Running Frameless Cabinets to the Ceiling

The ceiling joint is a tricky detail for full-height frameless upper cabinets. Here, pros suggest ways to handle it. August 29, 2005

We will soon be making my own set of frameless cabinets. The Architect calls for 42-inch uppers to go to the ceiling. I know the ceiling is anything but flat and level. I would like to know how everyone handles the install. At this point I assume you leave the cabinet a couple inches below the ceiling and then use filler scribed between the top of the cabinets and ceiling? I’m also thinking with and 8’ ceiling. Should I make the boxes a couple inches short to maintain the correct spacing between the counter top and the bottom of the upper cabinets? Any help is appreciated.

Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From contributor B:
Running Frameless Cabinets to the Ceiling with euro style cabs use a 5/8 starter strip at ceiling scribe it level and butt your cabs to the strip. Make sure to set the strip back from the edge of the cabs leave an 1/8 to 1/4 reveal looks better than flush. If the ceiling heights are right your 42" uppers should be 54" off the floor give or take a little.

From contributor R:
I set the cabs 1" short of the ceiling. I also build them so that the door overlay on the top is only 3/8" and add a strip to the top of the cab for a nailer. Then I fill between the top of the door to the ceiling with a 1 5/16" wide strip scribed to fit the ceiling. The strip face is flush with the door faces when done. It looks really nice and clean with the continuous strip along the top. And the doors don't rub on top if the ceiling dips really badly.

From contributor K:
What kind of ceiling are you doing - drywall or suspended acoustic tile?

From the original questioner:
It’s a drywall ceiling.

From contributor K:
You can figure that drywall on a wood stud ceiling will probably be drooping 1/4" from the wall to the front of your cabinets. You'll probably have up to a 1/2" "speed bump" or two on the front of your cabinets where a warped joist is. And keep in mind, if you don't hold the doors at least 1/2" short of the ceiling one or two of them might not open without hitting the ceiling.

With all that in mind, holding your cabs at least 3/4" short is a good idea. You can leave the top open, tell the architect that's "True Euro" (a la Dario) and see if he buys it. Show that detail on your approval set, and hope he signs it off. If not, you are cutting fillers and scribing them in. Holding them back 1/8" or so does look better than trying to flush them, as Bill said earlier.

Another thing to think about - since drywall ceilings are anything but level, the smaller you try to make the reveal between the cabinets and ceiling, the more obvious the defects in the ceiling become. That is why you hardly ever see cabinets going all the way to a drywall ceiling. A two or three inch reveals, on the other hand, and the variations in the ceiling are hardly noticeable. Fill that space with a fascia board and crown for a traditional look.

You do see cabinets tight to the ceiling in commercial applications frequently, but usually that is with a suspended acoustic ceiling. That is another beast. Since suspended ceilings are flexible, you can run your cabinets very close to the ceiling and use shims on top of the cabinets to level it to the cabinets.