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The Design Confusion of Kitchen Soffits

Monday, January 4th, 2016
by Sherry Castaldi
Category: Home Makeovers

Does the enclosed area above your kitchen cabinets (aka the “soffit”) cause a decorating dilemma for you? This area causes much uncertainty over how to deal with it for many homeowners.

This area above the kitchen cabinets to the ceiling is either enclosed, hence called a soffit, or open space.

Know that if this enclosure is flush with your cabinetry and done in matching wood panels to your cabinets, you have no design dilemmas as the space has been addressed.

A drywall enclosure, on the other hand, is where the uncertainty sets in; enclosing this space is often done to mask electrical wires, pipes or HVAC duct work. This area often is not flush with the cabinets but extends anywhere from 2 to 12 inches out from the cabinets. This is the first decorating dilemma for homeowners, who are never sure of how to paint or wallpaper the little area that extends beyond the cabinets.

They ask, “Are you supposed to paint that area white since it’s a horizontal space like the ceiling? Or do you paint or wall paper the same as the walls as the vertical space?” I personally always prefer to keep it the same as the entire enclosure, allowing the horizontal and vertical space to flow as one up to the ceiling and not break it apart, creating a striped effect.

If the extension from the cabinetry is large enough, it is a great place to install recessed lighting if it wasn’t done originally, as the light shines directly down on to the counter. At least in this circumstance, this “what to do with” space now has a functioning purpose too!

One particular kitchen I worked with had both a soffit and open space! To add further confusion, there was also cherry crown molding above the drywall that matched the cabinets.

beforeIn our example kitchen, we had a custom paint color made to match the cabinets so the eye could flow from the cherry cabinets up to the cherry crown molding, removing the contrasting color in between that created that striped look. We also replaced the white recessed lighting covers with brown so they too became less visible. No need for white circles throughout our newly painted color-matched soffit!

Homes with 9-foot ceilings often have a 42-inches, sometimes only a 32-inches, upper cabinet with the remaining space above the cabinetry open to the ceiling. Enter the next decorating dilemma for homeowners; what to do with that open space? That is a lot of open space to fill, which homeowners sometimes do a little too quickly. Occasionally it’s done with nicely placed decor, the problems arise when it’s used as an open storage facility with little thought of how it looks. It can be a beautiful display or a hodgepodge of clutter. Let’s also be realistic and not everyone is a designer with a great eye for how to display decor so sometimes even the best efforts do not reap the same results of a magazine shoot.

Since the home of our example kitchen was going on the market, we removed most of the decor in the open space, adding only a few pieces for pops of color. This allows the focus to be on the rich cherry cabinets and not too much decor above which potential buyers and Realtors alike may feel like extra clutter, especially in a photo. Consider this may also be a regional preference. How do you like to work with your soffits?


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