beige kitchen with black island, beige vintage runner between, arched range hood with black and white marble tile,cat walking down aisle, kitchen toe kicks are both recessed and flush
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How to Design and Install Cabinet Toe Kicks for Your Kitchen

When I designed my kitchen cabinets, I had a dream of installing gorgeous furniture-style flush cabinet toe kicks, but I didn’t know exactly how to do that ourselves. I was also a little worried about whether or not a flush mount toe kick would be awkward to stand at. There was also the issue of our built-in dishwasher, which would stand out like a sore thumb without a toe kick. After working out all of these issues through our reno, I’ve compiled this post on how to design toe kicks for your kitchen cabinets, including tips if you want to DIY.

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beige kitchen with black island, beige vintage runner between, arched range hood with black and white marble tile,cat walking down aisle, kitchen toe kicks are both recessed and flush
Most of my kitchen has flush toe kicks (left) but on the island side where I work the most, I used recessed cabinet toe kicks.

Table of Contents

Toe Kick FAQs

What is a toe kick?

What do I mean when I am talking about a “toe kick”? A kitchen cabinet consists of a plywood box that has a door on it. If you were to put this cabinet directly on the floor, you can imagine that the door might scrape across the floor. If your house is anything like mine, it would also be picking up mass amounts of dog hair along the way!

A toe kick covers the space that exists between the bottom of the cabinets and the floor. It usually matches the materials of your kitchen cabinets and acts as a filler piece covering the cabinet supports.

toe kick on black kitchen island, recessed and  with a toe kick vacuum
A recessed cabinet toe kick on my island. I used a recessed toe kick here as this is the area that I stand at the most, and I also had a toe kick vacuum that was existing already that I wanted to hide. A cabinet toe kick spans the space between the cabinets box with the door on it and the floor.

 It is called a base cabinet “toe kick” because people think that this is the space for your toes to sit when you are standing at a cabinet because they are usually recessed (or set back slightly) from the front face of the cabinet.

I do not think that most people’s toes actually sit in that toe kick when standing at the counter. I have never found that my foot hits the cabinet, but more on that later!

What are toe kicks made from?

Toe kicks are usually made from the same material that the cabinet fronts are made from, to match. If the cabinets are painted MDF, generally the toe kick material is also painted MDF. Oak cabinets? Oak toe kicks. You get the picture. They are just trim pieces that are used to cover the unsightly gap in the toe kick areas.

What are the different options for toe kick designs for your kitchen design?

There are generally two ways to install toe kicks, either recessed or flush.  

Recessed toe kicks are set back about 3″ inches from the cabinet face. This is the most standard style of toe kicks and one you will see most often in kitchens. 

Why is this the most common type of toe kick? I believe this is because it is the easiest to install and the most forgiving, so, therefore, the least expensive. A poor fit on recessed toe kicks does not really show under the overhang of the cabinets.

Black island with wood top and wood floors, brass hardware, all drawers with skinny cabinets at either end
On the back side of my island I used a recessed toe kick.

Flush toe kicks are flush with the doors on the cabinets (or sometimes even slightly proud, or in front of) the face of the cabinet door. Installing flush mount toe kicks involves a lot more precision because in general, floors are not level. You install your cabinets level, so the filler piece (or toe kick) between the cabinets and the floor will be level with the cabinets and have to be scribed to account for slight variations if the floor slopes. (Scribing is a process where you have to fit an element to an uneven or irregular surface, such as a floor slope).

beige cabinets with drawers and doors and black countertop with flush toe kicks
My perimeter cabinets have flush toe kicks, or toe kicks that are flush with the cabinet door.

What are the standard dimensions and height of a toe kick?

Most kitchen toe kicks are about 4” – 4.5” tall, but they can vary. In general, standard kitchen boxes are 30” tall, and a standard kitchen counter height is 36”. If the countertop material is about 1-1/2” that leaves about 4.5” for toe kick.

When we were considering our cabinetry design, the cabinet company that we used supplied 4.5” high toe kick material so that is what we based our height on.   

What about decorative toe kicks?

