Kitchen Without Upper Cabinets – Advice, Ideas & Practicalities
There’s no denying there’s a definite new trend of having a kitchen without upper cabinets. I’m seeing this look more and more in design magazines, Instagram and Pinterest. As well as having my own clients requesting the look.
In this post, I’ll cover the pros and cons of having a kitchen without upper cabinets, look at what that may look like as well as answer some popular questions about the topic.
Let’s get into it!
Can you have a kitchen without upper cabinets?
Yes, absolutely! In fact, designing a kitchen without upper cabinets (wall cabinets) is becoming a new and popular trend in the world of kitchen design.
You may want to design your kitchen without any upper cabinets for a variety of different reasons whether that be for style and aesthetic reasons or for more practical and functional reasons. However, as with everything, there are some pros and cons to this design choice.
Advantages Of A Kitchen Without Upper Cabinets
- Create A More Open Feel: Removing any upper cabinets can help reduce that claustrophobic, heavy feeling many kitchens have when they cram too many cabinets in. Especially in smaller kitchens.
- Get More Light: Not having any upper cabinets, especially around any windows or below any skylights can help to let more light into the kitchen. Giving it a bright and airy feel. Who doesn’t want that!?
- Reduce Clutter: Fewer cabinets means less stuff to fill them up with. Embrace your inner minimalist and have a good clear-out. Sell, donate or give away those items you didn’t know you had and only keep what you actually need and use. You’ll feel so much lighter for it!
- Style Those Shelves: If you’re into your interior design and Instagram-worthy kitchens then having some open shelves to curate and design can be a fun way to express your personality and style.
They’re not just for your best Denby plates and dishware but you can accessorise with artwork, plants and beautiful personal pieces you’ve collected over the years.
- Feature Backsplash (Splashback): Removing those upper cabinets gives you the opportunity to create a show-stopping feature backsplash. Be it gorgeous glazed tiles all the way to the ceiling or a stunning slab of countertop material. With the wall cabinets out the way, the backsplash can be a fantastic focal point and add some visual interest to the kitchen.
- Out Of Reach: Let’s be honest, can you even reach the top of those upper cabinets? Is that useful or practical storage space? For many, wall cabinets are too high and out of reach. So why bother having any?
- Save Money: Fewer cabinets mean less money spent. Simple as that. Going for the open look can save you some serious money when it comes to buying all those kitchen cabinets. Or, with the money saved on fewer cabinets, you could splash out on that fancy boiling water tap! 😉
Disadvantages Of A Kitchen Without Upper Cabinets
- Less Storage: Probably the biggest disadvantage and the most obvious. If you don’t have any upper wall cabinets (or fewer cabinets in general) you’ll have less storage space in your kitchen. This loss of storage can be a real deal breaker!
- Loss Of Function: For many, upper cabinets provide very functional storage. They can be at a practical height and give good access to whatever is inside. Especially as they are shallow cabinets, everything is within easy reach.
- Empty Feeling: Depending on the size and layout of your kitchen, not having any upper cabinets can leave the room feeling a little sparse and empty. Especially if you have a lot of space. I’m all for the minimalist look but there is such a thing as too empty.
- Dirt, Dust & Grease: If you’re swapping those upper cabinets for some open shelves be prepared to keep on top of cleaning them. You can’t just close the door, protecting the contents from all that dust, dirt and grease a kitchen generates. Everything will settle all over your beautifully curated open shelves. Trust me, it’s going to create a lot more cleaning work in your kitchen!
- How Stylish Are You?: It’s all well and good seeing those incredible Instagram photos of these perfectly styled open shelves or countertop ledges but how stylish are you really? Do you even have any nice items to display and show off? A well-curated open shelf can be a great display space and look amazing but is it really you?
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What can I use instead of upper cabinets?
There are a few popular alternatives to using upper cabinets in your kitchen.
Floating or secured with beautiful brackets, adding some open shelves is a great way to get a little bit of extra storage space but keep things light and open.
It could be a long single shelf or two or three wooden shelves above one another, whatever takes your fancy.
A relatively new concept and one that’s ‘trending’ at the moment, a countertop ledge is very similar to an open shelf. The key difference is that it is made from the same material as the countertop and will sit on top of a backsplash of the same material.
Like open shelves, countertop ledges are secured with concealed floating fixtures or with visible brackets. They also vary in depth a little, usually depending on how they are fixed. Some countertop ledges can be quite shallow, so don’t provide as much or as practical storage as an open shelf might.
Hanging Rail (Rods)
Including a hanging rail or rod can be a good way to add a little extra storage for those everyday pots and pans as well as introduce a bit of that ‘working kitchen’ vibe.
You could opt for a more traditional hanging rail (like the image below) or go for a more contemporary rail system that has various clip-on storage accessories and solutions. (Image a bit further down)
Nothing At All
If you don’t need any extra storage and really love that open, light and minimal look then don’t get anything to replace those upper kitchen cabinets. Embrace nothing at all!
A beautiful kitchen backsplash or some stylish wall lights are all you need to really set your kitchen free.
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How can I organize my kitchen without upper Cabinets?
It sounds simple but make sure you have plenty of base cabinets. Especially drawers!
