Why Upper Kitchen Cabinets Aren’t Actually Necessary

No matter how svelte, how knobless, how blindingly white they are painted, upper kitchen cabinets take up a whole lot of head space in a room that benefits hugely from cleanliness and fresh air. So why not get rid of them? Traditionalists will, of course, object—then where do you want me to store all my glasses and plates?—but the fact is that many designers are doing just that, designing kitchens as open and airy at eye level as any other room in the house. Sure, deciding against (or ripping out) upper kitchen cabinets might require some paring down of your kitchenwares—take Marie Kondo’s best tips to heart, if you go the purge route—but reluctant maximalists can surely find other places to store the overflow: a shelving unit or hutch beside the breakfast table or even a freestanding plate-rack, for starters. The move might not be for everyone (we see you, tiny kitchens, and we know you need whatever storage you can get!) but if you have a little room to play, consider ditching your upper kitchen cabinets altogether—and then running with one of these alternatives on the walls of your newly opened-up space.

Tile Up the Wall

Mindy Kaling’s designer, Katie Ridder, decided to tile all the way up the walls of the kitchen in her Los Angeles home, which gives the space a glimmering, illuminated feel (the tiled surfaces bounce even more light around the bright space). Doing so would cost more than tiling just the backsplash, of course, a reason to lean on inexpensive options like subway and penny tile if you’re hoping not to splurge (an alternative that is not approved by your accountant: justify nicer tile because you saved by not getting upper cabinets).



Lighting Fixtures

Say what, your blindingly white overhead lights (which, we agree, are very important for making sure you don’t lose a fingertip while onion chopping) don’t exactly set the mood when pouring a glass of wine for a date? Add sconces above your cabinets with dimmers and trick them out with warm, golden-light bulbs—and flick those on when you’re just hanging out in the room the way Alfredo Paredes and Michael Neumann did in this Manhattan kitchen.


Add a Single Open Shelf

Tons of open shelves in place of cabinets will set you right back where you started—with more visual clutter than you bargained for. But just one open shelf (shallow or deep, dealer’s choice), can be a great way to decorate and add back a little storage without going too far. Place only your most frequently used dishware atop it, along with some happy things like art that steam can’t hurt (decorative plates! Inexpensively framed clippings from magazines!), and it will look tidy and intentional. And if you have windows above it like Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brend do in their Greenwich Village home, even better.


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