Ask Maria: Will my Cabinets Look Dated Even if I Paint Them?

This question has not been covered on the blog so when Sherry sent it in, I decided it would be a good post! Here’s her question:

I love your blog! We are in the process of updating our kitchen.  The cabinets will be white and a new countertop/island will be installed.  We are now empty nesters and the huge refrigerator will be downsized. 

After looking at many online photos and touring new homes in the area I noted that none had wood valances over the sink.  Are they dated, or just another cost savings to builders to omit them? 

There is only one cabinet on the left side so I feel it ties it to the rest of the cabinets.  Also, there are two other raised cabinets and if I remove the valance it might look unbalanced.  If it matters, we have a very wooded lot to view from the kitchen window.  Help!

This is a really good question and it brings up a couple of common issues to be aware of, if you are planning to update your kitchen by painting your existing cabinets.

First of all, technically, yes, wood valances over kitchen windows are dated.

However, Sherry is right, in this case it DOES connect the lonely cabinet on the right to the rest, and it DOES repeat the raised cabinetry above the stove and the fridge. So in this case, I might keep it UNLESS she is starting from scratch with all new cabinetry.

Here’s an image of her kitchen.

Sherry’s kitchen, you can see how lonely the one cabinet on the right would be without the valance.

The other side of Sherry’s kitchen has cabinets that relate to the valance

Painting her cabinets some kind of white (depending on what she installs for a countertop and backsplash) will be a lovely update, but it will just look like a painted builder grade wood kitchen unless she takes it to the next level with a simple update, closing in the space above the cabinets.

You’ll notice that the awkward dust collecting gap above the cabinets is the feature that always gives away a builder grade kitchen.

You’ll never see that space between the cabinets and the ceiling in a current high end custom kitchen like the one below.

Connie Newberry in House Beautiful

Fortunately, it’s a relatively simple fix that can be done when you paint your cabinets. You can create the illusion of current cabinetry by boxing in the gap between the cabinets and the ceiling and adding some decorative molding to create a custom look that relates to the style of your cabinets.


I always recommend this to my eDesign clients when they are updating their kitchens, it just makes such a big difference.

Here’s a stunning before and after over at Remodelacasa complete with a walk through of how it was done.

Kitchen Before from Remodelacasa

And the gorgeous after below.

Stunning transformation by closing the gap above the cabinets from Remodelacasa

In the process of closing the gap above the cabinets, they also designed a lovely custom hood fan which I highly recommend. I just put one in my kitchen and I love it, you can see it here.  Those above the stove microwave fans are just never pretty.

It’s clever the way they removed the doors from the cabinets directly flanking the hood fan.

And the other important improvement to notice here is the way they installed a deeper box over the fridge to properly match up with it and closed it in so it looks more like a custom kitchen. Refrigerators that stick out and don’t fit are never a good look. Little details like this can make all the difference.

The trick is to add the right molding to relate to your cabinets. Crown molding is usually a good idea, but since the gap is fairly large in Shelly’s kitchen, I recommend that she break up the faux soffit with a few strips of molding so it doesn’t look like a blank box.

Here is a breakdown of the different moldings used in the above kitchen below.

Once you get the hang of a miter saw, DIY moulding is pretty easy. See how here.


If you search, there’s a few DIY bloggers that have done the same thing to their cabinets.

For Sherry’s kitchen, installing a custom hood fan to resemble her wood valance and boxing everything up to the top before painting would be a dramatic transformation.

Recently, I saw this dramatic cabinet makeover that I posted on my Instagram:


Given the cabinets in this kitchen were so low, adding the shelving made it look so much less like the space was being covered! Brilliant!

After {image via Shanty Chic}

Okay so over to you my lovelies and back to Sherry’s kitchen, I’m on the fence about keeping her valance now, what do you think? Yay or nay? If she covers up the gap above her cabinets, maybe she could remove the valance?

Let me know what you think!

Terreeia and I are on our way to Dallas tomorrow morning for my Specify Colour with Confidence workshop which starts Wednesday and then Charleston is next week! I’m excited!

