When planning your kitchen remodel plans, there are a slew of design details to consider—especially when it comes to determining the size and style of your cabinets. In a traditional home, wall-mounted cabinets on the upper level are between 32 and 36 inches tall, leaving about a foot or two of space above them.
However, in modern kitchens—particularly in urban areas where space is at a premium—running cabinets to the ceiling are a smart way to incorporate additional storage. In addition to the practical benefit of additional space for storing small appliances and utensils, ceiling height units create a seamless, fuss-free aesthetic, avoiding creating a dust trap on top of cabinets.
But is it a good idea for your kitchen? We spoke to the experts to find out the pros and cons of installing full-height cabinets, plus we delve into key design details to make sure your kitchen works beautifully and has plenty of great design.
Why choose ceiling height cabinets?
says Gabrielle Aker, owner and manager at Acker Interiors (Opens in a new tab). “When the cabinets stop off the ceiling, the space above them either becomes a dust collector or creates visual clutter with a jumble of rarely-used kitchen items.”
Chris Hawkins, Director of Architectural Practices in Salisbury Forgeworks (Opens in a new tab)He agrees—especially for kitchens in period properties that come with the built-in feature of high, soaring ceilings.
“If the units only extend to two-thirds of the ceiling height, for example, over time you’ll find that you end up scraping things at the top,” he says. High level cabinet construction provides practical space for additional kitchen storage. Plus, there’s nothing wrong with having certain items out of reach, as there are a lot of things you wouldn’t use on a daily basis anyway.
Aesthetically, cabinets that reach the ceiling in a smooth, continuous mass will establish a clean, simple look. If creating a handmade, bespoke appeal is your goal, ceiling height units can provide an effective way to enhance that effect as well. Plus, incorporating larger units helps draw the eye upward, making kitchens with low ceilings appear larger and more spacious than they really are.
What are the arguments against ceiling height cabinets?
On the downside, the cost of installing custom high rise units is much higher than buying ready made cabinets. This is due to the additional design work, materials and fabrication required – we’ll take a closer look at this later.
Access is another consideration, as accessing the upper level shelves will likely be difficult without a ladder. Therefore, the best way to maximize space is to stock kitchen items that are only used on special occasions, so you don’t find yourself struggling to reach essential items on a daily or weekly basis.
‘Depending on the color of the kitchen, units of ceiling height can impose on a room,’ says London design director Amy Chan. Kitchen engineering (Opens in a new tab). “Plus, when there are more cabinets in the kitchen, we often end up storing more things that we don’t necessarily need.”
How much should I budget?
Gabrielle of Los Angeles-based Aker Interiors estimates that custom-made cabinetry for an average-sized kitchen will likely be in the $40,000 ballpark for materials, workmanship, and installation, depending on design specifications and location. This amount is, of course, much more than what you’ll end up paying for ready-made safes.
If cost becomes a limiting factor, but your heart is still set on ceiling height units, there are some smart tricks you can use to keep your budget from skyrocketing. For example, if you are building an extension and are controlling the ceiling heights in your new kitchen, it may be helpful to set your ceiling height to a level where you can install ready-to-run carcasses all the way to the ceiling. These units can be finished with custom designed cabinet fronts for a custom designed look.
As an alternative, Riley Claassen, Founder and Creative Director at CA Rail Design (Opens in a new tab) He recommends adding a simple trim that extends all the way to the ceiling, which will enable you to achieve the same seamless, continuous aesthetic. “This makes the room appear larger and prevents dust from collecting,” she says.
Get the design details right
According to Amy of Kitchen Architecture, getting the proportions of your cabinets right, relative to ceiling height, is key to design success. “Units should be proportional to the room,” she says. Sometimes the best way to finish the tops of the units is to go a reasonable height with the units and build a bulkhead down from the ceiling. This will give a good frame, designed for cabinets to match the designer niche.
If you’re installing new cabinets in an existing kitchen, sloped ceilings, beams, and moldings can introduce an extra layer of design sophistication. In such scenarios, additional architectural details can seem cluttered and awkward when crammed next to the new cabinetry.
It may be possible to get your contractor or carpenter out of old coving and the like, but that won’t be possible for rafters and rafters that serve a structural purpose. Another solution could be to paint your kitchen cabinets and the rest of the wall above the same color, so you can still achieve a continuous aesthetic.
“Don’t be afraid to play with texture or drama, no matter the size of your kitchen,” says Gabrielle. “Try a dark, moody color for your cabinets or unique fluted details. If you have a small or dark kitchen space that feels heavy when maxed out with full-height cabinets, try adding some open shelves to break up the solid doors.”
Another design tip is to make sure the upper units aren’t too deep so you can still see the items stored in the back.