Open Kitchen Shelving: Practical Ideas & Design Guide

Welcome to our featured article dedicated to everything you need to know about open shelving and introducing the concept into your kitchen. Throughout this little journey I'll take you through everything I have learned about open shelving; from pros and cons, best practice integration tips, to how to go about installation. So sit back, scroll through, and be inspired!

I’ll open by answering the most common question about open shelving: Is it still in style today?

Open shelving continues to command attention as a favorite kitchen trend in 2023. Open shelves continues to be loved by various well-known interior designers who constantly integrated open kitchen shelving into their collections.

  • Joanna Gaines, known for her work on “Fixer Upper,” frequently incorporates open shelving into her rustic farmhouse designs, using them to display aesthetically pleasing kitchen wares and decorative pieces.
  • Another advocate for open shelving is Emily Henderson, whose signature style blends vintage with contemporary elements. In her designs, she employs open shelving to infuse personality and charm into the kitchen space.
  • Nate Berkus, another well-known designer, uses open kitchen shelving to achieve a minimalist yet functional aesthetic, creating a balance between form and function.

These are just a few examples of renowned designers who attest to how open shelves bring style, openness, and functionality to the kitchen. One of the things designers like about open shelving is its simple and minimalist aesthetic. It pairs well with a variety of décor styles, ranging from rustic farmhouse, modern, Scandinavian, transitional to Italian kitchens. Plus, it’s simple and affordable to integrate.

With open shelves you’ll benefit from ease of access that traditional cabinets often lack while also serving as a display area for your kitchenware. It introduces a unique and personal touch into your kitchen. Anytime you can find a kitchen design that offers improved ascetics with functionality it’s a win.  A kitchen, the heart of the home, needs to work for your family as well as look good.

Now that I’ve set the stage with some background on open kitchen shelving, let’s jump into the heart of this guide; in the following sections I’ll equip you with design tips and best practices for integrating open shelves into your kitchen. I’ll also layout specifics for the most popular kitchen styles that feature open shelves — whether you prefer a rustic farmhouse look, a sleek modern design, chic, or a cozy Scandinavian style — you’ll find valuable insights tailored to your preferred aesthetic.


Practical Tips For Integrating Open Shelving Into Your Kitchen

women arranging items on open shelving

When integrating open shelving into your kitchen, consider that balance between functionality and decor that I keep talking about. Success with open shelving in your kitchen hinges on a harmonious blend of aesthetics, functionality, and practical use.

As you look to implement open shelving, consider the following best practices;

  1. Plan Your Layout: Before installing, plan your layout. Consider the balance between your appliances, windows, and focal points. The open shelving should create a visual balance without obstructing the kitchen’s flow.
  2. Group Similar Items: When styling your shelves, group similar items together for visual interest and ease of finding items. This could be as simple as placing all your white dishes together or stacking your favorite cookbooks.
  3. Add Decorative Elements: Open shelves are an excellent place to showcase your personality. Mix in a few decorative elements amongst your dishes, such as small plants, artwork, or unique knick-knacks.
  4. Regular Maintenance: Keep your open shelves tidy and dust-free. Since they are exposed to kitchen grime, regular cleaning is essential to keep your shelves looking fresh.
  5. Rotate Your Display: Keep your open shelving dynamic and engaging by rotating your display regularly. This can be done seasonally, or whenever you want to change up your kitchen’s look.
  6. Use Shelf Liners: Consider using shelf liners to protect your items and make cleaning easier. Transparent liners are a great option as they don’t alter the look of your shelves.
  7. Limit the Color Palette: Stick to a limited color palette to maintain an organized and harmonious look. Too many colors can make your shelving look cluttered.
  8. Choose High-Quality Brackets: Quality brackets not only ensure the safety and stability of your open shelves but can also add to the overall aesthetic.

Again, think a combination of a functional element and a display case. The key is that “balance”, it should work for your lifestyle and kitchen.

Moving on, I’ll dive into the most popular kitchen decor styles where you’ll find open shelves. Each style has its unique charm and we will guide you on how to bring out the best in each. Additionally, I’ll provide useful tips tailored to each style, ensuring that your open kitchen shelving not only fits your overall design aesthetic but also serves its practical purpose efficiently. Let’s explore these styles and tips below.

Open Shelving in a Modern Kitchen

Dark gray and polished wood Modern kitchen

When it comes to modern kitchen decor, open shelving can go a long way to enhance the minimalist aesthetic that is the modern kitchen; sleek and streamlined, these shelves should be installed against a plain and neat backdrop to emphasize the simplicity and neatness of the modern design. For a cohesive look, go with shelves in monochromatic hues.

Choose materials that reflect the modern aesthetic, like stainless steel, glass, or polished wood. Keep the shelving layout symmetrical for a clean, organized look. You can create visual interest by varying the shelf lengths or staggering them.

Over everything else, remember, the key to a modern look is simplicity and functionality, so avoid clutter at all costs. In the modern kitchen less is more. Stick to displaying items that adhere to a consistent color palette and minimalist design. Think simple white dishware, clear glassware, and shiny stainless-steel pots and pans. For a pop of color and texture, consider adding a few indoor plants or minimalist art pieces. Remember, every item on your shelf should contribute to the overall modern aesthetic of your kitchen.

