There’s something happening in kitchen design lately that’s both perplexing and exciting. More and more, we’re seeing kitchens with no upper cabinets (so just lower cabinets with either a full wall of tile/stone or just a short backsplash). In our 2018 kitchen design trends post from earlier this year, we dove into this subject a little (heck, we went as far as to proclaim 2018 “the year of no upper cabinets”)…and we haven’t been able to stop thinking/talking about it since.
What is it about this look that we can’t seem to quit? Well, for one, it’s just so sleek and easy on the eyes. It reminds us of uncomplicated, effortless Parisian kitchens – you know, the kind that you just sit in sipping a cafe au lait and noshing on a big honkin’ pain au chocolat while you breeze through the Sunday paper, no cares in the world besides all the crumbs from your pastry. To put it in more food terms, a “no uppers” kitchen is like the perfect plate of cacio e pepe – it’s just pasta, pasta water and a whole heap of cracked black pepper and parmesan cheese…so simple yet kind of mindblowing.
Of course, the BIG GIGANTIC TOPLESS ELEPHANT in the room is the matter of practicality and functionality. Sure, this looks beautiful and minimal and in an age when we’re getting blasted with information and graphics and videos and GIFs and emojis all day and all night on social (and the internet as a whole), it’s SO SO nice to have a moment of pause and quiet at home, at least aesthetically. But…WHERE DO YOU STORE EVERYTHING?? Look, this style of kitchen isn’t for everyone, we get that. We’re not even saying it’s necessarily for us, but it’s nice to dream about and discuss, so discuss it we shall.
You might be thinking, “but where on earth would I keep my collection of mismatched novelty mugs with sayings like ‘This Might Be Wine’ and ‘Allergic To Mornings’?” We have the same questions (possible answers later on in this post), but for now, let’s take a look at how we even got to this level of minimalism in the home’s most utilitarian space.
Did your eye start twitching at the phrase “kitchen with no upper cabinets”? Perhaps this is more comfortable for you:
Yes, this kitchen – everything from the sagey green color and the floor-to-ceiling tilework to the brass detailing – is pretty swoony, and we get WHY both upper and lower cabinetry is the standard…it works for most people and helps you tuck away all your cooking/dining/entertaining sundries.
When you have this amount of cabinetry to hide away your cacophony of assorted kid-friendly plastic dinnerware and hodgepodge of assorted glassware, it’s hard to imagine wanting to somehow give that up for…more visual wall space? Wait…why??
So then, of course, there’s the next iteration of the kitchen. Glass-front cabinets are NOT new. In fact, we’re pretty sure they’re really old, but at some point in the early- to mid-aughts, these babies were everywhere. Where previous decades preferred 34″ cabinets in solid front honey oak or clad in Formica, the 2000s rebelled with heavy cherry wood. It was the look du jour – you were nothing if you didn’t have the combo of cherry cabinets + black granite + stainless-front appliances. If you were in the business of remodeling your kitchen around this time, there basically was no other option..this was the one and only trend to buy into. But that onslaught of dark, sultry cherry left room for something a little lighter to break up the denseness of that look…ladies and gentleman, here comes the glass-front cabinet to save the day.
I opted for a handful of glass-front cabinets in my own kitchen. While a white kitchen is already pretty airy on its own, the grated glass feels open and welcoming.
Without the heft of solid front cabinets, all of a sudden a space breathes. Your plates and whatnot are kept away from dust and grease and all the other stuff that flies around a kitchen somehow, but you have the ability to display your prettiest china. Lower units are for storing all that not-great-looking stuff…after all, who doesn’t need a junk drawer/cabinet that’s in plain sight but also hidden from the judging eyes of the world.
But, just when we were getting comfortable showing off SOME of our stuff…
…open floating shelving made its appearance.
Open shelving can be a bit controversial. THE DUST! THE GRIME! Where do you keep all your ugly (but necessary for cooking) things?? Sure, it looks pretty great, but…is it practical?
It is if you do an audit of anything you kept overhead, brutally offing anything that wouldn’t look great out in the open (this is not a bad thing folks – we all hang on to things we definitely don’t need in our lives). Take a second and think about what you’re storing high up in the eaves of your upper cabinets…can you even remember without going to look? I dare you to name five things you know FOR SURE are there…and then ask yourself when was the last time you used that stuff. If it takes a step ladder to get to, likely, this is not everyday stuff.
A few rows of wood shelves gave the appearance of a “chef’s” kitchen. A dash of industrial with a peppering of homey. Nothing too elaborate…just enough storage for what you use on a very regular basis…
AND THEN CAME JUST THE ONE SHELF. I mean, look at this:
Don’t you envy the minimalism? To think that anything you need/want can fit in a few deep drawers, cabinets and ONE SHELF. This feels like the breakfast bar at a super chic European hotel (and it actually is a hotel, but in Philadelphia, not Copenhagen). Granted, in a shade of blue like that, you could staple brown paper Trader Joe’s bags to the wall and it’d still be a looker.