Also I’m just a few followers away from 10,000 on Instagram, follow me here!

And I’ve been nominated as a Modenus Top 100 Interior Design influencer for 2019, please vote for me here. Scroll through to find me and hit like! Thanks so much! (you can vote every day 🙂

If you are planning on a kitchen remodel and want to make sure to get your colours and finishes right along with other important tips and suggestions you can use our popular Create a Classic Kitchen eDesign consultation here.

Related posts:

How to Avoid the 5 Most Common Kitchen Mistakes

Ask Maria: Will my White Kitchen be Cold?

‘Interesting’ to Classic Kitchen Counter and Backsplash Makeover

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  1. This is a great post, and the comments with other suggestions are very interesting.

    A lot does depend on the height of the gap. If it is large enough for a smaller set of cabs, she could have them installed, remove the valance and matching decorative cap, fill in any gaps, add molding, etc. Shelves that high, such as we saw in one photo, would be terrible dust catchers. High cabs with windows serve as a great place to store decorative and seldom-used objects and keep them visible and clean. Stacked closed cabs all the way to the ceiling give a kitchen a closed-in look. If the lonely cab were removed and shelves built, I think it would still look odd and lonely unless similar shelving were substituted for another cab or two, to give a symmetrical look.

    And now for my pet peeve. Placing the microwave over the stove looks absolutely hideous. I understand that many people use their microwave ovens a lot and don’t know where else to put them, but a cab resting on the counter would provide a much more attractive, and accessible, nook. Or if you have an island of some size, have a cupboard built in and wired to house the appliance. The microwave over the stove looks like a builder idea that caught on. Unless you’re at least six feet tall, isn’t a microwave oven at that height rather difficult to use and clean? In my area nearly every kitchen I look at online—even brand new ones built at great expense—have this awful feature. Maria, I know you don’t recommend this for kitchens, and none of the beautiful kitchens you feature have it, but would you please talk about how dreadful an idea this is?

    • I agree with you Kay but it is a 2 in 1, fan and microwave so it makes the appliances cheaper overall. Thanks for your comment! xo

    • I’ve had 2 micro-hoods and they aren’t attractive, but practical in a tiny, pantry-less kitchen with little counter space! I didn’t mind it so much there, but my current kitchen has more space and I’m trying to figure out where I can put a microwave instead of over the stove…maybe the pantry? Anyway, I’m less than 5’5″ and can use and clean the microhood fine; my kids have more trouble but that’s probably a good thing. It’s a case of (as in so many things in builder-grade homes) convenience over looks.

    • I have a microwave hood, installed by the previous owners who built the house. The bad thing about it is that it is lower than a regular hood. The distance from the grates (gas stove) to the bottom of the microwave is only 15 inches. I cannot put a really big, tall stockpot on my stove, and I like to do a lot of soups and cooking from scratch. Also the hood vents back into the room, up above the microwave, not the to the outdoors. (Not sure that is possible in a 2 story house?) So it is mostly an annoying noise maker than I have used about 3 times in 15 years.

    • I have an important safety consideration to add to Kay’s comment about microwaves placed over over cooktops. Unfortunately, I am a bit of a johnny-come-lately to this post, and it is unlikely to be read by more than a few.

      My niece had a very bad burn on her forearm, requiring skin grafting, from spilling hot liquid as she removed it from such a microwave (and, BTW, she is just under 6′ tall). She was told by the burn center, where she underwent months-long treatment, that this is a known–and avoidable–risk of microwaves placed above cooktops, or otherwise above counter level. They see burn injuries due to this misguided placement frequently.

      No matter the convenience or cost, this modern kitchen trend should be a complete no-go.

  2. I guess I am in the minority, but I like how the valance ties in with the other cabinets and the practical layout. I think it would look very nice painted white. I guess I am old enough to remember when soffits were “out” and the gap doesn’t bother me, or it could be filled in with more cabinetry if you need storage for seldom used items. A custom range hood to match would be a nice touch and the existing box could possibly be used to mount the fan. I do like existing the pendant lights and flooring.

