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Transform Your Kitchen with this ONE Update; Before & After

By 10/02/2022October 4th, 202258 Comments

When you hate your inherited kitchen design, there is one thing you can do right now that won’t break the budget but completely transform your kitchen. That way you can focus your budget on high priority updates. Wanna know what it is?

This is the image that started this thread on my stories this week. I had mentioned that sometimes changing the countertop and backsplash should be considered first, BEFORE the cabinets are painted.

So this week, after I received a few before and afters from my followers,  I thought I would share a few photos of an area in your kitchen that is highly underestimated. Can you guess what it is?

It’s your backsplash.

Remember, visually your countertops are on a horizontal plane so while they can be very bossy, busy or dominating, often it’s the inherited backsplash that is bossing you around more than anything in the room.

It’s what you see FIRST and most dominant when looking around your kitchen.

And if you have a busy countertop (that you also did not choose), well then the whole combination just becomes offensive at all times.

Thats Highly Offensive 30rock GIF - Thats Highly Offensive 30Rock Thats So Mean - Discover & Share GIFs

And while we would all love to customize our kitchens and bathrooms with every move, sometimes it’s simply not possible. 

This is when you really need to carefully assess what will give you the biggest bang for the buck so that the kitchen becomes a place that you can live with. Or, maybe even tolerate longer than you might think. That way you can spend your budget on other items that are higher priority.

When your tile is this busy and it matches the countertop in busy-ness and bossiness, that’s where you feel despair because it all blends together. Suddenly you start thinking, surely the ONLY good and true option is to blow it all up, right?


Here’s a look at an excellent example of how the kitchen backsplash completely transformed this kitchen design. Now this follower did make some other updates, but this is exactly what you should do to bring your kitchen from yesterday into today.

Read more: Ask Maria: Help! My White Kitchen Cabinets Look Bad!

But see how you barely notice the countertops now (above).

The most significant change (the backsplash) diverts your eye from the countertops.

And, if you can make a few other changes at the same time, you can live with your kitchen longer the way it is! (see above)

However, even this backsplash change made a big difference without any other updates to the cabinets.

So before you get all worked up about removing uppers, here’s the point of this post. Fundamentally when you update a busy, trendy backsplash for some timeless subway tile, you can really transform your kitchen in a big way, just like this one:

And the lighting and flooring are a definite improvement here:

Here’s another kitchen where adding a hood fan and some upper shelving along with some timeless subway tile made a HUGE difference:

Before you start posting comments about how hard it is to clean upper shelving, take another look. Notice how much fresher and updated these dated kitchens look – and that’s what this post is about!

Where we’re going with kitchen design is NO UPPERS, if possible.

Especially if you’re considering black cabinets!

And that’s why removing uppers and adding airy shelving works so well because it kinda helps create the:

“This old thing? Darling, my kitchen is simply an extension of my living room” look.

Grassrootines for Bein' Green Pt. 6 – Time to Green Yo' Latrine – suadua

It’s the first thing I’m going to do with the kitchen in my upstairs entertainment room (below) before it gets painted.

That’s right. I’m removing ALL the upper cabinets.

The main kitchen can be found here with all the real estate listing photos. Our possession date has been moved to October 12, so that’s when the renovation kicks in and then we plan to move in December 1.

Follow along and learn how to make the most of your renovation project!

Follow me here on Instagram to be a part of the moment by moment action!

Register here, for one of my Fall Workshops. Become a True Colour Expert, learn how to make much better colour and decorating decisions for all of your updates until the end of time! 

The first one, starts this Wednesday but there’s still time to register into my only weekend course this Fall:

October 15 & 16 (weekend)

(Friday is the last day so we have time to ship your WOW box with all the colour chips, fan decks, fabric and tile samples).

November 10 & 11, 2022

Register here.

Related posts:

My Designer Secrets for Updating Old Kitchen Cabinets

Which is Better? Open or Closed Floor Plan

The Best Update for a Kitchen with Wood Stained Cabinets

107 pins


  • Jane Beard says:

    Storage is depleted by half, when the uppers are removed. Where dies that all go? You can’t stuff it on open shelves. I don’t get this look at all.

    • Laura says:

      Agree! Most of us only have one kitchen in our homes! It appears that Maria will have two kitchens in her new home, and the uppers will be removed in her “entertaining” kitchen. I have pared down my kitchen to only what I actually use, and I still need my uppers!

