There is so much to learn when remodeling a kitchen. Selecting new kitchen cabinets with all the new storage options available can seem a big undertaking. However, hanging your upper cabinets presents an even bigger challenge. Do you prefer soffits or open spaces between the ceiling and the top of these cabinets?
During the 1960s and 1970s, the kitchen soffit seemed like a great way to hide wiring and unsightly HVAC pipes versus leaving an exposed kitchen bulkhead. Plans for how to build a soffit above kitchen cabinets became part of every carpenter’s duties to help design the rest of the kitchen. Besides making the perfect hiding spot for wires and hardware, this straight portion of the wall made it appear to be part of the architecture or part of the cabinets.
You would often see designer plates hanging along this stretch for an artful display. After a while, however, designers determined that opening up this space could remove this boxy structure that could make your kitchen feel smaller. They removed the wiring and HVAC duct work to walls and ceilings and cabinet soffits during the 1990s in new kitchens.
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Just when we thought that certain design standards had reached a commonplace in house construction, the overall kitchen look got updated once again. In the 21st century, kitchen soffits also referred to as fur downs, or kitchen bulkheads, have become a matter of preference.
If you are among those that prefer the architectural element of a soffit on top of these cabinets, they are easy to build. Of course, having this feature added when having new cabinets installed can also be an option. A custom cabinet maker can make suggestions as to the overall design of soffits or just make taller cabinets that extend to the ceiling.
Plans For Soffit Designs
Before embarking on the project of filling in the top of your cabinets, ask yourself if the reason is to create extra kitchen space, add important wiring for recessed lighting, or for aesthetic purposes.
Added small upper kitchen cabinets can provide room for little-used kitchen items and appliances. We can also leave this empty space open as cubbyholes to show off glassware with distinction.
We can extend the soffit area forward from the front of the cabinets to add ceiling lights. With 10-foot ceilings, this could blend well with other rooms that have 8-foot ceilings. Taking the soffit around the adjacent walls will make an architectural statement to your high ceiling. A deep soffit will require more material and add extra cost, but the amazing results are worth it.
Improved Kitchen Designs
Bringing the smaller soffit from the tops of the cabinets to the ceiling heights and remaining flush with the front of the cabinets deliver a built-in look. Finishing with decorative crown molding provides a sophisticated modern look.
Have all of your needed tools and supplies ready to start the job. Make a list and visit a home improvement store, like Home Depot, so forgotten items will not interrupt your job.
- Miter saw
- Stud finder
- Tape measure
- Nail gun
- Utility knife
- Mud knife
- Furring strips
- Vinyl corner bead
- Wall and ceiling plates
- 2 x 4 lumber
- Drywall screws and spackle
- Framing nails
Do not assume that the height of the ceiling to the cabinet tops is of standard sizes. The age of your home and how your wall cabinets got installed can present minor cabinet alignment discrepancies. The disadvantages of kitchen cabinets are that they rarely fit perfectly with the rest of the kitchen.
The back of the cabinet may not rest flat against the wall or there might be an awkward gap between a surrounding wall. The same holds with how the underside of the soffit fits. The best way to line up the soffit is to keep it straight and keep the inside corners of your soffit even.
Building the Soffit Frame
The first step is to use your measurements of the space between the kitchen ceiling and the top of the cabinets to create the exact length. You will need 4 long pieces. The next step is to make straight cuts on a new 2 x 4 that will join the bottom and top wood lengths. Space every foot or so for a brace and on the ends to create a box. Make sure that your box has ample space and does not fit snugly in any corners. Once satisfied with the look and spacing, sand your pieces and nail them into place.
Installing the Frame
The first thing to do is to locate the studs in the interior wall and the ceiling. The only way that your box will be secure is to use the studs as support. You will also know exactly what is on the other side of your ceiling without looking at the original building plans. Make tiny nail holes where the framing nails get added and transfer these measurements to the soffit box, measuring carefully. Follow the nail holes and secure your soffit to the beams.
Covering the Soffit
Great ideas for covering soffits depend on your creative ways of how you want your room look to appear. You have the frame that can now get used for creative ideas.
- line with glass doors with LED lights at the back
- add doors with panels to use as storage space
- leave spaces empty to use sculptures or pottery
- cover soffits with drywall and paint (remember to add corner beads for stability)
- add new tall cabinets that extend to the ceiling
Design Ideas for a Modern Different Look
You have many possible options for making soffits the highlight of your kitchen. The outdated look of a plain wall can make for an ugly soffit that needs a lift. This outdated look also impacts the overall look of the kitchen. Think about using ceramic tiles to give your space a brighter feel. A good idea would be to run them down the sides of the remaining walls that are directly next to the lower and upper cabinets for a dramatic effect.
Another great option for adding character to a large kitchen is to use a contrasting color for your soffit from the walls. Bright white cabinets against beige walls are lovely, but add bold crown molding along cabinet tops and paint the soffit in a sagey-green color. The room will take on a mellow feeling. Using a different color does not have to advertise design flaws when the colors work together.
A great option for remodeling an older home with high ceilings is to make an extra wide soffit around the entire perimeter of the room. That extra space can provide room for recessed lighting and give your kitchen a modern look. The aesthetic architectural detail will mask the fact that recessed lights were the only reason for the change and were added for a practical purpose.
If you are adding extra features to your kitchen that require wiring, plumbing, or ventilation, be sure to check with a contractor or building inspector before adding a soffit. There could be problems lurking that fewer people realize. For example, exhaust fans are becoming more and more complicated in venting fumes away from the house. There are also local building codes you may not be aware of in running an exhaust through the path of a soffit.
There are many ideas that you can use when you decide to use soffits in your kitchen. The best things will come from your love for color, style, and design. You may even desire to line your soffit with those antique plates that you remember from your childhood or line with wallpaper. Place your mark on your favorite room when a soffit is what you feel is missing.
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Karen Gillan, Senior Writer
Experienced Writer with 20+ years. Demonstrated writing experience includes technical writing, magazines, story writing, and journalist projects. Karen has a powerful media and communication background with academic training from LaSalle University (architecture, interior design) and business college courses. She loves editing novels and contributed to a national art journal.
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