20 years ago a friend of ours was replacing a very high-end kitchen in their central London flat. As we were renovating our home, we jumped at the opportunity to take the kitchen units, which were a mix of drawers, pull-out larder, shallow larder cupboard and high level cabinets.
At first, I had to unlearn principles around the way things were stored in a kitchen, the ideas I if grown up with I’d grown up with and got used to. I’m this second-hand kitchen all under counter units were drawer units! I was perplexed as how I was going to use drawers for things like pots and pans and plates…
Then I realised the genius of drawers versus cupboards!
I learnt a lot from refitting that second-hand kitchen in our existing space:
The balance of the drawers versus cabinets for base units of a kitchen is tipped to drawers: The only factors that support choosing doors over drawers are the cost and that some styles just do not suite drawers. For practicality, ergonomics and family-friendliness drawers win hands down!
Let’s get into details, though, on the pros and cons of drawers in a kitchen to help you make up your mind.
Since owning that very first, second-hand, kitchen many years ago I have designed a fair few kitchens for ourselves and for friends too, all with as many drawers under the countertop as possible. So it’s a debate I’ve had many times in the planning process.
5 reasons you want as many drawers in your kitchen as possible
I have to say IKEA have done a fantastic job at creating a relatively affordable system of drawers in kitchen cabinets.
These are reliable come out fully and work for many many years as their warranty actually that’s them too.
Are drawers really better? What is the difference?
Yes, drawers have several advantages over simple cabinets with doors. Below the counter, drawers utilise the space to a maximum and help you stay much more organised. Drawers are kind on your back and give you an opportunity to get the kids involved in chores at a much younger age.
1) Use all the space
Maximizing space, drawers pull out fully and therefore you don’t lose things in the back of cupboards. You also don’t have to unpacked everything to get to the things in the back, instead just pull everything out.
You will also be about to size the drawers to the contents stored in there
Note: you should opt for the more expensive drawer runners that will extend fully. Some cheaper kitchens have cheaper ironmongery. In these, the drawers won’t come out fully, but stay an inch or two inside the cabinet. I feel these are still better than a low-level cabinet but will not maximise your use of space.
2) See everything
With drawer, you will actually reduce the number of items you think you need and your waste of foods because you can actually see everything at the back of your cupboards. Nothing gets forgotten, like at the back of cupboards.
3) Easier to organise
Drawers are so much easier to organise, even when they are absolutely full: by giving an overview and allowing you to see everything in a drawer at a glance you can create categories of things. Even awkward shaped items can be easier to place. For example think of standing pot lids upright, instead of laying them down.
Draw dividers and boxes can be a great help to keep you organised.
4) More ergonomic and kinder on your back
Even though you are leaning down to access things, you aren’t twisting to get to items in the back of cupboards. Therefore, it’s safe to say that drawers are kinder on your back.
The ergonomics and layout of your drawers and your dishwasher also can be incredible helpful, saving your back and lots of walking: by storing your frequently used items like cups, cutlery, plates right by the dishwasher, you will make emptying the dishwasher so much easier and less of a chore.
Having drawers, I’ve found, makes it quite easy to get children involved in kitchen chores from quite a young age. Mine have helped from about 18 months old to do small things like emptying the dishwasher into the drawers and laying the table for dinner.
They also have been pretty good at sorting their own breakfast from about 4 years old, helping younger siblings too: this is by putting all cereals, bowls and cutlery in easily accessible drawers. We’ve had a step in our
TIP: when my kids were very young we had a drawer just for them: we had their little kitchen accessories and some drawing and colouring supplies that they could get out while I was working in the in the kitchen. Having their special space also help stop them from accessing other drawers unnecessarily.
Example of a small family kitchen with lots of drawers
Here’s our own kitchen which we designed with a lot of constraints due to space and where services are located.
Disadvantage of drawers in a kitchen
Cost of cabinet drawers vs doors
Let’s talk costs: drawers are definitely more expensive than doors on your kitchen cabinets, especially if you are going for good quality, well-designed drawers. A cabinet with doors and a couple of shelves will work out about a third of the price than a unit with 3 drawers with quality drawer runners in the same range.
What makes the drawers more expensive? The additional materials needed and the engineered drawer runners. Again, there are always savings to be made on the parts. Just as you can opt for simple hinges on your cabinet doors (and give up some functionality, like fully opening doors, or looks, like seeing the cabinetry from the front, not just the doors), you can go for cheaper drawer runners (that don’t carry as much weight or can’t extend fully) or even do away with drawer runners altogether, like antique drawers.
Not as easy to childproof
Although drawers can be childproofed, child-proofing is not as easily done as for kitchen doors. So for those with little ones, who are into everything and just won’t learn, this is a consideration.
Saying that, we have raised our 3 kids in kitchens with drawers and having drawers has been actually found it useful to help get them involved in the ktichen chores.
More cluttered look
Drawers may create a slightly more cluttered look by having many more lines than a very plain front of a door. This will not suit everyone’s style.