The “just one shelf” kitchen quietly sneaked onto the scene a few years back and likely unsuspectingly took over your Pinterest and Instagram feeds. It’s like all those crazy brows people were trying and then posting photos of – remember barbed wire brows?? the internet never ceases to amaze. It was great for digital content, gave us something to talk about/snark at/dream about (well, it’s still up for debate whether anyone was out there dreaming of walking around with crazy braided brows), but it wasn’t REAL LIFE…or was it?
And as everything in design (and life) does, the “one shelf kitchen” evolved even further into a kitchen with literally no storage above the waist. Not a shelf. Not a rail. Nothing but unencumbered wall.
It would appear that the only real-life way to make this style of kitchen work is: #1 if you don’t own a plethora of garlic presses/avocado slicers/serving bowls and really don’t cook that much and/or #2, you build in storage elsewhere in your kitchen (like the storage appliance surround in the photo above). It’s not necessarily less storage in this case, it’s just reconfigured storage for a more streamlined look. We dig it and could definitely get on board.
If you’ve been thinking this must be a regional design thing, well, you’re probably not wrong. This kitchen, as well as a handful of others like it in this photo roundup, are either in Europe or in cities like New York where space comes at a huge premium. With more access to takeout dining options (i.e. less cooking), the form vs. function debate doesn’t carry much weight. If you don’t need a ton of kitchen space because your home cooked meals are actually just bowls of cereal, it makes sense to not plug up walls with bulky cabinets directly in your line of sight.
Having limited or zero uppers means you can have all kinds of fun with lighting placement. Sconce lovers rejoice!
It also means a few additional pros:
- It’s an excuse to PURGE. That lobster-shaped platter you bought for that one Memorial Day BBQ four years ago, come on…you know you’re never using that again. DONATE. The set of kind-of shabby plates you managed to hang on to for a decade that actually belonged to an old roommate (and you’re not sure how you even ended up with them). GET RID OF THEM. Kitchens with limited cabinetry serve our inner Marie Kondo.
- Renovating can actually cost less. Think about it – you only need a portion of the materials/labor. Now, when you streamline a design, the elements that do remain need to be quite special and spectacular, otherwise you risk looking like you just kind of gave up on construction/design halfway through. You don’t want that.
- If your home has really stunning architecture (wood-clad ceilings, beams, intricate moldings), a lowers-only kitchen will let all that gorgeousness shine, without stopping the eye halfway up the wall to look at some big hunks of cabinets.
And for anyone convinced this is only for contemporary spaces, here’s proof that this is not correct:
The addition of a vintage armoire or china cabinet solves some problems here (mainly where to store drinkware), but cabinet companies and even places like IKEA have SUCH smart options to make this look work if you’re into it. From specialty dividers and organizers to hidden interior drawers, it’s definitely much easier these days to have a super efficient kitchen with less bulk.
SO, we have to ask…what do you guys think about a kitchen without uppers? Do you LOVE IT and could see yourself downsizing to something similar or do you think it’s a completely insane proposition? Let’s hear it!
As a person who cooks 3 or 4 times a week, I use those upper cabinets to house a lot of my oils/herbs. Uppers have been absolutely necessary for my system.
That being said, my kitchen is super tiny right now and I suppose if I had super intentional organization on just the lowers I could still cook with a system. But all of that huge wasted wall space makes me feel wasteful. I am also a borderline maximalist so maybe that’s part of my issue. 🙂
I hin spice racks on my wall, and use them for exactly the things you me too —oils, vinegars, sauces, etc.
I totally get where you’re coming from. I’m a kitchen gadget junkie, so the idea of limiting my storage pains me…BUT IT LOOKS SO NICE & CLEAN! Right now, I’m definitely enjoying dreaming that I could be minimal enough to make this work, but in real life, I’m clutching my two garlic presses and immersion blenders.
I really love how a kitchen without uppers look. They are calm and aesthetically pleasing. I love how open they can make a kitchen look. Having lived for a short while in an apartment without upper cabinets I can soundly say it’s not for me. Even though I only kept out daily use items, they still got coated in a fine film of what I can only describe as oily dust. Having to bend down for EVERYTHING was seriously grating. I will admit the kitchen was tiny-tiny (6’x7’) with no ventilation. But it bugged me enough I actually stopped cooking. And I loving cooking. I’ve since bought a house and reonovated the kitchen. I designed it myself with as many upper cabinets as I could fit in and pan drawers in the lower cabinets. I couldn’t be happier and back to loving cooking and baking again.
hi emily, i haven’t had uppers (cabinets) for 30 years and never felt desire for them. my husband has every pot and pan – and kitchen gadget/appliance- in the book (is there a book of pots and pans?) and it all gets put away somehow.
uppers, don’t need ’em!
