Wall Cabinets in Your New Kitchen – Yes or No?

Feature a wall of windows in your remodeled kitchen

Wall Cabinets in Your New Kitchen – Yes or No?

Do you want more storage or more open space in your kitchen remodel? This is a question many homeowners starting a kitchen remodel project must figure out before any design and/or layout can begin.

Wall Cabinets – Yes or No?

When thinking about your new kitchen, one of the many decisions you’ll have to make is whether or not to install wall cabinets. The choice isn’t based solely on storage considerations. No, the real difficulty of your decision lies in deciding how the cabinets or the absence of them will influence the look and feel of your kitchen.

If you’ve been looking at kitchen photos on Houzz or Pinterest or any other sites that feature fabulous kitchen photos, you couldn’t help but notice that many of the kitchens don’t have upper cabinets.

Look of No Wall Cabinets is Stunning

On the one hand, having no wall cabinets is stunning and even mildly shocking since we are accustomed to seeing kitchen walls filled with cabinets. Designers have gotten bold with tile — they’ve used the absence of wall cabinets as a blank canvas for their flowing, ceiling-high, bold geometric backsplash.

Drawer storage can be used when there’s no wall cabinets

Where Do You Put Your Things?

But on the other hand, when there’s no wall cabinets, where exactly are you supposed to put your things? Of course, there are drawers and lower cabinets, but can that possibly be enough storage space when most kitchens must store all sorts of cookware, appliances, gadgets and serving pieces?

If you’ve followed the principles of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, you’ve simplified the amount of kitchen equipment you have and don’t need to find storage space for the hand-held blenders and turkey roasters you use once a year.

But for the rest of us who can’t bear to part with our bundt pans (even though we haven’t used them since 2015), we need storage space. And lots of it.

Undecided?

For the undecided, let’s take a look at the pros and cons to having wall cabinets and not having wall cabinets. And where exactly do open shelves fit in?

Benefits of Wall Cabinets

Lots of Storage

Probably the biggest benefit to including wall cabinets in your kitchen design is the storage space they provide. In addition to holding the plates and glasses you use every day, you can store the special occasion dishes you only use on holidays in your cabinets too, without having to worry about them collecting dust.

If you’re not a fan of wall cabinets but need the storage, a compromise might be to have wall cabinets with glass fronts, so you can display some of your attractive or decorative dishware that doesn’t get used often, like your wedding china, without giving up the storage completely.

Cabinet doors with frosted glass provide a slightly more open appearance than standard wall cabinets, which works great for mixing up your kitchen look without giving up storage.

Wall cabinets with glass fronts display dishware

Put-Together Look

Another benefit to having wall cabinets is that they give the kitchen a put-together look. If you don’t like the look of a full run of wall cabinets with solid doors, many options exist to break it up, including clear glass fronts instead of doors, a cabinet or two with no doors, staggered cabinet heights, cabinets that extend down to the countertop, cabinets that extend all the way to the ceiling, cabinets with doors that are two-thirds solid and one-third mullion panes, stacked cabinets with molding detail on top – and more.

Your Kitchen Design Partner-approved designer can help you determine the options available.

Versatile

Wall cabinets can be configured to work with a wide array of styles, including transitional, traditional, contemporary and farmhouse kitchens. If you want your new kitchen to fit into a certain style, wall cabinets will contribute to the overall look and feel.

Hide the Clutter

If your life is busy, upper cabinets conceal clutter and disorganized dishes that you may not have time to straighten up. Think of all the water bottles, souvenir glasses from vacations, coffee cups, etc. you have that defy organization. Where would you put them if not behind closed doors?

Benefits of No Wall Cabinets

More Space

The main argument against using upper cabinets is that they take up space, which can make a kitchen feel smaller and more cramped. Thus, the size of your kitchen becomes an important consideration in your decision-making process.

A small kitchen with no wall cabinets can seem larger

When your kitchen has a tiny footprint, filling it with lots of cabinets is only going to make the space feel tighter. If you can get by with just base cabinets, you’re making your room seem much more spacious than it is.

In addition, when wall cabinets are left out of your kitchen, you’ll have more space for displaying tile, lighting, artwork or a great view out the windows.

Feeling of Openness

Open floor plans are popular because people want the feeling of openness, where one space flows into another, and having no wall cabinets contributes to this feeling in the kitchen.

