Kitchen Seating – How Much Knee Space Do I Need?

raised island countertop for seating

The trend towards open concept floor plans – usually connecting the kitchen to family rooms or “Great Rooms” and is here to stay. It’s also common these days to include informal seating in the kitchen, allowing family and friends to hang out and chat over coffee or snacks.

Whether you’re scratching out a plan on a napkin or looking for advice from the local home improvement center, you should know how much knee space you need for comfortable seating at islands and peninsulas.

Islands and Peninsulas

Islands and Peninsulas are the two most likely locations for kitchen seating. As the name implies, an Island has aisle space on all sides and come in all shapes and sizes. The size, height and use of the island will determine how much seating space can be practically incorporated into it. Peninsulas are connected to other cabinetry or a wall and are often used as a divider between the kitchen and the adjoining space.

If you’re planning seating at an Island or Peninsula, the same space considerations apply – allow 24″ “elbow room” for each seat and make sure there is enough walking space behind the seats when they’re in use. 36″ to 42″ is a good ballpark minimum aisle width for light traffic areas.

Height helps when space is tight

Counter height is a key factor in designing your kitchen seating area. The higher the counter – the shallower the space needed. The three illustrations below show the recommended “knee space” depth needed for three common counter seating heights. It all comes down to basic geometry as applied to the human leg. A higher stool keeps our legs more vertical – so our knees don’t project as far forward – it’s that simple.

30″ high counter

Illustration of kneespace depth for 30 inch high counter

A 30″h counter is the typical height of a dining table or a desk. Seated in a standard chair, the average person needs about 18″ of  clear space to avoid banging into wall, brackets, shelves, etc.

Add another 36″ to that 18″ deep counter and you’re looking at needing 4 1/2 feet of aisle space for table-height seating.


36” high counter

Illustration of kneespace depth for 36 inch high counter

The standard kitchen counter height is 36″ in most regions, although it’s not uncommon for it to vary an inch higher or lower at the request of homeowners. Seating at kitchen counter height is very handy because the uninterrupted counter space can be reclaimed as kitchen work surface when needed.

You should allow a minimum of 15″ of clear depth for comfortable seating on a 24″ high stool. In large islands, storage cabinets for occasional use items are sometimes designed into the seating knee space.

42″ high counter

Illustration of kneespace depth for 42 inch high counter

Raised bar-type counters take up the least amount of space and provide a more pronounced visual break between spaces. A 42″ high counter also gives you an alternate working height when you need it. A 12″ deep knee space is recommended although I admit I’ve crunched that space slightly in some REALLY TIGHT kitchens over the years.

Remember that the raised counter needs to be supported with at least a 3/4″ thick panel. The raised top should be deep enough to accommodate:

  • the knee space
  • the thickness of the support structure (including finish panels)
  • 6″ h laminate or tile backsplash between counter levels
  • 3/4″ minimum overhang above the backsplash

Plan to make a 42” high countertop for seating to be 14” to 16” deep.


Another consideration for the seating is to get the proper height stools to suit the counter. A typical dining chair will work for a 30″ high counter with a seat about 18″ h. Look for 24″ high stool for a 36″ counter and 30″ high bar-stools for 42″high counters.

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6 thoughts on “Kitchen Seating – How Much Knee Space Do I Need?

  1. Banner-ad -gifts-for-curlers-468x60
  2. If that 2″ is the rise between countertops, it’s not quite enough for an electrical outlet. The cover plate is about 3″ high when mounted horizontally. Would a 45″h bar counter be too high for you?


  3. I want to raise my base cabinets to make a 40″ height. I have a bad back and am fairly tall and bending over a sink or countertop just causes all kinds of back spasms not to mention terrible posture. I want to also have a “bar” height section. Is that 2″ large enough for electrical plus and switches if they are turned on their side? Am I crazy to want this?

  4. hi, i have a counter that is 45” and have found used stools that are 30 inches, is that tall enough for the high counter? thanks

  5. Thank you for explaining this! Everyone was saying my 42″ bar needed 16″ of knee space and that seemed like an awful lot. Excellent explanation.

  6. Well YES and NO on a 42″ high counter top.

    It’s a YES if the foot rest becomes lower as the bar stool height becomes higher (taller) then your theory holds water and is correct (basic geometry it’s that simple) as you stated.

    However it’s a NO when;
    SOME…..SOME….. bar stools allow you to keep the same body geometry even when the bar stool is taller because the….. (here’s the catch) Seat to foot rest dimension remains the same regardless of bar stool height increase. Re read that again before any rebuttal. Butt to knees to foot rest remain constant, same position Your geometry or posture never changes. If your body posture never changes as the bar stool height increases due to the fact….Seat to foot rest dimension remains the same regardless of bar stool height increase. (meaning your legs do not become more vertical as bar stool height increases) Therefore no geometry is in effect. and your theory is leaking like a sieve.

    I personally don’t care for 12″ overhang regardless of counter top height. 15″-18″ is what I prefer.
    but as always YMMV

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