You can also install decorative toe kicks like the little cabinet feet that we used here in our kid’s bathroom vanity, which was the first time we installed a toe kick that was not recessed. 

purple bathroom vanity with decorative toe kicks, purple beadboard walls

In front of our kitchen sink, we installed a combination of a recessed toe kick and a flush mount toe kick in front of it with a cutout. There was a heating and cooling vent under the sink so we drilled some holes in the recessed toe kick to let the air out and then in front of that, did a decorative flush mount toe kick.  More on that below!

Cut out decorative toe kick, beige cabinets, black soapstone counters in front of a kitchen sink
Decorative toe kick in front of the kitchen sink, with vent holes drilled in the recessed portion to allow for air flow

How to Install Toe Kicks

How to Install the Cabinet Bases for the Different Types of Toe Kick

So you should know what type of toe kick you will have before you install the cabinet bases so you can construct the bases accordingly. We have Ikea cabinets which are installed on leg levelers so there was actually nothing to attach the toe kicks to in our scenario.

Ikea base cabinets installed with no doors showing the legs, woman sitting in cabinet
Here is a dorky photo of me trying to prove how easy Ikea kitchens are to install. They are easy and great if using Ikea’s toe kicks, but if I was doing it again, I would have built a base for the cabinets to make my flush mount toe kick installation easier.

Ikea sells little clips for their base cabinet toe kick that clip onto the leg levellers to make the installation of their recessed style toe kicks easy, but we weren’t using that system for our toe kicks.

On our island cabinet, we built the base out of plywood framing. On the back of the island where the stools are we installed flush mount toe kicks, and on the inside where we generally work we decided to go with recessed. Therefore, we built the base of the island to the size that was needed for the toe kick. In the recessed areas, we make the base so that the cabinet hung over by 3 inches, and in the flush areas, we made the base flush with the cabinet boxes.

Plywood framing for base cabinets sitting on the floor
We built a plywood base for the base cabinets to sit on in the kitchen island. As a result, the flush cabinet toe kicks were much easier to install on the island.

On our perimeter cabinets, we used Ikea’s levelling system and so we did not have a plywood base to attach our toe kick to. What we did instead is add a filler piece flush with the cabinet fronts between the cabinet and the floor. We used plywood for this and it involved adding support blocks to the underside of the cabinets. It was a bit of a pain to do and in retrospect, I wish we had just installed a wood base for the cabinets instead of using Ikea’s legs to make the toe kick installation easier.

flush toe kicks installed next to a range opening
We used blocks behind the toe kicks as nailers attached to the bottom of the cabinets where we didn’t have a full plywood base installed

Another thing I wish we had done differently with the cabinet bases is to use painted MDF or white melamine instead of plywood. There are a few spots where we have the flush toe kicks where a little bit of the plywood base is visible. This is only visible when you open the cabinet doors (and only on the cabinets that have doors, not drawers) so it doesn’t bother me that much. It could have been eliminated by using a material that matched our cabinets a bit better for the base, so once again, you can learn from our mistakes! 

small exposed bit of plywood between the cabinet and the toe kick arera
There is the smallest sliver of the plywood base that shows when the cabinet door is open. This isn’t a big deal, but if I had to do it again I would probably have painted that bit of plywood to match the toe kick or used melamine so it matched the cabinet box

How to Install Recessed Cabinet Toe Kicks

Let’s start with the type of toe kick that has easy installation, the recessed kind. The reason these are easy is that they don’t have to be super precise.  

Measure the toe kick space in a few places to determine the shortest measurement. The toe kick is then cut to the shortest measurement. Then you slide it in there flush with the floor and attach it.

In our case, we had a plywood base for our cabinets so it was just a matter of installing a few finish nails through the front of the toe kicks into the plywood.

There will be slight variations between the space between the top of the toe kick and the cabinet underside, most likely, unless you are lucky and have level floors. Never fear, this doesn’t show unless you are on the floor looking up at it so you don’t need to do anything to cover that up. Easy, right?

recessed toe kick on black cabients close up showing a space between the cabinet toe kick and the cabinet bottom
If you lay on the floor you can see that there is a space between the top of the cabinet toe kick and the underside of my cabinet boxes. Because it is recessed it doesn’t show at all so this type of toe kick is much easier to do and very forgiving.

How to Install Flush Mount Cabinet Toe Kicks

First of all, whenever I show my flush toe kicks on Instagram I get questions about whether or not my feet hit the toe kick or if it is uncomfortable to stand in front of them. The answer to both of those questions is NO!!! If you don’t believe me, the next time you are chopping carrots, look down and see where your feet are. I’m about 90% sure that they aren’t under your cabinets in the toe kick area. If they are… well maybe this style of toe kick just isn’t for you!

