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The term “counter-depth refrigerator” is one often met with some confusion. They are often confused with built-in refrigerators, but these are actually two separate types of refrigerators.
Built-In models are exactly that: refrigerators that are designed to be built directly into kitchen counters and cabinets. They sit precisely flush with counters and cabinets, and occasionally, manufacturers design them to be disguised as cabinets themselves! Also, they generally look quite odd if they are not installed directly into the kitchen’s counters – in fact, most are unable to be installed as freestanding units.
Counter-depth refrigerators, meanwhile, are true standalone fridges. Their name comes from the fact that they have less depth than a standard fridge, resulting in a refrigerator that aligns more closely with the standard counter’s depth.
To give some context, kitchen cabinets are usually about 24 inches deep, not including a small overhang (an inch or so) for the counter. By contrast, a standard fridge usually has a depth of about 30 to 32 inches, with larger units even displaying measurements of 34 inches. Not only does this result in an ungainly appearance, but it can also have a detrimental effect on available floor space in smaller kitchens.
The industry’s elegant solution was the introduction of counter-depth refrigerators. These models tend to be between 24 and 27 inches – not quite flush with most cabinets, but close enough that the aesthetics are pleasing and precious floor space is not lost. While they will generally have less capacity than a standard fridge, they minimize this by often being a bit wider than standard fridges of similar height and design.
Note: Due to the term “Counter-Depth Refrigerator” being commonly used to refer to both built-in and freestanding units, Appliance Connection has included both in our counter-depth refrigerator section as well as in this guide. To easily separate the two when browsing our website, simply select “Built-In” or “Freestanding” under “Appearance” in the left-hand side menu.
You’ve now decided that a counter-depth refrigerator is right for you, and have decided whether to select a built-in model or freestanding one. Now comes the hard part – choosing between the thousands of models available. To help narrow down your choice, here are a few things you should consider when determining which counter-depth refrigerator is right for you.
BUILT-IN VS. FREESTANDING
As they are commonly both referred to as “counter-depth refrigerators,” it is a good idea to compare them more closely to help provide information that may help you decide which is right for you. These are the major considerations.
They are only slightly more expensive than standard refrigerators; In contrast, built-in fridges can be considerably more expensive than freestanding counter-depth units. Therein lies the choice – if perfectly seamless aesthetics are your number one consideration, then built in refrigerators may be best. If you don’t mind a slight difference in depth between your fridge and your cabinets, and you are on a budget, then a freestanding counter-depth refrigerator is the one for you.
Appearance: While extremely handsome models are available in both types, your preference and level of concern about aesthetics will certainly factor into your decision. Built-In refrigerators are designed to fit absolutely flush with your cabinets and counters – so much so that people are often surprised to discover the fridge and the counter did not come as a set. This motif is taken even further by many manufacturers, who offer a number of different wood or metal finishes which allow a built-in fridge to be disguised as another one of the cabinets. If an absolutely seamless look is your primary concern, built-in refrigerators are the type for you.
Cost: To many people, this becomes the deciding factor. Compared to standard fridges, a freestanding counter-depth fridge of similar capacity will tend to be marginally more expensive. However, a built-in counter-depth refrigerator can be considerably more costly than a freestanding model. As a result, if cost is a factor, and you can live with noticeable space and some difference between the profile of your refrigerator and cabinets, freestanding counter-depth refrigerators may be the better choice.
As mentioned previously, the very design of counter-depth refrigerators brings capacity considerations to the forefront. As there is less depth, a counter-depth refrigerator with the same height and width measurements as a standard fridge will be able to hold less.
This becomes especially important if you are replacing a standard fridge that filled the same available counter space. In this situation, first consider your usage of the outgoing standard fridge. Did you always use every available cubic foot of space? If so, look for a counter-depth refrigerator that will provide better organization, allowing more items to fit. Also, if your fridge portion was always full, but there was ample space in the freezer (or vice versa), use this tip as a guide when choosing refrigerator capacity vs. freezer capacity.
If space allows, the easier solution is to simply choose a wider counter-depth refrigerator – they are often wider to provide extra capacity. In most cases, this is actually preferable – being able to fit more items on a shelf makes navigating a refrigerator a bit easier, and lessens the need for stretching or bending.
Like most fridges, counter-depth refrigerators come in a variety of styles. These should not only be chosen for aesthetic reasons (although of course, this is a factor). Different door designs and configurations, as well as niche styles, make a refrigerator more or less well suited to your specific needs. Here are some things to think about when looking at the different available styles.
French Door Refrigerators: These are some of the most popular refrigerators available. They consist of two swinging doors providing access to the refrigerator portion of the fridge, with a pull-out freezer section below. A newer style gaining popularity is the four-door French door refrigerator, where a second pull-out drawer is added below (it can be either an additional refrigerator or freezer section). There are even models with four French doors. In addition to convenient storage and easy access, there is an additional advantage unique to counter-depth French door refrigerators. As these tend to be wider, swinging doors need more space to open fully. With French doors, the outward swing space required is cut by half.
