36 vs 42 kitchen cabinets, which to choose? [2023]

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When deciding on the height of your upper cabinets, there are two main options 36 vs 42 kitchen cabinets. 36-inch cabinets have been a standard for a long time but more and more people are going for the 42-kitchen cabinets.

36 vs 42 kitchen cabinets

The additional 6 inches will give you a lot more storage space. They will also fill a lot of empty wall space between the top of the cabinets and the ceiling. Depending on the height of your ceilings, the 42-inch cabinets could leave no gap at the top.

Here’s some key points to consider

  1. Consider the size of your kitchen and the height of your ceiling when choosing the size of your cabinets.
  2. 42-inch cabinets are considered tall, but they don’t always reach the ceiling.
  3. The normal size of kitchen cabinets is 36 inches, but taller options like 42 inches can create a more spacious look.
  4. If you have an 8-foot ceiling, consider having cabinets that reach about 7 feet high.
  5. To make the most of your space, take cabinets all the way to the ceiling.
  6. A 42-inch cabinet usually requires at least 3 shelves for optimal storage.

In some cases, the taller cabinets may seem out of proportion. In this case, professional kitchen designers use cabinet doors that mimic a separate stacked look. This will give you a stacked look but you will keep hardware costs in check.

42-inch cabinets are also cheaper than getting the same height by stack cabinets. The stack cabinet design will have more parts and materials. This also means more work when installing cabinets. The 42-inch cabinets will work both in 8′ and 9′ ceiling height.

Are 42-inch cabinets too tall?

The standard heights of cabinets are 30, 36, and 42 inches. The upper cabinets are usually mounted at 54 inches. This means that the 42″ cabinets will touch the 8′ ceiling. If your kitchen design has soffits, crown molding, or other ceiling trim the cabinet might not fit at the standard height.

Usually, you wouldn’t want to lower the upper cabinets, as this will cut into the space where you work when preparing food. Of course, when you are replacing the whole kitchen then changing the configuration of the ceiling to fit the cabinets is not too much additional work.

36 vs 42 kitchen cabinets problem

My personal preference would be for the cabinets to reach the ceiling and leave no gap. The extra storage space is just a bonus on top of that.

There is one problem with the ceiling height cabinets. If you are not basketball-player-tall you need a step stool for reaching the upper shelves. Not a big problem, but prepare by having something to step on within easy reach in your kitchen.

Do 42-inch cabinets reach the ceiling?

If you have an 8′ ceiling height then the 42-inch cabinets will reach the ceiling. As I mentioned above soffits and crown molding could make it impossible to install these cabinets at the standard height of 54 inches.

36 vs 42 kitchen cabinets ceiling

When you have 9′ ceilings or higher then the 42″ cabinets mounted at the standard height will not reach the ceiling. There will be a 12″ gap between the top of the cabinets and the ceiling.

What is the normal size of kitchen cabinets?

The standard heights for upper kitchen cabinets are 30, 36, and 42 inches. You can select the height of the cabinets based on your design ideas, storage needs, and ceiling height. Taller cabinets give you more storage and cost less as there would be fewer cabinets and hardware needs.

Are Taller kitchen cabinets better?

Taller cabinets give you more space. When you try to get the same amount of space with smaller cabinet height then you will need more units. Every cabinet needs hardware like hinges and handles. Using taller cabinets will reduce the amount of hardware you need.

36 vs 42 kitchen cabinets hardware

The downside of the higher upper cabinets is that you will need to step on something to reach the upper shelves. Some people might find that inconvenient.

How high should cabinets be for an 8-foot ceiling?

The ideal height for installing wall cabinets is when the bottom edge is 54 inches from the floor. This height gives you ample room for working on your countertop. The standard cabinets come in three heights. Here are the factors to consider when selecting a cabinet height for your 8′ kitchen.

42″ wall cabinets will go way to the ceiling and there will be no gap between the top of the cabinets and the ceiling. It is important to check that you don’t have any soffit or crown moldings that prevent the installation at the standard height. The main benefit of taller upper cabinets is the extra space you get.

36-inch cabinet height will leave you 6″ between the top of the cabinet and the ceiling when installed at standard height. The shorter cabinets will give you an option to use soffit and add crown molding.

30″ cabinets will give you a whole foot of empty space at top of the cabinets. You can use that area as an open shelf to store items or place decorative items. The benefit of shorter cabinet height is that you can reach the top shelves standing on the ground. Smaller cabinets are also budget-friendly.

The downside of shorter cabinets is the accumulation of dust on the top of the cabinets. This area is hard to reach when cleaning. And of course, you don’t get as much storage.