If I had the space, sure, I could see replacing some of my uppers with open shelves. But alas, ours is a small galley kitchen with way too little storage in the first place. As far as the no shelves or uppers trend is concerned – whatever floats your boat. But it wouldn’t be a choice for me. It just looks too bland and boring, unbalanced even. Almost a little like they ran out of cash to buy cabinets.
I love the idea of no uppers if what I’ve got instead are amazing windows (or even mediocre windows). If it’s a big wall of tile and sconces…no. Also, we cook in our kitchen, so I would need/want a cabinet or hutch or butler’s pantry (Let’s go with butler’s pantry, k?) Interesting post, btw!!
This is exactly what I came here to say.
In our kitchen remodel the number one goal for me was MORE Windows and so I opted to give up all my uppers to add tons of Windows and rearranged my main house floor plan to accommodate a kitchen with enough base cabinets to make sacrificing the uppers doable. Everything fits, we don’t have open shelves and keep nothing on our counter. Are base cabinets are all drawers making it super smooth and easy to find stuff. I love it. Biggest unexpected benefit of no uppers is my 3 and 5 year old girls can completely unload and put away an entire dishwasher load of dishes without my help because they can reach EVERYTHING!
Kids emptying the dishwasher is the BEST reason I have ever hear for no uppers!!! Sadly my kitchen is too small to go without.
I agree Peggi. We’re building a home and I designed the kitchen with a walk-in pantry and a wall of windows in place of the uppers. The lowers will be drawers. I need the light more than the storage. It helps that we’re empty nesters and don’t need quite as much.
I can totally imagine loving a kitchen with windows all around! I personally have all uppers (it’s a vintage 30s kitchen) but I hope someday to remodel and this is a great idea
Yes totally agree!! I would want an awesome alternative to a blank wall, windows ??????. And probably a cabinet or shelf for glasses. After all you reach for them throughout the day. As long as the items in view get used all the time there’s no need for tons of dusting I would think.. just wipe it down before you unload the dishwasher. Personally I like the open shelves, it’s form and function. And if you do one eliminating the uppers you’d have to do at least two sets of base cabinets with shallow drawers, 8 total to hold all your spices and glasses and utensils and plates and cutlery. That would be a lot of bending..
You don;t have to leave the walls with just tile and sconces. You could create a lovely art gallery wall there as well
That’s a great idea!
A wall of Windows with a pretty view is the ONLY reason I’d give up all that closed storage. I’ve kept crystal hostess ware on top of my uppers in the past, and as someone mentioned, I had to scrub off a layer of “oily dust” before I could use them.
Good morning 🙂 Those No-Uppers kitchens look like they are trying too hard. I’m willing to bet the other rooms in those homes don’t have big blank walls. I think it looks empty and unfinished – if you’re treating it less like a kitchen then hang some art, please, maybe? The pendulum has swung.
I’ve been planning our kitchen for the last 6 months and our new kitchen won’t have any upper cabinets either. I’m a sucker for the minimalist look! And one large wall will have 5 windows in lieu of upper cabinets. I think it will be dreamy! The only way I think we can pull it off as a family of 6 is that the space is double what we currently have now, so that means more lower cabinets. Otherwise, there’s no way I could function without more storage! I’m a big fan over here of the no uppers! Love these photos you posted! ???
Yeah, I think that whole “double the space” thing is key, especially for functionality if you have a ton of kitchen goods. The rooms that look like they work best have a heap of lower cabinets and drawers (and maybe even built-in floor-to-ceiling pantries). Sounds like your five windows will be TOTALLY dreamy.
Two years ago, we gutted the first floor of our 1920s home and moved the kitchen from a tiny closet-like space into what was the formal dining room. Due to window placement and our desire for unobstructed views from the family/dining room to the kitchen, we had to do without almost all upper cabinets (aside from one over the fridge and one over our double ovens). We put in a large walk-in pantry and were very strategic with the lower cabinet design/inserts, and I have to say, we don’t regret the decision at all! My husband (who does most of the cooking) is 6’7″ and was originally horrified at the thought of having to bend down to reach things. However, there have been no complaints since, especially since we used drawers which are easier on his back! We used tile on the walls (all the way up to the ceiling) to provide some visual interest and most people don’t even notice the lack of upper cabinets. We also put cabinets on both sides of our large peninsula to maximize storage.
I don’t love this look. I find the cabinets to be the most beauiful and statementmaking part of a kitchen and without them it just feels unfinished. It’s like the “modern traditional” look: i can appreciate the look in a picture but it doesn’t feel invinting.
