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Any advice for cooks who are "vertically challenged"?

I'm 5'2" tall and my kitchen counters are just too high for me to work comfortably. I love my relatively new gas cooktop, but it's got raised grates and I've got several pots (pasta pot and stock pots) that I can't even see into when I'm using them. I've been contemplating buying a new John Boos cutting board, but with a thickness of around 2", that would only worsen my problem. I've tried using a low step stool at the prep area, but my legs get really tired. I wish I had room in my kitchen for a 30"-high work table, but I don't. I'd really love to hear how other vertically challenged home cooks deal with this. Thanks!

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  1. My grandmother is about the same height. She had a false floor installed which raised it 3-4 inches, the height of the kickboard, to the bottom of the cabinets. Works great for her.

    1 Reply
    1. If I designed my own kitchen, I'd have one countertop lower for my baking area. I use a BOSU when I knead bread, make pasta, etc. Work your core while you cook:


      I have the smaller 55 cm one. And, if I'm feeling up to it, I do it standing on one foot for more balance work. Why do your legs get tired on a step stool?

      4 Replies
      1. re: chowser

        My legs get tired because the step stool is small, and my feet are too close together when I'm standing on it.

        1. re: CindyJ

          In that case, the BOSU would be similar, though the surface is soft. It's also good for your balance.

          1. re: ladooShoppe

            Anyone who's used one gets how great it is to use it like that. What's better than improving your core/balance, and getting your cooking done? I might try flipping it over, dome side down next time.

        2. Would wearing clogs indoors be impractical?

          8 Replies
          1. re: ipsedixit

            I am 5'0' on a good day, and I wear clogs that are 1 and 1/2 to 2 inches high. I often have to tiptoe to peer into stockpots. I figure it's good for my calves.

            We're hoping to remodel in a couple of years, and I've thought about putting in a lower counter. But I'm concerned about 1) the resale factor, and 2) the aesthetics of having one counter lower (although it would be a side counter).

            1. re: goodeatsgal

              My home was built in 1963 for a short woman. The kitchen counters are lower than standard. Since I'm short too, it's been helpful since I bought the house about 13 years ago.

              The downside is that there's no dishwasher because the cabinets are too short to accommodate one. I'm about to remodel the kitchen and haven't figured out the height issue yet.

              1. re: Discerning1

                My wife is a designer and just redid a multi million dollar home that had been built for a very short couple. Allo the counters (kitchen and bath) were 7 incehes shorter than normal. She had to address the installation of a dishwasher and found several solutions.
                There are dishwashers that are individual drawers, and she installed several of them side by side, instead of on top of each other.
                Some European appliances are smaller and shorter than US brands, but may require a 220 converter system.
                The new owners of the house wanted a French stove that was much too high for the lady to use comfortably. They built a platform in front of the stove for the lady to stand on, and installed plumbing for pot filling above the stove as well.
                With money and imagination, much can be accomplised.

                1. re: bagelman01

                  Thank you for the dishwasher drawer idea. I'm pursuing it for my remodel.

              2. re: goodeatsgal

                What if you did an area that could be staged later as a desk - instead of doing cabinets do an open shelving system you could take out, maybe?

                1. re: shanagain

                  That's exactly what I'd do if I could remodel my kitchen. I'd have an area that had an empty space below it and have a cart on wheels that could be tucked under and pulled out that would have all my baking supplies. File cabinets/drawers on both sides. The counter would be long and and low and be used as a desk.

                2. re: goodeatsgal

                  About one lower counter: a friend pointed out that on resale it can be featured as a kneading station. Tall or short, she pointed out that kneading requires leverage.

                3. re: ipsedixit

                  I hadn't thought of clogs. It's worth a shot. Thanks!

                4. My sister is 4'11" and my MIL is 4'9", and they have struggled a lot in this challenge over the years! My sister's had some good luck using the stackable steps used in step aerobics classes - she has one 4" in height and one 6" and uses them singly or in combination depending upon the task.

                  They're along these lines: http://www.power-systems.com/p-2353-t...

