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Storage Ideas for Kitchens without Upper Cabinets
Reducing the number of upper cabinets in your kitchen means you lose out on a lot of storage. Here are our best ideas for making up the difference.
Kitchens without Uppers
So you’re thinking about building a beautiful new kitchen or remodeling your existing one from the studs out. One of your ideas (and one of our favorite kitchen trends) is to reduce the number of upper cabinets. In fact, you may want to leave uppers off the exterior wall altogether.
What can you do with all that vertical space? A wall without upper cabinets gives you a lovely place to display art. (Frame 2-D artwork behind glass so it’s protected and easy to wipe clean.) Your eyes—and your soul—will thank you.
Tip: Want to display your children’s or grandchildren’s artwork? Do so with matching frames and mats that complement the kitchen’s décor. It’s amazing how a nice mat and frame can elevate simple scribbles to masterworks!
Let There Be Light
Another potential benefit? By installing enormous windows, or enlarging existing ones, you’ll be able to soak in the sun while you’re cooking, cleaning, eating, or entertaining.
Another bonus: Those gigantic windows mean you can really enjoy the view. (That’s why you bought this particular lot, wasn’t it?)
Plus, all those large windows and all that light will help your kitchen feel more like living space. Sink back and relax!
Just Say “No” to Clutter
All those benefits help make your kitchen an even more inviting place to hang out. But there’s one potential disadvantage to consider. When you reduce the number of upper cabinets, you lose valuable storage space—sometimes a whole wall’s worth. Sure, you can stack stuff on the countertops. But doing that reduces the size of your work zone.
So how do you make up for lost storage when you decide to enjoy art, sunshine, or the view—instead of hanging more cabinets? Keep clicking…
Less is More
One of the easiest ways to make up for lost cabinets: Store less stuff in the kitchen. Chances are you have too many dishes, small appliances that don’t work, utensils you never use, packaged food that’s past its prime, and stale spices that lost their flavor and aroma ages ago. Get rid of them. Purge, purge, purge.
If you’re finding it hard to pare back, take a cue from designers—who know the real secret to savvy storage is organization. When the pros plan storage solutions, they pull out every item in the kitchen cabinets and drawers, make a list, evaluate usage patterns (with the homeowner’s help, of course), and allot storage based on how and when each item is used.
Try this exercise yourself and you’ll find a lot of items you hardly ever use. Think hard about sacrificing valuable space to keep them around. Box and discard what you no longer need. Chances are good you’ll never miss that old coffee maker with the cracked lid. Yes, this exercise is a lot of work, but the payoff in improved storage and functionality makes it well worth the effort.
Or you could handle the overflow by storing it in another room. Here’s a stylish solution (especially if you have an open floor plan): Install cabinetry in the dining room that matches cabinetry in the kitchen.
As an alternative to cabinetry, consider adding free-standing furniture that can be positioned wherever you like—creating an instant focal point in the kitchen or adjoining room. Along with boosting storage capacity, an antique breakfront (shown) or vintage cupboard boosts the room’s style.
For the best outcome in the kitchen, which is probably going to be lined with cabinets and appliances, have the piece on hand before you finalize plans so the builder is sure to find space for it.
Tip: For a perfect fit, commission a custom storage piece that’s designed to look like an old cupboard. Include specialized storage features such as plate racks, cup hooks, and drawers for linens.
Repurpose with Style
Don’t be afraid to think creatively. Even a vintage wine cage (shown) offers bonus space for storing dishes, serving pieces, mixing bowls, and small appliances.
Tip: Use baskets to corral small items for easy retrieval.
The Great Pretender
You can also pick up the storage slack with cabinetry designed to look like a freestanding piece of furniture. Look for features such as glass-front cabinet doors, muntin detailing, faux feet, and gorgeous hardware.
Kitchen design: Christopher Peacock
Interior design: Sophie Thibon Interiors
Sit On It
Another way to put the dining room to work: Ground your view with a banquette or window seat fashioned from base cabinets or customized to include cabinets and/or drawers. What a great place to store table linens, seasonal decorations, or seldom-used small appliances!
For a serious storage shortage, see if you can borrow space from another room, hallway, or closet to build a walk-in pantry lined with shelves. These handy rooms can store nonperishable food, root vegetables, small appliances, pots and pans, paper products, and/or dishes—even the recycling bins.
Tip: Open shelves, clear containers, and shallow baskets make it easier to find what you need.
Upgrade mere storage space with a sink, faucet, wine chiller, icemaker, and meant-to-be-seen cabinets to create an elegant butler’s pantry. Not only can you store china, crystal, liquor, and other entertaining staples in this dapper space, you can use the countertop for staging drinks and appetizers.
