Counter vs. Bar Height

July 9, 2014

Today is another peek into the home we’re remodeling with a design dilemma we will be tackling soon, this one is the debate between counter and bar height for the kitchen peninsula. This ledge is more of a stuff collector than practical dining surface, a dinner plate doesn’t even fit but I imagine it was designed to be that way on purpose in the original plan.

I do get the ‘divide the spaces’ look achieved with the bar height in this kitchen which looks out into the shared family room and breakfast nook space, but the narrowness of the wood shelf on top is odd to me. And say hello to the lovely vinyl wallpaper I have the pleasure of removing later this month.

counter height wall

And then there’s the sink nestled in the angle which I can’t even think about moving (the cost! the headache!) since all the plumbing to the dishwasher and sink is inside this pony wall and we’re working with a slab foundation. I’m not a fan of the layout of this kitchen, I am a U shaped kitchen lover and this one isn’t like that at all. But since we do plan to replace the cabinets/counters/sink down the road I think that will satisfy so I’m going to work with the footprint as is. (That tile/carpet combo is also leaving this month, more on that soon.) 

So it raises the question of keeping the higher breakfast bar as it is now but extending that upper surface with new countertops and corbels, or do we cut down the wall and extend a new countertop out in a single plane as one large surface to unify it all at counter height (my preference).

At first I was concerned about the sink if we cut down the wall thinking “there will be the splashing of the water everywhere!” but I realized plenty of well designed kitchens have islands or peninsulas with sinks at counter height.

counter height peninsula

john maniscalo architecture


counter height island with stools

teddy edwards


peninsula with waterfall edge

texas construction company


blue kitchen cabinets counter height stools

summerhouse interior design


counter height sink island bhg

better homes & gardens


counter height island with sink

mountain cabinetry

   sink peninsula counter height stools

 gaylord design


white island marble top counter height stools

better homes & gardens


The reason I lean toward the counter height option is it feels more open to the adjoining space, but then again I see the appeal of the division and raised countertop paired with bar stools.  

counter height kitchen island

grey crawford


bar height island

bhg via hooked on houses

     bar height kitchen island

taylor brian construction

   bar stool height sarah richardson

    sarah richardson


raised bar in kitchen

 christophers of nantucket

  exquisite kitchen

 exquisite kitchen design

Both options allow for conversation between cook and family/guests and I plan to suspend some pretty pendants above.  What’s your preference in your home’s island or peninsula, counter height or divided height with bar stools?  ..


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131 Responses to “Counter vs. Bar Height”

  1. Nancy says:

    Bar height, love that it hides the mess in your kitchen.

  2. Angela says:

    I’d go with bar height too if a sink is involved.. and counter if there is no sink. Coz if it is a happening kitchen and not a showroom then there will always be some dirty dishes around … Aint nobody got time for cleaning up every dish the min. it hits the sink..:) It will look more messy from your beautiful room. That bar height adds a casual look but it could be a little wider with corbels, something like Lettered Cottage did to hers.

  3. Karen says:

    I’m in a rental now with a sink at counter height and I hate it. It’s a beautiful kitchen otherwise with gorgeous granite and stainless steel appliances. But the water splashes everywhere, right where people sit and eat. If someone goes to rinse their plate it splashes the people still eating. Beautiful design aside, it should be practical for the design to be fully appreciated.

  4. Kathryn says:

    I would go with bar-height. What the counter-height pictures do not show is water, water, everywhere! If there is enough room, bar-height is better. Besides the water issue, it also cuts the view of the stove-top, and pots and pans in the sink when you sit to table for a meal. Very nice.

  5. Heather says:

    I find the counter height esthetically pleasing however if the sink is there it is not practical. I noticed in all of the pictures I do not see dish soap or other common items that would be inconveient to put under the cabinet when not in use.

  6. kellyt says:

    We are currently looking for a new house in South Carolina and it seems as if every single kitchen we’ve looked at has the same layout as yours. I’m a clean straight lines kinda person and the caddy corner angles and skinny bar height counters drive me a little mad. I would definitely take down the counters to counter height (and in a perfect world, relocate the sink).

  7. Cindy says:

    I was going to point you in the direction of Kristi’s website ( and her discussion of this very topic. There is a rigorous discussion there in the comment section and good examples of both options. It’s a great resource!

  8. Kathy says:

    My mother’s kitchen has this and she has always used it as a serving area. No chairs or stools. Guests could go along the outside and dish out food.

