How to Fix Kitchen Cabinet Open Upper Spaces

Kitchen cabinet soffit


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One feature of many kitchen wall cabinets: long, open spaces that run across the tops of the cabinets. Open areas are, at best, dark spaces that need aesthetic attention. At worst, the open cabinet areas consume valuable storage space.

Can anything be done to turn this dead zone into an area that's more useable and that better integrates with the kitchen?


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Why Open Areas Are a Problem With Cabinets

The problem begins with ceilings: most are 8 feet high, minimum. Some homes are fortunate enough to come with generously elevated 10-foot ceilings.

High ceilings and humans do not mix. The comfortable height for most people to reach items in cabinets is between 5 and 6 feet. Beyond 6 feet, the stretch becomes more uncomfortable. Most shorter people simply cannot reach that top shelf without the help of a stool or a grabbing device.

By comparison, cabinet tops hover in the stratosphere. Their height begins at 6-1/2 to 7 feet, making them too high to be usable for most people. As a result, cabinets get overlooked and tend to collect dust, cobwebs, insects, and vermin.

How to Fix Cabinet Open Areas

Fixes include installing higher cabinets or building a bulkhead as a soffit that disguises the area. Crown molding tacking along the top of the cabinets is an easier, though partial, method of disguising the spaces.

The ultimate solution—and the most expensive—is to replace the wall cabinets with taller cabinets that reach the ceiling.

  • 01 of 04

    Create a Cabinet Soffit

    Open Concept Kitchen Island With Marble Counter
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    When installing taller cabinets or adding embellishments to open areas do not work, consider building a closed bulkhead as a cabinet soffit.

    A soffit or bulkhead is any solid structure that covers up unsightly areas or items such as vents and pipes.

    Cabinet soffits can be constructed of drywall, metal, wood, or any other structurally sound material. Paint the drywall, burnish the metal, or stain or paint the wood.

    Another approach is to use the soffit as a base for applying other decorative items. A row or two of ceramic tiles can easily be applied to the soffit with thinset. Or a line of metal or faux metal ceiling tiles can be applied, with construction glue, to the face of the soffit. Anything that fits that space and which fits your tastes is appropriate.

    • No dust collection problems

    • Covers stray vent tubing, wires, and pipes

    • Bulkhead can be a decorative base for other items

    • Cheaper than using tall wall cabinets

    • Difficult to build well; may need carpenter

    • Potential storage space is sealed-off and wasted

    • Can be more noticeable than open areas if not built right

  • 02 of 04

    Install Wall Cabinets That Reach the Ceiling

    Modern white kitchen


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    From a functional perspective, the best solution to open cabinet areas is to install ceiling-high wall cabinets.

    Taller cabinets must be purchased and installed. There are few, if any, acceptable retroactive methods of making your cabinets taller. And shoving the existing cabinets upward is not an option. It would fill up the space but the cabinets would then be too high to use.

    The standard wall cabinet height is 30 inches. Tall wall cabinets will be either 36 inches or 42 inches high. A reliable footstool that tucks out of the way is a necessary component of owning taller wall cabinets. Even if that top shelf doesn't get used, the tall cabinet serves as an attractive, though expensive, way to cover up the wasted space.

    • Maximizes potential storage space

    • Eliminates dust collection on top of cabinets

    • Gives the kitchen a smooth, seamless appearance

    • Taller cabinets will be more expensive than shorter cabinets

    • The top shelf is so high that some users may find it to be essentially unusable

    • Current wall cabinets must be removed and disposed of in some manner

  • 03 of 04

    Install Crown Molding on Top of the Cabinets

    Crown Molding on Kitchen Cabinets

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    One popular way to disguise wall cabinet open areas is to install crown molding along the tops of the cabinets.

    A nail gun, an electric miter saw, some furring strips, and several strips of crown molding are about all you need to do this project. Crown molding on kitchen wall cabinets dresses up your kitchen with ease. Add rope lights behind the crown molding for a luminous glow at night.

    While adding crown molding is only a partial cover, it can be enough of a visual distraction that the open areas aren't as noticeable.

    • Easy to build

    • Adds a fancy touch to a kitchen

    • Low cost in relation to other fill methods

    • Requires purchase or rental of a nail gun and miter saw

    • Only an aesthetic improvement; function is not improved much

    • Partial cover, not a full cover

  • 04 of 04

    Keep the Cabinet Tops Open

    High Gloss Slab Kitchen Cabinet Doors

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    The most common response to cabinet open areas is to keep them clear. As an example, 30-inch high wall cabinets would create about a 9-inch space between the top of cabinets and the ceiling.

    • Top shelf within cabinets can still be reached by many people

    • Inexpensive and no work or mess

    • Visual relief gives cabinets less of a bulky appearance

    • Dust and other debris collect in open spaces

    • Flat items stored on top of cabinets will be visible

    • Poor storage area