10 Tips to design the right mix of upper and base cabinets for the kitchen

When designing a kitchen, there is a careful balance to be found between the placement, quantity, and dimensions of all your base and upper cabinets. Obviously, we want the best of both worlds: ample, functional kitchen storage packed up within an elegant aesthetic that doesn’t tire the eye nor suffocates the room.  This is all the more important now that the kitchen is no longer that utilitarian room we used to keep hidden away; it has become the proud centerpiece of the home, where we entertain our guests and spend most of our family time. 

Using fewer upper cabinets has long been a trend in Europe but it’s been hard for it to catch on here in America. However, sometimes it’s the existing architecture of the room that will start dictating the direction for the design (for example, when you have a couple of windows here and there that you have to work around). Consider it a blessing in disguise. It allows you to be creative, get rid of walls full of cabinetry and find other ways to create storage space for your things. 

Here are tips to make your design balanced, functional, and visually interesting. 

  • Fewer upper cabinets help streamline the look of the kitchen and make the whole environment feel more airy; the result will be soothing to the eye. Large pantries can be used to maximize storage. Also, make sure your island is made up of full capacity cabinets.

Fewer upper cabinets free up wall space to display art that gives personality to the kitchen design

  • Eliminating some of the upper cabinets frees up wall space to display art, photography or other objects that can give more character to your kitchen, which is especially important in the case of open layout kitchens that transition into the living room. 

  • Deeper base cabinets with full pull-out baskets can provide the storage you need while making objects more readily available. You can store the least used items in the back and you’ll still be able to access them easily when you need them. 
  • Having more deep base cabinets than upper units gives you a more universal design, suitable for aging in place or households where different generations live together (which is probably way it’s such a popular trend in Italy!)

Deeper base cabinets increase storage space and make for a more universal design.

  • If you really cannot live without a lot of upper cabinets in your kitchen and think the units must go up to the ceiling otherwise they just collect dust and are a waste of space, that’s fine. You should then make sure they are aesthetically less prominent than whatever is at the lower level of the design. You can do that by choosing a lighter finish for the upper units, so as to create some contrast (this is especially helpful if you decide to go with woods or dark colors for the base cabinets). A glass finish is also good because it will make the upper part of your kitchen more luminous.

Upper cabinets with glass finish

  • Handle-free, soft-close upper cabinets that open with a light touch will also help streamline the kitchen and will give the whole design a cleaner look.  
  • Consider frosted glass doors for your upper cabinets: they are elegant and lighter than a solid finish; you can store different kinds of items inside them and not worry about bad aesthetics as you would with a clear glass door. What’s more, lights inside the cabinets with frosted glass fronts will add luminosity to the upper section of the kitchen.

Upper cabinets with frosted glass fronts

  • Make it curvy: adding some curves to the upper cabinets (and the whole kitchen) reduces the heavy visual effect produced by having lots of boxy-looking cabinetry. Curved cabinets with molded doors introduce an element of design but they are also fully functional, so you can still use up all your space.

Curved upper cabinets for the kitchen

  • Break it down with open shelving to display the expensive kitchenware and items you’re so proud of. With cool design becoming more and more available for every utensil in the kitchen, why keep everything hidden away? Open shelves can help you display these objects and bringing them out in the open might provide those accents of personality that your kitchen needs – so that you can keep the other elements of the design more on the minimalistic side. You can use flexible, customizable open shelving to create the design you want; shelves can even be included into the design of the base cabinetry to add variety and different storage options.

Upper cabinets combined with open shelves

  • For a very sophisticated touch, use mirrored glass doors that can alternate both transparency and opacity effects depending on the use of the internal lighting.

Mirror glass doors for kitchen cabinets

Have you found the right design mix of upper and base cabinets? Are you the type who can’t live without a full row of upper units or are you open to try different combinations?

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