No wall cabinets in this remodeled kitchen

Put the Focus on Something Else

When you give up upper cabinets, another feature in the kitchen can be the focus. Maybe it’s a fabulous range hood or beautiful island or colorful backsplash. If your kitchen contains blank or minimally covered walls, people’s eyes are going to be drawn to other things in your new room.

If you have a great view that you want to be the focus of your kitchen and you don’t want to cover it up with wall cabinets, then having no wall cabinets is definitely for you.

No Inaccessible Storage

For those who are “height challenged”, storing items on the top shelves in wall cabinets makes those items inaccessible unless you drag out a step stool or ladder. Why pay for and install cabinets that you can’t use?

Spare Your Budget

Cabinets are Expensive. It’s true that cabinetry — especially custom and sometimes even semi-custom — is the most expensive item in a kitchen. The only exception might be some professional-grade, high-end appliances, but it’s going to be the cabinets in 99.9% of kitchen remodels.

If you want to save some money in your kitchen renovation, not including upper cabinets can help you save quite a bit. Is that reason enough to give away your larger kitchen items that don’t get used often? That’s a question only you can answer.

What’s the Price of No Wall Cabinets In Your Kitchen?

It’s a Trend

Not having wall cabinets is definitely a trend, and trends come and go. You may change your mind in a year or two. Can you retro-fit wall cabinets? Probably, but you never know. It’s just much, much easier to install cabinets when the entire kitchen is being installed, something to keep in mind as you plan your new kitchen.

Wall cabinets and open shelves together

Trends are Polarizing

Some people will love the look of no wall cabinets and some will not.  

There’s a chance that not having wall cabinets could become a negative factor when it comes to the resale value of your home, if you choose to sell in the future. Homeowners who plan to move within the next few years may want to play it safe and include wall cabinets.  

However, if you aren’t planning to move or sell your home anytime soon – you are designing your “forever kitchen” — don’t hesitate to do what you want. After all, it’s your kitchen. Wall cabinets? Open shelves? Bank of windows? Go for what makes you happy.  

What About Open Shelves?

Sherwin-Williams color of the year Naval in kitchen with open shelves

Open shelves aren’t cabinetry, but they do provide some storage. If your goal is to create the look of more space in a small kitchen, you’ll need to keep the shelving to a minimum. Too many shelves, and your kitchen will barely look or feel any different from one with upper cabinets.

Open Shelves Look Great When They’re Neat

Yes, the open shelves look great when everything is clean and neat and arranged perfectly. The question is: do you use the dishes on those shelves? Or leave them out as display pieces only? And if they are display only, where are your “real” dishes? 

Placing frequently used items like plates, glasses and basic cookware on shelves keeps them in easy reach and creates a display that tells a personal story. But if you have a family and cook in your kitchen a couple times a day, you are not going to want to have to keep your open shelves looking photo-worthy all the time.

Open Shelves Can Look Busy

The look of open shelving can be very busy, especially for those who place lots of things on their shelves or who don’t know how to style their open shelves. Not everything you need to store is pretty. Unattractive products may have nowhere else to go, and you don’t want your newly remodeled kitchen to feel like a grocery store. Remember Jerry Seinfeld’s kitchen with all the cereal boxes on display?

Mix and Match

As you plan your new kitchen, there are no rules that say you must stick to the absolute of wall cabinets or no wall cabinets. In today’s design world of “pretty much anything goes”, you can mix and match cabinets and shelves and open space.  A kitchen that combines wall cabinets, one or two floating shelves and some open space will balance storage, decoration and a feeling of spaciousness.

Mix wall cabinets and open shelves to create a look you’ll love

Final Thought

It’s funny when you think about the cyclical nature of kitchen design. Our foremothers had nothing but open shelves in their kitchens. The introduction of wall cabinets in a kitchen broke with that tradition, and enclosed cabinets were considered a luxury reserved for the wealthy.

And now – what goes around comes around – we’re back to no upper cabinets and lots of open shelves. As a species, we’re so predictable.  

Conclusion

Having wall cabinets or not having wall cabinets is nothing more than a personal choice. How you decide depends on how big your space is, how big your budget is and how you want your new kitchen to look and feel.

There are no hard and fast rules anymore when it comes to kitchen design, so make yourself and your family happy and let your new kitchen be a reflection of your personal style and taste.


KDP exists to offer insight and advice about all things related to kitchen remodeling. Our goal is to connect homeowners with talented, experienced kitchen designers who live and work in their communities. We are a serious resource for anyone preparing to remodel their kitchen so they can make the best possible choices about designers, contractors and products.