Spoak Your Space: Last Day to Win $5,000 - Nominate Yourself or a Friend for Spoak Your Space and Design the Space of Your Dreams. Apply Now
Design Inspo

Designing Kitchens Without Upper Cabinets

Kitchens without upper cabinets range from multi-level shelving to minimal shelves to none. Find a style of “upperless” kitchen that’s right for you. 

designed with spoak - watermark

Having a kitchen without upper cabinets is the secret dream of many homeowners, but they’ve been told it will become a cluttered mess, and too often, they take the road most traveled. Compromises are made: They opt for glass front cabinets, hoping it has a similar look. Yet the mood boards full of old-world style kitchens sporting just a few open shelves continue to proliferate.

Removing the upper cabinets in a kitchen remodel isn’t that subversive; kitchen walls lined with upper and lower cabinets haven’t always been the norm. It’s time to take the fear out of this kitchen idea by finding a level of “upperless” that is right for you.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Clean Up Your Kitchen Design

If going “upperless” is a must for your dream kitchen, you may wonder if you’ll have enough storage. The most obvious first step is to evaluate what you’re storing and if you actually need all of it. Don’t dismiss this as a design trend just for minimalists — we could all use an occasional cleanse.

Most of us need to go through our belongings once a year to weed out unnecessary clutter. Take this opportunity to consider if some of what you have (and even what you use) complicates your life rather than enhancing it.

Worrying that you’ll have trouble keeping open shelves dusted and clean becomes a moot point when you’ve distilled your kitchen tools to your most-used items that are often in play. The freedom the decluttering process brings may revolutionize your lifestyle and give you a whole new kitchen before you touch those upper cabinets.

What To Do Instead of Installing Upper Cabinets

Kitchen layouts vary, but removing upper cabinets guarantees your room will visually grow and have a more open feel.

Level One: Using Open Shelves in Your Minimalist Kitchen

Open shelving breaks up the repetition of design in a kitchen and alleviates any boredom:

  • A clean white kitchen, with reflective surfaces and natural light, makes a simple, graphic backdrop to the dishware on display, especially with multiple levels of industrial-style open shelving.
  • Consider floating shelves with brackets to display stacks of brightly printed ceramics or the perfect primary-colored nesting bowls.
  • Rustic wood kitchen shelving can mirror exposed beams and bring the look of a chef’s kitchen to your home.
  • Simple wooden pegs beneath your shelves can house your cherished copper pots, making up for the lack of cabinets. If you want less dense shelving, try glass shelves that keep things light while still holding the essentials.

This is an excellent time to pop your shelving, wall paint, and backsplash design ideas into Spoak’s room visualization tool to ensure everything gels as well as you hope. Planning ahead keeps a one-weekend makeover project from turning into a month-long project.

An upper-less kitchen designed in Spoak by Lyss Wallace

Level Two: Try One Long Shelf in the Kitchen

If you thought multiple open shelves felt roomy, this second style brings a remarkably open feel to a sometimes cramped space. This design can have a distinctly modern look, with one shelf running the length of the kitchen, emphasizing the space above for a gallery-like feel. It also adds a horizontal dimension to a room that otherwise seems small.

  • You can install a shelf in the same moody blue color as your backsplash and lower cabinets to add contrast to a lighter upper kitchen wall — a great way to emphasize dynamic architecture in the room.
  • Continue the spare decor with a few cookware items and a favorite painting atop your shelf. This is a fantastic opportunity to add mid-level lighting with sconces above the shelf to illuminate your “display” for evening ambiance.

Level Three: Go All the Way With the No-Shelf Kitchen

At this point, you may be ready to go all the way with no cabinetry on your upper walls to make your kitchen wall the focal point. It’s time to revel in revealing your everyday items.

Having zero uppers to block natural light makes your space brighter. It also allows you to let color take center stage in your decor. Consider painting the lower cabinets and upper walls with harmonious colors that work with the countertops and backsplash.

Let Your Backsplash Make a Real Splash

Once you remove the upper cabinets, the sky's the limit with your kitchen backsplash design.

