If there's one kitchen design style that can manage to please both minimalist and maximalist décor lovers, it's open shelving. When done right, this approach can strike the perfect balance between showcasing your go-to kitchen essentials and displaying your favorite décor without looking overly cluttered. That being said, we asked interior design experts for their top open-shelving kitchen ideas to ensure that our culinary corners can pull off the look.
Brooklyn-based interior designer and lifestyle expert Athena Calderone of Eye Swoon explains what she loves about the style: "It helps your kitchen remain minimal and light, only displaying everyday essentials that are both functional and decorative. Open shelving is the best way to stay organized because it’s always on display. Plus you can see what you’re working with and grab what you need at arm's length as you cook." Calderone also loves how open-shelving offers an opportunity to infuse décor into a space where you normally wouldn't think to inject it. "My motto: Don’t rob your functional spaces of beautiful objects," she continues.
Los Angeles-based interior designer and founder of Black Lacquer Design, Caitlin Murray agrees that open shelving offers plenty of design potential. "It makes a kitchen feel so luxurious, and you can have a lot of fun playing around with glass tints and mounting hardware for a truly special look," she explains. As far as trends go, Murray is "seeing a lot of open shelving in more rustic, farmhouse designs, but I love the very classic, elegant look of delicate glass shelving with brass accents."
Calderone has also noticed people going beyond the typical kitchen gear to include décor elements in their open shelf design. "Table lamps, art, or a mirror" are other unique ways to layer, she tells me, as well as adding "mixed materials like textured, smooth, shiny and matte ceramics." Yes, you can nail the open shelving aesthetic without making your kitchen look like a storage closet—keep reading for Calderone and Murray's expert tips and tricks.
Depending on how you plan on installing your open shelving, Calderone points out that it's important to make that call during the renovation process. "If you desire floating shelving without brackets, then that decision needs to be made during early renovation stages. When formulating design ideas, they often need to begin behind the walls," she explains.
Consider Your Backsplash and Counters
"Incorporating open shelving is a lovely way to introduce new textures and finishes to a kitchen for added depth and visual interest, [but] don't forget about the surface behind your open shelving," says Murray. "The style lends itself beautifully to introducing a stone backsplash, wallpaper, or tile that will be visible directly behind the shelves, making for a fully considered, layered shelf design."
It's Okay to Get Uneven
"For dishes, don’t be afraid of uneven stacks," says Calderone. "Various heights feel better than perfectly aligned. Stick to a cohesive palette."
Decorate with Everyday Essentials
You can create a beautiful display that's functional without spending a fortune on décor. Calderone explains that you can simply arrange "everyday items in an interesting composition. Create vignettes with items like cutting boards, spoons, mortar and pestle, books, and a large bowl," all kitchen tools and accessories that most of us already keep hidden away in our cupboards. For an organic look, opt for items made from natural materials, like wood and marble.
Another way to add texture? "Bring in life—plants are amazing," says Calderone. Long believed to act as natural mood uplifters, there are other health benefits of keeping potted greenery in your kitchen: They'll keep the air clean as they absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen.
Keep Clutter in Mind
There are also drawbacks to maintaining the out-in-the-open design style. Both Murray and Calderone agree that the lack of hiding spots means extra effort is needed to keep surfaces clutter-free.
"My least favorite aspect of open shelving is that they inevitably have the tendency to collect clutter over time, so in order to make the look work, you really have to commit to keeping them curated and organized," says Murray.
Those who have opted to store items outside of kitchen cabinetry should "be super selective about what’s on display and be cautious to not overcrowd the shelving," adds Calderone. "Too much glassware looks cluttered, so stick to two styles. It's all in the edit."
Ahead, get inspired by these dreamy kitchen backsplash ideas.
Claudio L. Planting Healthier Indoor Air. Environ Health Perspect. 2011;119(10):A426-7. doi:10.1289/ehp.119-a426