Last is lighting; consider working in lighting into your open shelving. Under-shelf lighting can illuminate your displayed items, adding a touch of modern sophistication to your kitchen. Plus, it lends itself to the functionality of your shelves, making everything easier to see and access.

Open Shelving in a Rustic Farmhouse Kitchen

Green rustic Farmhouse Kitchen open shelving

The rustic farmhouse decor style is all about comfort, warmth, and charm. Open kitchen shelving can complement this aesthetic by adding an element of simplicity and authenticity.

When integrating open shelving into a farmhouse-styled kitchen, consider using natural, unfinished wood for your shelves. The warm tones and unique imperfections of the wood grain can enhance the rustic appeal. Barn wood or reclaimed wood are popular choices, adding texture and a hint of history to your kitchen.

The layout of your shelving can range from perfectly symmetrical to a more free-spirited, asymmetrical arrangement, depending on your personal taste. The key is to create a sense of balance and harmony within the space.

For a true farmhouse aesthetic, feel free to fill your open shelves with a mix of functional and decorative items. Think classic white or cream dinnerware, mason jars, classic decanters, wooden bowls, and vintage tin containers. A collection of cookbooks with weathered spines could add a pop of color and personal charms.

Remember to incorporate elements of nature. Potted herbs, a vase of fresh flowers, or a bowl of fresh fruits can bring in an organic touch. You might also consider using woven baskets for storage to add texture and maintain organization.

In a rustic farmhouse kitchen, open shelving is not only practical (more-so than in a modern kitchen where items need to be carefully selected), it’s a form of personal expression. It allows you to showcase your favorite pieces, heirlooms, and collections, adding a soulful narrative to your kitchen’s design. Love it.

Open Shelving in a Modern Farmhouse Kitchen

Modern Farmhouse Kitchen wood slab shelving

In a modern farmhouse kitchen, open shelving merges the rustic charm of the countryside with sleek, contemporary design. With careful planning and styling, these shelves can become a stunning focal point while maintaining their functional role.

When choosing the material for your shelves, consider a blend of natural and modern elements. Light-toned or whitewashed wood can bring in the rustic farmhouse charm, while metal brackets or supports can add a touch of modernity. Mixing traditional and chic elements is at the heart of the modern farmhouse style.

Keep the layout of your shelving simple and uncomplicated. Straight lines and symmetry are essential. While the farmhouse style embraces a bit of whimsy, the modern part of the equation prefers order and organization.

When it comes to decor, balance is key. You can display classic farmhouse elements like earthenware pots, mason jars, and vintage cookbooks. But pair these with modern, minimalist items such as sleek dinnerware, stainless steel kitchenware, or chic glass containers.

Adding greenery, like fresh herbs or indoor plants, can bring a touch of nature into your kitchen – a staple in any farmhouse design. For an extra touch of modernity, consider adding under-shelf lighting. It enhances the usability of the shelves and adds a warm, inviting glow to your kitchen.

Remember, in a modern farmhouse kitchen, open shelving should strike a balance between the rustic and the contemporary, creating a comfortable, welcoming space that’s also sharp and functional.

Open Shelving in a Transitional Kitchen

White Transitional Kitchen with wood open shelving

Transitional kitchens blend the best of traditional and contemporary styles, making them perfect for open kitchen shelving. The versatility of this design style allows for a unique and personalized aesthetic, making your transitional kitchen truly your own.

Renowned kitchen designer, Jenna LeBlanc, says; “Open shelving in a transitional kitchen is like the perfect spice blend in a gourmet recipe. It’s about achieving the right balance between old and new, tradition and innovation. It’s not just about creating storage – it’s about adding character and personality to the kitchen, transforming the space into a place that invites conversations and shared experiences, while being functional and beautiful at the same time.”

When selecting shelving materials, think balance. Polished wood or painted shelves can represent the traditional influence, while sleek metals or glass can denote the modern touch. Mixing these elements creates an intriguing contrast that’s at the heart of the transitional style.

Layout-wise, opt for a blend of symmetry and asymmetry. Perhaps your shelves align on one wall but stagger on another. This mix of order and intrigue brings a dynamic feel to the space, keeping it both interesting and harmonious.

The décor on your shelves should mirror the mixed approach of a transitional kitchen. Classic pieces like ornate plates or crystal glassware can sit alongside modern, minimalist items, creating a visually appealing juxtaposition. Keep the color palette neutral to maintain a clean, sophisticated look.

Transitional style often includes natural elements, so consider adding potted plants or a small herb garden to your open shelving. This touch of greenery adds freshness and vibrancy to the space, enhancing the welcoming atmosphere.

Lastly, consider lighting. Under-shelf lights can not only make it easier to find items but also add a warm, ambient glow, highlighting the eclectic mix of items on your open shelves.

In a transitional kitchen, open shelving showcases the blend of old and new, creating a timeless space that’s both comfortable and stylish.