                  My sister and I will often having baking days in my kitchen (which has counters scaled for the household inhabitants that range from 5'9" to 6'5") and the portable step units have been a godsend for that.

                  One drawback: the steps are not that large in area, so you have to be aware of where you're standing. Ankle-twisting opportunities abound.

                  1. I'm under 5'2" and second on raising the floors. At work though, I stand on a milk crate. You can stack gelmats for a stopgap. Also, one lowered counter's a great idea.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: mamachef

                      When I remodel my kitchen -- whenever that happens -- I'm definitely going to have one lower counter area just for me.

                      1. re: mamachef

                        I'm a lofty 5'4"--the tallest woman in my family. Mom was 4'10" before she lost those two inches we often do after 60.

                        I am remodelling my kitchen at some point this year (spring, I hope). So we went to the Home Show at the convention Center here last week. Several of the kitchen setups were fabulous for the vertically challenged--a blend of standard height counters and lower counters (so dishwasher still fit), lowered cooktops, pull down cabinet shelves. It may have delayed my remodel as now I have so many new possibilities to consider.

                        Until that time, most mise en place takes place at the kitchen table--nd I suppose after 82 years, mom is used to that approach.

                        As far as cabinets, the house I bought in June must have been built for giants--I have a hard time reaching the second shelf, so forget the third. Poor mom has a hard time with even the first shelf; forget the step stool, we have a heavy-duty 4-step ladder folded away in the corner. The added space between the counter and cabinet bottom is nice and aesthetically pleasing, but God, I'll be happy to get those suckers lowered.

                      2. I'm 5' 1" and I have the same problem with seeing into pots on the stove. I keep a small stool (like the kind made for kids to reach the sink) under the kitchen table to use to peer into something on the stove.

                        Our kitchen table is wood and pretty sturdy, so sometimes I use that to mix bowls of stuff. The counters are ok for chopping, but for mixing a large batch of something, they are too high. I also find it easier to scoop cookie dough onto trays on the table. More space to spread out the trays and I'm not reaching so high to get into the KitchenAid bowl.

                        Now that I'm pregnant, I've really gotten more aware of jumping up on chair or a high stool to reach something from a top shelf. I rearranged so that mostly everything is on a lower shelf. Husband recently walked in to find the kitchen table pushed up against the oven so that I could stand on it to clean the top of the range hood. He wasn't very happy!

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: cheesecake17

                          I too use my kitchen table when I'm mixing batters, dough, etc. But you're right, my counter tops are fine for chopping.

                          Cindy, I bought a Boos Board and I have the very problem you mentioned - but I don't mind the added height when chopping. (I'm 5'2" too)

                        2. I'm also 5'2" but the only thing that I find difficult is kneading bread. I just asked Mr. travelmad 478 to make me a good-size, very solid, 10-inch-high stool to use for that. He is a cabinetmaker by trade and actually built everything in the kitchen himself, but I think the counter height is pretty standard. I like the idea of a raised floor--it would be a production to build, but having something removable for re-sale purposes would be beneficial, plus it doesn't confine you to such a small area.

                          1. My answer likely will not help you because we designed and built our home. I mandated lowering the cooktop 3" from "the industry standard" which began to make me crazy since "the industry standard" is for a six foot tall male and I am neither. Using a drop-in cooktop made this easy to do. The wall ovens are probably also lower than usual. Our 4.5 X 9 foot center island is also lower than "the industry standard". I used large storage drawers for dishware, pots & pans, etc. throughout the kitchen for storage since upper cabinets are more difficult to access. During the design process, if I'd had all my brains on, I would have installed a library ladder for the upper storage cabinets that store rarely used items.

                            As it is, this kitchen is perfect for me. We did not take resale into account because we plan to leave this house either dead or kicking and screaming in protest. The next owner is free to make whatever changes he/she likes.

                            FWIW, our bathroom counters are lowered as well. We are not really short people; I'm 5'5" and find our changes to be the most comfortable height.

                            To the poster who lamented the inability to lower their cabinets, a friend used bathroom (VS kitchen) cabinetry in her house because they came in shorter heights. All our cabinetry is custom so this was not a concern.

