Recessed, Counter-Depth, Built-In, or Fully Integrated
Before you go shopping for your refrigerator, become familiar with the common terms. A standard 36-inch refrigerator is about 33 inches deep. The standard base cabinet is 25″ deep. If you purchase a standard fridge, a good 8″ will protrude from the surrounding cabinetry. If you purchase a so-called “counter-depth” refrigerator it will cost a few thousand more, and the doors will still protrude a few inches past the cabinets. Only a built-in or integrated model will sit level with your cabinet doors. So, what’s a budget-minded homeowner to do?
Recess a Full-Depth Refrigerator
If you love the counter-depth look but are put off by the price or even by the reduced interior cubic feet, a clever way around that is to recess it into the wall. This can be a smart and smart-looking option. Not only will you be able to get by with a lower cost standard refrigerator with the highest interior cubic feet available but you’ll also be able to replace your refrigerator years into the future at low replacement cost. It requires some advance planning, as your contractor will need to carve out a recess into the rear wall of up to 8 inches by removing drywall and studs. If it’s a retaining wall, the contractor may need to install a reinforcement beam. Note: You will still need a few inches gap on the sides, so the doors can swing open. If you skimp on this, it might make opening or removing interior drawers difficult or even impossible.
Another option is the counter-depth fridge. Though a counter-depth refrigerator may sound like a dream come true, it’s a bit of a misnomer, as the doors still extend past the counter top. (See photo above.) You can’t recess the doors past the hinges or the doors won’t open. Another thing to note about these models is that as you lose depth, you lose interior cubic feet, and thus, storage space. For models that cost a few hundred dollars more than standard refrigerators, it may not seem worth it to some buyers.
Built in models have special hinges that allow the doors to open without swinging wider, so require no gap on the sides. Zero-clearance models include Sub Zero, Liebherr, Bosch, BlueStar, Fisher and Paykel, and Haier, among many others. Search for “zero-clearance.”
|My refrigerator is a Liebherr Integrated|
Integrated refrigerators look seamless. To achieve this seamlessness, you will pay about twice the cost of a standard refrigerator. Integrateds are sold without panels. The buyer can choose to purchase a stainless steel panel, if you like that look, or to order panels from your cabinet maker for a more streamlined look, both at extra cost.
|Mine, during installation without panels|
|I ordered panels to match my pantries from the cabinet maker|
Paneled models are the most expensive. The Sub Zero 36″ runs about $8,000. I went with German-made Liebherr and paid about $6,000—and I’m very happy with it. At the lower end of the price range there is also the Fisher and Paykel Active Smart refrigerator at about $4,000. Designers love the F&P, as contractors encounter few problems installing it. But note that it does have the least amount of interior storage space. Though sold in three heights — 72″, 80″, 84″—that’s a bit misleading as all three models are exactly the same refrigerator, sold in different enclosure sizes.
All three have the same internal capacity (16.8 cu. ft.), the same layout, same number of shelves and bins.
The only difference is the taller 80″ and 84″ models sit on an elevated platform and are fitted with longer doors.
The taller F&P models cost a few thousand more. If you don’t mind paying more for “the look” of a taller refrigerator that integrates into your tall pantries, F&P might be the fridge for you. After you panel them they’re visually on par with very high-end models like Sub-Zero.
Separate freezer and refrigerator columns is a trend that’s been gaining momentum among high-end kitchen designers. It can sometimes solve workflow issues. It can address the problem in a kitchen design where there isn’t enough room along one run to house both together. Or it can simply present nice symmetry in designs that call for for a column on either end of a run. Though it’s the most expensive option, I briefly considered it. I’m a weekend batch cooker and I need as much freezer space as refrigerator space, if not more.
|Batch cooking in the old narrow galley kitchen—I don’t miss it!|
The skinniest columns available are 18″ from Subzero, which would have fit side by side in my 36″ space, however, each column costs about $7,000. Yikes! The freezer column didn’t provide that much more space, plus the skinny fridge doesn’t allow for storage of big platters, like a Thanksgiving turkey. In the end I went with the 36″ Liebherr with two freezer drawers on the bottom, plus an additional under-the-counter unit of two freezer drawers, installed at the end of my sink run. That unit is the panel-ready Summit CL2F249, roughly $2,000, and it performs well for my cooking needs.