How to measure and design closets and cabinets to ceiling using crown moulding — with spectacular results!
Custom closets and cabinets offer the owner many opportunities to tailor-make the storage to suit their own home and needs. One such opportunity is the ability to run the cabinets, shelving, and even hanging rods to the ceiling. The best way to create a storage system with a furniture quality look that goes all the way to the ceiling is by using crown moulding for cabinets and closets.
A standard closet system is 84-inches. These standard closets and cabinets stop short of the ceiling so that the top of the unit can be used as an additional storage shelf. However, some people want their storage to take advantage of every usable inch. Therefore, they run the cabinets and closet systems to the full 96-inches.
This can be tricky, as ceilings, like walls, are rarely perfectly straight. Proper measuring is critical to make it work.
How to Measure
Measure the distance between the floor and the ceiling as you would a wall — in a minimum of three places. Measure on each side and also in the middle. When you take the middle measurement, make sure you are measuring in a straight, not angled line by using your tape measure to come out the proper distance along the ceiling and then along the floor. You may want measure in more than 3 places for ceiling height if the wall is more than 8 feet long and you plan to run your cabinet up to the ceiling. Always use the shortest measurement for your height.
How to Determine Height of Cabinet or Closet
When we build to the ceiling, we usually stop our cabinets and organization systems about 2-5 inches shy of the ceiling and cover the gap using crown moulding. The amount of space you need to leave open will depend on the size and profile of the crown you select. The moulding is installed on-site after the cabinets are in place. It is relatively easy to adjust the moulding to conform to a slightly slanted ceiling. If the ceiling has dips, it is easier to scribe the moulding rather than the cabinet. Cabinets and closet systems are usually cut in a factory to exact measurements and will always be at exactly 90-degree angle from the floor (If the floor is irregular, use shims).
If ceiling irregularities are slight, you can caulk rather than scribe the moulding. If irregularities are quite severe, do not build your storage system flush to the ceiling. It is better to design your cabinets a little shorter. Leave an intentional space of 2 or more inches between the top of the moulding and the ceiling. This gap will draw less attention to a severe irregular pitch than any attempt to caulk or scribe.
For more information on measuring, please consult our Measuring Guidelines page.
How to Install Crown Moulding on Top of a Cabinet or Closet
There are two ways to install crown moulding depending on whether you are working with a suspension rail or other system for securing the storage system to the wall and studs.
Cabinets and Closets with a Suspension RailIn order to hide the rail and suspension brackets, 4-inch crown must be used. To hide the rail that supports the closet or cabinet, design the vertical panels to extend 4-inches above the rail. The top shelf or top of the cabinet should sit just below the rail. Attach a cleat to the top front of the storage system, hiding the rail from view. Nail the crown to the front edge of the vertical panels and cleat using pin nails.
Use an L-Valance for Cabinets and Closets without a Suspension RailIf hiding a suspension rail is not a concern, use the L-valance method to install your crown moulding. With this method, the top of the cabinet runs to the top edge of the vertical panels, just as with a piece of furniture. Make an L-shaped valance out of two wooden cleats. The front of the “L” should extend 1/8-inch below the bottom of the “L.” (See diagram below). Attach the horizontal part of the “L” to the top of your cabinet. Push your crown moulding to the ceiling and attach to the vertical part of the “L.”
If you want a very modern look, use flat crown. Flat crown is basically a wooden cleat/piece of wood that is similar to but thinner than the standard 2×4. You will get a better result with your flat crown if your stair step two or more smaller pieces of flat crown. Scribe or caulk to the ceiling if you don’t want to see any gap.
It takes a little more time to install a closet or cabinet with crown moulding, but the result is worth the effort. Your cabinet or closet will have the look of a fine piece of built-in furniture. You will also gain more storage by extending beyond the standard 84-inch closet system. Whether you are going for looks or simple practicality, you’re sure to win when you design your closets and cabinets to the ceiling using crown moulding.