Is it actually a good idea to ditch your kitchen wall cabinets? Expert interior designers weigh in

More and more we're seeing interior designers and homeowners opting to ditch their kitchen uppers. But is it really such a good idea?

blue and yellow traditional kitchen with open shelving and sink skirt
(Image credit: Vaughan Design & Development / Photography Chris Snood)

When it comes to remodeling or designing your dream kitchen from scratch, the kitchen is an expensive investment. And as we all know the kitchen is the heart of the home it feels only right that you don't want to be making costly mistakes when turning your Pinterest-perfect kitchen ideas into reality.

With open kitchen shelving gaining momentum in recent years thanks to interior designers and homeowners alike deciding to ditch traditional kitchen wall and upper cabinets, this divisive design decision has sparked a bit of a debate.

Is it really such a design-led choice? Or perhaps instead a practical faux pas? Let's dive into the pros and cons of bidding farewell to your kitchen wall cabinets, with a little help from the experts.

Is it actually a good idea to go without kitchen wall cabinets?

'Recently we have seen a move away from the clinical ‘fitted’ kitchen,' says Merlin Wright, designer director at Plain English Kitchens.

'Wall-to-wall upper cupboards can feel rather claustrophobic as well as not looking terribly creative, whereas a tall larder cupboard can hold all dry foods and jars so allowing for more imaginative use of wall space, perhaps room for a wall lamp or shelf to hold a collection of ceramic bowls.' 

'We want our kitchen spaces to be furnished not fitted, we want to feel welcomed and at home in the kitchen, which can often result in an antique piece being cleverly incorporated or a favorite painting positioned,' adds Merlin. 

devol mid century modern kitchen with butter yellow walls

(Image credit: deVOL Kitchens)

The best option ultimately boils down to personal preferences and lifestyle. If you're a minimalist who values aesthetics and enjoys maintaining a well-organized space, an open kitchen design might be the perfect fit. On the other hand, if you rely heavily on kitchen storage space and practicality, maintaining upper cabinets could be the smarter choice.

Part of the kitchen design process is to really look at how you want to live in the space, what you use regularly, and how you want it to feel. Then, you need to think about the size of the space you're working with and if you're able to accommodate storage in other ways.

'It all depends on your storage needs,' says Bethany Adams of Bethany Adams Interiors. 'If you have loads of unsightly items to store, then definitely keep your upper cabinets. If you have plenty of storage beneath, and your grandmother's vintage pottery collection, go ahead and ditch the cabinets and opt for open shelving, or nothing at all!'

The pros and cons of removing your kitchen wall cabinets

'I personally really like the ability to ditch the uppers if it is appropriate in the space,' debates designer Shelagh Conway. 'Not all spaces can function without uppers as the footprint might not have a ton of cabinet storage.'

It's also worth considering how the kitchen may need to grow with you and your family. Future You will thank Present You for ensuring your kitchen has enough storage for all potential needs.  

'When thinking about whether or not to have uppers, think functionally first. Can you get the same amount of storage or possibly more from an open-wall kitchen? Will removing the uppers create the feeling of more space or even let in more light?' adds Shelagh.

Removing wall cabinets can open up a kitchen

devol kitchens white shaker kitchen with statement yellow island and open shelving - boho styling

(Image credit: deVOL Kitchens)

So why are we so drawn to kitchens without wall cabinets? For one, it provides a look that is both sleek and open. 'Kitchens without, or with less, upper cabinets allow the space to breathe, allow room for more windows and light, and create a different feel,' says designer Kathryn Murphy of Kathryn Murphy Interiors.

Artem Kropovinsky of Arsight is a fan. 'Opening up the kitchen by eliminating the upper cabinets creates a bright and airy space,' he observes. 'This kitchen trend seeks to make every homeowner adopt a “less-is-more” attitude, hence encouraging them to declutter, keeping only vital items which eventually leads to a well-organized and streamlined kitchen environment.'

Without cabinets blocking the view, natural light can flow freely throughout the kitchen. This not only brightens up the room but also creates a welcoming and inviting atmosphere. 

'Opting to remove upper cabinets will create a kitchen that feels open and airy,' says creative director of Naked Kitchens, Elizabeth Sherwin. 'In smaller rooms, this can give the illusion of a bigger space and, depending on the extent of the renovation, will free up wall area allowing the option to integrate additional windows letting in more light,' she adds.