    • Cindi says:

      I get your point of view for a lot of people. However a lot of people have very large kitchens, and also a lot of people have too much stuff that they rarely use in their kitchens. But I think the real secret is pantries. My last 3 houses, including the one I just built, have had huge pantries, and even without many uppers my cupboards aren’t full.

  • Stacy says:

    The practicality of open shelves or no upper cabinets is what will doom that concept for the majority of homes. Some people are building a room-sized pantry now, but that’s just moving the shelves into another area, which is less practical than having upper cabinets. I don’t care how pretty open shelves might be if styled properly–they are hard to keep clean, and they aren’t pretty if you use them the way people use cabinet space. I don’t need shelves with decorations in my kitchen. A kitchen needs to work as well as look good.

    • Barbara says:

      I have learned SO MUCH from Maria’s work and lessons. I appreciate all her insights. And the no-uppers will probably look very classy upstairs for cooking classes. The open concept is perfect if you have 6 plates, glasses, and a couple bowls. But with a large family I have a couple sets of dishes,(large plates, small plates, cups, saucers, cereal bowls,) dozens of glasses in many and various sizes, lots of non matching mixing bowls, miscellaneous pickle, jam, bread , serving dishes. Not too mention cereal boxes, cans, and cookies. Without a pantry, upper cabinets are essential and I’m only sorry mine aren’t another 2″ deeper. Also, I do not have a back splash at all. I have good paint and find no problem keeping it clean since I’m careful not to spatter on it. Between the counter and the wall I have a trim piece and that’s enough. I like the calmness of it and the counters can be decorated enough to provide visual interest.

  • Cate says:

    Haha! I’m sitting here scanning my small galley kitchen with handmade uppers at one end (a slanted wall at the ceiling), and cannot imagine where my dishes and glassware would otherwise go. Removing them may be designy-trendy, but it would not be at all functional. Friends with very fancy on-trend kitchens eat carry out. A lot of us cook, bake, eat and practically live in our kitchens, though, and cluttered shelves gathering dust and mucking up the sight lines would be horrid.

    I love, though, what Maria says about making changes with paint, lighting, backsplash, etc., to alter the look and feel till more expensive work can happen.

  • Carole Kinkopf says:

    I am rather surprised that you would consider a kitchen of no upper cabinets a “timeless solution.” I don’t mind upper cabinets and I don’t mind open shelving, but to say removal of all upper cabinets is the way kitchens are going is probably the most trendy statement you’ve made. Its impossible to even reach anything on the open shelves in the kitchens you posted. A kitchen is a kitchen. I don’t want mine to look like my living room. 😊

    I love your style and read all your posts. Your blog posts have influenced me in many decisions I’ve made over the years. This one just made me smile.

    • Vilma Silva says:

      As pretty as the first example turned out, I also noticed that the cabinets are so high up! I’m 5’2” and can’t imagine having to drag out a step stool to get anything out of my cabinets. I’m in the midst of planning a kitchen update and consulted two designers both of whom said no to open shelves.

    • Jeanine says:

      That’s what I was thinking. I have to get out a step ladder to access the second shelf of my cabinets already unless I happen to have a tall person around. I am grateful they do not go to the ceiling.

  • Kristin says:

    I wish Maria would put the before and after side by side…I guess my visual skills are challenged by scrolling up and down! I am only a two-some and really wanted the shelves….we use 2 bowls, 2 cups, 2 plates etc. I have all drawers below and lots of room in my island, but not sure it would dhave been practical despite loving the look.

    • Stacey in AK says:

      I love the before and after. I envision what changes I’d make, or I think will be made before I look at the change. But I see your point 🙂

  • Diana says:

    The cabinets above the floating shelves are a no no. They would need a ladder to get to them.
    I love floating shelves but would lose too much storage to take out my uppers.

    • Amber says:

      I actually think this is the most practical solution for making the most of limited space. The open shelves can be used for items you use everyday – and as such won’t get dusty – and then you can get out a ladder for less frequently used saving pieces and specialty baking equipment.

  • Julie S says:

    I have a family of four and cook nearly every meal and I am totally taking out a bunch of uppers in the kitchen we just inherited. Perhaps I am naturally more minimalist than these other commenters- I have sufficient dishes to get through a day and then we run the dishwasher. Ditto pots and pans. Not many special or holiday or serving pieces and just the appliances I truly need. We have multiple empty cabinets right now!
    I do think no uppers is easier if you have drawers in the lowers and you don’t find that in older kitchens really. And shelving looks better if the items on it are white or clear… people who dont curate their dishes this way will not be happy with the look. I really care what color everything I bring in my kitchen is so that makes it easier!

