Whether you are planning a new kitchen or doing a major remodel, one vital decision you’ll need to make is the cabinetry size.
Do you want cabinets that run all the way up to the ceiling, or do you like shorter ones with a gap above them?
Ceiling-height cabinets are often 42 inches tall, while standard-height cabinets are 36 inches.
Figuring out the right cabinetry size for your kitchen can be challenging. You must consider key factors, such as your budget, storage needs, overall aesthetic, and resale value, to see if it’s worth it.
Here is an in-depth comparison of 36- and 42-inch kitchen cabinets to help you make the correct buying decision.
Key Take Away
- 36-inch kitchen cabinets are more affordable than their 42-inch counterparts
- The 42-inch kitchen cabinets offer more storage space than the 36-inch cabinets
- 36-inch cabinets are easy to reach than 42-inch ones
- 36-inch kitchen cabinets require less maintenance than 42-inch cabinets
|Parameters||36 Inch||42 Inch|
|Affordability||Pocket-friendly||A bit pricey|
|Storage space||Standard storage||Massive storage|
|Ease of reach||Easily accessible||Upper cabinets are hard to reach|
|Display space||Ample display space||Not so practical for decorative display|
|Lighting||Great lighting options||Great lighting options|
|Maintenance||Easy to clean||It can be challenging to clean the top shelves|
|Aesthetic appeal||Low aesthetic appeal||High aesthetic appeal|
36-inch Kitchen Cabinets – Explained
36-inch cabinets are perfect for a kitchen that has an 8-foot-tall ceiling.
You will have a gap of about 1 foot left between the top of the cabinets and the ceiling. But, this can only happen if you have a standard height countertop and the cabinets are installed at the standard height above the counter.
If your ceiling is higher, the gap will be much more significant.
The space above the cabinets can be handy, depending on its height. You can use it to showcase cookbooks, antique jars, plants, woven baskets, and other meaningful collections. You can also use it to store lesser-used items or add crown molding.
Although filling the gap can make the space livelier, it needs regular dusting and cleaning.
36-inch cabinets are spacious enough to hold a significant number of utensils and kitchen supplies. They are available in most households, and people love them.
- You can add crown molding above the cabinets.
- You can use the gap between the cabinets’ top and the ceiling to display decorations and collections.
- The gap between the top of the cabinet and the ceiling can be dark and gloomy.
- The gap accumulates dust and grime fast, so it needs frequent cleaning.
42-inch Kitchen Cabinets – Explained
If you are focused on getting as much storage as possible in your kitchen, 42-inch cabinets are ideal. They will increase your storage space by at least 25%.
These cabinets stretch to the ceiling and work best for a 9-foot-tall ceiling. Nevertheless, you can install them on shorter or taller ceilings.
The 42-inch cabinets offer massive storage and packing space. However, most people don’t use their topmost shelves as they are hard to reach.
But why waste that space when you can use it to store items you rarely use?
And when you need to get something up there, you can always use a taller step stool to access the shelves.
Besides storage, cabinets that touch the ceiling causes it to appear more prominent.
If your ceiling is not even, you will need to use some filler to straighten it out. This means that you’ll incur additional costs.
- It offers massive storage space
- They make the entire kitchen space appear larger
- They can increase a home’s resale value
- Enhances the kitchen’s aesthetics
- More expensive to purchase and install
- With cabinets that touch the ceiling, you lose the opportunity to use decorative crown molding.
7 Key Differences Between 36- and 42-inch Kitchen Cabinets
Cabinetry is the most expensive component in a kitchen remodel. Kitchen cabinet prices range from $2,500 to $24,000.
But, the taller the cabinets, the more expensive the overall cost. Meaning if you choose extra-tall or to-the-ceiling cabinets (42-inch), you will have to pay more compared to a smaller cabinetry size (36-inch).
Besides the initial price tag, there are extra costs attached to cabinets that touch the ceiling. Oftentimes, the ceiling is not even.