  9. Rosemary says:

    I have a new home with a very deep sink in a counter bar height island. I love it. The sink holds all the “mess” and also a suction cup plastic basket that corrals the hand soap, the dish soap and the dish scrubbing brush. Splashing is not a problem with a pull down faucet sprayer.

  10. Cathy Graham says:

    I’m a bar height fan. I like that subtle separation because, quite frankly, my counters and especially my sink are not always pristine. You don’t walk in and WHAP! there are last night dishes.

  11. Melissa B says:

    I prefer bar height. Mainly because I’m not a tidy person. I always have dishes in my sink because of the kiddos. I makes it easier to hide some of the mess quickly when people just drop by. :-)

  12. Darlene says:

    As subtle as the division is with bar height, there IS a feeling of separateness. This can be good if you want to hide a mess, or if you just prefer a little “space” between the chef and people sitting at the bar.

    The counter height is as you noted, more spacious feeling.. because it IS more spacious. You can really spread out whatever you’re doing. You’ll also feel more in community with whoever is sitting there. It has a more informal feel to it.

    I’ve built homes for most of my adult life.. and I put in mostly counter height bars.

    One, because I like them the best.
    Two, buyers seem to prefer them, too.

    So, if you’re asking, my vote is counter!

    darlene :)
    p.s. My pet peeve with any bar is the depth. Give it minimum 14 inches so people don’t knock their knees or feel cramped. (I prefer 16-18″)

  13. Susan says:

    Counter height….I love pictures 2 and 5…I am just not a fan of bar height.

  14. maybe you can do a post on sources for counter hight stools….I cant seem to find any that I like :(

  15. Marla says:

    Having had both in different houses – I vote counter.
    Counter is easier – for the following reasons:
    Finding varietal chairs/stools
    Sliding items across to guests seated there
    It invites conversation
    Everyone can sit in a counter height chair, but not so in a bar height (think elderly, disabled in
    wheelchair, small child)
    Counter can be fully utilized during for baking sheets, etc. when doing bulk cooking

    Bar height is nice if you can extend the depth of the bar to 2′ to allow for plenty of room for place settings. Also, it does indeed ‘hide’/separate kitchen from rest of room. But that lends to the ‘isolated’ feeling of a wall between. Which I personally don’t care for – I want to be a part of my guests and family conversation.

    Kate, when you get to the wallpaper, my experience with 3 layers atop ea. other (top vinyl, rest was paper), best working product was Piranha gel. Spray on, it sticks and makes the stuff just slide off, sometimes using a scraper, when the other brands couldn’t touch the mess we inherited. Turn on some great music and just go girl!

  16. Centsational Girl says:

    Awesome tip Marla, thank you!!

  17. Deb says:

    Would it be weird to do BOTH? Bar height behind the sink, to hide all the “stuff” that’s near the sink like dish soap and random dirty glasses and dishes that always collect there. Even right after washing dishes or loading a dishwasher, dirty stuff gathers there right away. So hard to keep the area clear. And this bar height separation doesn’t even have to be a functional counter for bar stools – just an attractive way to block view of “stuff.”

    Then, counter height for the rest of the counter? It looks like the counter might be a little short for this idea though. Like if it were longer, the balance of bar and counter height would look more pleasing if the counter area is longer than the bar height area. Thinking outside the box though. Hope this makes sense!

  18. Meredith says:

    Counter height!!! In our last home We tore out a peninsula bar to knock it all down to one level and it was the best thing we could have done. Completely changed the home. Our currebt home was built with a sink in the island with eating stools on the opposite of the sink. Water doesn’t go everywhere. It doesn’t. And I have eaters right by the sink. Granted when it’s only 1-2 at the bar they usually gravitate to the ends (it’s long – I can fit 5-6 tolix style barstools easily. We don’t always have all the seating filled. I can goes to say in 2.5 years of that configuration (counter height with sink on one side barstool sitters on the other) we have NEVER had water from the sink be an issue for anyone sitting at the bar.

  19. Meredith says:

    Let me add….my sink/island is never perfectly tidy. And it’s ok that it’s side open. When I had the previous home with the high bar (before we knocked it down) the ledge/counter would just collect crap. Also we were working with a slab foundation had had plumbing in that bar height wall. We had to have some stuff slightly re worked – a plumbing vent pipe I think it was.