  • Janine Leitch says:

    I have also learned a lot about colour and decor from Maria and am appreciative! But I agree with the above comments on open shelving…do not like it in the kitchen for all the reasons stated.

  • Linda Gail Trammel says:

    I’m going to join in with most of the comments on here that open shelving is a big no no. There is no way to keep it looking pristine all the time and who wants to bother? Maybe a short open shelf in a corner or some where but not to replace upper cabinets. I can’t see open s helving staying around very long and I’m surprised to see it still be considered. I agree with the backsplash being real important as far as visual goes. And I guess if one wanted to remove most of the uppers then put a piece of art in its place instead of open shelves. Anything but that! Thanks for all the photos.

  • Bette says:

    If you have a second kitchen and it’s used solely for occasional entertaining, and it’s separated from the main part of the living, dining, cooking, sleeping, bathing areas of the house, go for it. Most of us do not have this. I admire many of Maria’s design ideas and have learned a lot here — but this post, with its completely functional but “terrible” kitchen, is just a first world whine.

    • Bette says:

      OK, I take the “first world whine” comment back (after more coffee, LOL). I realize design and appearance can be equally or more important to some people than function. IMO, the kitchen is currently clean, functional, well laid out, etc. Everything works. It’s a kitchen. But if it grates on your nerves every time you see it, and you decide it’s a good use of your money, why not change it.

  • Jeanne says:

    IMHO, open shelves are a TREND. I would never incorporate them in my kitchen. I predict they will quickly look dated. Last year we traded homes and did not even tour houses with open kitchen shelves. Ditto for houses with demolished interior walls. Many houses have been ruined by this trend. Thank you HGTV.

    • Janelle says:

      This is why I would never look at a flipped house, because in my area the flipped houses have so many trendy choices in them (I guess so they’ll have maximal appeal).

    • Kimberly says:

      Agreed. Well-executed, they can look great. Off the shelf 2-3′ length shelving reads as a half-baked update and is already looking dated.

  • Annie says:

    I took out a cabinet between my kitchen window and the end of my kitchen, and it allowed so much more light in! That said, I had a large pantry and I only removed one cabinet. I have always liked the “no uppers” look, even 15 years ago when I was just starting to get interested in design. I disagree with some of the other comments here that open shelves are going to look dated – open shelving appears frequently in centuries-old European kitchen. If a kitchen with open shelving looks dated, I think it’s more likely the fault of the other features, like lantern–style or barn-style lights over sinks and islands.

    The reason I haven’t removed any of the uppers in my current house is because like many others, my kitchen is dated in very functional ways, including the storage space, which is very narrow and difficult to fit small appliances. I’ve had to make the pantry cabinet my small appliance storage, which means a lot of smaller things now need the cabinets. Unfortunately replacing our HVAC has taken a front seat and the kitchen renovation is getting postponed. It could be worse though – someone already painted the dark oak cabinets white and my backsplash is white 4×4 tile. I don’t love the corian countertops but I can live with it. At least nothing clashes or is too busy.

  • Cherrie says:

    I have a small pantry which holds lots of food, cooking supplies and equipment. But I still need my uppers in the kitchen. While our children are grown and have their own families, when they all come for gatherings, I need lots of dishes as well as specialty pieces. I couldn’t manage without uppers. Perhaps Maria is mostly talking to those who are building new houses that are roomy and include a second kitchen, or a very large pantry. I do like the look of a kitchen without uppers, and open shelving has been around for a while now and I don’t think it’s going anywhere soon. But a kitchen is the working member of the house, and it should be extremely functional as well as pretty. I do agree with her information about backsplashes.

  • Kelly K says:

    I agree with many of the above commenters that eventually the floating shelves instead of cabinets will date a kitchen just like arched cabinets doors or trend colors. While they can be absolutely gorgeous if properly styled and cleaned constantly, they are far too impractical for many as we need the storage. Or if you have cats who think any accessible shelf is for them. 🙂

    I live in Texas where we don’t have basements, the hall closet is tiny, and there is no mudroom of any sort. That closet is the only non-bedroom closet in the house. This means I have basically zero storage on my 1st floor. I need cabinets to not only store kitchen stuff, but things like office supplies, first-aid, cleaning products, etc. I don’t want to see that on open shelves.