Looking down at flush toe kicks with feet standing a few inches away from the cabinet toe kicks
I was pouring myself a cup of coffee and looked down and this is where my feet were. It feels very unnatural for your toes to go under a toe kick, try it!

Install a cabinet base for your cabinets to sit on that is flush with the front of the cabinet boxes. For flush toe kicks, the toe kick material (in our case, ¾” MDF) goes on top of the cabinet base material so it is flush with cabinet doors. (Our doors were also ¾” thick so they end up being “flush” as a result).

cabinet boxes sitting on a plywood base
You can see in this photo the cabinets on the right are sitting flush on top of the cabinet base we made. When it came time to install the toe kicks, it was just a matter of nailing them on. This works if your toe kick material is the same thickness as your doors.

Now in order to have the flush toe kick be level with your doors and sit tight to the floor, you are going to need to scribe the bottom of the toe kick material. (I’m going to assume that your cabinets are perfectly level here!)

In order to scribe the toe kick, you need to first cut the toe kick to the maximum width of the area between your cabinets and the floor. Be sure to leave a little bit of space between your door and the toe kick so that the door doesn’t rub on the toe kick when it is opening and closing. 

For example, If you measure 4.5”, 4.75”, and 4.4” along a run of toe kick you want to install, you are going to want to cut the board down to 4.75”, the highest of these three measurements. 

Let the toe kick sit on the floor and level it and have someone hold it or clamp it in place in a level position. Measure the largest gap between the floor and the bottom edge of the toe kick.  

running a pencil along the floor to scribe the bottom of the cabinet toe kick
Our pencil happened to be the perfect width to scribe this flush toe kick. The toe kick is held level and the pencil is ran along the floor to mark the waviness of the floor on the toe kick to trim

We used a scrap piece of wood taped to a pencil that is the thickness of the largest gap, and ran that along the floor to mark where the toe kick would need to be cut. You can also buy a scribing tool for this but we’ve always gotten along just fine using what we have on hand.

pencil taped to a scrap piece of wood
We usually use a pencil and whatever we have on hand to get the scribing distance right, but you can buy a tool for scribing.

Then, cut along the (wavy) line you made. We used a jigsaw for larger cuts and a belt sander to fine-tune the amount we were taking off, sanding down until we reached the line we made.  

a cabinet toe kick clamped to a bench and woman sanding the edge with a belt sander
We used a belt sander to sand down to the wavy line we made to scribe to the floor.

When you place the baseboard back on, the scribed part should follow the floor and the top will be level with the cabinets.  

Once the toe kick is scribed, it can be attached to the cabinet base using glue and finish nails.

I find scribing hard to wrap my mind around and even harder to explain, so if that didn’t make any sense, this article explains it pretty well!

Specialty Cabinet Toe Kicks

How to Install a Vent in the Decorative Cabinet Toe Kicks

Under the sink, we had an existing vent that needed to stay. Rather than install a regular vent cover, we decided to jazz it up a bit with something more decorative. I ordered an arched toe kick piece from my cabinet door supplier to fit this cabinet and then DIY’ed the rest.

Since you can see through the arched shape, we needed to have both a flush mount cabinet toe kick and a recessed one, which would also be visible. We decided to drill holes in the recessed version to allow air flow rather than have a standard vent cover. The recessed toe kick was installed directly onto the plywood base that we had built, and the flush arched toe kick was installed in front of it flush with the doors.

You can see in the photo below I also added little pieces where the arched toe kick met the floor to block off the area behind the arched part. I have had these types of toe kicks before and I know from experience that all kinds of dirt gets caught back there if you don’t do that!

