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Open Shelves in the Kitchen: Yay or Nay?

Open kitchen shelving has become a popular design choice over the last few years. By exposing dish ware and utensils, open shelving encourages easy access to storing dishes with a different kitchen feel. About ten years ago we started seeing influencers removing their upper cabinets and replacing the space with floating shelves and other types of wood shelves. Even though the “open kitchen shelves” look has always been more popular in Europe than in the United States, it’s starting to gain popularity over here now. 

So, is there more to open shelves than looks? Yes! They make kitchen items like everyday dishes more accessible. It’s a great way to keep functional items organized and clean. That being said, removing cabinets reduces storage space. The easiest way to create open shelves in the kitchen is to remove a cabinet door and keep the shelves open and still use a traditional cabinet box, although I don’t love that look. 

DIY Floating Dining Room Shelves

Note that this style requires a level of maintenance to ensure shelves remain tidy and visually pleasing. Oh and the dusting… Without cabinet doors to conceal clutter, kitchenware must be kept neat and orderly. This encourages regular decluttering and can lead to a more curated kitchen space, where every item on display serves a purpose. It also allows the perfect opportunity to add decorative items to your kitchen for display. Just note that, most of the time, open shelves will reduce kitchen storage space. 

Benefits of Open Shelves

Do the benefits outweigh the drawbacks for open shelving in the kitchen? Let’s see. 


Open shelves offer immediate access to dishes, glasses, and everyday items. This is especially helpful during cooking and serving, as one can quickly locate and reach for what they need without opening cabinets.

Space Enhancement

In smaller kitchens, open shelves create a perception of more space. By removing bulky cabinets, the kitchen can appear larger and more open, breathing new life into a confined area. There are loads of open shelving kitchen ideas that help a small space feel bigger! 

You can see where I removed the fridge and replaced the space with some open shelving. I love how this space functions now. The open wall space makes our small kitchen look bigger too. 

kitchen cubby makeover

I updated this space later on to a coffee bar with a few floating shelves that matched the rest of our house. You can see I added a complimenting cabinet and shelf color to the rest of our white kitchen for variety.

coffee bar in kitchen with subway tile and floating shelf

Aesthetic Appeal

Visually, open shelving allows you to display fine china, antiques, or colorful dishware, adding a personal touch to the kitchen. It encourages a minimalist approach, as only the most aesthetically pleasing items are placed on display. Most interior designers opt for a good blend of some open shelving in the kitchen and some closed cabinets for storage. 

Design Considerations

When incorporating open shelves into a kitchen, you have to consider that everything on display is, well, on display. This is true for the actual shelves too. So what type of open shelving is the best for a kitchen. That depends on style and function of the space. 

Material Choices

The material of open shelves should not only complement the kitchen’s design but also withstand the wear and tear of daily use. Stainless steel and hardwoods like oak and maple are popular for their durability and ease of maintenance. Glass shelves can add a touch of elegance but may require more frequent cleaning and are less suitable for heavy items. 

Shelf Placement

Open shelving should be installed where items are easily accessible, yet out of the way of kitchen activity. Standard placement includes either side of the range hood or above the sink. However, the height of shelves needs to cater to the user’s reach; items used often should be placed on lower shelves or lower cabinets, with less frequently used items on the top shelf. It’s also a good idea to integrate lighting to highlight displayed items. 

See more of this modern eclectic beverage bar here. 

Modern Eclectic Beverage Bar or Coffee Bar

Color Coordination

Color coordination is crucial to maintaining a cohesive look. Shelves should either match or contrast with the wall color to define space. The use of neutral tones such as whites, grays, or woods can offer a versatile canvas for displaying colorful dishes or decorative objects. Bold colors can be used to create a focal point but should be chosen with the overall color scheme of the kitchen in mind. 

Organizing Open Shelves

Open shelves in the kitchen need strategic organization. Throwing your dishes in a closed cabinet and storing it from eye sight will be no more! Dishes should balance functionality with visual appeal and be maintained regularly to keep the kitchen looking and operating at its best.

Functional Zoning

Organizing open shelves starts with functional zoning, which involves assigning specific sections for different types of items. For example:

Daily UsePlates, bowls, cups, and drinking glasses
CookingSpices, oils, and frequently used ingredients
AppliancesSmall gadgets like toasters and blenders

Decorative Arrangements

Here are some Decorative arrangement ideas:

  • Plants: Small potted herbs or succulents add a touch of greenery.
  • Artwork: Framed prints or small sculptures provide a personalized touch.