    When I remodeled my kitchen due to a burst pipe, I did remove the ones over the builder vent hood and got a nice big vent hood, but where we’d had a desk, I now have full cabinets and now all of cabinets go to the ceiling. They are also a very dark color (stained dark brown, almost black). Yet despite that, they feel less intrusive than before because of going to the ceiling and the break in a very long wall of cabinets with the vent hood and one cabinet with glass doors for the pretty dishes and glass I own (yet doors because dust). I did those instead of floating shelves and do not regret it at all. I also ripped out the old 3-sided, bi-level island and put in a large rectangular one that looks more like furniture with a gorgeous slab on it that modernizes the area. The perimeter is mostly whitish quartz and white subway tile to contrast with the dark cabinets and island top.

    I love it and I have loved houses with open shelves. I love Maria’s advice and she makes great points I have found extremely valuable. I just think the practicality of having them long term for the majority of people will firmly mark them as “trendy” in the future. If I had a second kitchen? Sure, I might go for this look or at least, have a few open shelves, as that kitchen isn’t likely to be used for everyday cooking.

    I agree that updating a dated backsplash can completely change the look of a kitchen, especially if you had 2 busy finishes before when drives my eyes crazy. One of the examples didn’t just do that, they completely replaced the flooring as well, which (if it is most of your flooring on that level) can be as much as redoing countertops. Oh, and they got rid of the hideous arch over the window area which made a huge difference!

  • The last kitchen could have been mine from my old house. I was I would have thought of this 10 yrs., or more, ago. I’d keep my upper cabinets, mainly b/c I’m tall and bending gets old fast.

  • I designed an open plan home in 1980 with open shelving. All I remember is having to continually wipe off greasy dust in the shelves and everything on them. And it always looked messy no matter how neatly it was styled. With 3 small children I found it challenging to keep that open plan looking tidy and inviting. I prefer partially open to preserve some
    sense of coziness and adventure in the home. Just my 2 cents!

  • Heddy Bing says:

    Wow, this has really hit a nerve with people. Scott McGillivray I know I know! Don’t hate me….uses open shelving for all his Rental income properties. Ease of access to things people use every day. Plates, glasses….While I have no open shelving in my kitchen, I do have tons of drawers for dishes, appliances etc. I think that planning your kitchen around your own life and what matters most to you, is the key. And, like some others have said, this is not a trend. Terreeia is a chef. They know what they need!

    • Julie B. says:

      Open shelving in rental property is a great idea because it’s cheap, not because it’s practical.

  • Melissa says:

    No uppers and minimal wares in the kitchen works only for a neighbor of mine who has never cooked a single meal in her kitchen. Fast food every night. Otherwise, the other owners I’ve seen must run elsewhere with the overflow, before and after eating and washing. And I specifically like an upper for glassware directly above the dishwasher. Lowers, even with my pullout shelf drawers, just don’t handle the load of a full stock. Crawling on my hands and knees is already too commonplace now.

    The earlier ages with servants and no bulky electrical appliances and foods made from scratch daily with fresh components from the garden or neighborhood market for a more limited menu with just a few pantry items and wares were for recipes that cooked all day; those days are gone. This no uppers biz is a trend that I would never even consider. I cook a lot and do not want to waste effort styling open shelves minute-to-minute. Sorry; I try to never comment contrarily as I appreciate the lessons here, but it’s just not workable for most people.

    • Melissa says:

      Let me add that in addition to lowers with pullouts, I also have an adjacent pantry and a full wall for china, silver, and crystal with some glass fronts. Also a corner of open shelves for display which I must clean far more often than other surfaces and it’s not an easy reach for that. Never going with open shelves in any way; the impracticality and clutter is off-putting and beautiful custom cabinets present such a clean, warm, streamlined contrast. We cook complex dishes and often have multiple things going at once with multiple helpers. We need the cabinets to allow two sides to be fully open as the view that allows is preferable to any decor option.

  • Lorena says:

    I think the first kitchen is very nice. Just by changing the backsplash it can look more updated, even if you find it should be changed ,which I don’t, really.

