When it comes to choosing a refrigerator, the basics start with the decision between a standard depth, counter top depth, and built in design. In an existing kitchen when a client is replacing their refrigerator, generally the choice has been made for them – the cabinetry has been designed for a given refrigerator style. In a kitchen remodeling project, one of the first selections we make are the appliances so we can design the cabinetry around the them.
So what are the differences and trade offs? In general it’s a balance between costs, refrigerator capacity, looks, and features. Available features are always changing as manufacturers offer new options to consumers. One of the newer design trends are French Door refrigerators and the myriad shelf and drawer options seems to be never ending.
It may seem odd, but let’s start the discussion with some basics about cabinetry since it often defines what the refrigerator options are. Standard base cabinets in kitchens are 24 inches deep with a one to one and half inch overhang for the counter top (standard upper cabinets are 12 inches deep). Sometimes designers use 27 inch deep cabinets for various reasons or will use deeper upper cabinets, but the 24 and 12 inch dimensions are important when considering how far out in front of the counter top the refrigerator will extend.
Standard refrigerators are a misnomer in that there are no standard dimensions or features. They usually are in the range of 30 to 35 inches deep – depending on the manufacturer and model. Counter top depth models are designed to be placed in an alcove that are cabinet depth – a 24 inch deep space. The doors and hinges extend beyond the front of the cabinetry. Built in models are engineered to fit within a 24 inch deep space including the majority of the door – and the space for a built in refrigerator has to be designed to a more exacting level than a standard or counter top depth models (which are pushed into a space) – the refrigerators are attached to the cabinetry leaving very low tolerances for mistakes.
A key difference between standard refrigerators and counter top depth or built in ones is the depth of the actual refrigerator. Standard refrigerators get their increased capacity by having deeper boxes which mean the shelves are deeper – leading to those forgotten items in the back and spoiled food. Often clients that have moved from a standard refrigerator to a built in are pleased that they can rapidly scan the entire contents much more rapidly and have fewer left overs go bad since they are not hidden in the back.
When we remodeled this kitchen we used a standard depth refrigerator. One key advantage of standard depth refrigerators is they generally have the greatest amount of storage relative to counter top depth and built in units, and thus, have the lowest cost per cubic foot of capacity. With this installation, we used a side panel to hide the side of refrigerator and visually connecting the upper wall cabinets to the counter top and lower cabinets, giving the kitchen a more finished look. The cabinet above the refrigerator is also deeper (24 inches) to bring the front of the cabinet closer to the front of the refrigerator, making it easier to access items stored there and providing additional storage space (to view this project click here).
This remodeling project features a built in refrigerator and wine cooler. Note that the “built in” designation has nothing to do with whether the front of the refrigerator has panels that match the cabinetry. If you look at the door, the hinges are hidden. The face of the door and top access panel is in the same plane as the cabinet doors and the style of the refrigerator matches the warm contemporary look of the kitchen (to view this project click here).
In this kitchen, the main work area was rather small. When we designed the kitchen, we selected a counter top depth refrigerator and designed the cabinetry around the refrigerator. The end result is a refrigerator that, although not built in, looks similar to a built in one. And another benefit is since the box is not as deep as a standard model, there is more space in the work area and the corner base cabinet is opens correctly making it usable for storage. In this case, the counter top depth refrigerator not only looks great, but allowed us to design the space to be more functional (to view this project click here).
While these units look very similar to a standard built in refrigerator, they are in fact integrated units. The way to tell the difference is the compressor grill. On a standard built in refrigerator, the compressor is located on top of the refrigerator and on an integrated unit, they are at the bottom and the compressor ventilation is in the toe kick. When integrated refrigerators are installed with cabinetry panels, they completely blend in with the cabinets. The pictured units are combine functions – wine storage (two temperature zones) and refrigeration drawers on the left and refrigeration and freezer drawers on the right. Integrated drawers can also be used allowing for storage at various locations around the kitchen or in a coffee bar in the master bedroom (to view this project click here).