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My Kitchen Refresh: Extending My Cabinets To the Ceiling

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I have a lot of projects that I want to get done around my house this summer, and as many of you know, the first one I tackled was modifying my kitchen cabinets—making them taller and extending them up to the ceiling. So I thought I’d give you an update on how my kitchen project is coming along!

It’s been a lot of work, but I’m done with the building portion of the project. I’ve ordered new, taller upper cabinet doors that will cover the length of the new cabinets, so those will be installed when they arrive, and I’m re-installing all the crown molding. Then I’m painting everything white.

Before

Here’s the thing—when we moved into this house 10 years ago, we gutted this entire kitchen. In fact, our remodel was finished 10 years ago this month. So all of the changes I’m making now? Involve things I actually put here originally.

Another before

But I can’t for the life of me remember why we didn’t do taller cabinets in the first place (maybe that just wasn’t done back then?). So I got it in my head that I wanted to extend them up to the ceiling, to give us some additional storage and make my ceilings look a bit higher. (We only have 8-foot ceilings in this house, so anything I can do to visually raise them, I’m gonna!)

Here it is now that I’m done building them up. Even in this unfinished state, the ceilings seem so much higher. I love it! Well worth the effort, I think, and I can’t wait to see them when they’re all painted and completed.

This was a challenging project for a couple of reasons. First, I have never built anything. Ever. Total newbie here at this kind of thing. Second, since we were the ones who put these cabinets in, I remember how much they cost—and now I’m taking a crowbar and a sander to them? Scary stuff, you guys. But my taste has changed a lot in those 10 years, and I guess it finally bugged me enough to take action.

My basic process: First I removed the crown molding from both the top of the existing cabinets and the walls. Next I added a sheet of hardwood plywood to the tops of the existing cabinets—there was a rim around the top, so I nailed on the plywood to give me a flat surface that would become the next shelf up. Then I added the sides and backs, either screwing them into the wall studs, or attaching them to each other with metal corner braces. Last, I added the face-framing pieces in dimensions that matched those pieces on the existing cabinets. I glued everything in place with woodworking glue before securing the pieces, so that nothing would shift out of place as I worked.

Obviously you wouldn’t normally want to use something so visible as a corner brace in a project like this. I had intended to use a Kreg pocket hole jig
to drill pocket holes to hide the screws, but since I was building everything in place on top of the existing cabinets, there wasn’t enough room in there for my drill and the Kreg jig. So I went with the braces instead, and I think it will be fine—I’m not too concerned with how the cabinets look on the inside, since it’s the very tippy-top shelf only, and of course the new doors will hide the braces when they’re shut.

If you’re thinking of tackling a project like this, the first thing to know is that if I can do it, anybody can! Remember, absolutely no woodworking experience over here. LOL. I would just pass on the following tips for other beginners such as myself:

1) Everything has to be perfectly flush and square and level. If the new pieces you add aren’t level with the old cabinets, the new doors won’t hang correctly. And if the new pieces aren’t flush with the old pieces, paint won’t be sufficient to make it look like it was always just one cabinet. I used this power sander
to sand down any edges that stuck out a little, and spackling compound to fill any cracks or other spaces. (I used a lot of spackling compound. It’s your friend in a project like this!)

2) If you don’t have an impact driver, get one! This is probably old news to anyone who’s done any woodworking, but as a total beginner, I wasn’t aware that such a thing existed until my dad recommended one. Unlike a standard drill, it has hammering action that provides force while you’re driving in screws. It made my project go a lot faster and more smoothly once I had one. (I bought the one linked above because it works with my other DeWalt tools’ battery system.)

So there you have it—phase one of the kitchen project is complete. I’m really happy with it and can’t wait to get painting! I’ll update again when that’s done!

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18 replies
  1. Myra @ Busy Hands Quilts
    Myra @ Busy Hands Quilts says:

    Ta da! It looks great! I am so impressed with you taking on this project without any prior knowledge of woodworking. I hope you include a note somewhere that can be found years down the road. I can imagine in the years to come when the next person demos the kitchen, they will look at your work and shake their heads! What were those people thinking back in '15??? They sure built their cabinets weirdly!

    Reply
  2. Grandmasewnsew
    Grandmasewnsew says:

    This is going to look great! There was a time when I would have said, "Don't paint those beautiful wood cabinets!" but that time has past, tastes do change and you'll love the new look. I love your exhaust vent! Can you tell me if it's vented and what brand it is? Can't wait to see the new kitchen!

    Reply
  3. Unknown
    Unknown says:

    I am sure white will be fine. You have wonderful taste. But, for me, the present light wood color is warm and lovely. When I was your age, I tried stuff that required learning a new skill. But, now I'm an old (er) woman. So I'm not so inclined for that much adventure.

    Reply
  4. Brenda
    Brenda says:

    Congrats! It really does take courage to do a project like this. Your new cabinets are looking spectacular! Continue to have fun learning new skills and discovering your new desires! Thank you for sharing, inspiring and TAKE A BOW….you deserve a standing ovation!

    Reply
  5. pamela
    pamela says:

    Love this and it looks like you did a wonderful job!!!! I have been wanting to do the exact same thing to mine. I've already had the pro's paint the uppers crisp white and my lowers a very light aqua blue. When we do extend them I will let my husband do the work though. He has a lot of experience working with wood.

    Reply
  6. Aunt TC
    Aunt TC says:

    You go, girl! I'm all for having more space and making things the way I want them. Unfortunately I live in an apt. complex and I can't do what I'd like. If I could, I'd lower the cupboards so I could reach the things on the tops shelf. I'd also choose one or two cupboards to extend all the way down to the counter and have a door or two. Behind these doors would be things I use and are seen by all since they set on the open counter space. Now they could slide back into the cupboard. If they need a plug, the plug would be inside. Thanks for sharing with us!

    Reply
  7. Kim
    Kim says:

    I painted my kitchen cabinets and had no regrets about painting over stained wood or cutting into them to make adjustments to suit my needs. I liked the look so much I continued on to the bathroom cabinetry! Your kitchen is going to look fabulous and you can take much pride in doing this yourself. Happy painting!

    Reply
  8. Karen
    Karen says:

    Lee, this is impressive for sure! I know 13 years ago you couldn't get standard size wall cabinets that fit in a kitchen with 8' ceilings. I tried. I ended up getting as tall as I could and putting an extra wide molding on top to reach the ceiling. I like how you're getting extra storage up there. Can't wait to see more. Carry on!

    Reply
  9. Lee Heinrich
    Lee Heinrich says:

    I am TOTALLY painting my cabinets white in the new house. Just waiting for someone ELSE to do it ;). I'm actually shocked because we always put dark cabinets in our homes, but this house has lower ceilings and it feels like a cave.

    GOOOD luck girl! I'm limiting my building skills to my studio only this time!

    Reply
    • Lee Heinrich
      Lee Heinrich says:

      Hi! My crown molding came down pretty easily with a small putty knife and a crowbar. I used the putty knife to get underneath it and make just enough space for the crowbar, so that the crowbar didn’t dent the drywall. Once that initial part was done, then I could pry the rest of it off very easily!

      Reply

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