Top Freezer Refrigerators: In older refrigerators, these were the more common style. However, manufacturers soon realized that this was not at all the most logical approach – as the refrigerator portion is accessed far more often than the freezer portion, it made sense to place the freezer at the bottom to minimize how much bending would need to be done. Some parents prefer top freezer refrigerators – although some modern fridges are equipped with locking freezers, the idea of small children being able to access a bottom drawer is a safety concern.
With counter-depth refrigerators, however, there is a unique concern. As many of them are wider, this means that the doors require more space to swing outwards (if not a pull drawer). In some cases, a narrow pathway between your fridge and a standing counter may mean a top freezer refrigerator will be better for your needs.
Bottom Freezer Refrigerators: Between top and bottom freezer types, this one is now more common. As previously mentioned, they are also the more ergonomically friendly of the two. These tend to have some of the largest capacities of all refrigerator/freezer types (both overall and refrigerator-to-freezer ratio). With counter-depth refrigerators bottom freezer refrigerators, a swinging fridge door with a pullout freezer drawer is usually best. If you tend to store many fruits and vegetables or large sized items that require crispers and similar fridge drawers, this is a good choice.
Refrigerator Only:Should you have a dedicated freezer elsewhere, or never use a freezer, this is an excellent option for a counter-depth freezer. With the capacity limitations due to the lost depth, these models allow you to gain considerably more refrigerator real estate.
Side-By-Side Refrigerators: These refrigerators provide more freezer space proportionately than nearly any other model. However, you sacrifice refrigerator space as a result. With the decreased capacity of most counter-depth refrigerators, this type should be considered only by individuals or families that truly need a lot of freezer space – and even then with great caution. If this type of fridge is indeed right for you, however, it certainly can provide a sleek appearance.
Drawer Refrigerators: This style of refrigerator is almost always counter-depth, and more often than not of the built-in variety. With their smaller capacities, these are excellent as additional refrigerators. They are not particularly viable as one’s only fridge (with the possible exception of serving as a space-saver in a small studio apartment where cooking rarely takes place).
Compact or Mini-Refrigerators: With similar capacities as drawer refrigerators or less, these differ in that they are more often than not freestanding, and may have multiple doors which may be swing door or drawer style. Realistically, these are best for rooms as opposed to kitchens – and if a refrigerator is really more of an option than a necessity, they offer more fun styles than drawer refrigerators.
As counter-depth refrigerators tend to be more on the high end, they often boast a host of features. Some of these features will come as a shock that they are even available on a refrigerator! However, as a customer willing to purchase a more upscale product, it’s a good idea to be familiar with some of the more useful (and interesting) features.
Field Reversible Doors: Many modern refrigerators have reversible doors – that is, you can change the direction in which the door opens (with obvious exceptions such as French door refrigerators). This is extremely useful taking into account the direction in which already existing adjacent cabinets open, as well as possible clearance issues in one direction exacerbated by wider counter-depth refrigerator doors.
Hot Water Dispenser: A beloved feature of well-optioned taps, you can now instantly provide water hot enough for your coffee or to steep your tea with refrigerators sporting this option. In the compact kitchens in which counter-depth refrigerators often dwell, saving precious counter space by replacing a kettle is appreciated.
Door-In-Door: The convenience of this feature has made it quite a popular one, with many experiencing it saying they are unable to go without it. As always with counter-depth models, you must consider your capacity needs, as while it makes accessing certain items easier, it comes at the expense of usable space.
Convertible Freezer and Refrigerator: This feature is another one that is particularly useful in counter-depth refrigerators due to their smaller capacity. These units have compartments that can act as both a fridge and a freezer. This will be seen quite often in the four-door models, but can also be found in other styles, including compact or mini fridges. When the conventional refrigerator area is nearing capacity, a specialized compartment (often called a “Flex” compartment) can be converted from freezer to fridge, usually with a single touch. Conversely, if you are planning an ice cream party for the kids, a convertible compartment that had been acting as a refrigerator can be switched to freezer mode to store a few extra mini-tubs and ice cream sandwiches.
Smart Refrigerator: These capabilities of these refrigerators have transformed what is possible in the kitchen. Some brands focus on connectivity using a smartphone or other device app, which allows you to control the appliances settings, perform certain actions (e.g., making more ice) and receive notifications. Certain manufacturers have created their own proprietary technology. LG, for example, has their Instaview™ technology – knocking on their door-in-door portion reveals the contents of that compartment through tinted glass. Samsung, meanwhile, has models with full touch screens, allowing for a range of possibilities, including shopping for food, syncing schedules and receiving reminders, viewing the contents of your fridge, streaming music and even connecting with the rest of your smart home touches (lights, locks, front door cameras, etc.). Most of these refrigerators will be counter-depth models, so be aware that these are an option.
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