Video: Cabinets to the Ceiling

scribing tool

How to get more storage space but still have your kitchen look perfect. This is Nathan Harrison for Why would you want to take your cabinets all the way to the ceiling like this? Well, why not? You can get an extra foot of storage space more than a typical cabinet. Assuming it’s an 8 or 81/2′ high ceiling, you can reach that fairly simply with a regular-sized stool, so why not use it?

So, here’s what you need to know in order to do this right. First of all, before any mudwork is done on the ceiling of you kitchen (and of course, mudwork would precede the paint), before any of that is done, you need to check the framing. I’m talking about the framing of your ceiling joists. In this kitchen, I imagine they’re running this way. It really doesn’t matter; they tend to be on 16″ centers. You need to check them and make sure they’re all in plane with each other. If there are joists that are saggy, they need to be corrected. But typically this won’t be a problem at all is there is an attic above you. If there is another story, it gets more difficult, but it’s still worth doing. There are ways of furring the ceiling down in the worst case scenario so that you can achieve a ceiling even if you have whacked out joists.

Now this is important because your cabinets will serve as a straight edge against the ceiling, and they will accentuate defects in the ceiling.

Here’s one of a great many pictures that I have of a ceiling that was not flat when I went to install the kitchen.

So, rule #1 is framing check. Flatten the ceiling.

Rule #2 is to use small and scribable top trim. Here’s what I mean by that. First of all, small. You can see that this is normal-sized crown molding. It’s large; it’s probably 3-4″. The problem with this is it can’t bend, it can’t flex to fit against a wavy surface. So, it’s like a straight edge, and it’s just going to have to show the cracks. You can caulk it, but caulking just doesn’t look professional. And usually the alternative is to just leave the cracks.

Now, by scribing, I’m talking about a method of fitting a piece of woodwork to a wavy surface. I go into that elsewhere. And again, with crown, it’s really not appropriate. Scribing is very difficult to do on crown, and it can only be done to a small degree, maybe 1/4 “, maybe 3/8″ on a typical piece of crown. In other words, it will work out if your ceiling is within 1/4″ of being perfectly flat; and that would be a pretty good ceiling. I’ve seen much, much worse.

Now, in this kitchen it’s been done right. I don’t know if I mentioned before, but this is a kitchen designed by Nancy Hugo. And she knew what she was doing. Let’s take a closer look at this trim at the top of these cabinets. The first thing you notice is it’s fairly small – maybe 1 1/2”. 1 1/2″ is pretty flexible for most woods, and can be pressed into place and just nailed to cover many cracks.

The second thing you’ll notice is it has a nice flat surface that is final surface before you get to the ceiling. This is important because flat surfaces are easy to scribe. So this trim is great; it’s small and scribable, and it lets us create a seamless fit to the ceiling.

One thing I’d like to add about going to the ceiling is simply to not go too close to the ceiling or you may start to get door conflicts with some of the lights. I’ve seen some of that in the past. And, again, this kitchen avoids that error. IT stays a healthy distance from the ceiling. IT looks like the doors are about 2″ from the sheetrock of the ceiling. Great job, Nancy.