                            Discerning1 mentioned the dishwasher problem -- another short friend has raised her dishwasher so there is no bending involved. This solved two problems -- using a standard kitchen cabinet and eliminating her back problems.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Sherri

                              Our self-designed kitchen is all lower cabinets--didn't want to block the view, so above the counter is all windows--and we did drawers for almost everything. Even the microwave is below the counter. It is fantastic, so easy for me to use. The pantry cabinets are all pull-outs, too--no need to practically crawl into the cupboard to find things way in the back.

                              > We did not take resale into account because we plan to leave this house either dead or kicking and screaming in protest.

                              Same here. As God is my witness, I will never pack/unpack a moving box again!

                              1. re: travelmad478

                                When we built this house 34 years ago, we never imagined we'd be here for so long, and really didn't give much thought to kitchen design. Now, as our living-space needs have changed, and we contemplate retirement (YIKES!) we're concerned enough about resale value to not want to do anything "drastic" in terms of remodeling. That said, I don't think one lowered work space would be at all detrimental, and in fact, could well be regarded as a plus for many potential buyers. It's really only the counter heights that bother me; We have very few wall cabinets, and whatever is on upper shelves is stuff I don't use often. Everything on the bottom is drawers, and that makes for easy access to pots, pans, small appliances, etc.

                                I don't really have a kitchen table that can be used for food prep; we've got an open floor plan with a dining table that I really wouldn't want to use for prep work, and the only other kitchen seating is counter stools at the island. So I've been looking at fold-up work tables that are 30" high that might serve my needs. Something like this http://www.kitchensource.com/kitchen-... or this http://www.cookware.com/Oasis-Concept... might be helpful, and can be stowed away when not in use.

                            2. I'm a smidgen under 5'2" and have never been in a position to make structural changes to any of the kitchens I have lived with.

                              Simple things to raise your height which have helped have been clogs plus gel mats. The combination makes a big difference. I can reach the first shelf of my cabinets pretty well. Items on the 2nd shelf either have handles close to the edge or are in baskets, both of which I can just barely snag with my finger tips and pull forward. 3rd shelf and up are for the seldom used and there is a list/map taped to the inside of the cabinet to jog my memory!

                              I have rigged up cutting boards so they slip over an extended drawer. Useful for cutting and for a more accessible counter. I also have a 3' long portable table from Sams or Costco which has several height options which I pull out for marathon cooking events.

                              Prior to clogs and gel mats, I used to keep a long handled hand mirror by the stove. Angled just right I could get a quick visual into a tall pot! A pulley and cord can be an option for lowering a ceiling hung metal vegetable baskets, etc.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: meatn3

                                If it makes you feel any better I have a similar problem, just in an opposite manner. I am just too tall for any standard kitchen bench and it can be hard work on a cooking marathon. I fantasise about high surfaces in my dream kitchen.

                                1. re: TheHuntress

                                  Hence, my husband's and my problem--he's tall and I'm short and we'd have a tough time w/ kitchen design, if we were ever lucky enough to do ours. Don't ask how many times he puts the salt back on the highest shelf w/out thinking about it.

                                  1. re: chowser

                                    Mr. travelmad478 is also 6'0" and says that the counters are too short for him. Luckily, we have no high shelves for him to put the salt on :-) There are a couple of cabinets above the fridge that he keeps his snacks and chips in, which is perfect, because that way I never see them and never get the urge to eat them!

                                    1. re: travelmad478

                                      Love the solution. We do keep our wine up high but that doesn't stop me.;-)

                              2. I'm 5'1" and have never had a problem. I have a stepstool and always wear sneakers, when not cooking I always wear heels but the sneakers give you some height. I hate to tell you this but 5'2" is kind of tall In my family I'm the tallest woman

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Floridagirl

                                  Me too--I tower over my sister, my mother, and (the memory of) both grandmothers!

                                2. This thread is fascinating. I realize that I've been cooking in a kitchen that is perfectly proportioned for my decreasing 5'2" stature for at least 13 years so I've forgotten the challenges. Just in time info for my (hopeful) kitchen remodel.