I feel like we’re doing a mind meld: the big things I’m considering with our current 2 full bath reno and impending kitchen reno- you guys are writing about and are unknowingly helping me strongly consider every little aspect of these projects. These our our first renos and still, I haven’t relinquished anything to a designer or GC: and I’m loving- LOVING! the results because I’ve so considered every little element given my morning interior design seminars I’ve been pouring over: like this one.
I’m so over upper cabinets and the excess they represent in our rowhouse! I’ve started the purge and it feels great. My husband isn’t so sure, but I am. We’ve been successful to some extent with ongoing editing of the cabinets, but still: in our considered house, there’s still a ridiculous excess of stuff. It’s got to go and this upcoming kitchen reno without upper cabinets is a great excuse to get the hidden clutter our of our space. It just feels like a better energy all around.
What do you think about toe kick cabinets to help with more space?
I kinda think that’s not the greatest idea. Unless they are air tight! A kitchen floor is so high traffic that it’s in my experience, the dirtiest floor in the house! I constantly clean and am amazed how much dirt and grime is always there. You would have to rewash before every use.
Good to hear that you like how it’s turning out! I’m excited to be planning a kitchen, but also intimidated. I keep thinking I need a pro to glance over my shoulder and offer a few suggestions, or just say it’s fine.
I love the idea of toe-kick drawers and plan to use them for cookie sheets & the like. I don’t use them that often, I’ll store them upside down, and will probably wipe them with a damp dishcloth before using them.
I did toe kick cabs in my tiny house and I love them. Admittedly, your limited in what you can put in there. Cookie sheets, foil roll, platters. Didn’t seem to get any dirtier than the other cabinets at all.
I would definitely go without the upper cabinets. I am a minimalist, and I don’t like clutter.
I love kitchens with no uppers – so airy and spacious and opulent. I think they work especially well in open plan homes so that the kitchen blends into the living space seamlessly and doesn’t dominate.
To be successful I think there needs to be a purge of all kitchen items no longer required. Only what you really use and really need. Don’t hang onto stuff you don’t love – aka the Marie Kondo method of “Does it spark joy?”
Also, the lower cabinets can be large, deep draws which hold a tonne of stuff making upper cabinets redundant. If you have draws that pull out all the way, items aren’t mislaid at the back .
I also really like a kitchen with a shelf. A brilliant place to display that antique teapot, milk jug and sugar pot that you will never use for fear of breaking but love to look at.
I think that the only thing that would make me get on board with no upper cabinets in a kitchen would be beautiful windows instead. The blank space wall looks boring and unfinished. But windows? That would be dreamy!
Dreamy windows trump cabinets any time. xx
Haha, I find the comment on “if you don’t cook much” and “most of these are in Europe” really amusing, as americans cook way less than europeans. You make do with the space you have available to you, thats all. ?
Agreed! I also think its true to say that many Europeans don’t buy food in bulk – rather daily / bi-weekly – and therefore don’t need the same amount of food storage space. Of course supermarkets are used but so are markets (not just farmers markets) as well as corner shops for the odd top up.
Also – the kitchen is mainly used for kitchen crockery/china and if you have have a dining room the best stuff is kept in the sideboard. Baking trays and pans are stored inside the oven itself. Maybe we just have less “stuff”? Perhaps because it is more expensive to purchase? Not sure why … However, the net result is maybe Europeans / New Yorkers are less likely to need upper cabinets?
As an European I thought that was amusing too. Europeans in general cook way more at home 😉
I’m curious about the perception you have that most Europeans cook more at home than Americans – could this be that you are comparing the average European household to the American households you’ve had the most exposure to – specifically those in large cities, or even just on TV? Many American households, especially those with children, cook almost exclusively at home and only go out for meals on special occasions. I grew up in a midwestern American house where my mom self-proclaimed that she “didn’t cook”, but we still made small easy meals at home (usually frozen foods or boxed pasta or rice mixes) way more often than we went out for food. I’m not saying that’s ideal, or that my experience is average, I just was surprised by your perception, and am curious if it’s actually true or just fed by media and the big cities in the US.
Jessie, I had the same question. Straight up curiosity and interest in the topic – no defensiveness. 🙂 I and most of my friends cook at home every single night. Our family eats out maybe once every 2 mos. I’d be interested to know where the perception comes from too. —out of pure curiosity/fascination!
Wow! Everyone really is different. Gulf Coast here, two working (by choice) parents, tons of evening activities. MUCH more efficient to eat out (not fast food, we’re very conscious of healthy eating). DH and I would flip if we had to shop, prep, cook and clean up regularly – that’s time away from “being in the moment” with family so we consider the cost worth the tradeoff. We all take half our meals home and finish them for lunch or another night, cook large family style meals at least one night a weekend. Have friends or family over for meals at least once a month; wouldn’t dream of giving up our fully built out and equipped kitchen as it sees heavy use throughout all holidays and serves everyone’s varied needs 24/7. In case anyone is interested, L-shaped counters/cabinets with multipurpose island and walk-in pantry; one wall of uppers with glass doors, one wall of windows. Not our design; we bought it this way; earlier comment struck me as perfect: (may be paraphrasing a little) “You make what you have work for you”.
