People Are Ditching Their Upper Kitchen Cabinets and I Don’t Think I Like It

updated Apr 30, 2019
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(Image credit: Cathy Pyle)

Upper cabinets are starting to disappear from kitchens, and I’m not sure how to feel about it. It all started with the open-shelving phenomenon, and now, in some cases, it has morphed into this total lack of anything structural above the countertops. On the one hand, it is visually beautiful. You can really go to town with tile — think an uninterrupted, ceiling-high wall of subways or a bold geometric backsplash. But on the other hand, where exactly are you supposed to put your stuff? You have drawers and lower cabinets, of course, but can that possibly be enough storage space when kitchens are meant to house all sorts of cookware, appliances, gadgets and serving pieces? I guess if you’re Marie Kondo, it’s not a problem. But for the undecided amongst us, let’s take a look at some kitchens without upper cabinets to see what might motivate someone to live this way.

(Image credit: Cathy Pyle)

It’s true that cabinetry, especially if you go custom or even semi-custom, is often the most expensive thing in a kitchen. The only exception might be a suite of really high-end appliances. So it would follow as logic then, that if you wanted to max out your budget in a kitchen reno, the lack of uppers could help you save quite a bit. So maybe that’s reason enough to pare down your stuff?

(Image credit: Alicia Macias)

Size is another motivator. When your kitchen has a tiny footprint, stuffing it to the brim with somewhat bulky wooden cabinetry is only going to make things feel tighter. If you can get by with just base cabinets, you’re making your room visually lighter for sure. And you can’t argue with the power of illusion, especially when you’re in a small space. Take a look at this open galley kitchen. Sure, it’s teeny tiny, but considering the lack of cabinetry, combined with the high ceilings, you wouldn’t know this whole home is only 800 square feet.

(Image credit: Cathy Pyle)

When you lose your upper cabinets, you give another feature in the kitchen a chance to shine. Maybe it’s a sculptural range hood or beautiful tiled island?

(Image credit: Minette Hand)

Or a colorful backsplash. Point is, if you have a stark composition happening up top in a kitchen, this will definitely put the focus on whatever would be in your cabinetry’s place. This is especially true if you keep your base cupboards dark, which kind of makes them recede into the space. So if you’re jazzed about another design element in your kitchen and want to highlight it, by all means, go for this.

(Image credit: Heather Keeling)

I guess the half-in way to rock this trend is with open shelving, which technically isn’t cabinetry but will give you some storage. The more sparse the shelving though, the greater the airiness of the room, if that’s the look you are ultimately going for. Too many shelves, and your kitchen will barely look or feel any different from one with upper cupboards.

So would you Marie Kondo your junk drawer and cabinets for this upperless look? Or is it just too stark and minimal for your taste? Or even too impractical? Tell us in the comments.

This post originally ran on Apartment Therapy. See it there: People Are Ditching Their Upper Kitchen Cabinets and I Don’t Think I’m on Board