                                  Thanks, Chowhounds!

                                  1. The first thing I did when I moved into my current house was rip out all the upper kitchen cabinets and replace them with open shelves at heights I could reach. No solution yet for the high counter tops. I'm 5 feet even barefoot, on a very good day.

                                    1. A real danger for us short cooks is the built-in microwave over the stove. I am always having to reach inconveniently up and figure it's only a matter of time until I pour something hot down my face.

                                      9 Replies
                                      1. re: Querencia

                                        Similarly, I'm always asking for help when something needs to be taken out of the upper of my double wall ovens.

                                        1. re: Querencia

                                          When we redid our kitchen, I had to insist over and over that I did not, did not, did not want an over-the-stove microwave, for just that reason. You'd think I was asking to have the refrigerator installed upside-down, for all the confusion this generated. I actually had to pantomime spilling soup on my head (that worked, especially when I screamed dramatically).

                                          1. re: Querencia

                                            I just don't understand why over the stove has become such a popular placement for a microwave.
                                            The idea is bad on so many levels...

                                            1. re: meatn3

                                              I thought I was the only one who hated the micro/hood combo! (I am of average height, but I just hate how cluttered and closed in it makes the stove area look.)

                                              We recently gutted our tiny little kitchen, and one of my favorite features is an under-counter microwave opening with a big drawer underneath.

                                              1. re: shanagain

                                                Shanagain, wish I could see the set up...I'm having trouble visualizing it. My kitchen is about 9' by 10'. I went to Lowe's yesterday to start a remodel plan and the planner there advocated for moving the convection oven to the floor, putting the cooktop above, and having the microwave/hood above it in order to maximize space.

                                                Seems crowded to me and not helpful for someone who really cooks. I like to see into my oven as things are cooking and it won't be eye-level anymore.

                                                Help me understand how you've done your microwave.

                                                1. re: Discerning1

                                                  This the basic idea (though ours is also about 9x10, so no huge island): http://pimage9.homesandland.com/image...

                                                  I don't use the microwave for much that has to be coddled,so I could put it below eye-level no problem.

                                                  For resale I figured I could either stage it as a microwave nook or as a bookshelf/cute open storage space in case someone was deadset on a micro-hood.

                                                  And if you have something you MUST have - stick to your guns. I LOVE my kitchen and find it about a hundred times more efficient and user-friendly than my previous concert hall. ;)

                                                  1. re: shanagain

                                                    Thanks. This is a good idea. What do you think the thing to the left of the microwave is?

                                                    1. re: shanagain

                                                      We've got the exact same set-up for our microwave. I love it, but I can see how it could be really annoying for a tall person. Luckily, Mr. travelmad478 has not complained.

                                            2. Another 5'2' signing in.

                                              We rebuilt our old farmhouse. And I designed the kitchen to fit my needs.
                                              No stove, but a wall mounted double oven and separate cook top. The tops of the counters are where it's comfortable for me and the double oven is placed so I can put things in and out safely. The dishwasher barely fits under the counter.

                                              (For kneading bread, I've seen significanly lowered surfaces especially for that.)

                                              Shelves are a problem, but they are where I wanted them, and I only use the bottom two. The rest are storage. Of the bottom two, I can use the lower one easily. The upper one is a series of lazy susans, each labeled for baking: (Seeds, flours, dried fruits, cookie fixings, etc.) (Mostly so Mr. Shallots has no excuse of putting something where I not only can't reach it, but can't see it.)

                                              For the 'looking into BIG pots on the stove problems, and for stirring same, Mr. Shallots bought me a barstool for Christmas last year. I don't use it often, but when I'm making a roux or something like onion soup that requires careful tending for a while, that higher place to sit is much, much easier on my lower back.

                                              Kitchens: one size/height does NOT fit all. We know this but most kitchen cabinet makers don't.

                                              1. I have a pair of 'cooking shoes'. They are 4" heels but a platform wedge so they are comfortable. Also you might think about getting an island or table at a lower height to incorporate into your workspace.