Artem Kropovinsky
Artem Kropovinsky

Based in New York, Artem Kropovinsky, founder of Arsight, has a decade of extensive and considerable global design experience. Prioritizing minimalism, sustainability, and authenticity, Artem, alongside his team of professionals, works on projects in the US and worldwide.

Ditching wall cabinets creates the allusion of more space

modern wooden kitchen with open shelving and tiled backsplash

(Image credit: A.Naber Design)

Removing wall cabinets helps to create an illusion of more space (even if there isn't), making your kitchen appear larger, taller, and less cramped - certainly useful for a kitchen with a smaller footprint.

'Ditching upper cabinetry can be beneficial when the footprint of the kitchen is small or U-shaped, says designer Abbie Naber. 'By eliminating the upper cabinetry, the space can have more of an open and airy feeling. I wouldn’t suggest it if you need the closed storage for unsightly items, but if you can spare the storage space, switch to more visibly pleasing items and place them on display.'

In a narrow kitchen, wall cabinets can make the space feel closed in. 'Wall cupboards can be oppressive,' adds Artem. 'However, it is important to bear in mind that storage requirements must still be met. By removing upper cabinets you need to think about other places where you can keep your things, especially in small kitchens.'

annie naber interior designer
Abbie Naber

Abbie Naber is the owner and principal designer of a NABER DESIGN, a San Diego based interior design firm. Focusing on renovations, new builds, interior design, and styling, Abbie strives to create spaces that are approachable, fresh, and inviting. 

You can use open storage to bring character to the kitchen

yellow and blue kitchen with wood paneling, open shelving and a traditional sink skirt

(Image credit: Vaughan Design & Development / Photography Chris Snood)

Open shelving can be visually stunning, showcasing your most precious kitchenware and decorative oddities. It allows for a more personalized and curated look, turning your kitchen walls into a stylish focal point of your home. 

'If you have enough hidden storage for the essentials, then I think on the whole it is a good idea to ditch your kitchen wall cabinets, says designer Holly Vaughan. 'I always lean towards some form of open shelving or rack to display the prettier things, as I much prefer seeing these than a cupboard door,' she adds.

'Changing closed cabinets for open shelving is an opportunity to display collections and art in the space and to think of everyday items as art,' agrees Kathryn Murphy. 'Choosing everyday items that are beautiful and/or have meaning and then making the choice to have them out and available for use connects us to what we love.'

holly vaughan of vaughan design and development
Holly Vaughan

Founded by husband-and-wife duo Holly and Will, Vaughan Design and Development is an all-in-one design and build solution working across Hampshire, Surrey and Sussex in the UK.

'I hear the argument all the time that the dishes may not be pretty enough to expose them,' adds Shelagh Conway. 'I think one of the beauties of open wall kitchens is the feeling of a well-used and loved kitchen. Sometimes there is a trade-off in selecting this design style, but it gets prioritized with the overall function and feel of the kitchen space,' says Shelagh.

'By doing away with upper cabinets, there is more space for creativity. This space can be used for unique backsplashes or open shelving all of which add character to the kitchen,' advises Artem.

There will be a compromise on storage

black kitchen with open shelving and plenty of drawers

(Image credit: Neptune)

So while we appreciate that removing the wall cabinets can really opens up the space and provide more decorative opportunities, what's the payoff? Of course, lack of storage is the biggest concern here. 

The kitchen design team at Neptune says drawers are the key to making sure you've got plenty of storage options without wall cabinets. 'Drawers are your first point of call. They’re far easier to use and can fit a great deal inside. We’re so used to seeing glassware or crockery in wall cabinets, but it really doesn’t have to be that way.'

'The other storage element that we'll usually suggest is a larder or a freestanding dresser. They look beautiful and give you mountains of storage space,' the Neptune team adds.

'When removing upper cabinets, finding smart and creative ways to maximize storage is key,' says Naked Kitchens' Elizabeth Sherwin. 'Pull-out storage units are another way to utilize even the smallest of spaces and are perfect for keeping spice jars, bottles, chopping boards, or baking trays.'

Take stock of the items you need hidden away

blue devol kitchens with upper glass fronted cabinets

(Image credit: deVOL Kitchens)

The most significant drawback to doing away with your wall units is the loss of storage space. If you have a considerable amount of kitchenware, groceries to find a home for, and appliances aplenty, finding adequate storage solutions can be a daunting task. 

'What makes it a good or bad idea relies less on the aesthetic of the kitchen and more on the functionality of the kitchen and how one uses the space and what one sees as organization vs. clutter,' says Nastassja Bowman of Kristen Elizabeth Design.

