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Let’s rewind to the year 2011. I had a new baby and a very old galley kitchen. One morning, I took a gallon of milk out of the fridge and as I set it down on the counter, it slipped and splat on the floor. The cap popped off. Milk was glug, glug, glugging out, and some of it slipped under the toekick on our 1980s cabinets. Untouchable. Can’t clean under there. I vowed that someday when I finally got a new kitchen, there would be no toekicks under my kitchen cabinets.
And then, about two years later my Dad dropped a huge, warehouse-club size olive oil in that kitchen. If you are not familiar with American warehouse-club sized olive oil, it’s the equivalent of about three soccer footballs full of oil. Some of the oil spilled under those pesky toekicks, too. Sealed the deal. I was done. No more toekicks.
I focused on designing an Early-American farmhouse style kitchen. My house is over 230 years old. Even though I wasn’t willing to swap out my range for a giant fireplace hearth (so unauthentic of me), I wanted to limit the elements that weren’t around back then. Toekicks fall into that category.
What exactly is a toekick?
I didn’t know either, until I started thinking about renovating my kitchen. Underneath most kitchen and some bathroom cabinets, there’s this strip of wood, usually 4″ tall (a little over 10 cm), along the floor and the cabinets are placed on top. The strip of wood is the toekick.
Benefits of a toekick
It’s not all bad. There are some good (and self-reinforcing) reasons why toekicks were invented and became so common.
- Clean look
- Covers mess underneath cabinets
- Most cabinets already come with toekicks
- No additional modifications
- Installers are very familiar with toekicks
Drawbacks to a toekick
- Rose to popularity in the 60s, 70s and 80s
- Open space below the cabinets makes the room feel larger
- If something falls into a crack, it’s gone till you demo
- Liquids can slip under
- Can’t clean under the cabinets (for like 30 to 50 years)
- Mice make little nests in there (don’t ask how I know this)
- With spills, scuffs and dirt, you have to clean them or they look dingy
- Not historic or farmhouse style
What replaces a toekick?
Realistically, there’s two choices. You can either put the cabinets on feet, like any other piece of furniture, or you can build up the molding at the base of the cabinets. We did both because we had to.
Most of our cabinets are on furniture feet. We had the cabinet maker craft the boxes without the toekicks. Then, the contractor installed them on a 2×4 along the back wall, which you can’t see and furniture feet along the front of the cabinets. Since our house is far from level, he spent extra time adding to and cutting down the feet to level off the cabinets. But, believe it or not, most of the weight rests on the 2×4 along the back wall.
Cute story. When I first told the architect, Rob White Architect, that one of my must-haves was no toekicks. He was speechless. He doesn’t go speechless often.
It was the first time any homeowner had made the request. Rob’s great though. He pivoted immediately and saw my vision. I appreciate that. Actually, he more than saw my vision. He and I both independently chose the exact same feet from a furniture catalog of a zillion options. That left me speechless.
The fridge is hidden inside of an imposing wall of cabinetry. We couldn’t actually put the fridge on furniture feet or the wall of cabinetry. Instead, we built the molding up at the base of the fridge.
We also couldn’t put the heavy island on furniture feet. Our island is hiding a bunch of pipes and a dishwasher on one side and is inset on the other side to create a countertop that we can slide stools underneath. We built up the molding on three sides of the island. On the fourth side, under the sink…I admit it…true confession…there’s a toekick. But, it’s small and hidden.
I inherited a table that we put at the end of the island, which gives us back the furniture feel. Phew.
I predict that you will start to see preferences swing away from toekicks. I just have a feeling. They look awesome. You can clean under the cabinets easily with a dry sweeper or a mop. Also, unexpected benefit, our robot vacuum fits easily underneath.
If you’ve considered a robot vacuum before, I am pretty happy with mine. It’s not really a name brand, which means it’s a little cheaper. But, it’s easy to empty and simple to set up. My five year old can work it, no problem. The only thing is, it is not very good at docking itself to charge so I usually have to carry it back near the docking station before I press the “home” button. It’s great on hardwood or tile floors. It works pretty well on area rugs.
Hope you had fun learning about toekicks and a different way to think about them.
I am working on a whole series for the blog about my Early-American farmhouse kitchen renovation. Go ahead, follow along.