Homes built in the 1970s and '80s often had soffits above the kitchen upper cabinets. The soffit blocked off the empty space above the cabinet so that homeowners didn't have to think about how to decorate that area. Some soffits extended 2 or 3 inches in front of the cabinet to allow the top of the cabinet to be treated with a piece of crown molding. Other soffits were much wider.
Recessed Counter Lighting
By extending a soffit 8 to 10 inches beyond the face of the cabinet, a recessed light fixture could be installed at regular intervals to cast light down onto the counters, which was an innovation at the time since kitchen lighting before that era often was limited to a single light fixture on the ceiling. The soffit box was treated by many homeowners as an opportunity to use wide border wallpaper to coordinate with other wallpaper used in the kitchen.
Sometimes a soffit is an opportunity to design a creative ceiling. Kitchens with circular features, such as islands or peninsulas with a round table projection, can be mirrored on the ceiling by shaping a soffit to mirror the shape of the table area, which can add significant drama to an otherwise flat ceiling. In modern kitchens such soffits may have a mini-chandelier in the center or a circle of small can lights or pendants.
Soffits and bulkheads are still used today to hide mechanical systems if there is simply no alternative the architect and builder can find for ducting. Usually such soffits are minimized if the homeowner doesn't favor the soffit look. Sometimes the soffit is used as an opportunity to create an unusual architectural element, which happens more often if the home has contemporary styling and the architect or builder can merge the soffit into the strong lines and angles of the home.