroom or remodel your kitchen, it’s important to know how high your countertops will be. That way, you can to sketch the room accurately and plan things like where your receptacles, switches, etc. will be.

Amazon link for 12′ Stanley Powerlock Tape Measure

Here’s a whole book about cabinets and countertops



The normal height for kitchen tops is about 36″. The height is comfortable for most prep/cooking/cleanup tasks you’ll perform, plus there is plenty of room for storage and plumbing in the cabinets below. The distance between your countertops and the bottom of your wall cabinets is generally 18″.

Note: The exact height of your countertop, above your finished floor, depends upon these factors:

  • The height of the cabinet that the top sits on. This is 34 1/2″.
  • Whether the cabinets sit on the subfloor, in which case the finished floor butts up to them, or they sit on the finished floor (flooring is expensive, so this is not common).
  • The thickness of your countertops. Check with your supply house or your countertop fabricator to get this measurement.

Using this info, sketch out your particular flooring/cabinet/countertop situation to get the exact height from finished floor to the top of the countertop.


Kitchen cabinets with countertops shown



Kitchen islands with countertops that are on one level are made up of normal base cabinets, so their height is 36″.

Will the island have two levels, like in the picture above? If so, add a wall behind the row of base cabinets, to hold the higher top. Usually, make this wall, including its countertop, about 8″ taller than the base top. This countertop height allows room for receptacles and switches.  Install the electrical boxes horizontally rather than vertically.

You can make the raised countertop, or bar top, of the same material as the lower top, like in the picture.  Or you can use another material. If the bar top extends over the wall, your guests can sit in counter height chairs, facing the kitchen.

Note: This wider top is significantly cantilevered (I’ll explain cantilevering in another post). Since it hangs so far out on the chair side, you must support it in some way. In the picture you can see the supporting brackets above the seats of the chairs.

Keep in mind the health of your guests’ knees! Place the brackets accordingly.


Your kitchen design may include a cabinet that’s to be used for a specific purpose, maybe a shorter cabinet with a butcher block top. In this case, set the countertop height at a height to make the tasks performed there as comfortable as possible.




36″ tall bathroom vanity cabinets

The standard height for vanity cabinets in the post-war boom was set, for some reason, at 30″. In the early-80s, more and more 36″ high vanities appeared and that is now the most common vanity height in new homes and remodels.

One important benefit of this new standard is that there are many more kitchen cabinet designs than vanity designs. Since they are the same height, you can use cabinets that were designed to be used in kitchens as your vanity cabinets.


If there is room in your line of vanity cabinets, as in the photo above, you can install a makeup countertop in between two of your normal vanity cabinets. This can be just a countertop (with support structure) or can be a single-drawer cabinet, with a top. In any case the height of the top should be comfortable for applying makeup, while allowing knee space.


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