We have a tiny kitchen and removed most of our upper cabinets a little over a year ago. Yes, we lost a lot of closed storage, but I would never, ever go back. The kitchen is such a delightful, open space that it now inspires us to cook and hang out in there (which we would never really want to do before). We’re just a bit more intentional with our kitchen-tool acquisitions, and we get along just fine.
I am totally pro-upperless. 🙂
I am all about uppers, I just don’t know how you’d store all the gadgets you need to seriously cook otherwise, however, as a gal who is 5’2 with a husband who is 5’5, the entire top shelf of our uppers is such a complete and utter waste. I understand that visually, the uppers going all the way to the ceiling is more appealing, but I can’t even reach those shelves WITH a step stool! You can totally tell short people live in our home because there’s nothing on the top shelf almost anywhere in the house lololol.
I think the single shelf is beautiful, but I’d likely spend more time than necessary always feeling like everything had to look perfectly curated, which could also drive me crazy. I’m a bit of a maximalist , so to me, no shelf looks so impersonal and unfinished, and a kitchen can be one of the MOST personal spaces in a home!
5’2″ girl here, and my trick for getting use out of my top shelves in my upper cabinets is to buy bins (baskets?) for that top shelf. The ones I got from The Container Store have a handle that sticks out on the front, and I can reach that handle easily to slide the whole basket out and access everything without a step-stool. This was a miraculous revelation for me, so I just thought I’d share!
Jessie, I am also 5’2″ but I am confused as to how you can reach the handles of these baskets without a step stool. If they stick out, how do you close the doors on the cabinets? How do you put items into the bin and then slide it out to access it while it’s still on the upper shelf? Have I misunderstood what you’ve said??
You should look into those metal inserts they make for uppers, you open the cabinet and can pull, from the bottom, the whole shelf/shelves out and down. Each shelf has 4 sides, some taller, the front side is short but enough to keep things from falling out. I saw them on a Houzz video for a shorter woman (maybe it was some actresses mom). But it totally solved the too short to reach the upper shelves problem.
I like to tell people I’m 5’3″ (more like 5’2.5″) so YES to this. In my last apartment, I had insanely high cabinets and the only stuff I kept in the top two shelves was just…stuff I literally never ever used. When I moved, I realized I was just hoarding stuff because I COULD, but if I had less upper cabinet space, I’d easily get rid of so much.
And I think for the one shelf, it’s just important to curate/edit down your glasses and dinnerware so you don’t drive yourself crazy. They definitely don’t have to be all white and clear glass either. Just a tight selection of pretty everyday things!
I agree that this look is very European. When we lived in Germany our kitchen did not have any uppers and it functioned beautifully but we had a double sided peninsula and a very large pantry and no kids. When we updated our kitchen (in the US) a few months ago we toyed with the idea of taking down the upper cabinets because we loved our kitchen in Germany but we decided we needed the storage more and I don’t regret it.
I love to design kitchen space. Recently I’ve been considering options for the elderly who want a space with style but involves less reach and bend. I started with trying to eliminate the upper cabinets. This article has given me some other considerations.
We did a reno 2 years ago and we took out all the uppers. I cook and bake a lot and think it’s actually more practical without uppers for heavy use because they always made my counter space feel more cramped and confining under the uppers. I like feeling like the kitchen is a beautiful room since I’m in there so much so it’s more like having long low furniture in there (and there’s some art on the walls) Now we did carve out space to add a pantry which makes it work for glassware and food/cans/spice storage etc but I have tons of gadgets/pans and they all fit in the lowers. I would never do uppers in the kitchen proper again but agree that a storage/pantry wall that’s floor to ceiling or separate pantry is part of how that can work. But it really makes it so enjoyable to be in a functional and beautiful kitchen without the uppers making the room feel smaller. And yes beautiful finishes add to that effect -we did gorgeous walnut cabinetry, pale Caesarstone counters, aged bronze hardware to be seamless- looking on the walnut and stunning Porcelanosa floor tile.
Oh my, your kitchen sounds gorgeous! I think eliminating uppers has grown in popularity because so many kitchens are wide open to a sitting area. When it’s practically part of the living room, the overall space may seem more balanced when one area isn’t covered in cupboards. In my kitchen, lower drawers with dividers and bins inside plus one floor-to-ceiling pantry cupboard (with drawers and shelves) provide enough storage. And my upper-less kitchen looks peaceful and pretty from the sitting area. (At least that’s true for the 25% of time that the counters are not covered with cereal boxes, bowls, spilled milk, open jar of peanut butter, and a half eaten sandwich that my kids have left. Some days I long for good old fashioned closed-off kitchen….) Not every kitchen would work without uppers, but where possible, it’s great!
