If there's one kitchen design element that can manage to please both minimalist and maximalist décor lovers, it's open shelving. When styled right, this approach can strike the perfect balance between showcasing your go-to kitchen essentials and displaying your favorite décor without looking cluttered. That said, we asked interior design experts for their top open-shelving kitchen ideas to ensure that our culinary corners can pull off the look.
Whether you're deciding on paint colors, choosing the right materials, or looking for the best open kitchen shelving dimensions, designer tips can help answer your questions to style this element perfectly in your space. Say goodbye to closed cabinetry for your best kitchenware, and get ready to display beautiful pieces for all to see.
Below, read on to learn the best open shelving ideas for your kitchen from designers including Brooklyn-based lifestyle expert Athena Calderone of Eye Swoon and Los Angeles-based founder of Black Lacquer Design Caitlin Murray.
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," she explains. "When formulating design ideas, they often need to begin behind the walls."
As far as trends go, Murray notes that the design can suit many different styles. "I'm 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."
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."
Murray also notes 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.
For a cohesive look, match your lower cabinetry hardware with the same finish as the open shelving brackets to complement your backsplash and overall design.
Get Uneven (On Purpose)
"For dishes, don’t be afraid of uneven stacks," says Calderone. "Various heights feel better than [items] perfectly aligned—stick to a cohesive palette." Open shelving is particularly helpful for putting kitchenware on display while saving cabinet space for less attractive pieces. "It helps your kitchen remain minimal and light, only displaying everyday essentials that are both functional and decorative."
When arranging plates, bowls, cups, and glasses, stick to a system that keeps things in order and easily in reach. "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 says. She also loves how open shelving offers an opportunity to infuse décor into a space where you normally wouldn't think to style it. "My motto: Don’t rob your functional spaces of beautiful objects."
Decorate with Everyday Essentials
It's possible to style a beautiful display that's functional without spending a fortune on décor. "[Arrange] everyday items in an interesting composition," Calderone says. "Create vignettes with items like cutting boards, spoons, mortar and pestle, books, and a large bowl." By working with what you have, you can beautify the kitchen tools and accessories that might otherwise be hidden away in your cabinets. For an organic look, opt for items made from natural materials like wood and marble.
Calderone has also noticed that some kitchens go beyond the typical gear to include decorative elements in their open shelf design. The designer recommends introducing items like table lamps, art, or mirrors to layer as décor. She also suggests 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.
Another way to add texture? "Bring in life—plants are amazing," says Calderone. Along with making your kitchen feel more inviting, there are health benefits of keeping potted greenery in your kitchen. They'll keep the air clean as they absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. Opt for the best air-cleaning plant species to ensure your space feels fresh at all times.
Keep Clutter at Bay
There are some drawbacks to maintaining the out-in-the-open design style, and 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.
For those who have opted to store items outside of kitchen cabinetry, Calderone suggests being "super selective about what’s on display, and [being] cautious to not overcrowd the shelving." When it comes to choosing items for your shelves, she notes that less is more. "Too much glassware looks cluttered, so stick to two styles. It's all in the edit."
Claudio L. Planting Healthier Indoor Air. Environ Health Perspect. 2011;119(10):A426-7. doi:10.1289/ehp.119-a426