  • Dona says:

    I loved how Maria showed that just changing the backsplash can freshen up an older kitchen! About open shelving: I’ve done two kitchens in the past 30 years, and in both, I used glass front doors on two 36″ upper cabinets, no molding on the glass. In these, I keep my glasses and everyday dishes (service for 8) plus serving pieces on the upper shelves. Since both kitchens were small and L shaped, I could do this on one wall of the L, so that it gave the illusion of no cabinets and open shelving while still affording me storage. I also removed the corner upper cabinet and installed true open shelves in that corner where I display cake stands (which don’t fit in cabinets anyway), a plant, cook books and my everyday oils and vinegars. I think if you like the look, you can approximate it without too much loss of storage while keeping items that need to be protected from dust and grease under glass.

  • carrie smurthwaite says:

    I have to comment because so many of you hate open shelving, too hard to keep clean, not enough storage if you cook……..etc.etc.etc. I do not like the look of uppers it makes a kitchen feel top heavy. Five years ago I built my house no upper cabinetry and all bottom cabinets are drawers (very efficient for storage) I do have a pantry wall that sits right next to the fridge/freezer. I cook almost every day, we are very athletic family and in our house our meals feed 10 people even though there is only four of us living here. I keep every day dishes on the shelves and rotate them so clean ones go on the bottom or at the back, the shelves get a quick wipe down every other week. I have more than enough storage and a beautiful kitchen that fresh and airy and calm.

    • Julie B. says:

      The issue is not uppers per se, it’s removing uppers in a kitchen that was specifically designed to include them. Would your kitchen be as functional if half of your lower cabinets were removed?

  • Kay says:

    This is a counter to the generally expressed dislike of open shelving. I had the luxury of designing a kitchen from scratch and included both open shelving and uppers. It’s been nine years, and I still love it all and wouldn’t change a thing. Here’s what I did.

    I kept the L shape of the original kitchen, which included corner cabinets above and below the counter. I still have corner cabinets, only now there is an appliance garage in the upper, so it rests on the counter. To the far left is another upper, also with an appliance garage. (Both cabinets include at the top a glass front cabinet where I keep decorative items.) In between is a large window (sink below), which is flanked by three open shelves (on each side) just short of two feet wide. The bottom shelves carry a neatly arranged set of Villeroy and Bosch plates, cups, bowls, etc., with platters standing on both sides between the shelf supports. We use all these dishes constantly, and all I have to do is put them away in their arrangement. A teenager could do that.

    The second shelf on the left has teapots, mostly blue and white, and on the right a collection of tea cups and mugs in a rose pattern—also regularly used. And the more inaccessible top shelves hold my Delft collection. Nothing looks crowded or messy, and I only have to clear the shelves and wash everything a couple of times a year.

    To the right of the corner is the shorter run of the L, mostly taken up by the range and hood, with about two feet of counter on the right before the bank of cabinets that surround the refrigerator and include two pullout pantries on either side, closed cabinets above, and glass front cabs on top. There is open space on either side of the hood, subway tiled, with two strong fixed bars on either side that carry, on S hooks, all my frying pans on the left and all my copper cookware on the right. Just under the hood is a long bar with smaller pots and pans and utensils in constant use.

    This is a working kitchen with a ton of mixed storage: another glass front custom cabinet on a third wall and an antique bakers cabinet on a fourth. One double size doorway and one regular doorway, both with pocket doors. The kitchen is medium size, about 12×15, and also has an island, with table end where we usually eat and more storage. I entertain and have enough stuff, almost, to run a catering business.

    The mix of limited closed uppers, open shelves, and glass front cabs hold everything, allow for display, and are easy to clean. I think what puts people off is all the pictures of open shelves with a few artistically arranged items that don’t reflect how anyone normal lives. Long runs of shelves would be difficult to arrange, but the short ones are quite easy. I pick up display items at Home Goods and in thrift shops—the latter is where I found my set of Villeroy and Bosch, and every piece of the rose patterned teacups, mugs, and pitchers was collected over time at Home Goods. If colors and patterns are complementary, things on display don’t have to match. Maria helps us all to develop an eye for design—I don’t know where I’d be without her. I started learning when I was in my sixties. There is hope for us all.

    • Kelly K says:

      I think the main point of disagreement is that Maria said “Where we’re going with kitchen design is NO UPPERS, if possible.” It is that single statement near the end of her post that caused such a reaction. Not “no uppers if your kitchen is X or Y,” but “NO UPPERS, if possible,” to the point of using all caps on “NO UPPERS.”

      And because many of us know we will never want a kitchen with open shelves and no uppers, it has caused a huge reponse.