You can see how I added a pretty mirror with a few small plants for our coffee bar shelf. 

coffee bar in kitchen where fridge used to sit

Installation Tips

Wall Mounting Techniques

When mounting open shelves to walls, you have to identify the wall studs. These provide a secure anchor point for shelf brackets. Use a stud finder to locate the studs and mark their positions. Drill pilot holes into the studs to ensure that the screws can be inserted without splitting the wood. For drywall without studs, heavy-duty wall anchors are necessary to support the shelf weight. This is a must!

Weight Distribution

To ensure shelves remain level and secure, balance the weight across the brackets. This involves spacing the brackets evenly, typically every 16 to 32 inches apart, depending on the shelf length and the weight it will bear. Here is a simple guideline:

Shelf LengthBracket Spacing
Up to 2 feet16 inches
2-4 feet24 inches
4+ feet32 inches

Shelf materials should be chosen based on the intended load. Thicker, more durable materials like hardwood or metal can support more weight.

Styling Open Shelves

Proper styling can transform open shelves from mere storage areas to focal points in a kitchen. Not only do they provide functionality, but when styled thoughtfully, they offer a beautiful display.

I created a blog post and video with some tips on how to style open shelves. I shared universal tips that can be used on any open surface really. 

shelf styling tips

Theme Consistency

Try to keep the same theme when styling a space. A table to help identify theme choices might be:

Theme StyleElements to Consider
ModernClean lines, minimalistic items, metallic finishes
RusticNatural woods, vintage items, earthy tones
FarmhouseShabby chic decor, pastel colors, floral patterns
IndustrialExposed pipes, mixed metals, dark tones

Seasonal Decor

Incorporating seasonal decor onto open shelves can keep the kitchen feeling fresh and in tune with the time of year. For fall, think of adding small pumpkins or autumn-hued vases. During winter, they might feature holiday-themed dishes or silver and white accents. Here are a few examples:

  • Spring: Flower vases, pastel bowls, greenery
  • Summer: Beach-themed items, light-colored linens, fruit bowls

Lighting Effects

Lighting can significantly affect how open shelves enhance a kitchen’s ambience. You install under-shelf lighting to create a warm glow or place spotlights to highlight certain decor elements. Ways to use lighting include:

  • LED Strips: Offer a continuous light, emphasizing the shelf’s length.
  • Puck Lights: Provide focused illumination on specific items.
  • Fairy Lights: Add a whimsical touch, specifically to glassware or transparent items.

Alternatives to Open Shelves

There are several practical alternatives to open shelves that offer both style and function. If you have small spaces with limited storage, 

Closed Cabinets. They offer a clean look, keeping items dust-free and out of sight. Ideal for a minimalist aesthetic, they enhance a kitchen’s sleek appearance.

  • Glass-Fronted Cabinets: They blend the visual appeal of open shelving with the protective nature of closed cabinets, showcasing items while defending against dust and grease.
  • Corner Cabinets: Utilize hard-to-reach corner spaces effectively, often featuring Lazy Susans or pull-out shelves for accessibility.

Drawers Drawers provide organized storage, with everything in one layer for quick access.

  • Deep Drawers: Useful for pots and pans, keeping them easily accessible without the need to stack.
  • Custom Organizers: Inserts that sort utensils or plates, preventing clutter and making it simple to find items.

I use my deep drawers in our kitchen to store pots and pans. 

Hutches and Buffets Freestanding pieces lend a traditional touch. You know I love adding a piece of beautiful wood furniture to a kitchen!

  • Hutches: Work well for displaying china or storing linens.
  • Buffets: Offer additional counter space and can be moved to suit changing needs.
Storage TypeDescriptionBenefits
Closed CabinetsEnclosed space with doorsDust-free, clutter-concealed, sleek appearance
Glass-FrontedClosed cabinets with glass doorsSemi-visible storage, protected display
Corner CabinetsCabinets designed for corner spacesMaximized space, enhanced accessibility
DrawersSliding storage compartmentsLayered storage, no stacking required
HutchesFreestanding cabinets with open display topTraditional look, versatile display/storage
BuffetsLow, long storage piecesAdditional surface, mobility

Open Shelves in the Kitchen- Yay or Nay?

Wether you like open shelving in a kitchen or not comes down to personal preference. Ultimately, I think a balance between a few open shelves and some closed storage is the best option for a clean, clutter free and visually appealing space. 

What are your thoughts? Do you love this trend or not?

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