Let’s be completely frank and, um–open. Before you commit to open shelving as a design element in your home, you need to know: is open shelving for you?

What is open shelving?

What is open shelving?

Basically, it’s shelves without doors. We may tend to think of open shelves only as those planks mounted directly to the wall with brackets (or hidden supports, so they look as if they’ve sprouted right from the wall.) But open shelving may have a back and even sides, as in the shelves of a hutch.  As long as it’s not closed (by doors), it’s open!

Open shelving can be fabulous. It can be a stylish focal point in your room. (Have you tried painting the backs of your shelving? See how all my white accessories pop against the bright color?) Open shelving can be so utilitarian–who doesn’t need more storage? And for can’t-be-beat display space, it’s often less expensive than cabinets and other kinds of shelving.

DIY open shelving kitchen

In a workspace, open shelving can make a decorative statement AND keep often-used tools close to hand.

I’d like to help you know why some people can’t get enough of this design trend–and also why open shelving will drive some people crazy.  So I’m giving you some tests to help you determine whether opening shelving is for you.

Open shelving is not for everyone. 

Yes, I know you see open shelves in every room in every magazine–and for sure in photos of my clients’ homes. 

From industrial chic to farmhouse glam, I love to use open shelves where I can and when it’s right for the room we’re designing.

But how do you know if this design trend works for you or not?

Is open shelving still in style? YES!

Open shelves are stylish, give easy access to items, and most are fairly easy to install. But even that is not the bottom line. How do you know if this design trend fits your work habits, personality and design sense?

Open shelving in the kitchen

Especially in the kitchen, if you are that person who just wants to unload the dishwasher and close the doors on stuff, stop and think. You may not want to commit to yanking out all your upper cabinets and installing open shelves throughout.

  • Want to dip your toes in the water and see how open shelves work for you?
  • You could do the try-it-out method by simply taking the doors off one section of upper cabinets and displaying some items there.
  • Do you get excited by the possibilities?
  • Or do you wish you could grab the screwdriver and get those doors reinstalled quick?

Open shelving unit

Are open shelves expensive//Are open shelving cheaper? 

Open shelving can be a cost-effective way to finish out your kitchen. Cabinetry can be expensive, but open shelving much less so (unless, of course, you simply MUST have thick slabs of exotic hardwoods for your shelves).

Advantages of open shelving

If you have a little nook or odd space and you’d like to redeem it and gain some storage, open shelving there could be just the ticket.

And how handy is it to see everything in plain sight and be able to grab and go? No having to remember which cabinet the serving platters are in.

Short on space? What size should open shelves be? 

Open shelving can be a great space saver. They don’t need to be as deep as regular cabinets, so even a wall full of open shelves won’t hog space in a small room. Instant buffet, for example, without the bulk.

Speaking of open: open shelving can really contribute to a light and airy feeling in a room. You look through them, so they don’t seem to take up much visual space.

Another plus: if you’ve got an accent wall of say, tile or wallpaper, backless open shelving allows you feature it instead of covering it up, as cabinetry would do.

What do you put on open shelving in kitchen?

Take the open shelving test

Whether you’re thinking of replacing ALL your uppers with open shelves or adding just a section of open shelves for variety and a visual break, you might consider the following checks to see if you would be happy with that change.

#1 -Open shelving is for you IF–dishes and items you use every day are display-worthy.

Open shelving is the ultimate in convenience.  You can reach right up and grab that needed item. AND put it back when you’re done. The things you want close at hand in the kitchen are your most-used items. However, you may be  really deep in Paw Patrol sippy cups or first home kitchen basics (i.e. plastic storage containers and coffee can canisters) right now. In that case, you might dedicate most of your kitchen real estate to closed storage. That way you can stash your stuff behind doors and in drawers.

What do you put on open shelving in kitchen?

How do you make open shelves look good? Even just a section of open shelves would allow you to show off some pieces:

  • a vintage Pyrex collection
  • ironstone pitchers
  • enamelware
  • Even pasta-filled glass canisters can be a design element!




How do you make open shelves look good?

Test 2. You’re pretty neat.

Not neat as in “cool”, but neat as in “tidy”.  Open shelves are by definition open to some dust but if you are using those dishes daily (or you dust often), it shouldn’t be a problem.

If the thought of dust in your teacup grosses you out,

1) use and wash regularly

2) display only closed containers or decorative items on open shelves.

If your shelves are near the stovetop, your items might be more liable to accumulate the oily/sticky dust that gets airborne from the skillet–see 1) or 2) above!

Plants on open shelving

When you have accumulated some treasures that you want to enjoy on display, that may be the time to try open shelves.

Keeping open shelves neat??

Maybe the thought of having to keep it all neat makes your palms sweat. Then go for doors, absolutely.

The flip side of that dilemma, however, is this: by having your stuff on display in open shelves, you might be more likely to keep it neat because everyone can see it.

Relax, it’s not all-or-nothing

No need to take an all-or-nothing approach, though. Even a section of open shelves would allow you to show off some pieces. Do you have a collection? Maybe vintage Pyrex or tins. Ironstone pitchers, enamelware, handpainted plates. Lanterns, cutting boards, dough bowls. Even pasta-filled glass canisters can be a design element!

What do you put on open shelving in kitchen?


3. You love channeling your inner decorator

I think this is a foolproof test! There are some people (and I happily admit to being among them) who see an open display space like an artist sees a canvas.

It calls to them to begin arranging….

  • the wooden bowls
  • cookware
  • white dinnerware
  • bottles of spices
  • gleaming metal saucepans
  • earthy cutting boards
  • colorful bowls among
  • terra cotta bakers
  • the possibilities are endless!

If you delight in arranging and rearranging open shelving in the kitchen,

you’re definitely a candidate for an open shelving unit!


computer desk

Have you embraced open shelving in your kitchen or elsewhere in your home? You can have open shelving in the bathroom, living room, and beyond! 

How has it worked out?

Want some guidance using this design trend? Let’s talk!