Counter-Depth Appliance Review: Pros and Cons

Are Counter-Depth Appliances Right for You?

A woman opening a counter-depth fridge
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A "counter-depth" or "cabinet-depth" appliance is one designed so that the appliance is roughly the same front-to-back depth as the countertops and base cabinets. Refrigerators are the appliances where this is most relevant, since these are appliances that most often jut out from the countertops and base cabinets. Most other appliances—such as wine coolers, dishwashers, and compact freezers—are already designed to fit under the countertop.

Because standard base cabinets/countertops are usually 24 to 25 inches deep, and standard refrigerators are between 30 and 34 inches deep, the refrigerator may extend out as much as 5 to 10 inches beyond the plane of the cabinet faces. This can make for a clumsy-looking room design, and can even interrupt traffic flow. An increasingly popular solution to this design dilemma is a counter-depth appliance, which has a shallower profile that keeps the appliance in-line with the cabinets and countertops.

This design style is available with all types of refrigerators: refrigerator-only, bottom or top freezer, side-by-side, and French door models. It's also an option for other kitchen appliances that typically jut out past the face of the countertops. But while counter-depth appliances do make a kitchen design more elegant, they also come with drawbacks. To achieve the same capacity as a standard appliance, a shallower counter-depth appliance needs to be considerably wider. This can mean a reduction in countertop space, as well as a wider door that requires a larger swing radius. And this special design may cost more than a standard appliance.

Pros
  • Better access to contents

  • Streamlined look

  • Improves kitchen traffic flow

Cons
  • Wider appliances reduces counter space

  • Doors require more clearance

  • Capacity sometimes diminished

Countertop Depth Variations

While the standard depth for base cabinets is 24 inches, this can vary somewhat, especially if the cabinets are custom built. Even a standard cabinet may be set forward slightly from the wall, so that the effective depth is 30 inches or so. In addition, the overhang of the countertops can vary. Usually, the countertops overhang the base cabinets by about 1 inch, but it can be as much as 3 inches in some situations. It is important, therefore, to measure your space correctly in order to buy a counter-depth appliance that most closely fits. Do not expect to match your refrigerator or appliance exactly to this cabinet depth, however, because they are always oversized slightly to allow the doors to open easily. A counter-depth refrigerator may have a depth as little as 28 7/8 inches, or as much as 31 1/4 inches, all of which will extend slightly forward from standard cabinets and countertops.

Also make sure you understand how the appliance manufacturer measures the depth of the appliance. This measurement sometimes runs from the back of the appliance to the front of the appliance box but doesn't include the door. Or, it can measure all the way out to the front of the door handles. Often, the specifications chart for the appliance will give several different measurements to help you choose correctly.

Counter-Depth Appliance Costs

Counter-depth appliances typically cost about 15 to 20 percent more than standard refrigerators that have comparable features, and it is not uncommon for the appliance to be slightly smaller in capacity. For example, a survey of appliances sold at a major big-box home improvement center showed a GE 25.5 cubic foot side-by-side refrigerator-freezer in a standard design selling for $1599, while a comparable 21.9 cubic foot counter-depth unit sold for $1899.

Maintenance and Repair

Counter-depth appliances are generally maintained and repaired in the same way as standard appliances. With some models, the shallower design may require repositioning certain components such as water filters, making them slightly harder to access. Repair professionals are fully experienced in servicing counter-depth appliances, and repairs will not cost you any more than with standard appliances. Generally speaking, counter-depth appliances are no more prone to problems than standard appliances.

Design

This appliance design is very useful in kitchens where you seek a modern streamlined profile. Luxury kitchens with cabinet-faced appliances often make use of this design, since a solid, uninterrupted look is essential. Counter-depth appliances are also useful in some smaller kitchens, where a standard appliance that juts out from the cabinets can be a hindrance.

Counter-Depth Appliance Installation

These appliances are installed no differently than standard appliances, with similar wiring and plumbing hookups required. For DIYers, installation is sometimes a little easier, since shallower appliances are less awkward to handle. However, because counter-depth appliances are sometimes wider than standard units, make sure your home's entry doors are wide enough to accommodate them.

Top Brands of Counter-Depth Appliances

Nearly every major appliance brand offers a good selection of counter-depth appliances. Brands with excellent selections include:

  • LG: This company offers 24 counter-depth refrigerators in many configurations. LG is known for very good appliances at a slightly higher price-point.
  • General Electric (GE): One of the largest of all appliance manufacturers, GE offers dozens of counter-depth appliances in all styles, at affordable prices.
  • Frigidaire: Offers six high-end refrigerators in French-door style with lower drawer freezers.
  • Samsung: Offers a wide selection of counter-depth refrigerators in several styles and in a broad range of prices.
  • Bosch: This company offers six French-door style refrigerators at a premium price.

Comfort and Convenience

The shallower depth of counter-depth refrigerators and other appliances means that you have a shorter reach to access the contents. Finding and retrieving contents from a counter-depth refrigerator is much easier and requires less extended bending. This can be especially helpful on refrigerators with bottom freezer drawers, which won't need to be pulled out as far.

Easy access is an undeniable advantage, but it often comes at the cost of less capacity. Unless you are willing to buy a wider unit to compensate for the reduced depth, you can expect the appliance's storage volume to be less. And if you do buy an appliance that is wider to compensate, this means that you'll need to reduce the countertop and cabinet space to make room for the appliance.

The shallower profile of counter-depth appliances can improve traffic flow in a kitchen, since there is no jutting appliance to get in your way as you move about during cooking chores. But the doors on these appliances are often wider, which means you will deal with a wider door swing as you open and shut them.

Are Counter-Depth Appliances Right for You?

Counter-depth appliances can be a good choice if you are intent on a streamlined look that requires the appliances to stay in-line with the surrounding cabinets. But be aware that there are potential tradeoffs for this design benefit, including a loss of countertop space or loss of appliance capacity. And expect to pay a slightly higher price for the stylish look.