And having more lines. means more cleaning. Yes, drawers are a bit of a pain to clean, immo: if any fluid, cooking juice and such runs down the front of your cabinet, it will most certainly sit on the top of the drawer front and then, by Murphy’s Law, will trickle into as well. To add to the cleaning chores somehow drawers catch lots of crumbs and dirt…or is it that we just see them more?
Despite these factors of dirty and needing slightly more frequent cleaning, I feel, the advantages of drawers still far outweigh the disadvantages. So if you can afford drawers instead of doors on your cabinets, definitely go for them because you will love the organisation and the overview of drawers give you!
Pullouts versus standard drawers in a kitchen
An alternative and a compromise between the clean lines of door fronts but the convenience of drawers are cabinet with pull-out drawers inside. We have this system in our kitchen as well and it’s a compromise!
An annoying compromise to say the least: There are always two actions needed to access anything: each time you have to open a door and then open a drawer.
However, adding in pullouts is a good compromise to update old, quality units that have design and historic value… and that’s actually the value in pullouts: they don’t compromise a traditional look or a highly minimalist look with additional lines, yet provide the practicalities of storage in drawers.
NOTE: for pullouts to work in cabinets, you need special hinges that “throw” the doors out of the way and give the drawers unencumbered space to pull out.
Drawers in wall units
The difference between low-level cabinets and high-level cabinets is their depth: low-level cabinets aim to maximise the under-counter space. You are standing up and looking at the content of your drawers from above. Whereas wall units tend to be shallower so you can access the counterspace without banging your head and have a better overview of the cabinets’ contents.
Don’t do it! Drawers don’t work very well in wall units: It’s a concept that we’ve tested.
I’ve put wire drawers into a couple of full- height deep cabinets, reasoning that you can at least see what is in there, pull it out and access from the sides. The principle sort of works, but it’s still very awkward to access any items stored. You have to get steps and access things from the sides.
The advantage of the wire basket drawers in these cupboards is the overview they give, which is still better than that of deep shelves.
However, drawers higher up create a safety hazard, as you will automatically grab onto it, if you slip or loose your balance on the step you are using to grab something from it.
How wide should drawers be?
The width of your drawers will depend on how you use your kitchen.
When you are designing a kitchen look at all the items you want to store and make a plan of what and where you want to store. Adjust the size of your drawers to your needs as well as the design considerations. (Don’t forget, however, that some space in the cabinets will be taken up by the drawer runners making your drawer narrower than the space available.)
As a rule of thumb, the wider a drawer is, the better flexibility it gives for what how you use it. Added width will also future-proof them a bit: your current crockery sets might fit in beautifully, but you may want to change that in the future to a bigger set that’s not going to fit as well.
You want to have at least 30cm wide drawers, which fit in a 40 cm wide cupboard. Ideally, you’d have as many 60-90 cm wide drawer units as possible. Remembering that the wider, the more flexible they’ll be for storage. I, personally, love the IKEA 80cm wide base units with a 3 drawer configuration.
You can always divide drawers to make them better to organize with drawer dividers.
One factor against the widest possible drawers is considering the weight of the contents you intend to store. Make sure you don’t overload drawers as it will break them or ruin the runners before time.
Most of our drawers are 80 cm wide, but we have a 60 cm wide unit with drawers. These drawers can take more weight for the space, therefore it’s where I keep our cast iron pots and pans, as well as the staples like pulses and rice.
For very narrow drawers you might want to consider adding height so you can easily fit in things like oil bottles.pot lids, chopping boards. A great option for a narrow space is a pull-out wire rack that can hold all sorts of condiment bottles.
How high should your kitchen drawers be?
The height of your drawers, again, really does depend on what you want to store in them.
We’ve found the following works for us:
- Low height ( 6- 10 cm) for cutlery and spices.
Spice bottles can be laid down and this gives a much better overview of the jars.
- Mid height ( 15- 20 cm) is great for plates, bowls, cups and glasses, as well as store cupboard staples like rice, flour, sugar and pulses.
- Deep drawers ( 35-40 cm) pots and pan and baking accessories, kitchen machines all can be well organised in these.
To extend the life of your drawers, fill them with the weight and frequency of use of your different items in mind: heavy or infrequently used items go in the back, so you don’t have to fully extend your drawers all the time.
For example: our breakfast bowls are in the front, the larger plates are in the back. We use these bowls a lot and only have to open the drawers slightly to access them. Our cast iron pots and glassware, on the other hand, are in a narrower drawer, which will take more weight on a smaller surface.
Hope that helps you in designing or redesigning your dream kitchen. Lots of us spend so much time in the kitchen- preparing food, cleaning up and socialising, it really is worth making it as practical and beautiful as you possibly can. For us, drawers are what make our kitchen incredibly practical and have helped get kids involved in the kitchen at a much younger age.
Are you a drawers or a doors in the kitchen fan? Share your thoughts below!