      Depending on ones lifestyle, design aesthetic, and dishes owned, I agree some open shelving can be great and really open up a kitchen (think of the 70’s style where uppers were often hanging from a ceiling and effectively walling off the kitchen from another space–that is really an excellent case of bye-bye uppers).

      But having zero uppers at all in most kitchens is not practical for most lifestyles. Maria is doing it in a second kitchen, which could almost make sense if it is not your main cooking area.

      Anyone who has a pet cat also knows that a cat would view any high shelf as their spot and the last place I want cat hair is where I cook/eat. A lot of people have cats…

      Uppers can be done in the right space and look amazing and are far more practical long term (though more expensive to install). If you live in an area without a basement for excess storage, you truly need those uppers for storage. We have no storage room for seasonal items, party items, etc.

      While I don’t always agree with Maria 100% and find most of her advice fabulous and extremely helpful, her claim that uppers are going away will never happen because that design does not work for at least half of the families out there. That will make it more trendy than anything until it is everywhere and people who hate it, really hate it, and then it will be put on the dated list of trends. It is a case many of us feel she missed the mark.

      All it will take is builders deciding to skip upper cabinets and doing crappy open shelving to rapidly twist this into a dated trend. I think once enough people remodel to where they think this is what the buyer wants and then buyers don’t want it, will also flip it to trend.

      I also think it can make sense in some rentals because A) It’s cheap and B) it lets the renter easily see where most things are located. Then you also have a cleaner crew taking care of the dust issue and hopefully washing the top dishes…

      I still greatly appreciate these posts and her advice. But she has also taught me enough to know she’s wrong in her “Where we’re going with kitchen design is NO UPPERS, if possible” statement.

  • Jennifer says:

    It isn’t often that I disagree with Maria, but the statements about how no uppers is where kitchen design is going… ugh. In addition, the tone of some of the statements in this post was disappointing. It comes across as a bit tone deaf to the reality that most people live in… no uppers and open shelving is impractical if not downright impossible to execute for the many, many, many families out there with smaller houses, minimal pantry space (if they even have a separate pantry to begin with) and let’s not forget families with children or multiple generations living together. More people = more stuff = more storage needs. Busy people won’t want to spend their time cleaning those opens shelves and whatever is on them unless it sparks joy for them to do so. Some may think open shelving is where kitchen design is going, but I’m willing to be that won’t be where its staying.

  • Geralyn says:

    Love the open look. Since I need the cupboard space, when I next repaint my tiny kitchen, I will change two solid upper cabinet doors to glass instead.
    My grandmother’s victorian farm kitchen had no uppers along the wall with the window sink and stove. Granted she had lots of storage, but the style was homey and inviting, especially with a big farm table.
    Thank you for the post.

  • Sarah says:

    I love kitchens without uppers, or at least without uppers surrounding you on all sides. Too many uppers makes me feel claustrophobic. It’s definitely true that some kitchens are just too small to go without any uppers…. But I think it’s also true that most people (or at least most Americans) could also get rid of a huge amount of their stuff and be fine. The comments on here about “people without upper cabinets never cook” are crazy. People cook seriously in tiny NYC apartments everyday without a thousand gadgets, etc. If you choose to keep all that stuff because you WANT to, that’s perfectly fine of course, but it’s possible to other people to make different choices and have less cabinetry in a kitchen that’s perfectly functional for them.

    IMO, the switch from lower cabinets to lower drawers and smarter storage solutions (and people being more conscious about the amount of stuff they buy) have opened up options for less cabinetry overall. Not to mention that when designing a new kitchen, limiting or getting rid of uppers saves a TON of money. I agree with Maria— less upper cabinetry is here to stay.

  • Arlene says:

    My kitchen is so small I need cupboards. The 1st kitchen you showed looked very nice BUT not with dark wood floors.

  • Sarah says:

    I agree with some of the comments that glass doors on uppers is a great way to make a kitchen look airy while still keeping your uppers. I have a tiny u shaped kitchen and have regular uppers next to the vent hood, glass front uppers on the other wall, and a small amt of open shelving next to the window. I put all my everyday dishes (a mix of solid white and patterned blue and white) in the glass front uppers, and it looks amazing all the time with minimal effort, even when my teenagers put away the dishes. The mismatched mixing bowls, Tupperware, etc, go in my bottom cabinets. This achieves the airy and decorated look without sacrificing all the uppers in a small kitchen.