  • Your tile will climb to the ceiling, so choose a backsplash that expresses your style. Maybe keep it mostly white, with pops of colorful tile here and there.
  • Or maybe you use handmade glass tiles that seem undulate in the light, adding glossy texture and movement to a space that is usually dark and static.

Display Art on Your Walls Instead

With no cabinetry on the upper walls, you are free to let your creative juices flow. Few of us ever feel there is enough wall space in the home for art, so make the most of your liberated space and create your own curated kitchen art gallery.

  • Hang art in colors that tie in with the living room. Go for something unexpected like classic portraiture, or consider painting a mural on the wall.
  • If your kitchen is part of a busy-looking open concept, keeping the negative space might work best to balance out the exuberance of the rest of your interiors.

So Where Will All of Your Stuff Go?

Of course, you will still have some stuff, and you’ll need a place to store it. If you’re going to love this style of kitchen, you’ll need kitchen storage that works and is easy to access.

Organize Your Lower Kitchen Cabinets

Unless you are in a very small space and need cabinet space to store large amounts of food prep and service items, you can probably fit your assorted kitchen tools and cookware in your lower cabinets and kitchen island.

Here are a few organizational aids that don’t require a contractor:

  • Hang slim wire shelves inside cabinet doors to store cleaning tools, paper and foil containers, or pot lids.
  • Use wire shelves inside cabinets to double up shorter items like spice jars or canned goods so that no space is wasted in a small kitchen.
  • Place a lazy Susan in the corner of cabinets for easy access in a tight spot.
  • Try a baking sheet or pot lid organizer to fit all those slim items vertically for easy-to-access kitchen storage.
  • Use a pot stacker for stacking your pots rather than nesting them. (No more pulling all of the pots out to get to one of them.)
  • Put drawer organizers inside drawers; many adjust to fit your drawer size.
  • Gain additional storage with a rolling island or storage cart that can be moved when not in use.
  • Consider replacing some of your base cabinets with drawers that utilize every square inch of space and can be accessed easily.

Choose Your Own “Upperless” Adventure

Now that we’ve explored how to eliminate your upper cabinets: From the most modest change of shelving to the ultimate of bare walls, are you seeing your design style somewhere on this spectrum?

Hopefully, you see the advantages of dialing back fears of having less storage or going against the grain of kitchen design. Removing those upper cabinets isn’t revolutionary or groundbreaking, but the simplicity it could bring to your everyday life may be.

Photo Credit: (Left) Camille Styles


The Rise of the Modern Kitchen | Architect Magazine

Open Shelving Is the Budget-Friendly Secret to Completing Your Kitchen Now | Southern Living

When less is more: Living a minimalist lifestyle | The Spokesman-Review

A Kitchen That Doubles as an Art Gallery | WSJ

Discover more interior design ideas for a kitchen that breaks all the rules when you join Spoak. Start your free trial today.

Date Posted
May 20, 2023



No items found.

Try it out

Spoaken word ✽ Spoaken word ✽ Spoaken word ✽ Spoaken word ✽ Spoaken word ✽ Spoaken word ✽ Spoaken word ✽ Spoaken word ✽ Spoaken word ✽ Spoaken word ✽ Spoaken word ✽ Spoaken word ✽ Spoaken word ✽ Spoaken word ✽ Spoaken word ✽ Spoaken word ✽ Spoaken word ✽ Spoaken word ✽ Spoaken word ✽ Spoaken word ✽
Spoaken word ✽ Spoaken word ✽ Spoaken word ✽ Spoaken word ✽ Spoaken word ✽ Spoaken word ✽ Spoaken word ✽ Spoaken word ✽ Spoaken word ✽ Spoaken word ✽ Spoaken word ✽ Spoaken word ✽ Spoaken word ✽ Spoaken word ✽ Spoaken word ✽ Spoaken word ✽ Spoaken word ✽ Spoaken word ✽ Spoaken word ✽ Spoaken word ✽
Join Spoak

Take your love of interior design to the next level with Spoak.

We are an online interior design studio for enthusiasts and professionals. Get a real-world design education, easy-to-use tools, job opportunities, and a tight-knit community. All levels welcome.

Join now