Should Kitchen Cabinets Go To The Ceiling? – Pros, Cons & Expert Tips
When it comes to kitchen design, A common question I get from clients is, “Should kitchen cabinets go to the ceiling?” It’s a question that leaves many homeowners scratching their heads. After all, the space above kitchen cabinets can either be seen as a fantastic opportunity for additional storage or as wasted space that collects dust.
In this post guide, I’ll explore the pros and cons of extending kitchen cabinets to the ceiling and help you determine the best solution for your specific needs.
Let’s get into it!
Are kitchen cabinets supposed to go to the ceiling?
The question of whether kitchen cabinets should go to the ceiling is more about personal preference and functional needs than a hard and fast rule of interior design.
To answer this question, it’s important to understand that there isn’t a definitive “supposed to” in kitchen design. The key is to focus on what works best for your specific kitchen space, functionality requirements, and aesthetic desires.
Historically, kitchen cabinets didn’t typically go all the way to the ceiling. This was partly due to construction practicalities and trends in kitchen design. Ceilings weren’t always perfectly levelled, making it difficult to install floor-to-ceiling cabinets or extend wall cabinets all the way.
Additionally, leaving a gap between the cabinets and the ceiling was because standard kitchen cabinet sizes not perfectly lining up with the height of a room. As well, this gap was often seen as an opportunity for decorative elements, lighting fixtures, or simply to avoid a claustrophobic feel.
However, kitchen design trends have shown an increased preference for ceiling-high cabinets. This shift is driven by the desire for more storage space, cleaner lines, and the modern, sleek ‘built-in’ look that these cabinets lend to a kitchen.
Despite these trends, the choice really boils down to what suits your kitchen the best. If you’re a fan of this design and need extra storage, cabinets that extend to the ceiling could be an excellent choice. On the other hand, if you prefer a more traditional kitchen look or want to save on costs, you might opt for cabinets that leave some space below the ceiling.
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Pros of kitchen cabinets to the ceiling
There are several notable benefits to extending your kitchen cabinets all the way up to the ceiling. I’ve come up with a few reasons why this might be a good option for your kitchen design.
Maximized Storage Space
One of the most significant advantages of ceiling-high cabinets is the increased storage space. If you’ve ever felt short on storage or found yourself cramming kitchen essentials into every nook and cranny, then you’ll appreciate the extra room that ceiling-high cabinets provide.
They offer ample space for storing seasonal items, seldom-used kitchen gadgets, or that big pot you only bring out for holiday cooking.
Utilising that dead space can be a fantastic option for anyone with a small kitchen that’s struggling with storage space.
Clean and Cohesive Look
Ceiling-high cabinets can give your kitchen a smooth, streamlined appearance. There’s something undeniably sleek and modern about an entire kitchen of continuous wall cabinets that extends up to the ceiling. It creates an uninterrupted flow, adding to the overall aesthetics of your kitchen.
If you’re looking for a design that feels intentional and bespoke, ceiling-high cabinets might be the way to go.
The Illusion of a Larger Space
Interestingly, taking your cabinets all the way up can make your kitchen appear larger than it is. This design choice draws the eye upward, emphasizing the room’s height rather than its footprint. It’s an excellent strategy for making small kitchens feel less cramped.
Just be careful not to overdo it. Blocking natural light, by having too many cabinets close to a window or skylight, as well as using dark-coloured cabinets can make the room feel a little claustrophobic.
Reduced Dust and Grime
With standard-height cabinets, the space above the cabinets tends to collect dust and kitchen grime over time. This space can be hard to clean and maintain. Ceiling-high cabinets eliminate this issue by leaving no room for dust to settle, thus cutting down on your cleaning chores. A big win in my opinion!
Cons of kitchen cabinets to the ceiling
While ceiling-high cabinets come with their fair share of benefits, there are also some potential drawbacks to consider. Understanding these cons can help you make a more informed decision about your kitchen design and whether they’re the right choice for you.
