There are basically two schools of thought when it comes to open shelving in the kitchen. You either love the aesthetic of it or you can’t imagine having the contents of your kitchen cabinets exposed for everyone to see.
But there’s another group of people in the kitchen organization game: those who rethink open shelving and make it work by reclaiming that space for design inspiration that can also be functional.
Several builders we spoke with said they don’t build open shelving into kitchens because it is a matter of personal preference and that many buyers prefer cabinetry instead. But several designers and homeowners we interviewed have embraced open shelving and love the results.
Evan Millard, principal designer with Modern Remains in Nashville, said he is a big fan of open shelving.
“I think there are some great positives to open shelving,” he said. “It’s more economical than cabinetry, it takes the guesswork out of ‘where are my items?’ and it gives you a way to display some beautiful things.”
Homeowner Andy Davidson has a culinary background and although he doesn’t work full time as a chef anymore, he still cooks a lot at home. When building their home in Columbia, he and wife Brittany wanted to make their kitchen highly functional and utilized a lot of open shelving.
“I definitely wanted open shelving because I have always felt like cabinets can be a waste of money and space,” Brittany Davidson said. “I like to be able to see pretty things.”
One thing that surprised Davidson is aside from the heirloom china pieces they have displayed on their open shelves, there are some other, more unexpected items that look great up there, too.
“We have things up there like our wok and our pasta maker that used to be hidden and now we get to kind-of show them off,” she said. “We have cookbooks up there that we didn’t use much because they were tucked away. Now we can access them easily. We also have a little painting up there, some measuring cups and a plant.”
She said she was surprised at how having things more readily available means they get used more than they would have otherwise.
Open shelving can not only provide a break in a row of cabinetry, but it can also add interest. While wood shelving is a popular option, shelving can be made of metal, glass, marble or a number of other materials, which can really add a kick to your kitchen.
“I don’t think open shelving is a passing trend at all,” Millard said. “Incorporating open shelving within millwork is timeless and will be around for many years to come. I do think a lot of times open shelving can be characterized as casual and sometimes country, but so many different materials can be used to add sophistication.”
Keys to the open-shelf look
Open shelving in the kitchen can provide interest as well as a nice space to display a number of items, ranging from dishes to family heirlooms and even plants. But the open space can also provide very visible clutter as well if not done properly. Interior designer Evan Millard with Modern Remains in Nashville recommends the following to ace the open shelving game:
Start with a clean slate.
It’s important to remove everything before you start and work with a clean palette, rather than trying to simply expose what might be currently in a cabinet that’s being turned into an open shelf space.
Keep it functional.
Group and place items you use on an everyday basis on lower shelves where they are easiest to reach. Use higher shelves to display items you don’t need to access as often.
Group items by type or color.
When styling any type of open shelving, Millard says it’s important to group items. Items that are white or cream should go together or all coffee mugs should be grouped. This gives you the opportunity to create balance and proportion and display things in a way that’s pleasing to the eye.
Have fun with it.
Millard says most importantly, don’t be afraid to include something unexpected. This gives you the opportunity to incorporate an oil painting from your grandmother or a sculpture you picked up while traveling.
While Millard says open shelving is for everyone, he did caution that scattering items across open shelves is the one way to risk it looking cluttered. This is where grouping can come in handy.