Cut out decorative toe kick, beige cabinets, black soapstone counters in front of a kitchen sink

Fun fact – the vent under this sink was off-set slightly. Rather than have the holes offset, I drilled extra holes on the left so the vent would appear symmetrical, and then I painted the wood behind that part black so it would appear that there was a hole behind it instead of the wood cabinet base. It worked like a charm!

base cabinet framing with venting inside
We moved the vent over as much as we could inside the plywood base but it was still off centre a little
drilling holes in MDF toe kick for a vent
I made a recessed toe kick out of some scrap MDF and drilled holes in them for venting. I centred the holes even though the vent was not centred giving it the illusion that it was centred.
decorative toe kick with plywood behind showing a vent that is slightly offcentre
You can see in this photo that the vent is slightly off centre. I painted the plywood around the vent black (not shown) and then I when I drilled the holes for the toe kick to cover this vent area, I made extra holes on the left so the vent was centered and appears longer
vent holes in toe kick showing which holes have a space behind and which ones are black painted wood behind

How to Install Cabinet Toe Kicks in front of the dishwasher

We have a panel front dishwasher (which means that the dishwasher has a cabinet door on it to make it look like just another cabinet.) Having the toe kick not run continuously under there bugged the heck out of me.

built in dishwasher with a cabinet front and no toe kick
This is how the panel front dishwasher looks with no toe kick

Installing a toe kick in front of the dishwasher would have meant that if the dishwasher ever had to be pulled out for any reason, the toe kick on the whole kitchen would need to be removed. Considering the appliances they make these days have a lifespan of about 5 minutes, I knew I wanted to have something that could be easily removable.

I got down low on the floor and had a good look at how my dishwasher opened and traced the path of it onto the adjacent toe kick. I could see that if I angled the top of the toe kick, the door would still be able to open if I placed a flush toe kick there. Problem one, is solved. I cut a piece of toe kick on an angle at the top and the width of my dishwasher opening.

opening a paneled dishwasher showing where the door meets up with the toe kick next to it
You can see as my dishwasher opens that the door drops down a little, so it would hit a regular toe kick if installed here. By observing the opening of the door, I could see that a toe kick cut on an angle would not interfere with the door opening.
holding a piece of cabinet toe kick that was cut with an angle on the top and a metal plate attached to the back for a magnet
I cut the toe kick with an angle on the top to allow the door to open. In this photo you can also see the metal plate that is attached to the back that allows the magnetic clasp to hold it in place.

The next thing I had to figure out was how to attach it so it was removable and flush with the adjacent toe kick. I went and wandered around the hardware aisle at Lowes looking for some sort of magnet that would work. I found a magnetic cabinet latch that I could attach to the sides of the cabinet base behind the toe kick with the other half of the magnet on the toe kick itself. After a bit of careful measuring and adjustment, I was able to install the magnets and they hold the toe kick perfectly.

magnetic clasp inside the toe kick area under a dishwasher
I added this magnetic clasp behind the dishwasher toe kick to hold it in place. It had slotted holes so getting the right location was not too hard with a little adjustment. The toe kick has a metal plat that sticks to this clasp.

If the dishwasher ever needs to be pulled out, I can just unscrew those 4 little screws, easy peasy.

The toe kick can easily be removed if I want to clean behind by popping the magnets off. I can no longer see the little light that shines on the floor when the dishwasher is on, so occasionally I have to pop it off so I can see if it’s still running (it’s so quiet I can’t tell!).  

Removing a toe kick from infront of a dishwasher showing the magnets holding it in place
Removing the toe kick is easy and if the dishwasher need to be pulled out, it’s only a few screws

(If you had a recessed toe kick and want to cover the bottom of the dishwasher, you could attach a piece of toe kick on the front of the dishwasher using a flat magnet or even a piece of velcro picture hanging strips.)

penel front dishwasher with removable toe kick attached.  Aged brass hardware
Dishwasher with magnetic toe kick in place.

Would I Install Flush Mount Toe Kicks again?

Installing the flush mount toe kicks was a look often only found on custom cabinets and I really wanted that for our Ikea kitchen. When we decided to do them, I had no idea what I was getting into and they turned out to be quite a bit of extra work!

That being said, I love how they look and I 100% would do them again. I think if I did, I would pull them out just a little bit more so they weren’t flush with the doors but even a little bit proud. I would also have started the right way and built all my cabinets on bases instead of using Ikea’s levelling system. (I’m not knocking Ikea’s system, you all know I think they are Swedish geniuses. But for this type of toe kick those legs were a bit of a pain.)

What do you think, was it worth the extra effort?

kitchen with beige cabinets and black island, vintage runner and a stove nook

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4 Comments

  1. I love the way that you’ve done the toe kicks in your kitchen! Thank you very much for so much great information!

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