Because a butler’s pantry is more public than a food pantry, consider these additional upgrades:
- Glass-front cabinet doors and interior lights to showcase your best dishes and glassware
- Wide drawers to let fancy linens lie flat (or at least end up with fewer folds)
- Deep drawers and plate racks to organize large serving pieces and platters
- Shallow drawers lined with tarnish-resistant cloth to protect fine flatware
- Tall cubbies to hold guest-worthy vases, pitchers, and candlesticks
We’ve shown you eight ideas that can help you make up for lost storage by storing less stuff in the kitchen. (Okay, seven ideas if you purge the idea about purging.) Check out the following 11 ideas for storing more stuff inside the kitchen without moving any walls.
Get the best of both worlds by replacing upper cabinets with wall-mounted display shelves. Store dishes within arm’s reach, while retaining an open, airy feel that complements your oversize windows.
Bonus: Display shelves are much, much easier to build in custom sizes than cabinets.
Pack chef-friendly storage features into the side of the island facing the range: shallow drawers for knives, spices, or utensils; cabinets or deep drawers to hold pots and pans or small appliances; and open shelves to hold mixing bowls. Use the opposite side of the island for dining (with shallow cabinets below the countertop overhang), wine storage, or even open shelving to display collectibles.
Tip: Putting wine storage or refrigeration on the side of the island nearest the adjoining room makes it easier to serve guests—or for guests to help themselves.
Climb the Wall
Utilize every square inch of storage potential on interior walls by taking cabinetry all the way to the ceiling. (You can always use a rolling library ladder to reach contents!) Then be smart about what you store where. Ceiling-high cabinets should be used for storing seldom-used items such as a turkey roaster or a punch bowl and cups. Cabinets just above the counter should hold the dishes and ingredients you reach for every day.
Maybe you want to get rid of some base cabinets while you’re at it, and use deep storage drawers for dishes or cookware. This ergonomic choice makes retrieving heavy objects much easier on your back than reaching up and into upper cabinets (especially if you’re shorter in stature).
Tip: Choose full extension drawers to make it easier to reach items lurking in the back corners.
Turn blind corners into user-friendly cabinets by adding a swing-out cabinet organizer (shown) or a classic Lazy Susan. The swing-out organizer brings cabinet contents out into the open and makes them easier to retrieve. With a Lazy Susan, the shelves rotate for better access to stored items. Either way, you gain storage space by eliminating dead space behind cabinet doors.
In other words, when the storage capacity of those base cabinets is fully realized, your loss of upper cabinets hurts a little bit less.
Use Wasted Space
You can also sneak storage solutions into mere slivers of space. Use the toe-kick area for shallow drawers to hold linens or platters, for example. Or put an equally slim cabinet below your stacked wall ovens; use it for pot holders, trivets, and more. (That’s the beauty of custom cabinetry: you can transform just about any space into useful storage.)
You know what? Skip the toe kicks and put the walls to work. Customizable backsplash railing systems use components such as shelves, racks, hooks, and holders for paper towels, utensils, knives, cookbooks, lids, and plates to keep your stuff within easy reach. And your countertops stay clean.
Make that range wall work harder by adding recessed shelving to the custom cabinetry encasing the ventilation system. Such shelves put oils, spices, and other cooking staples within easy reach of the chef—without taking up valuable cabinet space elsewhere.
Same concept, different technique: Include tall, slim pullout cabinets beneath the range hood to store seasonings and ingredients close to the action.
Hang ‘em High
Another way to reduce your dependence upon cabinets: Hang pots and pans from a ceiling-mounted pot rack. Some models include task lighting to illuminate the work surface below. Bonus: You gain a dramatic focal point!
If your windows are large enough, you can accent them with a linear pot rack and your well-maintained collection of pots and pans. Cookware remains within easy reach for countertop food prep. And you still get to soak in the sunshine and that beautiful view.
Glass-front Cabinet Doors
Final thoughts: If you simply must have upper cabinets, choose glass-front doors to keep the overall look light and airy.
Tip: If you’re going with open shelves or glass-front cabinet doors, invest in a set of matching dishes you’ll want to display. Dishes are fun to buy and don’t have to cost a fortune. So pony up for pretty ones and donate the old mismatched set to charity.
Or restrain yourself to the slimmest of cabinets—and put them in the corner.
Open for Business
Another option: Hang box shelves, or remove the doors from existing upper cabinets. All that breathing room around the objects within will lighten the visual load.
This kitchen maintains its clean, fresh vibe by matching paint colors to the colors of objects mounted on the wall (even the chimney hood!)
Case Study: Light-Filled Kitchen
In this kitchen, tall windows line the breakfast nook and flank the range from countertop to ceiling. The designer also added reflective surfaces to maximize the light.
Kitchen design: Mick De Giulio
Case Study: Kitchen with a View
Natural light and outdoor connections are now so important that when this kitchen was renovated, its design was inspired by the beautiful backyard.
Kitchen design: Mick de Giulio
Interior design: Craig Steinhaus