There are two choices when designing cabinets for a kitchen that has a lower ceiling. You can either use 36" tall upper cabinets, which allows for crown molding to be used along the top or you can use 42" tall upper cabinets that go all the way to the ceiling without any molding. Below is a breakdown of the pros and cons of each choice.
This is by far the safest choice when designing around an 8-ft ceiling. The cabinets won't go all the way to the ceiling, which gives you the chance to add crown molding. The size molding is up to you. If you select a smaller profile crown molding, there will be a small amount of space above the cabinets. If you would rather not bother with that, adding a riser and larger profile crown molding will eliminate the space and give the illusion of the cabinets going all the way to the ceiling. This may be your best bet aesthetically.
Here is a working drawing of a kitchen with an 8-ft ceiling. This design shows crown molding on top of 36" tall uppers and a small space between the crown and ceiling.
Here is the same kitchen with a riser molding added below the crown molding, which takes the cabinets all the way to the ceiling.
The riser molding is outlined in red.
Some people are completely focused on having as much storage as possible in the kitchen and selecting 42" upper cabinets will definitely give you more space. It also helps make the ceiling appear larger by having the cabinets touch the ceiling. But, be warned, the extra space does come with a few caveats. There is a good chance your ceiling isn't going to be completely flush in all places, so fillers and some extra work may be needed to make the uppers look even. With larger upper cabinets, you also lose the ability to use decorative crown molding. If you want even the slightest bit of decorative molding, you would have to drop the cabinets down a bit, which is not ideal. Crown molding is just a decorative feature, but it really does finish off the space, and may not be something you want to sacrifice.
If you are planning on a floor to ceiling pantry in your kitchen, and have decided to use 42" upper cabinets in the space, the coordinating tall cabinet is 96" high. So, now you are trying to install a cabinet the same size as your ceiling. This can become almost impossible to install into its upright position since the diagonal measurement needed to do this is close to 100" or more.
To gain these extra clearance inches, the cabinet often has to have the toe kick portion removed, or even the top back corner of the cabinet notched. Also, if you decide to lower the backsplash height to include a small ¾" molding, that makes even more space you need to try and deduct from the cabinet height to make it all fit. In summary, with 8' ceilings, a 90" cabinet is almost mandatory to ensure proper fit, and the ability to install the cabinet. Even if you have sacrificed the decorative molding for more space, this one cabinet needs to be taken into consideration.
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