Kitchen Design: Alternatives for Upper Cabinets

For so long we’ve defaulted to the style of upper cabinets with closed doors in kitchens, then about ten years ago floating shelves began surging in popularity as a replacement.

I wrote a post eight years ago questioning whether open shelves were timeless or trendy in kitchen spaces, and back then people had opinions. Looking back from 2020, having watched kitchen design trends all this time, it’s fair to say open shelves are now just as popular as closed doors on upper cabinets. They are often requested by homeowners to be included somewhere in small or large format in modern kitchens.

One thing I’ve been noticing is designers are thinking beyond the proverbial wisdom of basic upper cabinets. They are making bolder, more creative choices, pushing us to embrace alternatives for upper cabinets beyond closed doors or floating shelves.

The raised (or shortened) upper cabinet combined with a display shelf below has been trending for a few years, I wrote about this design choice in this older post.

house updated

This doorless cabinet style has been a part of design for some time, it’s the happy medium between closed cabinets and open shelving. This style of upper cabinetry gives the homeowner the decorative benefit of open display with a finished interior and a cabinet frame matching the surrounding cabinetry, similar to a dining hutch.

tom howley kitchens

something blue home

In recent years, there’s been a trend toward suspended kitchen shelving, I wrote about this option two years ago. See this article for more examples.

the mayes team

gregory funk

Metal shelving is a modern alternative to wood and a black finish is a contemporary choice.

joinery & design co. 

The long single shelf above a tile backsplash is a style found in many kitchens of Europe, Scandinavia, and the UK .

tom howley kitchens

fine little goods

roundhouse design uk

Here’s another look that combines cabinets and open shelving. This style incorporates open box shelving beneath shortened closed cabinets.

caldera kitchens

lindye galloway

These two kitchens have black metal glass front cabinets resting on the countertop. What they give up in counter space they make up for with a dramatic statement!

three birds renovation

chad james

These wood frame cabinets with glass fronts add texture and interest. Note the cabinets open by lifting up, not the typical vertical swing we often see.

source unknown

These suspended shelves hang in front of the window, allowing for light to penetrate the kitchen space, but also providing storage and display.

brooke wagner design


nicole hirsh interiors

katie hackworth

In Europe and the UK, sometimes there are no upper cabinets at all, leaving room for light fixtures, rods, small shelves, or as space to hang artwork.

devol kitchens

a + b kasha design

devol kitchens

And some designers are getting rid of upper cabinets entirely and swapping them for a wall of windows.

eye for pretty

Are you a fan of any of these new looks?

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