So, you will need to buy fillers and other materials, plus pay for labor costs to fix it. As a result, the cost will increase considerably.
|Type of cabinet||Labor cost|
|Fully custom cabinets||$200–$450|
Keep in mind that more cabinets translate to more cost! Double-stacked cabinets with exquisite features like glass door fronts will cost you more, irrespective of the size.
Verdict: 36-inch kitchen cabinets are more affordable than their 42-inch counterparts.
Although 36-inch kitchen cabinets don’t reach the ceiling, they have enough storage for a standard family.
The gap left between the cabinet top and the ceiling can act as storage but is ineffective. Storing things up there can cause clutter and compromise the kitchen’s aesthetic appeal.
Instead, the gap is perfect for display.
If you crave additional storage in your kitchen, the 42-inch cabinets are the real deal. They offer large, practical spots where you can store all your cookware, utensils, appliances, and kitchen supplies.
Verdict: The 42-inch kitchen cabinets offer more storage space than the 36-inch cabinets.
Ease of Reach
Are you looking for convenience and safety of use? The 36-inch cabinets got you!
All the shelves in the cabinet are easily accessible even without using a step stool. As a result, you can utilize all the storage space as every item is within reach.
On the other hand, the extra storage space of 42-inch cabinets may be inefficient if you cannot access the items stored therein.
You will need to use a higher step stool or stand on the countertop to access these cabinets, especially the topmost shelves. This in itself is a safety concern.
Items stored on the upper cabinets of 42-inch cabinets are likely to accumulate dust because they are not handy.
Verdict: Although 42-inch cabinets are excellent in offering extra storage, it is inconvenient to reach the upper cabinets. So, the 36-inch cabinets are better if you’re looking for ease of reach.
The best place to display your favorite collection of cookbooks, beautiful plates, antiques, and woven baskets is on top of kitchen cabinets.
36-inch cabinets offer the best display spot because there is ample space between the ceiling and the top of the cabinets.
Does that mean it is impossible to display your favorite collections if you have 42-inch cabinets?
Not really. You can probably use cabinets with glass door fronts or open shelves to showcase decorative elements.
Verdict: 36-inch kitchen cabinets are more effective in displaying decorative elements in the kitchen than 42-inch ones.
Installing high-quality LED lighting above kitchen cabinets is a new trend that many homeowners and professional kitchen designers are embracing.
This indirect LED lighting dramatically improves the visual appearance of your kitchen. It lasts 25 times longer than traditional bulbs and uses 75% less energy. It is ideal for 36-inch cabinets.
If you have 42-inch cabinets, the best lighting to install is recessed can light instead of pendants. They make the kitchen appear more spacious and open.
Verdict: Both 36- and 42-inch cabinets have excellent lighting options.
The more cabinets, the more surfaces there are to dust, clean, and organize. 42-inch double-stacked kitchen cabinets are more extensive, meaning you’ll need more time to thoroughly clean and organize.
On the other hand, 36-inch cabinets are less spacious and less troublesome to clean as they are within reach.
Verdict: 36-inch kitchen cabinets require less maintenance than 42-inch cabinets.
Cabinets that rise to the ceiling are impressive and provide a warm framing effect to the kitchen. They make the kitchen appear more spacious, and the ceiling seems much taller.
In addition, they provide a cohesive, finished look.
Important Tip: If you really desire to change the look of your cabinets but don’t have the money to buy to-the-ceiling cabinets, here is a solution for you:
- Use false cabinet panels that extend to the ceiling.
- Use framing and finishing soffits to bring the ceiling height down a bit.
Verdict: 42-inch cabinets have a stronger aesthetic appeal than 36-inch cabinets.
From the comparison above, it is safe to say that you are better positioned to make an informed purchase decision.
Both 36- and 42-inch cabinets have their strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, the best cabinet size will depend on your needs and preferences.