Vail Design at Altitude column: Measure twice, order once: A measurement guide
Design at Altitude
Details matter. Whether it’s finding the perfect backsplash or counter stools, small things make a big impression. Measurements are key to successful design — it’s not necessarily sexy, but a few inches (or a lot less) can make or break a room’s design. And guess what? Even the pros occasionally make an error in measurement.
We have all made the mistake of a wrong measurement at least once in our careers, but with experience we can come a step closer to perfection. This is why hiring a designer is key — the number of design decisions you will need to make is enormous, and having someone who has gone through this process thousands of times can feel like having a best friend!
That being said, there are certain industry-standard measurements to keep in mind when designing, whether it’s from scratch or revamping an existing space. Senior designer and interior architect Kim Toms keeps a few numbers in mind when she starts the drawing process.
The minimum dimension between kitchen counters (island countertop to another countertop) is 42 inches. This allows for enough space to maneuver around the room, even with kids and others running in and out. The minimum height for countertops in the bath or kitchen is 36 inches. Some people like to go a bit taller, especially in the kitchen, but any shorter feels awkward.
For ease of reach and with all the lovely backsplash options, cabinets should be at least 18 inches above the countertop. Higher above the sink is generally recommended. Speaking of cabinets: A minimum of 14 inches in depth for upper cabinets allows for all those fabulous platters and serving pieces you store and don’t use frequently. The 12-inch depth is typical for cabinets, but the 2 extra inches makes life easier (and doesn’t that sound nice?). Finally, don’t be lured into skinny drawers.
“Any drawer that is less than 12 inches wide is useless unless you plan on storing pencils or pens in it,” Toms said.
There is a bevy of other measurements to consider when it comes time for installation.
In the dining room, the bottom of the chandelier should be 34 to 36 inches above the table. Luckily, if yours is hung too low, it’s a pretty easy fix to shorten the cord (this often happens when moving into a new home). When placing an area rug in the dining room, allow the depth of the chair to fully pull out without catching on the rug. Allow for 36 inches around the table so family and guests can get in and out with ease. Again, take detailed, accurate measurements before ordering the rug.
We love pendant lights or cool, artsy hanging lights for an extra boost of light throughout the house. Never hang a light lower than 6-foot-9; it can go as high as 7-foot-3, but any higher the fixture seems awkwardly placed. If there’s no place for an additional light, go for lamps. They should be 56 to 60 inches above the floor for best ambiance.
Area rugs can be tricky. It’s good to make sure all the large furniture pieces are mostly on the area rug. The coffee table should be about 18 inches from the seating. You want to be able to reach your drink with ease. The accompanying living room chairs should be at least 36 inches deep for comfort. This can be a personal decision, as well; for the bigger and taller amongst us, a deeper seating area is welcome. The bookcase should be at least 12 inches deep, up to 15 inches for books and decor.
In the kitchen, before ordering stools make sure you know your counter height. We’ve seen several disappointed homeowners who fall in love with (and order) the wrong stool height. Do you have a bar-height counter? The barstool should be at least 12 inches lower than the countertop.
Last but not least, where you lay your head should be as comfortable as it is well designed: A headboard should be at least 24 to 27 inches higher than the mattress height.
When in doubt, just like a carpenter, measure twice. A graph-paper layout can help for accuracy, as well. We’d be happy to help with any design questions.
Yvonne Jacobs is the president of Slifer Designs. Kim Toms is the interior architect and senior designer. They have been designing homes for more than 20 years.