36 vs 42 inch Kitchen Cabinets – Which One Should You Pick?

Updated: | Author: Brad Javernick | Affiliate links may be present.

The latest kitchen trends feature wall kitchen cupboards that reach the ceiling in a tall elegant fashion or cupboards with beautiful molds on top turning them into a feature.

Deciding whether a 36 or a 42-inch kitchen cabinet is best suited for you can get confusing and there are many things to consider. I have put together some aspects and ideas to make this easier for you.

Choosing between 36 and 42 inch kitchen cabinets greatly depends on the ceiling height in the kitchen and your budget. It also depends on whether you like a gap, ornate mold, or trim between your cupboard and ceiling. There are creative ways to create a “to the ceiling” cupboard look in a more cost-effective manner using smaller cupboards.

What to Consider in Your Choice?

Your Ceiling Height

The first thing you have to know is the height of your ceiling. This might sound like a redundant consideration as all ceilings should be the same height, right? Unfortunately, or perhaps, fortunately, standard no longer means exactly the same.

In the past, a standard ceiling was mostly 8 feet tall. This was the common height as it came from the height of the two 4 feet wide drywall sheets used to construct the wall. With modern techniques and advancements, the ceilings on the first floor of most homes are between 9 to 10 feet high. Ceilings on the second floor tend to be 8 to 9 feet high.

This makes it important to measure the ceiling height of the room in which you want to build your cupboards to ensure that your ceiling height supports your kitchen design.

Your Desired Look

The second important thing is to settle on the look you want to achieve in your kitchen. You specifically need to decide if you would feel comfortable with a gap between the top of your kitchen cupboard and the ceiling or not.

Also, how high the gap can be. With higher ceilings, the potential gap between the cupboard and ceiling can be quite large, so, it is important to know how far up the wall you want your cupboards to reach.

Here are a few additional aspects specific to 36 and 42-inch cupboards to help you refine your choice.

36-inch Kitchen Cabinets – Things to Consider

In a kitchen with an 8-foot-tall ceiling, installing 36-inch cupboards will leave around 1-foot of gap between your cupboards and the ceiling, provided that you used standard height counters and installed the cupboard at the normal height off the countertop. For higher ceilings, this gap will be a lot bigger.

This gap can be useful, and depending on its height, you can use it for storage of lesser-used items or even for cookbooks. Filling the gaps can, however, make your kitchen look cluttered and leave you with a lot more dusting to do.

The gaps are often dark and gloomy and can make your kitchen look like it is from a previous era. You can fit lights and use lights to draw focus to key pieces on display.

The gaps will have to be cleaned regularly as dust and grime gathers in these spaces easily due to the heat and steam in a kitchen.

42-inch Kitchen Cabinets – Things to Consider

These cupboards generally stretch to the ceiling and have a very small border in 9-foot ceilings. You can use a higher trim for higher ceilings. These tall and elegant cupboards do cost more and can easily increase your budget requirements substantially.

The 42-inch cupboard offers a lot of packing and storage space, but it is common to rarely use the top portion as it is hard to reach.

Best of Both Options

If you want the affordability of the 36-inch cupboard with the to the ceiling look of the 42-inch cupboard, and you do not need the additional packing space, then you have options.

You can make your 36-inch cupboard go up to the ceiling by adding crown molding or trim to cover the gap. You can select molding shaped like a frame to finish off and accentuate the cupboard design.

Another option is to make the ceiling drop down to your cupboard with drywalling or to use a soffit to fill the gap for a more rustic look. You can also add carpentry that looks like your cupboard doors to make it look like the cupboards reach the ceiling.


Picking between 36 and 42-inch kitchen cabinets comes down to your current ceiling height, desired kitchen look, and budget. You can achieve the “to the ceiling” cupboard look with both options with just a bit of creativity, or add additional storage space with a gap above your cupboards.

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About Brad Javernick

Brad is a licensed home inspector and the editor of Home Oomph. He's a massive DIYer, and loves to take on new home renovation projects!

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