  3. She should ditch the valance 100%!!!! The builder added those flourishes to attempt to glamorize the kitchen and it doesn’t work. Your suggestion is what I always advise clients. Running cabinetry to the ceiling makes the entire room feel cleaner, taller and planned.

  4. Love the transformation. I wonder…how would you handle this if the kitchen is in a cottage with beams across the ceiling? We want to gut the kitchen in our beach house but the house is post and beam. the ceilings are standard height but beams run across the ceiling so the cabinets float on the walls. I can provide a photo if you like.

    • Same situation in the house we are building—cabinets are a foot below the 9 ft ceiling to accommodate the wood beams. I love how the beams look, so decided it was worth configuring it this way.

  5. Maria, or rather Sherry–I totally agree that painting cabinets often is a great improvement. In this case it looks like it will take a lot of labor and expense. You will replace a fridge that will no longer fill the space! It will look off and something will need to be done about it. You are adding an island anyway? You will already be spending a lot of money, this doesn’t seem like a simple “lets paint the cabinets” cost saving idea. Cabinet painting is not that easy and personally I would have it professionally done at whatever cost your local market dictates. The extra moldings needed to make the soffit look good are not that cheaply installed either, and although a great fix it will look like a fix–the inspiration photo looks like that to me. Removing the lone cabinet is a good idea that may require a wall fix up. I would add up all the money it would take to make the kitchen updated enough to suit you. Take all that money you would spend on this idea and redo the kitchen the right way by removing the cabinets entirely. You already plan to replace the countertop which is a major expense anyway. You can get medium quality cabinets installed properly to look fabulous and it may not be that much extra at all!

    • Nancy I agree with what you are saying .
      Why not just take out the cabinets and do it right.
      It will end up looking better every thing will look new and not remodeled .
      I’d definitely get a bid for that both ways …

    • Nancy, Brilliant comment. That’s exactly what I thought.
      Seems like a lot of cash to come up with something to make the kitchen work – halfway.
      I’m an interior designer and I always recommend hiring someone to paint the cabinets professionally. We’ve had ours done and the cost was $5,000. In this case, it’d be better to hold off and do a complete redo. The wood grain is going to show through – texturally, so there is also that to keep in mind. I’d love to know the price difference between the 2 options.
      Bet it will be gorgeous when finished though – such a great space to work in.

      • I am (amongst other things) a cabinet painter. There are products that professional painters can use to fill the wood grain so that the surface is smooth. Yes, that will add to the cost, but it is definitely worth doing if one can’t afford to completely redo a kitchen with new cabinets.

    • I, too, agree with you Nancy! A client hired me to select a cabinet color, counter top and floor tile to update her 1980’s kitchen. After providing her with a few estimates to “update” I also provided her with an estimate to “replace” her cabinets. No matter how much she invested in “updating” the look of her cabinets, they would still be rundown-1980’s-old-builder grade cabinets. SOMETIMES, it is not worth adding more money to run down kitchen cabinets. (SAME goes for adding an expensive solid surface counter top!)

  6. I agree that something needs to be addeded to the soffit area and with that said the sink valance should go then. Budget is going to be the big question on how to proceed. Also, with adding in upper cabinets over the existing you have to match the overlay of the door and the door style which can cost more then just buying new uppers. However, you can add upper boxes, less the doors, and have it as an open display area. If cost permits, add in lighting. Then build up as Maria suggested, in the remaining area to the ceiling. By at the fridge, add in 2 tall side panels and a 24” depth box, same height as the current upper cabinet so you can reuse the doors on the new deeper box. Then raise the new box up to meet the level of the other upper cabinets and perhaps make wine storage or open shelf area in the space between the refrigerator and upper box. Just my take on how to use all the soffit area with Maria’s idea to build it up which does update the kitchen.

  7. Ooh, you have some fantastic examples here of how people have handled their less than awesome upper cabinets!! Seriously some fresh ideas I have not even seen before.