I don’t have uppers. I do have some open shelves filled with platters and bowls I use daily. I have all drawers and lots of them in the lower cabinets so I have room to house all the ugly, reusable plastic lunch items for my seven children. Yep…nine of us. We rarely eat out so my kitchen works hard. I cook and bake all our meals. I LOVE the European slim-pickin’s look and would love to have that in another 15 years when my kids have flown the coop. Until then, I need the open shelves.
Shelby- I am relieved to hear you don’t regret your decision. My husband is also 6’7 and will soon be living without upper cabinets. I had been planning our kitchen for over a year, but was never completely happy with any of the proposed designs, as everything felt too cluttered and did not seem like it would make life easier. It finally occurred to me to use some of the space for a (small) walk in pantry, allowing me to forgo uppers and have fewer cabinets in the kitchen. Fewer cabinets will allow me to buy better quality materials and the pantry means that everything is accessible for our family of 6. I spend the vast majority of the day in this room and am so looking forward to having it be a place that functions and represents my aesthetic.
Emily- Any opinions/ideas for how to forgo recessed lighting in the kitchen?
I’m not a fan of recessed lighting. It’s fine sometimes, but I don’t like how it has become the default lighting. If you’re looking for options, Schoolhouse electric has some of the best options for flush mount and pendant lights for different architectural styles. For task lighting, I like to use the newer LED tape lights installed into a small groove that I carved out of the underside of the open shelves. It’s very bright light, but pointed down against the backsplash and countertops. There are also some good versions of track lights out there – Emily did a blog post on those just a couple weeks ago!
As long as the lower cabinets are efficiently laid out and there is a side pantry for food I’d love any of these options above. The only one I think is missing something is the last photo – it’s beautiful but I think it needs another wood element like a long shelf or a big piece of art to warm it up further. We are a family that cooks almost every meal (probably eat out once a week for my sanity) and I admittedly tend to hoard kitchen, serving items, pans and useful gadgets – it’s the one area I have a hard time editing down since I use most if it 95% of the time. We cook and entertain a lot so it gets used. Even still I am into this look! We recently renovated a small kitchen that opens up to a vaulted dining room and living room and we raised the 80’s drop ceiling, removed the giant fluorescent box light and took out the upper cabinets that hung over the peninsula. They were great storage but you have to bend down to look into the dining room and living room. I’ve reorganized a few items to account… Read more »
My mom is 4’10” so upper cabinets don’t make sense for her. She opted out for her kitchen remodel and the pantry serves as the store all – which my father has to fetch everything from :). It looks gorgeous.
I love the idea of 1 shelf or no shelf for a vacation home… somewhere you just don’t need ALL the stuff that comes with a full kitchen. I think it’d especially work well in an Airbnb house so guests just know immediately where the plates and glasses are. Not quite ready for it in my hard working Italian wife kitchen though, haha
Love the look! If I could have found a way to conjure up a pantry space I would have lost the uppers. When we redid our kitchen a couple of years ago we expanded the size, eliminated walls to make an open concept kitchen/living room/dining room. We limited the uppers to one wall and ran them to the ceiling. We used flat paneled white uppers and painted the walls to match so they don’t stand out. The lowers are wood.
I say it works for typical home life (i.e. you cook at least half the time) if you have enough space to create sufficient storage and if you have all drawers – doing squats to peer into lower cupboards is SO much more aggravating than opening an eye level upper, but lower drawers take care of that problem. It’s not for every home (what is?) but it could be really nice to delete the uppers from at least the most visible wall.
Fun walk through the recent evolution of kitchen trends! I removed the cabinet to the left of our sink window when we did a kitchen facelift so that the room breathes better. I’ve been planning to put 2 bracket shelves there and now am considering 1 instead (and also wondering if this shelf trend will date my kitchen so bad in 10 years lol)
I enjoy cooking and make dinner at home most nights, but just because you cook at home often doesn’t mean you need more cabinets/space. It’s more about smart space. I’m currently renovating my kitchen and we are dong a single floating shelf, but lots of drawers so we have room to store all our cookware/spices/ingredients. We added a pantry beside the fridge and a narrow island with more drawers so we have all the space we need. I think it’s often more an issue of too much stuff. If we could invest in a few high quality pieces and get rid of everything else I don’t think that it presents much of an issue. My kitchenaid mixer stays on the counter because it looks good and it gets used multiple times a week, same goes for my dutch oven. I think having less space is just a great opportunity to really consider why you have what you have and get rid of anything you don’t need. I think small spaces are the most fun because of the challenge they present and having to be creative to make them work the best functionally and aesthetically. (plus, my husband is a student,… Read more »
Agreed! We got rid of a TON of stuff when we renovated our smallish kitchen and now I’m like…. why the heck did we have all that junk? Hah!