  • Barbara Everett says:

    Well, this post certainly caused sparks! Just breathe and absorb the lesson. Remember that Maria wrote, “So before you get all worked up about removing uppers, the point of this post is fundamentally that changing a busy, trendy backsplash for some timeless subway tile can really update your kitchen in a big way…”. Maria achieved her objective as well as indirectly pointing out that a gut job is not the only solution to a dated kitchen. IMO, the microwave over the stove dates a kitchen and is too high for short folks to use safely. I would remove it before I’d get rid of all upper cabinets. I also dislike seeing a metal hood. I prefer to discreetly place it in millwork. After I moved to a smaller home for my retirement, I did not have a pantry and the kitchen was dark. I told my husband to give me a year and I would figure out a better kitchen solution. Maria’s suggestion of removing the uppers would not be the answer for my smaller kitchen, but that is not her only tool in her tool box. My solution was a different option that she offers—a white kitchen with pale countertops, subway tile, and hardwood floors matching the rest of the house. Yes, I do have cabinets to my nine foot ceilings. The uppers are different depths to create interest and I have some uppers with a translucent glass fronts to keep things light. I can store everything in my kitchen including seasonal dishes and decorations which are on the highest shelves in the cabinets which my spouse can easily reach the few times they are used. Despite not having a pantry, all of my kitchen and entertainment items are in my kitchen. If my kitchen were larger, I might consider removing the uppers, not for shelves, but for large art. Because my mantra is horizontal surfaces equal dusk collection, I don’t favor open shelves anywhere in my house. (My bookcases are glass fronted ones.) Maria is gifted in determining timeless options and solving decorating dilemmas. One size doesn’t fit all. Just receive her message that replacing a busy backsplash with subway tile may be the solution for a bossy countertop.

  • Fran W. says:

    Congrats on the new house, Maria! I’m so happy for you and Terreeia. Can’t wait to see the changes you’ll make!

  • Janet M says:

    A structural change, closing in a mismatched and non-opening window, gave me 30 inches of extra wall space in my galley kitchen. I have dated golden oak cabinets and ripped out all upper cabinets on one side, replacing them with two birch shelves. One side holds everyday white dishes, the other holds glasses of various sizes, measuring cups and white baking dishes.
    An empty wall in an adjoining breakfast nook has an 8ft by 8ft section of open wall filled with 6 8ft long matching shelving we use as a pantry. I love it. Before I go shopping, I glance at the pantry to see what we need. I use mostly square and rectangular matching acrylic storage, but added some glass canisters for useable accents. Also store glass mixing bowels that are used daily and a white turntable for vinegar and oils. A pot rack (think Downton Abbey) keeps pots and pans at ready. A quick wipe every 2 weeks keep things neat and tidy.
    When money allows, we’ll replace the lower cabinets with white birch cabinets to bring the kitchen back to it’s MCM glory.
    No microwave over the stove…we have an under counter model that opens like a drawer. I agree with previous comments on the difficulty in reaching up and over a hot stove if you are 5’2” or less.

  • Mary says:

    I have no upper cabinets in my kitchen. We put in open shelving. Of course they need to be wiped down, just like every surface in a busy kitchen. Cabinet doors get just as greasy and dusty if you cook regularly. I don’t have a big kitchen, one pantry cabinet and my lowers are all drawers.

    We are very happy with our decision, my kitchen feels very open and airy. We can all choose something different and be happy with the results without having to judge someone else’s choice.

    Thanks Maria for all the wonderful lessons.

  • Pascale jones says:

    So, the answer to all seems to be subway tiles!! How long will they last I wonder.

  • Pascale jones says:

    So, the answer to all seems to be subway tiles!!

  • ItReadsTheInstructionsOrItGetsTheHose says:


  • Suzanne says:

