For decades, the standard ceiling height was 8 feet tall—a dimension that resulted from two 4-foot-wide drywall sheets laid together horizontally. But homes are now being built with standard 9 or 10 foot ceilings on the first floor, and ceilings at 8 or 9 feet tall on the second floor.
When 8 foot ceilings were standard in most homes, cabinets were often designed to accommodate that height. Standard cabinets could go all the way to the ceiling by adding crown molding and trim in the gap between the top of the cabinets and the ceiling. Alternatively, cabinets would extend to a dropdown, drywall soffit within the kitchen. An interior soffit is the drop-down box that runs along the ceiling that often hides plumbing, ducts and electrical wiring.
With today’s taller ceiling heights, the potential space above standard upper cabinets has become larger and we have to decide how far up we want our cabinetry to go. Should we leave an open space between the upper cabinets and the ceiling, or should we fill that space with a soffit or with additional cabinetry?
Leaving an open space above the cabinets, or filling the space with drywall soffits are more budget friendly options. And although some homeowners dislike the look of soffits, there are ways to disguise or decorate soffits that can make them less of an eyesore. You can make the soffit a design feature by having it project out to frame your cabinetry. You can add lighting, artwork or molding to soffits to incorporate them into the overall kitchen design.
But if soffits just aren’t for you, you can add extra cabinetry so cabinets reach all the way to the ceiling, or you can leave the space above your upper cabinets open.
If you leave the space above the cabinets open, there may be anywhere from several inches to a few feet of empty space between the top of the cabinets and the ceiling. It’s not uncommon for people to decorate this open area with knick-knacks or plants.
But be careful if you decide to add items to the open space above the cabinets: 1) because it can make your kitchen feel and look cluttered, 2) because it can make your kitchen look like it was designed in 1999 and 3) because the more items you put above the cabinets, the more items you will have to dust.
And kitchen dust isn't the dry dust found in other parts of the house. Kitchen dust is sticky, oily and grimy. You usually can’t simply wipe it away with a dry cloth or duster. You often need some sort of cleaner to get kitchen dust off surfaces.
That brings us to the first advantage of taking kitchen cabinets to the ceiling...
Pros of Ceiling Height Cabinets
1. Ceiling height cabinets require less upkeep
Without that open space above your kitchen cabinets to collect dust, you need to do less cleaning. And if you want to add decorative items to that open space above the cabinets, dusting that area an even more timing consuming. By adding ceiling height cabinets, less dust is likely to settle in that area. Ceiling height cabinets don't have a top surface where dust and grime can collect.
2. Ceiling height cabinets give you extra storage space
If you like the idea additional storage (and who doesn’t) extra tall upper cabinets, or double- stacked cabinets that reach the ceiling will give you lots of extra storage space to store seasonal cookware, platters or appliances you don’t use on a regular basis.
3. They can create dust-free display space
Putting decorative items in double-stacked cabinets with glass door fronts allows you to showcase your favorite decorative items, family heirlooms, or serving platters and bowls. You can even add interior cabinet lighting to really spotlight your favorite pieces. And displaying decorative items in glass front cabinets is a more up-to-date look than displaying items in an open space above cabinets. Plus, decorative items stay cleaner and accumulate less dust when they are housed in upper cabinets.
4. They give your kitchen a finished look
Ceiling height cabinets make a kitchen look cohesive and high end. Many people think of a kitchen as more beautiful and luxurious when there are ceiling height cabinets.
For all the advantages of ceiling height cabinets, there are also a few disadvantages.
Cons of Ceiling Height Cabinets
1. They aren’t easy to access
The closer to the ceiling your storage space is, the more difficult that space will be to access. It’s hard to reach the items that are stored at the top of ceiling height cabinets. You’ll probably need a step stool to get to those things. If you do decide on ceiling height cabinets, it's important that you store only items that you only occasionally need there.
In addition to the safety concerns that people might have about needing to climb on a step stool to access these tall cabinets, some folks might find this very high storage space too inconvenient and may not use it at all. As a result, the added cabinets become a waste of money. Speaking of money…
2. They cost more
More cabinetry means more money. And double-stacked cabinets with glass fronts have an even higher price tag than cabinets with standard doors. Ceiling height cabinets won’t fit into every budget. If your budget is tight, you can easily do without them.
3. They can make a smaller kitchen feel less open and airy
Ceiling height cabinets can provide a more finished look, but they can also make smaller kitchens feel tight and claustrophobic. This is especially true with dark cabinetry in a small kitchen.
Okay, so those were some pros and cons of taking your cabinets to the ceiling. Now let’s briefly talk about some standard kitchen cabinet dimensions.
Standard Kitchen Cabinet Dimensions
Standard base cabinets are 24" deep, but they also come in 12", 15", 18” depths.
Standard base cabinets are 34 1/2" tall without a countertop, and 36 inches tall with a standard one and a half inch countertop.
Standard Upper/Wall cabinets are 12" deep, but they also come in 15", 18", 24” depths.
Traditionally, upper cabinets have been 30 inches tall, but you can now get upper cabinets that are 12”, 15", 18", 24", 36” and 42" tall. We often have to combine a taller and a shorter upper cabinet to get the cabinetry to go all the way to the ceiling.
Let’s look at an example of a kitchen with ceilings that are 9 feet tall, that’s 108 inches. If you had standard 36 inch tall base cabinets, and the standard 18 inches of space between the countertop and the bottom of the upper cabinets, how could we get the cabinets to go all the way to the ceiling? So, 36" high base cabinets and 18" of space above the countertop gets us to 54 inches so far. To make cabinets that go all the way up to the ceiling, we’d need another 54 inches of cabinetry (because 54 plus 54 equal 108). For the upper cabinets, we could combine a 42 inch high cabinet with a 12 inch high cabinet. Or we could combine a 36 inch high cabinet with an 18 inch high cabinet. You could also opt for shorter cabinets and fill in the gap with a few inches of trim and molding.
Finally, let me tell you about a couple of circumstances where taking cabinets to the ceiling is not the best idea.
For those with extra high ceilings in the kitchen, those ceilings higher than 10 feet, the general rule of thumb is not to take the cabinetry to the ceiling. Functionally, cabinets higher than 10 feet would be extremely difficult to get to, and aesthetically, cabinets that are too tall can overwhelm the space.
The second scenario where cabinets shouldn’t touch the ceiling is when you have beams in the kitchen. With beams, cabinets should go just below the beams, where they would naturally go if the beams were actually structural, instead of just decorative. To keep the beams looking structurally authentic, set the beams directly on the ceiling and the cabinets below the beams.
Kitchen cabinets that go to the ceiling can increase your storage space or add an area to display decorative items. Plus, ceiling height cabinets give your kitchen a more finished, higher end feel. If you love the look and have the budget, I definitely suggest taking cabinetry all the way to the ceiling.
But, ceiling height cabinets might not be right for all kitchens and budgets. If you decide against ceiling height cabinets, consider leaving the space above the cabinets as open as possible, to keep your kitchen looking current, open and airy. Clutter, even decorative clutter, above your cabinetry can make your kitchen look dated. Do what you love, but try to resist the urge to decorate that space with ceramic roosters, wine bottles and silk plants like you did in the late 1990's and early 2000s.
That's all I have for you this week. I hope this was helpful. Thanks for stopping by.
Please remember that the purpose of this podcast is simply to educate and inform. It is not a substitute for professional advice. The information that you hear is based the only on the opinions, research and experiences of my guests and myself. That information might be incomplete and it’s subject to change, so it may not apply to your project. In addition, building codes and requirements vary from region to region, so always consult a professional about specific recommendations for your home.