YES! I’ve always lived in cities where space didn’t come at a premium, and – people might virtually slap me for saying this – I’d always have a twinge of jealousy when I’d see studios or smaller homes/apartments online where the person who lived there just got SUPER creative with the space. I never had to stretch my brain to think up creative solutions, and I TRULY admire those who can turn 500 square feet into a home full of “why didn’t I think of that!” moments. Good luck with the renovation.
I have an MCM home with a wall of windows in the kitchen and no upper kitchen cabinets. The space issue was solved by having a very long kitchen island (with an eat-in area for stools) and extra large drawers. We also have a credenza in the dining room for serving dishes and a separate liquor cabinet. Honestly I love the way it looks and would definitely use the design again in the future.
I will say that I don’t consider homes with shelving as having no uppers. They are uppers; they’re just minimalist. They gather dust and grime and oil. They need to be cleaned. Go big or go home, people!
A possible compromise idea: Upper cabinets that rest on the counter and extend up to the ceiling.
We have two of these flanking our counter in our kitchen, with open space (and a range hood) in between. More open-feeling than traditional uppers, but has tons of storage. I love that I never feel like a cabinet is looming over me. Works for us!
I LOVE it! Always have (maybe I was ahead of the trend?). Actually, I either like no uppers OR uppers that come all the way down to the counter. I’m tall, so that awkward couple feet between counters and uppers is what I hate. However, for storage I do think it’s important to balance it with lots of cabinetry elsewhere. We’re planning our kitchen reno right now and we will have no uppers on the sink/oven walls, but floor-to-ceiling cabinetry (with a built-in fridge) on the third wall to accommodate. Oh! And our house is 1922 English cottage style bungalow, so it definitely works with all styles of houses!
I wonder how many of these “no upper” kitchens have more storage beyond the frame. Maybe one wall of no uppers that looks all sleek for the camera, then other walls or butler pantries or something with more storage space elsewhere. The photo above of the black cabinetry and gray stone/concrete (can’t tell) island has an entire wall of floor-to-ceiling cabinets in the background. I would guess there’s more to at least some of these spaces than the photos show.
This is a great point. In our research, though, we did come across A TON of kitchens with no other storage beyond the frame of the photo. It can happen, but the key is definitely either paring back stuff, or having REALLY SMART storage in the cabinets you do have/elsewhere in your home.
Most of the no upper kitchens were boring. Looking at a blank wall is too austere for me. Prison like. Now if the view were of a beach or a forest outside that would be different but other than that I’ll take my upper cabinets.
Yes, a lot of these minimalist no-upper kitchens look really institutional to me. I keep imaging pans of prison slop being served!
I think it only looks good if you don’t have a hood for exhaust, which most of us need. (Our house came with a downdraft range and it works ok but definitely pulls the flames so we get uneven cooking in large pans.) In that one image you have of the more traditional lowers with the antique armoire, all I can see is that big black block on the wall.
We have a narrow galley kitchen and here is what I am thinking could be great when we can renovate: all the appliances and sink along one wall, and shallower cabinets on the other side to open up the center aisle. Some of the shallow cabinets can go all the way to the ceiling. That should be enough storage that we have have no uppers on the appliance wall, which has a nice big window over the sink.
I could never never never do open shelving…not in a house, not with a mouse. Not in a box, not with a fox. I have glass uppers and they already make me kind of crazy with needing to ‘arrange’ stuff and frankly they are a hot mess right now. arranging + cleaning open shelves = loss of what little sanity i have remaining.
I agree with posters who say that getting rid of uppers to accomodate windows is a great choice – assuming you have plenty of well designed storage available elsewhere. But the big empty wall look is not for me!
Just after we got married, we bought a new townhouse featuring a kitchen with lots of windows and open to the living room. Exactly two uppers and no pantry. We actually returned some wedding gifts when we realized that our kitchen stuff would not fit in the new kitchen (no dining room either.) That was 12 years and 3 kids ago and I’d trade a “fully stocked” to a pared down kitchen any day. We also live close to the Fred Meyer/Kroger and try to buy groceries as needed for the week — I’m even a bad Seattleite as we let our Costco membership expire since we don’t have room to stock up!
I remodeled my kitchen in 2014 with no uppers, no shelves. I love it and have zero regrets. It is gorgeous and open. I do have a big kitchen with lots of counter and drawers underneath. I cool a ton. I also have a pantry and a giant antique storage unit along a perpendicular wall that adds to my storage. Highly recommend no uppers.
“Cook” a ton 🙂
Btw, our hood is there but very discreet.
I am kind of a minimalist & we don’t have lots of crap though I do have room for three sets dishes, one inherited from each grandmother + a set my mother handmade (she is a potter).
It’s a movement connected to the “Tiny” movement that says we should own 1 of everything or less. Including the kitchen spices mentioned below.