The most significant downside to ceiling-high cabinets is their lack of accessibility. The upper shelves can be difficult to reach, especially for individuals of shorter stature or those with physical limitations.
As a result, you may find yourself not using these top shelves, rendering them useless, or you may need to use a step stool to access them, which can be inconvenient and potentially hazardous.
Ceiling-high cabinets are generally more expensive than standard cabinets. Not only do they require more materials to construct them and more time to install, but you’ll also likely need custom cabinetry and bespoke sizes to fit your particular ceiling height.
Additionally, because they’re often seen as a luxury feature, they tend to come with a higher price tag. If you’re working on a tight budget, the extra cost could be a significant deterrent.
The installation of ceiling-high cabinets can be more challenging than standard cabinets. Because they’re taller, they can be harder to manoeuvre and secure in place. They also require precise measurements to ensure they fit perfectly between your countertops and the ceiling.
If your home’s ceilings aren’t perfectly level, which is often the case in older homes, this can further complicate the installation process. Especially if you have any ceiling beams or other architectural features to contend with.
Potential for Wasted Space
Do you really need that extra bit of storage? If you’re not careful, the extra storage space that ceiling-high cabinets provide can become a catch-all for clutter. It’s easy to just stash rarely used items up high and then forget about them. Over time, this can lead to disorganization and wasted space.
Why is there a gap between the cabinets and the ceiling?
The gap between the cabinets and the ceiling, often known as a soffit, is commonly found in many kitchens. This gap is there for a variety of practical and aesthetic reasons.
The average household has a ceiling height of about 2.4m or 8ft. With this, you’ll usually find full-height, tall kitchen cabinets and wall cabinets mounted on the wall that leaves approximately a 30cm or 1ft gap from the top of the cabinets to the ceiling. (Obviously, this will depend on your exact circumstances)
This isn’t a random design choice; there’s a logical explanation behind it. The height is determined by what is comfortably within reach for the average person, either standing directly on the floor or with the aid of a small step ladder.
It also simplifies the cabinet installation process as installing cabinets flush with the ceiling requires precise measurements, which can be challenging, particularly in older homes where ceilings may not be perfectly level.
From an aesthetic perspective, the gap can help prevent the kitchen from appearing too crowded. It provides a sense of openness, which can be beneficial for certain kitchens.
In essence, while the gap between the cabinets and the ceiling might initially seem like wasted space, it plays a role in both the functionality and aesthetics of the kitchen.
Considering Different Ceiling Heights
If your kitchen features ceilings that are the standard 8-foot (approximately 240 cm) or 9-foot (approximately 270 cm) high, you’ve got a variety of options if you’re envisioning cabinets that reach the ceiling.
One strategy is to fill the entire vertical space with cabinets. You can achieve this by purchasing custom cabinets tailored to perfectly fill the space or by installing an additional row of wall cabinets to cover the vertical distance. In the UK, these additional cabinets are often called ‘top boxes’.
As a guideline, wall cabinets are often installed with the bottom edge at 54 inches (approximately 137 cm) from the floor. With an 8-foot ceiling, this leaves 42 inches (about 107 cm) of available vertical space for wall cabinets. In contrast, a 9-foot ceiling provides 54 inches (around 137 cm).
Many standard cabinet manufacturers offer wall cabinets in a variety of heights. In North America, these include 12, 15, 18, 24, 30, 32, 36, and 42 inches. In the UK and elsewhere, these are usually 36, 45, 57, 72 and 90cm.
So, If you have an 8-foot ceiling and you want ceiling-height cabinets, 42-inch cabinets will be a perfect fit. If your ceiling is 9 feet high, consider a row of 36-inch-tall cabinets with a row of 18-inch cabinets above. Alternatively, you could install a row of 42-inch cabinets with 12-inch cabinets on top.
For kitchens with unique ceiling heights, you may want to consult a custom cabinet specialist to build cabinets tailored to your specific space. This might be the most practical solution for kitchens with unusual ceiling heights or extra tall ceilings.