    Just a few thoughts on transformation on a budget. When we retired and purchased our large townhome five years ago, much of it was in 70’s style, with two bathrooms and one of the powder rooms requiring renovation. We felt fortunate that our kitchen, while not exactly how I would have done it, had been recently renovated. It had decent bones and the same mid-tone hardwood floor as the adjoining spaces. We were able to transform the kitchen by removing a wall, adding an island, and replacing the refrigerator and oven, faucet, etc. I wasn’t happy with the dark brown cabinetry and we transformed it with soft white paint on the uppers and a black stain finish on the lowers – which worked well with our dark quartz countertop that fortunately included small flecks of white, along with black, gray, reddish brown, etc. The biggest argument was the backsplash – a busy tuscan marble basketweave that I found very frustrating. My husband couldn’t understand why I wanted to remove marble. I made a deal with him, that we try painting it as a temporary fix, and if it didn’t work, I would retile the backsplash in a simple subway tile. We were thrilled to find that it was completely transformed by painting it a soft white with a good Benjamin Moore kitchen and bathroom paint. It just looks like a simple white basketweave tile with white grout. (The few people we’ve told were shocked that the tile has been painted.) The paint is holding up perfectly, is easy to wipe clean, and I don’t feel any need to change it to subway tile. Maria does mention subway tile frequently, but she has also mentioned that simple and timeless is key. The white basketweave is simple and timeless. If we update our kitchen in a few years (paint, etc.), I would like to replace the microwave/vent combo with a regular hood, but that will definitely be another battle with my very practical husband. In terms of open shelving, I’m not averse to a few open shelves but we have grown children at home and currently need the storage.

    I also want to mention that I was initially a bit alarmed by the reddish tones of the existing, but quite new, oak floors. The redness was emphasized by the previous very Tuscan colour scheme throughout the house. Fortunately, once we painted the walls greige, and added calm upholstery colours (neutrals and soft greens and blues), the floors were toned down considerably and I quite like them now.

    Note: The bathroom we are currently renovating will have a porcelain hex floor and white subway tile walls – lol. Sometimes you have to start from scratch.

  • Amber says:

    Wow, Maria made one point about open shelving in a post about backsplashes, and nearly all the comments focused on that.

    I think the advice to simplify the horizontal planes is a good one. The backsplashes make a big difference as does either straightening out or replacing the upper cabinets. The staggered cabinet look definitely dates a kitchen nearly as much as the over-range microwave.

    Upper cabinets will probably continue to be part of kitchen design, because so many people feel strongly about them (clearly), but open shelving is not a new trend. One change in kitchen design that I especially like is the use of full length cabinets/pantries (the British cabinet companies call them larders). If you have enough counter space, this is a great way to add more storage with much of it at a comfortable height. And it still allows a kitchen to feel open, because you aren’t preparing food with a cabinet over your head.

    If you are designing a kitchen from scratch, which is not the point of this point, I find it helpful to think about how much stuff you use every day and looks nice. Then you can decide how much open vs closed storage you need. I like to have my pots and and regular dishes out, where they are easily accessible. It makes preparing meals more efficient. Then unattractive food packages, additional table service and less frequently used items can go behind closed doors, where they stay clean. In my experience, most people need less closed storage than they think.

  • Christa says:

    These backsplash changes look fantastic! For open shelves, really depends on the size of your family vs size of kitchen, what you cook, how you cook, and how organized you are. I’m on my third house/kitchen and I’ve designed a lot of small apartment kitchens. Used strategically, open shelves make a kitchen feel light and bright and more open. I never have a problem with storage or greasy films but that might be because we rarely eat meat – we shop frequently and eat a lot of produce. I don’t keep random plastic cups or mismatched mugs. I buy dishes in sets, there are no one offs, I don’t keep old plastic containers. All special serving dishes and small appliances go in cabinets. If you have a large family and other priorities then open shelves may not work for you, but they do work for lots of people and look great too.

  • Oooh, I can’t wait to see what you are going to do with your new home!
    I think that open shelving in a kitchen, can be beautiful, we just need to ensure that we go with stacked plates, mugs, etc. all in the same colour. Along with a little plant or 2, they can be beautiful.

  • Marilyn says:

    The answer to having no upper cabinets are drawers cabinets on the bottom with dividers or pegs to put the things you would normally put in the uppers. A cleaner look, more efficient, and reachable for shorter people. Standard cabinetry has a lot of wasted space. Congratulations on the new house! It is stunning even before renovation!

  • Violet says:

    No Uppers is a beautiful look, BUT there has to be one wall that is solid cabinetry – ceiling to floor. That is the only way to store everything, food; appliances; dishes, everything.

  • Kristin says:

    Can anyone identify what flooring in the picture with the ice blue KitchenAid mixer? It kind of looks like red oak and kind of like hickory.

  • Becky says:

    I think having no upper cabinets is a trend rather than a timeless design choice! 😉 (Maybe not really, but it certainly wouldn’t be practical in my kitchen, and I am a hidden storage girl!!

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