'The main concern in taking out upper cabinetry is losing storage space. If you have a lot of items to store, pots and pans, extra plates and bowls, etc. then you will likely need to keep the upper cabinetry storage. It is important to take stock of what items you keep in your kitchen before designing it to ensure there is enough space to store everything and items you don't want on display can be hidden away,' adds Nastassja.

Nastassja Brown
Nastassja Bowman

Nastassja joined the Kristen Elizabeth Design team in 2021 as a Marketing Coordinator and now is also a Junior Interior Designer. Her mother, an artist with a love of fashion, instilled in her an appreciation for color, texture, and style – and how they come together to create beauty.

Open shelving will always have to be styled

plain english kitchens yellow and pink kitchen with statement island and wall cabinets

(Image credit: Plain English Kitchens)

Open shelving may not be enough for those who rely on extensive cabinet space. 'It's a really beautiful look but before you take the plunge it's worth taking the time to really think about the functionality of your kitchen,' notes Katie Katie Winnington, of C&E Furniture. 'Uppers can be a necessary evil when taking into account storage and organization. As pretty as it is, if the trade-off is a kitchen in complete disarray, it's not worth it.'

Lauren Lerner, CEO and founder of Living with Lolo, agrees. 'Shelving in the kitchen has become increasingly popular. However, before embracing this trend, it is important to evaluate the storage options in your kitchen and pantry,' she advises.

'If storage space is limited, it is advisable to opt for cabinets instead of open shelving. This will help minimize clutter in your kitchen. Remember, open storage is most appealing when thoughtfully styled, rather than serving as a practical storage solution for a large number of kitchen supplies,' Lauren adds.

Consider glass-fronted cabinets

devol kitchens vintage wall cabinet with marble

(Image credit: deVOL Kitchens)

When you already have a wall full of cabinetry to hide away your assortment of glassware and random bowls, it’s hard to imagine wanting to give that up for more visual space. The solution, it seems, is glassfronted or glazed units.

Helen Parker, creative director at deVOL, weighs in. 'Wall cupboards are always up for discussion, but I would go for slim, glazed, and big, as a good starting point. Stubby, deep ones can be quite ungainly and look a little top-heavy.'

'Wall cupboards are good in a big grand room with high ceilings, but they can also be sweet in a little cottage,' she muses. 'Use your wall cupboards as statement pieces, maybe vintage, but always pretty or elegant rather than functional,' adds Helen.

Helen Parker portrait
Helen Parker

Helen is the Creative Director at deVOL, a leading kitchen design company that mixes classic and contemporary. Helen has been creative director at the company since 2011, passionate about the signature understated approach deVOL takes to designing kitchens. 

A mix of open-shelving and a few uppers is the sweet spot

devol kitchen with green tiles and open shelving with a vintage wall cabinet

(Image credit: deVOL Kitchens)

The compromise? A mix of wall units and open shelving.

As designer Meredith Owen of Meredith Owen Interiors says: 'I’m not a fan of the open-shelving trend, as it tends to put pressure on homeowners to keep a perfectly organized kitchen all of the time, and who has time for that? I think a mix of closed and open shelves is the way to go, this lets you hide most things and display the items that bring you the most joy.'

Are wall cabinets outdated?

There is lots of talk about outdated kitchen features that put home buyers off but that doesn't mean these seemingly dated kitchen trends won't be set to make a comeback. Trends are cyclical, and while one minute we're all fawning over open-shelving and finding clever solutions for storage away from the walls, as interior designers have proved here - there is always a time and place for elegant kitchen wall cabinets. It's all about finding the storage (or lack of) solution that works for you and your home, as opposed to following trends.

In the end, striking a balance between style and functionality is key when it comes to designing a kitchen without wall cabinets. Whether you embrace openness or stick to tried-and-true uppers, ensure that your kitchen design aligns with your needs and enhances your overall culinary experience. 

Charlotte Olby
Content Editor

Charlotte is content editor at Homes and Gardens, having joined the team the week before Christmas 2023. Following a 5 year career in Fashion, she found herself working at many women's glossy magazines including: Grazia, Stylist and Hello and most recently working as Interiors Editor for British heritage department store Liberty. Her role at H&G fuses her love of style with Charlotte's passion for interior design, and she is currently undergoing her second home renovation in Surrey - you can follow her journey over on @olbyhome