• MelanieThomasDesign

a little something about downdrafts and barstools: the island saga

That blog post title is ridiculously long -- I wanted to really impart the SAGA it has been with this dang kitchen island! It's like an epic novel, where good battles evil and plenty of meandering story lines and episodes that have nothing to do with the plot. Hopefully this story ends happily, but for now I wanted to blog about it while it's still fresh in my mind. Too many designers completely gloss over these details -- they might be afraid to reveal the secret chaos that is their lives. But I'm here, baby, warts and all!!

Counter Stools and Bar Stools

Typically bar stools are fun little places to sit while you imbibe your favorite beverage and chat with your friends. They are so fun and unassuming. Who knew they would be the bane of my existence for the last 24 hours!! Talk to any one of your friends after they've done their kitchen island, and specifically ask them about their bar/counter stools and they will reveal the secret hell they've gone through just to have a friend or two enjoy a snack while they cook or do dishes at the island.

Here are my quick-and-easy tips to avoid disaster when it comes to this particular piece of furniture.

  1. pay attention to seat height. The seat height is the most important aspect of the whole thing. Too high and you're squeezing your legs under the counter and trying not think of all the recent meals you've eaten to get too big to fit. Too low, and you're a child again, waiting for your mommy to give you your after school snack.

  2. width. Just as important as seat height but since we're numbering, it fell under #2. You want your guests to be comfortable but again, you don't want your butt spilling over the seat. Feelings of inadequacy will ensue.

  3. Get stools with a back. I don't know who these crazy people are who can sit on a stool with no back without a care in the world. Sorry if you're one of them -- I need a back to feel like I'm not precariously perched on some metal balancing act circus prop.

My first mistake was no taking into account the seat height of an item I purchased:

So while the height for the chair is a standard counter stool 36", the seat height max is 20.5". This is not ideal. I would feel like a toddler sitting at the counter at that height.

Luckily, I can return these (less the shipping thanks to Chairish's extended return!) and instead purchased these:

Yes, they need some work and reupholstering BUT they were relatively cheap, local and more importantly cool and fit the seat height and width requirements. 38"height, 17"wide, 27" seat height. Perfect.


Downdrafts... more like downERdrafts. UGH. Even the thought of all the consternation and hubbub over this seemingly simple device still gives me hives and makes me want to take up smoking again. BUT they are a necessary evil if you want to install a cooktop in your kitchen island. The alternatives are horrendous, so let me tell you how to navigate this particular little disaster.

First, you must determine if you are on a slab or have room under the floor for the downdraft vent. Your exhaust MUST vent to the outside, so you're going to have to go under no matter how you try to work it. If you have a slab, you must trench the floor to the nearest wall or cabinet and then cut a hole in your exterior wall for the vent. This is not for the faint of heart. Be sure to also note that you must have extra of your flooring if you need to go this route.

Next comes the "fun" part -- finding the right downdraft. First, decide if you want an exterior vent or an inline interior vent. For a kitchen island, typically you will want an interior inline vent. This is important since the size of the motor can be a make or break deal. Too big, it will not fit into the cabinetry. The tricky part is that buying online is often a confusing process.

The first downdraft I bought was from AJ Madison. And not so coincidentally, this was also my first mistake. A lot of these online vendors are simply pass throughs and do not have a lot of information regarding the products they sell. And good luck getting a sales associate on the phone to explain the intricate processes that go into purchasing the correct model. For example, the Broan exterior downdraft and interior downdraft have the same installation and specs pdf attached to the listing. Also, their exterior model suggests blowers to buy but none of the blowers have any specs. So I thought going with more powerful CFM would be best (cubic feet per minute of exhaust), and I opted for the 1100 CFM blower. Big mistake. Huge.


The blower I got was HUGE and would never fit in the island cabinetry. AND to top it all off, AJ Madison charges a restocking fee no matter who is at fault for the miscommunication and lack of correct documentation. That's money down the drain...

I then opted for the Zephyr downdraft 600CFM interior vent model from Home Depot. That arrives Friday and now we have to retrench the floor to accommodate the larger duct (it went from 6 to 8 inches!!!). So that's more money. And time. Time and money.

Good news is that my contractor does not hate me and money always solves every problem. Too bad I'm not made out of money.

My biggest take aways from all of this: make sure you can return everything without a restocking fee. You are bound to make mistakes when it comes to online purchases. The biggest issue is that most things are only sold online. Try to buy from large retailers that do not need to trick you into buying things so they can charge you just to return the item that is ultimately and usually incorrect.

How you doin'?'

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