8 Ways to Deal with Those Awkward Kitchen Cabinet Soffits

updated Feb 25, 2023
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(Image credit: Craig Kellmann)

When it comes to designing your kitchen, both function and aesthetics are important. Making design decisions that prioritize both can be challenging, but the best kitchen design ideas manage to do just that. 

If your kitchen has soffits, you may face an additional challenge when it comes to maximizing space and keeping things attractive. Depending on who you are, kitchen soffits may not bother you at all, or they may drive you batty. If you fall into the second camp, this post is for you.

What is a Kitchen Soffit?

Generally speaking, a soffit is an architectural term for something that covers up important internal features in your home. Kitchen soffits are often used to hide and cover wiring (especially for lighting), plumbing elements or even vent systems. Other times, they’re simply placed above cabinets to fill empty space. 

Here’s where soffits can cause a stir among homeowners: while cabinets generally come in standard sizes, ceiling heights do not. In situations where the cabinets don’t quite meet the ceiling, many builders just call it a day. The resulting gap can be jarring, and some homeowners may choose to disguise this space.

Creative Ideas for Kitchen Soffits

Here, we’re bringing you a few creative ideas for kitchen soffits if you’d like to remove, replace or redesign yours for any reason. 

(Image credit: Craig Kellmann)

1. Fill in the space with trim.

If the gap between your upper cabinets and the ceiling isn’t particularly large, you can fill it in with trim running along the top of your upper cabinets. This makes for a cohesive, built-in look, and a lot less potential for collecting dust. I Heart Organizing has a great tutorial on how to do this.

(Image credit: Marisa Vitale)

2. Fill in the space with a furr down.

Furr down? What’s a furr down? This strange-sounding term refers to any place in a home where the height of the ceiling is lowered by creating a dropped ceiling with framing and drywall. Often furr downs serve a very practical purpose: Architects will use them to conceal pipes or ductwork. Another application for a furr down? Enclosing the space above kitchen cabinets. This can sometimes be a bit clunky looking, depending on the execution, but it can also have very elegant results. In the modern kitchen above, a furred out wall above the cabinets makes for a very modern, streamlined look.

(Image credit: Natalie Jeffcott)

3. Fill the space with trim in a contrasting color.

In this Australian home, the fill in between the top of the cabinets and the ceiling, in a contrasting color that matches the countertop, becomes a design element. It also looks like it becomes a storage element — there’s wine storage in one spot (for very tall people) and a cabinet above the refrigerator.

(Image credit: Marisa Vitale)

4. Install really tall upper cabinets.

There’s no standard for the distance between your countertop and the bottom of your upper cabinets—so one solution to the cabinet gap issue is to raise your upper cabinets until they hit the ceiling. You can leave extra space between the countertop and the cabinets, add an open shelf below the cabinets, as in this kitchen from A Beautiful Mess, or you can opt for taller-than-average cabinets, to maximize your storage space.

(Image credit: Minette Hand)

5. Add a second row of cabinets.

If you don’t like the look of really tall cabinets (or your ceiling is so high that even the tallest cabinets won’t cut it), consider adding a second row of cabinets. A row of cabinets with a second, shorter row stacked above will often look more proportional than a single very tall row. This is a great way to add extra storage, although unless you have incredibly long arms, you’ll probably want to limit the top cabinets to things you don’t use often.

(Image credit: Aimée Mazzenga)

6. Add a window.

Another solution for that awkward gap? Add a window! Of course, this will only work for certain architectural styles (and renovating your kitchen doesn’t always mean you have leeway to cut into the walls), but it’s a great way to bring light into your kitchen.

(Image credit: Submitted by Tam-Anh)

7. Paint the wall the same color as the cabinets.

The space above the cabinets will be less noticeable if the cabinets and the wall behind are painted the same color. In the Oakland loft pictured above, an unusually large gap between the upper cabinets and the ceiling is treated as an opportunity for a little expression.

(Image credit: Arthur Garcia-Clemente)

8. Embrace it.

If none of these options appeal to you, or remodeling just isn’t in the cards, consider embracing that pesky old cabinet gap. Use it for storage, or for art—or embrace one of the other options in this post about five clever above-cabinet solutions.