Open shelving has been a hot trend in home design over the past couple of years. No cupboard doors to hide behind, just open space for all of your things to shine … or not.
In magazines and well-staged homes, open shelving looks lovely—so sleek, airy, and stylish—but a peek into your own cluttered cupboards may have you cringing at the thought of letting it all hang out in the open. If you can’t ever imagine putting all the chaos in there on display for everyone to see, you’re not alone.
Open shelving can be intimidating, and it’s not for everyone. Here are some things to help you decide if you’re ready for all that exposure.
The upsides of open kitchen shelving
Karl Champley, a National Kitchen and Bath Association–certified master builder based out of Los Angeles, says that open kitchen shelving is actually practical, providing easy access to items while cooking and entertaining. But it also has the added perk of allowing clients to express, rather than hide, their tastes—for fine china, cute mugs, and more.
“When decorated correctly, it adds a punch to the kitchen,” he says.
Photo by S+H Construction
It’s also a great opportunity to sort through your kitchen things and keep only what you really need. “Remember, the less you have in the kitchen, the more efficient cooking will be,” he explains.
The downsides of open kitchen shelving
If you’re not into organizing or dusting, open shelving may not be for you.
“If you don’t keep it tidy, it can make the kitchen appear messy overall,” Champley says.
Jack Menashe of Menashe Design in New York believes it’s a trend people will tire of sooner rather than later.
“It’s difficult to keep items out in the open with no hiding behind doors,” he says. “It becomes a clutter issue if it’s not managed correctly.”
He also says open shelving takes away an element of design that you can get when there are cabinets with handles and knobs to add style.
Open kitchen shelving done right
Menashe says that to make open shelving look right, you have to “merchandise” items much like a store would, with everything matching and lined up neatly.
“You can’t have six kinds of different glasses together; they have to match,” he says. Also, adding little things like a colorful candle or a vase with a single flower can make the space pop.
Champley also suggests considering the material behind open shelving, like brick, to bring exterior elements into the kitchen design.
“It enables the kitchen to flow more comfortably with other spaces, and softens the overall look of the space,” he explains.
Photo by Houzz.com
The quality of workmanship for the shelving is vital, too.
“The workmanship needs to be perfect, as it will be seen and exposed,” he says. “This includes direction of veneer/grain and edge finish.”
What should you put on open kitchen shelves?
Nina Ward, an interior designer and regional director of ShelfGenie, suggests telling a story with your shelves.
“Build your shelves around a design story, whether that’s displaying your china or antique collection of tins,” she says.
“This space needs to be staged like an illuminated niche, and include items that complement the kitchen or say something about you in a minimal way,” adds Champley. Minimal being key.
Photo by CustomMade.com
Other open kitchen shelving tips
- Make sure the shelves are at a height that works for you and your space. Too high, and you can’t reach them; too low, they’ll cramp your food prep efforts.
- Keep functional and frequently used items on lower shelves.
- A small edge detail/lip on shelving can prevent items from rolling off.
- To lighten things up further, install illumination at the top and/or bottom of the shelves.
- Tempered glass shelves enable light to travel through each shelf for an even airier look.