36 vs 42 kitchen cabinets happy

Select the cabinet size that makes the most sense for you and eventually makes you happy. When possible I prefer to use the cabinetry that conceals the items. I could use a couple of glass doors but not open shelves.

Should you take kitchen cabinets to the ceiling?

As I mentioned above, when you install your cabinets so that they reach all the way to the ceiling then you have more room to store items behind closed doors. At the same time, you don’t have to clean the hard-to-reach tops of the cabinets. But the choice to install the kitchen cabinets to the ceiling or not shouldn’t be only about reaching them. There’s visual appeal and more space for infrequently used items.

How many shelves are needed for a 42-inch cabinet?

The upside of the 42″ tall cabinets is that you can put in three adjustable shelves. You can change the spacing between the shelves to match the height of the items you want to store. This in turn will maximize the storage capacity of your cabinetry.

How high should cabinets be for a 9-foot ceiling?

For higher ceilings, the best option would be 42 inches. The standard height to install the upper cabinets is 54″ from the floor. When you use 42″ cabinetry then you will leave 12″ of empty space. In this configuration you will have 18″ between the upper cabinets and the countertop.

What height should upper kitchen cabinets be?

Many manufacturers use standard sizes of 30″, 36″, and 42″ cabinets. The height for your cabinets should match the height of the ceilings in your house. 42″ cabinets reach 8′ ceiling, 30″ and 36″ will not. If you have 9′ ceilings then none of the standard height cabinets will reach the ceiling.

What to do with cabinets that don’t go to the ceiling?

A great idea is to add plants on top of your kitchen cabinets. The plants will look nice and as you have to water them regularly then you have a reason to get up there and clean up the dust.

Another option is to build a soffit or add a decorative drywall soffit at the top. It may take some additional work and time but the result is usually nicer than leaving an empty wall. Even a simple panel could fill this area and make it look better.

But why is there a space above kitchen cabinets? The reason is the standard dimensions of the countertop with base cabinets (36″) and the installed height of your upper cabinets (54″ base). The 42″ cabinets will reach the 8′ ceiling. But in any other configuration, they will not go to the ceiling.

Ariel Path

With over three decades of experience in food manufacturing and kitchen design, I bring a wealth of knowledge to the table. My expertise spans across various aspects of the culinary world, from kitchen appliances to cooking techniques, food selection, and promoting a healthy lifestyle. My ultimate goal is to educate and inspire you in creating your dream kitchen, where functionality meets aesthetics. As a trusted source, I strive to provide valuable insights and guidance to make your kitchen remodel an enjoyable and successful experience. Together, let's transform your space into a culinary haven that reflects your unique style and meets your specific needs. See more details here.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Avatar photo

    18″ is not enough work space. I vote for 21″

    1. cropped ariel path
      Ariel Path

      Good point for the main work area. On the site and supporting areas you could use 18″

  2. Avatar photo
    Inez Bredt

    I had my kitchen gutted for a complete do over. Both my husband and I are aging and have mobility issues. We had our upper cabinets lowered and the bottom cabinets are now big drawers. A wall oven was installed and the other appliances updated. I am able to cook in my kitchen safely for the first time in many years. We put the same painted wood on top of the lowered wall cabinets so that a cleaning person can just wipe the dust up easily. Our new kitchen is a dream come true for us, we can reach things safely in the kitchen. There are good reasons for shorter wall cabinets, in our case it will help us stay in our home longer and safer, which is a blessing of freedom for us.

    1. cropped ariel path
      Ariel Path

      Thank you for sharing, Inez! It seems many kitchens are designed for magazines and not for people. In our approach, we consider ergonomics, usability, and safety before everything else. Then we look for ways how to make it also look amazing.

  3. Avatar photo

    I recently installed 42 inch kitchen cabinets in my kitchen as part of a remodeling project, and I have been very happy with the results. The cabinets are a great size, providing ample storage space without overwhelming the space. They are also well-made and durable, which is important in a kitchen where they will be used frequently.

    One of the best things about these cabinets is their versatility. They come in a wide range of styles and colors, so I was able to find ones that matched my kitchen’s design aesthetic perfectly. They also have a variety of features, such as pull-out shelves and soft-close hinges, that make them even more functional.

    Overall, I am very pleased with my experience with these 42 inch kitchen cabinets. They have added both style and functionality to my kitchen, and I would highly recommend them to anyone who is looking to upgrade their kitchen storage.

    1. cropped ariel path
      Ariel Path

      Thank you for your comment! We’re glad to hear that you found our article helpful. Kitchen cabinets are an important part of any kitchen, and it’s important to choose the right size and style to suit your needs. We hope our article provided some useful information and tips for those who are looking to upgrade their kitchen cabinets. Thanks again for reading and for sharing your thoughts!

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