House & Home

Clever Uses for the Mysterious Space Atop Your Cabinets

Posted September 24, 2015 5:25 a.m. EDT

Presenting one of life's little conundrums … what to do with that mysterious space between the tops of your kitchen cabinets and the ceiling. There are actually a couple of logical explanations for this awkward-seeming gap. First, cabinets are designed to be ergonomically appropriate, taking into consideration the average human stature and how high we can reach without the help of a stepstool. Second, not all homes are created equal and neither are ceiling heights, which range from 7 feet to a soaring 12 feet or more. Which still leaves us with the question of how to use that perplexing piece of kitchen real estate.

More Cabinet Space

Operating on the theory that you can never have too much storage space, some folks top their upper kitchen cabinets with (tada!) more cabinets. Do be aware, though, that these will need to be custom crafted and made to match (or at least to complement) the cabinets that are already in place. Fortunately, the trend today is toward two-toned cabinetry.

Turning the previous solution on its head, so to speak, you might prefer to take down and remount your existing cupboards. You'll be left with a largish gap between them and the counter, which you can cleverly use to install shelves which will show off your prettiest vases and teapots.

Simple Storage

One obvious problem with adding extra cabinets is that unless your kitchen is blessed with cathedral-height ceilings, the second set has, of necessity, to be relatively short. So where will you put your mammoth used-once-a-year Thanksgiving turkey platter? It will be able to stay in its usual spot atop the cabinetry without making your kitchen look overly cluttered if you install a simple set of sliding doors to conceal it. Go even simpler and curtain it off (obviously the fabric must be machine washable!).

Another tidy and attractive storage solution is that perennial favorite, containers. Don't buy them on the basis of good looks alone; make sure that they are easy to clean and will fit neatly. And invest in a stepstool so that you can access their contents as necessary.


Some householders choose to fill that gap with decor, selecting cute or quirky items like Grandma's soup tureen, beer steins, or baskets of silk flowers. Do be aware that anything you set out on an open kitchen surface will tend to attract dust and grease. You might want to confine your displays to objects which are dishwasher-safe.

Another fun DIY way to decorate is to stencil a favorite inspirational or food-related saying in bright paint on the wall over your cabinets.

Fill In

You might decide in the end that you would just rather not bother dealing with this space and instead opt to fill it in. This need not look like a stopgap solution when you make use of some clever carpentry. For example, have a stylish soffit constructed from drywall, or add elegant crown molding, wood paneling, or beadboard.

Keep These Points in Mind

True, cabinets are built to hold a lot of weight … but remember that you can only pack on the pounds up to a certain limit. Avoid overloading your cabinet tops with heavy items.

Line the cabinet top to make it easier to clean, with either removable shelf paper or, in a more environmentally friendly vein, old towels or pillowcases that can be taken down for washing once or twice a year.

Beyond ease of cleaning, consider how your cabinet-top setup will look to your family and guests. (Step back and view it from a distance to get the right perspective.) You probably don't want your kitchen, the so-called heart of the home, to give off an "I love clutter" vibe.

Laura Firszt writes for

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