15+ Design Ideas for Kitchens Without Upper Cabinets

When designing a kitchen, we often assume that both upper and lower cabinets are necessary. However, these 17 designer kitchens show how forgoing uppers allows you to showcase favorite dishware or put the focus on a gorgeous view.
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November 25, 2014
By: Susan Kleinman
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Open Up

A long counter of drawers with no upper cabinets allows the owners of this sunny kitchen to prep and cook with a clear view into the living and dining area. Design by Albertsson Hansen Architecture, Ltd.

Coordinate the Trim

By trimming the windows in the same wood that was used for the cabinets, the designers at Albertsson Hansen Architecture, Ltd., gave this kitchen the same unified look that matching upper and lower cabinets would provide.

Hanging Shelves

The Brooklyn-based design firm General Assembly hung shelves anchored into a steel plate in the ceiling joists in this 300-square-foot duplex to provide extra storage while maintaining a connection to the upstairs.

Open Display Shelves

"Open shelving works great as a mediator between functional kitchen storage space and display space," says General Assembly designer Sarah Zames. "Items that you might keep on your living room mantel can easily nest into your kitchen storage."

Take A Recess

In place of upper cabinets, certified kitchen designer Elina Katsioula-Beall uses recessed, open cubbies inside a pebble-rock wall to showcase glassware, for a sleek, modern look.

Pretty in Pink

The open shelves in this kitchen allowed designer Judy O'Neil Labins to make the most of the salmon-pink color she chose for the walls. Pretty shelf brackets add to the kitchen's cottage charm.

Mix It Up

If you can't decide whether to install upper cabinets or not, consider a combination. The mix of glass-front cabinets and open shelving in this kitchen by designer Laura Robbins provides visual interest as well as plenty of storage space.

Continental Charm

This kitchen originally had upper cabinets, but Wilson Kelsey Design felt they were ruining the French Provincial look the client desired — and making the kitchen appear to work too hard. Post-renovation, the space has a romantic, French feel but incorporates plenty of modern technology, all well hidden from view. A walk-in pantry compensates for storage space that might normally be found in a second row of cabinets.

Take the Doors Off

The open shelving in this kitchen by designer Lisa Kanning takes up as much wall space as cabinets would but instead of hiding plates and glassware behind doors, the shelves keep everything on display and easily accessible.

Higher and Higher

A soaring cathedral-style kitchen is left open on top to draw the eye upward and maximize the sense of lofty sunlight. Built-in closets offer additional storage and open shelving lends a place to keep things on display and at hand. Design by Albertsson Hansen Architecture, Ltd.

Bold Backsplash

In a kitchen large enough to forgo upper cabinets, the backsplash becomes a major design element. Designer Nathalie Tremblay of Atelier Cachet chose to stack white glass tiles in neat columns for an eye-catching, graphic look.

Consider Functionality

In this boathouse kitchen by Albertsson Hansen Architecture, Ltd., windows above the counter open to a matching counter on the outside so this area can easily be turned into a pass-through for serving food when entertaining guests.

Preference for Pantries

"I didn't want to cram my kitchen full of cabinets," says kitchen designer Jodi Gould, CKD. "I really want it to feel just like another room of the house." The built-in pantry Gould designed was much less expensive than cabinetry and holds all her food and dry goods. "The more floor-to-ceiling storage you can pack in," she says, "the more open upper space you'll be left with, giving any kitchen a larger feel."

Simple Shelves

In this kitchen by Albertsson Hansen Architects, simple, linear shelves echo the lines of the subway tile that go all the way up to the ceiling. The black of the shelves pop, adding visual interest to the otherwise mostly white kitchen. For shelves that blend in, choose the same color as the walls — or go with glass.

It's All in the Editing

When a client had Bill Fry Construction convert an old garage into a guesthouse, she chose open shelving to showcase books and art. Because the space isn't the home's primary kitchen, less storage is needed. In a busier kitchen, careful editing is the key to making open shelving work.

Vive le View

With a stunning view of the Plum Island Salt Marsh, it seems a shame to obstruct it with cabinets. In this kitchen by Andrew Sidford Architects, all storage is below counter and island height with the walls reserved for windows.

The Sky's The Limit

It might be tempting to pack a high-ceilinged kitchen with cabinetry but keeping the space spare will give you a more elegant kitchen. This large kitchen by designer Ines Hanl provided enough storage space down low, so the room could be kept open to maximize the beauty of the skyward-sweeping walls.

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