For those with ceilings higher than 10 feet, such as in some loft-style condos, extending cabinets all the way up is generally not recommended. Not only would this be impractical, but the towering mass of cabinets could overwhelm the space aesthetically.
How do you fill the gap between kitchen cabinets and ceiling?
If you have a gap between your kitchen cabinets and the ceiling and you’d rather it not be there, don’t fret. There are several ways you can effectively and creatively fill this space.
Cornice (Crown Moulding)
One of the most common solutions is to install a cornice also known as crown molding. This decorative trim can bridge the gap between the cabinets and the ceiling, offering a polished, classic look that can elevate your kitchen’s aesthetic.
If you’d rather keep things simple and less decorative, you can simply add some infill panels. These can be plain panels in the same material as your kitchen cabinet doors or created using stud work and plasterboard/plaster and painted the same colour as your walls. This second option is sometimes called a bulkhead.
Infills can create a sleek and contemporary look that covers the gap between your cabinets and ceiling. They can also be cut or scribed to any height and around architectural details, such as beams. Making them a good choice if you have uneven or unusual-height ceilings or ceiling details.
Another effective way to fill the extra space between your kitchen cabinets and the ceiling is by using top boxes. Top boxes are additional cabinets or shelves that can be installed above your existing cabinets to fill the empty space.
These boxes not only eliminate the gap but also provide extra storage for items you don’t use daily. They can be designed to match your existing cabinetry, creating a cohesive and streamlined look in your kitchen. By using top boxes, you can utilize every inch of your kitchen space while adding an aesthetically pleasing element to your decor.
Lastly, if you don’t want to physically fill the space, for a more modern look, consider installing LED strip lights in the gap. When done correctly, this can provide beautiful ambient lighting, making your kitchen look larger and more inviting. Just make sure to wire them on their own switch. That way you can create different moods and lighting environments in your kitchen.
Do cabinets to the ceiling make a kitchen look bigger?
Yes and no. In the right circumstances, they can make a room feel bigger. However, if they block light and/or make the room feel darker they can have the opposite effect. So think carefully about adding them to your space.
While they don’t physically increase your kitchen’s square footage, they can create an optical illusion that makes the space feel larger. Ceiling-high cabinets draw the eye upward, emphasizing the height of the room rather than its footprint.
This vertical focus can make the kitchen feel more spacious, particularly in small kitchens where every inch counts. This design choice creates an uninterrupted flow from floor to ceiling, enhancing the sense of continuity and openness in the space.
Additionally, ceiling-high cabinets can provide a sleek, streamlined look, further contributing to the illusion of a larger kitchen. They eliminate the visual clutter that can occur when there’s a gap between the cabinets and the ceiling, making the room feel more orderly and spacious.
However, it’s important to note that the impact of ceiling-high cabinets on perceived space can vary depending on factors such as the colour of the cabinets, the kitchen’s layout, and the amount of natural light in the room. Light-coloured cabinets can help reflect light and make the space feel larger, while dark-coloured cabinets may have the opposite effect.
So while ceiling-high cabinets don’t physically enlarge a kitchen, they can make it feel more spacious by drawing the eye upward and creating a clean, streamlined look. As always, consider your specific kitchen’s characteristics when deciding whether this design choice is right for you.
There you have it! Ultimately, whether or not your kitchen cabinets should go to the ceiling depends on your unique needs and design preferences. From adding extra storage space to enhancing the visual appeal of your kitchen, ceiling-high cabinets offer several benefits. However, they also come with potential downsides, including higher costs and accessibility issues.
Likewise, maintaining a gap between your cabinets and ceiling isn’t without its merits. It can simplify installation, offer s sense of space, and add a unique charm to your kitchen. If the gap bothers you, creative solutions like infills, cornice (crown moulding), custom cabinets or top boxes can effectively fill the space.
There’s no definitive right or wrong answer to this kitchen design dilemma. It’s all about what works best for you and your kitchen.
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Michael is a kitchen designer from the UK. He's been designing and project managing new kitchen installations for over 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.