It’s part of the crowd with nothing to inherit saying you’re crazy to have that shelf in no one’s way that holds grandma’s China that you only take down at Xmas and mom’s Souffle bowl you keep for her when she downsized and now she uses 1 once a month at your house.
I like the look, but it just isn’t practical for me. My kitchen is small and I cook a lot so I need the upper space. I’m also tall and I don’t want to be bending over for everything. I like things at eye level.
Our house has the very standard 1996 kitchen. It is open concept across the back of the house through to the living space. The kitchen had most of the cabinets in a corner-along the 2 walls. It made it so dark to have so many cabinets. When we updated- i removed all of the uppers along one of the walls. So now there are no cabinets over the stove etc. and we installed a hood that actually vented outside in it’s place and left the rest open. I don’t miss them at all!
I think keeping just a couple for glasses/dishware and Cooking spices etc worked well for us.
I had a 16′ long galley kitchen in my last home. I remodeled in 2016 keeping one side with uppers, the other side had two ENORMOUS windows to the spacious backyard and I loved it! I only had a short backsplash on the wall with no uppers, no other art or tile. The windows were the perfect art, nothing else was needed. My cabinets were white and so were the walls and it felt spacious and lovely despite the narrow galley. I think a kitchen wall without uppers feel light and happy, but as in all design, it depends, some kitchens look better with uppers.
Hard pass. I have upper cabinets, but I also installed two shelves on an open wall in my kitchen. Everything on them DEFINITELY gets coated in grease and dust. I can’t imagine doing it with things I use on the regular and eat or cook out of; they mostly hold canisters of flour and other pantry staples, a bowl of fruit, and vases and decorative things. I’d never want to trade for either all open shelves or no shelves (having to bend down for everything!? No thanks.)
When we re-do our kitchen we’re not planning upper cabinets. I hate them, partially cause I’m short and it’s just not user friendly for me.
I love the idea of open shelving! We have a teeeeny tiny kitchen and when we renovate, the uppers will be the first thing to go (that and the 2 ft soffit that takes up all my breathing space!).
Dream kitchen….No uppers, drawers only and free standing pantry cabinet!!!!!!!
We are at the tail end of a kitchen remodel and we have zero uppers in our design. We made sure to add enough storage in our new island for all of our dishes and also added a tall pantry cabinet at the end next to our fridge. I think it is going to look great, and at the moment we have no set plans for open shelving. We will soon see how we like it 🙂
Hearing from you and everyone else who’s not just on board this look but actually doing it IRL is giving me life! Good luck. It sounds like your kitchen remodel will be marvelous!
I’m team NO uppers, but I do like one shelf. Planning on removing the uppers in my reno, especially since the uppers are about 1/4 full now. Those items will easily fit on the one shelf with room for art and flowers. I cook twice a day, you really don’t need all the gadgets and knick-knacks everyone thinks you need. That goes for the whole house. Only keep the stuff you need or really enjoy having. It might be hard to part with some things, but once they’re donated, you won’t even remember you had them, and you’ll feel SO MUCH better.
My favorite look is having no uppers, lots of windows, and one wall with all your full height things, refrigerators, wall ovens, pantry space, etc. Even a counter space hidden behind doors to keep your toaster and blender easily accessible and plugged in, but out of sight.
With a generous budget I would always opt for uppers, because there are so many gorgeous cabinets out there that are as pretty as furniture! Think anything Devol. Gorgeous! However, if you find yourself unable to purchase beautifully crafted cabinetry, then I’d say spending a weekend ripping out old upper cabinetry and replacing with pretty tile would be so impactful and a relatively inexpensive way to go. There are plenty of creative storage solutions out there to deal with the less-hidden-space issue.
I think these look really nice and sleek. I like the minimalism. But I think they lose a lot of practicality. As a family of four with a small kitchen and no pantry, I don’t see how this could work for us. But if you had a bigger space (and lots of windows!) and a large pantry… maybe. Even then, though, it seems less efficient to walk to a pantry for a spice or an ingredient, rather than just reaching into the cabinet above.
I’m really torn on this! Thanks starting the conversation; to me it seems very similar to the ‘hiding all the appliances’ debate.
I have a small galley kitchen. One wall is void of upper cabinets. I lack storage, and am not a gadget person. I took off the doors to the one wall of uppers, and regret that. Room feels cluttered without doors.
We have only one single glass-fronted upper (for drinkware and pretty serving pieces) and we love it. The wall space is taken up by huge windows and the kitchen gets the best light in the house. Everything we need is in drawers, with lesser used plates, glasses, and appliances kept in garage cabinets for the two or three times a year we actually need them. We cook most nights, and this totally works for us — but we have a big kitchen, storage space in the garage, and we don’t have kids.
Can I just say that this was an exciting-to-read piece that could easily have been a snoozer. Kudos to the writer!