    I relate to Sherry as I had a very similar kitchen/cabinet configuration except ours already went up to the ceiling… We chose to paint the cabinets white, remove the valance, AND the one lonely cabinet to the left of the valance. Then we replaced the lonely cabinet with two open shelves for cookbooks, plants, and a colorful framed painting at the top. It’s so beautiful, balances the uppers elsewhere, and adds much needed life and warmth to our kitchen. Good luck Sherry! It can turn out great, I promise!

  8. Wow so many good suggestions! I guess what it boils down to is her budget. It looks like her ceilings are 8ft. IMHO putting in a soffit above the cabinets with a nice crown moulding could more inexpensively update her look! That also would solve the valance over the window because the gap would be closed. She could put a glass door on the small cabinet on the left to make it look more up to date. I hate refrigerators that stick out beyond the cabinets because I also have one but a counter depth was not an option because I had a family of 4 and needed the extra space. If she is am empty nester she can now solve that problem. Hope we get to see her reveal!

    I too voted for you and with your following you should win hands down!

    Enjoy your new group and safe travels!

  9. I love this idea and have been considering it for my kitchen…however, is it possible to do this if your cabinets are not the same heights? My corner cabinets and end cabinets are 6″ higher than the rest. It was the builder trying to make the kitchen look more custom. They all have crown moulding already.

  10. Fantastic post, Maria, with visuals and practical considerations for DIY or a professional renovation.
    Just voted and you were in the #2 spot… We all need to remember to vote every day and lift Maria to the top where she belongs!

  11. This is Sherry! Thank you for all the helpful feedback. I can’t wait to read it all. I left out some of our plans on my original question, so here is some additional info –

    1. The ceilings are 9 foot. Yes, we do realize the gap is a problem above the cabinets and plan to box them in, or add trim.
    There is very little wall in the kitchen and we may just paint the remaining walls the same white as the cabinets.
    2. The microwave will be moved from above stove and placed in a cabinet beside the refrigerator.
    3 The old 2′ x 5′ island was removed, but it fit just fine. We plan on installing a slightly smaller one.
    4 This weekend we cooked for 10 people, so this is a working kitchen. The table extends and there is small dining room with
    another table.
    5. I have personally painted all the oak in the house white and this is the last room. Hidden hinges will be installed on the
    kitchen cabinets before painting.
    6. The look I’m going for is light quartz counter tops with an island painted or stained to coordinate, but not match.

    Again, thank you for taking the time to help me solve my kitchen issues. Have a great week!

    • We also have redone a similar kitchen. The crown was extended around the entire room. It ties the lone cabinet to the left of my sink in with the rest of the kitchen. Since you are replacing the refrigerator choose one that is counter depth so it doesn’t stick out. We had a cabinet maker then close up the top and put a tall narrow cabinet to the side so the refrigerator seems built in. If it is in the budget you can get an integrated refrigerator and they put cabinet doors on it so it just looks like cabinetry.
      The best microwave I have ever had is mounted under counter. If you can afford to give up a drawer space it is very unobtrusive and easier too since you just lift the hot item up to the counter. That way you don’t loose any counter space and can put in an attractive and more efficient vent above the stove.

  12. What would one suggest for a contemporary kitchen (modern slab doors) ? The heavy traditional crown would not do…

  13. Take both the valance and the cupboard to the left away! I love a mix of open shelves and ceiling height cabinets!

  14. When my vent/microwave broke, just days before I left for a trip, I had a contractor replace it with another.
    I also had to put in a new AC unit that week.
    There was no time to get creative. And they aren’t expensive.
    My kitchen is small, with little counter space and no real options. It IS bulky (and has an annoying off center logo!) but I was glad to have it, since when we got home, a hurricane hit and my son and his family moved in for 11 months.
    We really used that m’wave!
    I’m am a widow, don’t cook much anymore but do use my m’wave a lot.
    Recently, the double ovens have broken and need replacing. They’re an unusually tight fit with no wiggle room. So when/if I decide to remodel, I’ll rethink it. For now, though, I’ll live with it.