  20. Bernie says:

    Unless you’re Ms. Neat Freak, go with the bar height. Notice NONE of the photo’s depict real life. There are no stacked dishes, clean or dirty, in any of the photos. Keep it hidden, you are still “part of the action” and go with a bar that is at least 18″.

  21. Kristy says:

    If I were being honest I can’t even imagine anyone going with Bar height anymore if given the option. :)

    I feel it’s not only dated but it tends to break a kitchen into multiple spaces visually and otherwise
    I’m not a fan of choppy anything and in the end I think that’s the what the bar height does to rooms…
    It separates the cook and makes one feel and LOOK isolated ;)

    Counter height gives you so many PROS-

    -easier on the eye when all surfaces are the same height

    -it’s better for entertaining, conversation for family and friends

    -homework for kids with laptops and large books

    -buffet style dinners at Thanksgiving or Holidays ;)

    -easier for younger children to reach and friends who need a wheelchair (like we have)

    -gorgeous large vases of flowers always sit better in the middle of a large counter style island

    -baking and working with kids in the kitchen flows well on larger open surfaces

    -more ‘gourmet looking’ when the surface is a large slab of marble like that in Italy

    Counter height is just plain prettier~
    (even when you have kids – I always have between 2-5 kids dropping in at all times)

    Hugs and Good Luck! xoxo

  22. Counter height. In my previous home we replaced the kitchen and went with something similar to what you have now and I hated it. So when we built the home we are in now, I went with counter height and love it. Best decision ever. It gives you more usable space and the look is just more pleasing.

  23. Jill says:

    I love 4,5,7 &9. Like Marla I have also lived in homes with both heights and I prefer counter. For some reason bar height just looks tacky to me! Another consideration is the stool height; counter stools are much easier (and more graceful if you’re wearing a skirt) to sit on. Maybe Gramps or the kids want to sit there? Less dangerous for kids too.

  24. Ashley says:

    I think it depends how you use the space. If you have a big enough kitchen table, then you may not need the extra counter height space. But if you only have room for a tiny kitchen table then I think the ability to spread out on a bigger surface is valuable. Also consider how close the family room furniture will be to the island. If you have a lot of space between, the maybe all counter height will work. But if you’re sitting only a couple feet away it may feel like you’re sitting in the kitchen, not the adjoining space. My kitchen had a huge island with sink, and half of it is bar height. I like that the mess of dishes and cooking is hidden from the family room while still being open for conversation and entertaining. We use the bar height area for buffeting food. And sometimes we don’t feel like sitting while eating a super quick lunch, so the bar heigh accommodates standing well too.

  25. Melissa says:

    Counter! I agree with Matia!

  26. Centsational Girl says:

    Great advice Ashley! There is an adjacent breakfast nook which will host a large table and allow plenty of room between. I appreciate your input!

  27. Kathleen says:

    I guess I’m in the minority here, but the counter height pics all look so clean-lined, and to me, the bar height ones look a little dated with the multiple lines for kitchen sink and bar countertop being different.

  28. Meredith says:

    Definitely looks dated. Our home where we tore it out was built in 1998. We definitely took it out of the 90’s when we went counter height. Unless you can pull off that custom millwork of those gorgeous pics, I wouldn’t do it. Space is at a premium in small
    Homes and you will gain so much more by taking it out.

  29. Leigh Ann says:

    I grew up in a home with a counter height peninsula and that’s the DREAM to me! There is no other way to get THAT MUCH surface and counter space. I can’t overemphasize how PERFECT that space was for so many projects- from cooking giant family meals, to excellent space for science projects, to making wreaths for my wedding this year. You just can’t beat that functionality!

  30. Jill says:

    Peninsulas and islands where half the usable counter space is broken up into bar height drive me bonkers. You’re taking the most functional, open, and wide counter space in the kitchen and ruining it. I agree with others who say it the split-level surfaces look needlessly busy too, but that really is the least of it. The functional loss is the real point.

    The moment you get rid of that high-rise on the back of your peninsula, you’ll find yourself unconsciously choosing to work at the peninsula instead of anywhere else in the kitchen 90% of the time because the space is more open and inviting.

    I also personally find bar stools to be quite uncomfortable. Many don’t have comfy backs, and you don’t have the freedom to put your feet anywhere you want on the floor. You’re stuck with putting them on the small railing on the chair legs, and that forced positioning/immobility makes it nearly impossible to get comfortable.

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