You’ll always need at least some storage in your kitchen and if you’re forgoing the upper cabinets it makes your low-level storage and lower cabinets all the more important.
Think carefully about the type of base cabinets you’re using and where they are in relation to your working zones and daily tasks. Drawers can be far more functional than cupboards. Especially for storing dishes, plates and pots and pans that you use on a regular basis.
Full Height Cabinets
Utilising any full height or taller cabinets is another important way to organise a kitchen when you don’t have any upper cabinets.
A tall larder or pantry cabinet can store an enormous amount of dry goods or kitchenware. It could even house some of your small appliances or built-in appliances that would otherwise live in a wall cabinet. Such as a built-in microwave or coffee machine.
If your kitchen design allows for a good-sized larder or pantry cabinet, go for it!
If you’re one of the lucky ones and you have a separate utility room or walk-in pantry near the kitchen then these can be a great way to get more storage close by so you can sacrifice a little in the kitchen itself.
If you want that open look or no wall cabinets but still really need all the storage you can get, moving storage and kitchen items or appliances into a nearby utility room can be a great way to achieve the best of both worlds.
Kitchen without upper cabinets Ideas
Clean and simple. Open shelving provides some additional storage and a chance to show off your best bowls and wine glasses while keeping the kitchen open, airy and light.
Having the shelves in a wooden finish is a nice way to bring some warmth and texture into the kitchen.
Arguably the trendier and more stylish upgrade to the open shelf. The countertop ledge is the ideal platform to curate that picture-perfect look.
This more contemporary rail system allows you to clip-in various accessories to hang or store items in your kitchen. It doesn’t provide as many storage or styling options as an open shelf or even a countertop ledge but it can be a good option to store those everyday items within hand reach.
Nothing At All
If you’ve got plenty of storage in your kitchen by way of base and tall cabinets, then consider having nothing at all on your walls. With ample amounts of cabinet storage, this striking kitchen creates a real wow factor with its full-height backsplash and cladded cooker hood in matching countertop material.
Does a kitchen need upper cabinets?
No, a kitchen doesn’t need upper cabinets. However, they can be extremely helpful and necessary for many homeowners.
Whether you feel you need to have upper cabinets in your kitchen will depend on the size and shape of the room, how much storage you feel you need as well as your personal design style preference. Each kitchen and homeowner will be different. (It would be a bit boring if we all did the same thing!)
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How Practical Is A Kitchen Without Upper Cabinets?
How practical any aspect of a kitchen is, really depends on you, the user.
While at first sight, it may seem that not having any upper cabinets in a kitchen is really impractical. It very much depends on your physical ability, lifestyle and aesthetic preferences.
For instance, if you’re a little shorter than average, reaching up to get anything out of upper cabinets can be very difficult. For wheelchair users, it can be impossible. So there may be no benefit in having any upper cabinets.
Perhaps you’re a smaller household. Just yourself or you and your partner and you don’t need loads of storage space in your kitchen. Having wall cabinets just for the sake of it could be unnecessary. You might prefer that lighter, more open look. Why not, it can look lovely!
However, for most homeowners and kitchens, upper cabinets make a lot of sense and can be very practical. In terms of functionality, they provide great additional storage, which can be at a comfortable and practical height for many. For those where space and storage are at a premium in the kitchen, wall cabinets become a must-have.
Where do you put dishes without upper cabinets?
It’s becoming increasingly popular (and practical) to put your dishes in a deep drawer (pan drawer). This makes them more accessible to most people as you won’t need to reach up into an upper cabinet, which may be difficult depending on your height and the height of the cabinets. Especially if the dishes are heavy. Reaching up and lifting them down can be difficult.
It also means you are pulling all the contents out towards you giving you better access to everything. No more moving things out the way to try and get to whatever is stored at the back of the cupboard. Everything is within easy reach.
You can also store larger dishes, as a drawer will be deeper than a standard wall cabinet. So if you have any big dinner plates you can comfortably fit these into a drawer. As well as this, because there is more room in a drawer, you may even be able to fit more dishes next to one another, rather than stacked on top of one another.
So you avoid having to lift the stack of small plates up in order to get to the larger plates underneath. Which is very common when storing dishes in upper cabinets.
Another popular option for storing dishes when you don’t have any upper cabinets is to use open shelves. This could be floating shelves, more traditional bracket support shelves or even a countertop ledge if it’s deep enough.
Having your dishes on an open shelf gives you the opportunity to show them off and create a beautifully curated Instagram-worthy look!
Just keep in mind that open shelves (especially floating shelves) have a weight limit to them. If you stack lots of heavy dishes on them the shelves are likely going to sag and drop forward which may cause all your lovely dishes to slide off and smash. So don’t overload your open shelves!
There you have it! Avice, ideas and the practicalities of having a kitchen without upper cabinets.
While it’s defiantly a growing trend in kitchen design right now, it might not be the best choice for everyone. Before you ditch those wall cabinets completely, think about how you use your space, what you need and what is most practical for you.
What do you think? Will your new kitchen have any upper cabinets?
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Michael is a kitchen designer from the UK. He's been designing and project managing new kitchen installations for around 10 years. Before that, he was an electrician and part of a team that fitted kitchens. He created Kitchinsider in early 2019 to help give people advice when it comes to getting a new kitchen.