  15. Valance must go. It looks like she has enough room to add cabinets above her current ones. They could have glass doors with lights.
    The soffit will be substantial in this space.

  16. I agree with boxing in the upper spaces. What about removing the balance and single cabinet, replacing the cabinet with open shelves with possibly a plate rack?

  17. I love what you did with these kitchen cabinets. I also have the kind that does not go to the ceiling. I’m about to have mine painted white. I don’t think I could afford the molding but I really do like them. If I had a smart phone (still have a flip but plan to get smart phone) I’d send you photos of mine. My ceilings are pretty high and I think that is why the cabinets did not get installed or made to go all the way up. I do kind of country/western décor and I have a few things like chickens and white buckets above my cabinets but I am not sure if I should. Don’t want it to look dated.

    I love both ideas that you have done here.

  18. I vote remove the valance, but I wouldn’t stop there. Remove the single left cabinet and replace with open shelving. Remove the stove bump up and replace with hood. Remove the fridge and fridge bump up. Slide the far left pantry over to the current fridge spot. Put new counter-depth cabinet on far left and box it in. Paint it all white 🙂

  19. Maria, you are #2! Top 3 get awesome prizes! Readers and fans, remember to vote EVERY DAY until Nov. 2 to thank Maria for our stunning colors that she has inspired!

  20. I would look at the cost of adding the soffit, moulding and painting the cabinets vs getting all new cabinets. If the cost is too great to go new, one option would be to have small upper cabinets built and then have custom doors made to cover both the bottom & upper cabinet. Or have glass doors and lights for the uppers. The frig and pantry cabinets need fixing. The small cabinet on top of the pantry should be the same depth as the panty and the cabinet above the frig also should be same depth as the frig. Voted. You were number 2!!

  21. I would like some creative advice about the area above my kitchen cabinets because I have a vaulted ceiling. Thanks!

  22. Hi Maria-

    Very informative post. I have vaulted ceilings and am planning a kitchen remodel. One side is very high and the cabinets are high up but could not possibly reach the ceiling and one side the cabinets hit the ceiling but at an angle because of the vaulted ceiling. What are your recommendations for dealing with a vaulted ceiling when it is not feasible to go all the way to the ceiling?

  23. Personally I hated open shelves. They might look nice but too much work to keep dusted and clean especially in a working kitchen. We put in a cabinet with glass door and glass shelves, painted it a pretty color and store everyday white dishes so it looks nice but stays clean.

  24. Wonderful post! When I saw that painted kitchen my first thought was “No way those could be the same cabinets.” I think that’s a nice valence once boxed up to the ceiling.So much better than the wavy cut out which is so common. The other option would be to extend the cabinet to the left down to the counter as a stand-alone. I have the microwave over the stove. I paid $2k for a very nice one and I love it. The height works except for cleaning, which I hire out anyway. The lower grade microwave fan combinations are horrible; ugly with bad fans. The higher grades have lovely lights for cooking, effective fans vented to the exterior, and they are pretty. They function as a second oven as well as a microwave.

  25. I favor Sherry removing the valance and taking the cabinets up with the technique you suggested. It might also look great to take tile from the back splash up to the ceiling behind the sink. Just a thought…:)

  26. this was a brilliant post. I think maybe a lot of us think if we just paint our kitchen white it will look wonderful. But we forget about things like soffits and molding, balance and going all the way to the ceiling.

  27. Personally, it’s not the valance I mind or the gap to the ceiling. The valance is there because her window is apparently higher than the top part of the cabinets therefore, it would look awkward without one. But, I think the real problem is that the actual cabinet doors look dated even if painted white because of their skirtings. Therefore, I would rather go for a more minimal approach and replace the cabinet doors with some plain ones. I would also remove the cabinet doors over the fridge altogether to create some open shelving like the shelving over the microwaves. Basically, I would opt for a more European styled kitchen with no skirtings that make it look overly styled.

  28. That’s an awful big gap above the cabinets. You’d have to be careful around the design otherwise it will look “soffit-heavy” and out of balance.