Is Open Shelving for Your Kitchen?

By Steven V. Philips –

Hanging shelves attached to the ceiling
Hanging shelves attached to the ceiling

Open kitchen shelving keeps nagging at me from the glossy pages of design publications. What is this no-doors nonsense? No doors? Really? Just your things out there, bare-naked? This design approach used to get me talking to myself. “Do you really want to show off your chipped, mismatched collection of random dinnerware?” OK, I may be a bit anal. But has anybody got such gorgeous dishes, glassware, canned good and cereal boxes that they need to display them like collectibles? Is there function involved anywhere in this form? Possibly, (said the kitchen curmudgeon).

In its favor, an open-shelf design approach does eliminate lots of door opening and door closing. What you see is what you can access, first time around. Also, if you are a constant arranger, this approach will be fun, knowing that your “display” can be ever changing. A new hobby for the compulsive.

So kids, now you’ll have to keep things pretty much in order, and even more so, if you have a modern, clean-line house design, vs mine. Not that your kitchen has any little bits of dust and cooking grease in the air but, there are some wild savage people who do, so a semi-open shelf approach might use glass doors. Better yet, textured glass doors or frosted ones so that what’s visible is a gentle blur of color and form. Nobody really needs to see that I stock six jars of Nutella at a time.

Skye Gyngell - British
Skye Gyngell – British

While calming myself by reading about feng shui things, I found a Rodika Tchi who was quoted saying that shelving opens up confined spaces and “lightens the energy by creating a better flow.” Now even I, who know zippo about feng shui, think that going clutter-free is a worthy thing to strive for. Evidently, feng shui advocates that your entire living space should be clutter-less. Oh-oh, I can feel my energy level levitating just imagining my feng dhui den/home office. I’ve already got some open shelving there in need of lightening.

Also, I will grant that the open-shelf concept does this: No longer is the vertical plane of the room at the front of an upper cabinet. The new plane is now the wall behind the shelves so your kitchen space will look larger. And not to lay on the “design talk,” but the change between the lower space planes (cabinet to cabinet door) versus the wider upper space (wall to wall) will make a smaller kitchen far more visually interesting. As well as spatially. Bottom line, your tiny cramped kitchen might appear bigger with open shelving. But, you have to keep the shelves clutter free.

Nomadic Kitchen design - open shelving
Nomadic Kitchen design – open shelving

However, even though I may be willing to give up some ground on your “upper” spaces, it will be a snowy day on the Caloosatchee River before I give an inch on not using drawers below the counter. I have my limits. Observe my advice for good looking open shelving:


  • Please don’t put an object every twelve inches with empty space between, because then your open shelves are going to look like your seven-year-old’s first-teeth-missing mouth. Conversely, too many things are overbearing. Your kitchen is not a supermarket shelf.
  • Grouping all plates on one shelf and the glass/stemware on the next is not so great. Repeat after me, think balance but/and repetition. For example, on shelf number one the dishes go to left, and glassware to the right. On shelf number two, do the opposite. Larger pieces are interspersed with smaller ones. Fill-in with baskets that will also hold itty-bitty items. To get good that this may take many hours. Take a course in feng shui.
Valcucine Logica Kitchen System
Valcucine Logica Kitchen System
  • Experts state three colors are enough. Tough as this is, too many colors may indicate that you run a clown school. This is not a slur concerning your lovely children or spouse.
  • If you have some really neato serving pieces to show, great. In fact, since a lot of the daily plates are in the dish washer maybe you should think about displaying just serving pieces on kitchen open shelving. Nobody is seeing my Nutella collection.



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