Open Shelving in a Scandinavian Kitchen

Plants on Scandinavian Kitchen open shelving

Scandinavian design is defined by simplicity, minimalism, and functionality, and open kitchen shelving is a perfect fit for this style. It embodies the principle of ‘less is more’, and when done right, it adds an air of chic elegance and openness to the kitchen.

When choosing materials for your shelves, opt for natural elements like light-toned wood or white-painted shelves. These make for a soft, subtle aesthetic which is a cornerstone of Scandinavian design. The supporting brackets or hardware should be simple and unadorned, leaning towards understated metals like brushed stainless steel or matte black finishes.

In terms of layout, Scandinavian design thrives on clean lines and symmetry. Keep your open shelving simple, with straight, evenly spaced shelves that create a sense of order and tranquility.

For décor, stick to a minimalist approach. Functionality is key in Scandinavian design, so every item on your shelves should serve a purpose. Opt for porcelain or stoneware dishes, simple glass jars, and sleek stainless steel kitchen tools. Keep the color palette neutral with whites, greys, and blacks, and add pops of colors sparingly and thoughtfully.

Adding greenery is a classic Scandinavian design move that also works well on open shelves. Small potted plants or fresh herbs can bring a touch of organic warmth to the otherwise minimalistic space.

Don’t overlook lighting. In Scandinavia, where daylight can be scarce, lighting is crucial. Adding under-shelf lighting not only boosts functionality but also contributes to a cozy, inviting atmosphere.

In a Scandinavian kitchen, open shelving is about much more than simply storage – it’s a way to celebrate simplicity, functionality, and understated beauty, all while keeping your favorite items within easy reach.

Integrating Open Shelves in a Modern Scandinavian Kitchen

Modern Scandinavian Kitchen open shelving

While traditional Scandinavian design emphasizes minimalism and functionality, the Modern Scandinavian style takes it to another level, infusing more contemporary elements and a sense of luxurious simplicity into the mix. Consequently, the usage of open kitchen shelving in a Modern Scandinavian kitchen involves a slightly different approach.

Just like in traditional Scandinavian design, materials for the shelves in a Modern Scandinavian kitchen should be natural, with light-toned wood being a popular choice. But, in the modern variant, you should consider elements like sleek black metal or clear acrylic for a more contemporary twist.

The layout in a Modern Scandinavian kitchen tends to be a bit more experimental as well. While maintaining the clean lines and symmetry inherent in Scandinavian design, don’t hesitate to play around with the arrangement of the shelves. You could opt for a staggered design or mix different lengths and levels to add visual interest.

The decor in a Modern Scandinavian kitchen should still embrace the ‘less is more’ ethos, but with a more curated and high-end look. Functionality remains critical, yet now each item on your shelves should also contribute to a refined aesthetic. Use your open shelves to display stylish cookware, artisanal ceramics, or designer kitchen tools.

Like in traditional Scandinavian design, adding greenery through small potted plants or herbs adds warmth. However, in a Modern Scandinavian kitchen, you might also consider leveraging your shelving to showcase a statement piece of art or a designer lamp.

Lighting continues to be essential, with under-shelf lighting not only improving functionality but also adding to the overall cozy, high-end atmosphere.

Even in a Modern Scandinavian kitchen, open shelving continues to be about simplicity and functionality but with an elevated sense of style. It’s about creating a space that is not only practical but also exudes a sophisticated, contemporary charm.


Different Types Of Open Kitchen Shelving

Wall-Mounted Bracket and Glass Shelves

When it comes to open kitchen shelving, there are a variety of types to choose from, each with its own unique aesthetic and functional advantages. These range from floating shelves to wall-mounted brackets, metal grids, and even glass shelves.

Floating Shelves: These are an elegant and contemporary option, perfect for a clean, minimalist aesthetic. They’re called ‘floating’ because they give the illusion of defying gravity, with no visible means of support. This sleek appearance makes them a popular choice for Modern Scandinavian or transitional kitchens.

Wall-Mounted Bracket Shelves: These shelves feature brackets that are visible and often contribute to the design aesthetic. They can add a rustic charm to your kitchen and are typically sturdy, making them ideal for storing heavier items.

Metal Grid Shelves: These open shelves are composed of a metal grid framework, providing a more industrial look. They’re sturdy and practical, allowing you to hang utensils or pots from the grid, thus maximizing your storage space.

Glass Shelves: For a lighter, more delicate look, you might consider glass shelves. They give the room a sense of openness and can make smaller kitchens feel larger. Glass shelves are ideal for displaying decorative items or fine china.

Corner Shelves: These are a great way to utilize the often neglected corner spaces in your kitchen. Corner shelves can be either triangular or wrap around the corner, offering an efficient storage solution without disrupting the flow of your kitchen.

Pipe Shelves: For an industrial or rustic look, pipe shelves, often made from iron or copper piping, can add character to your kitchen. This is great to invoke a chic or industrial feel into a kitchen.


Typical Costs Of Open Shelving

Couple buying Open kitchen Shelving

The cost of open shelves can vary significantly depending on the material, design, and size. On average, you could expect to pay between $100 to $500 per shelf for materials and installation.

When evaluating the cost of implementing open kitchen shelving, it is helpful to compare it with the expenses of other similar-scope design improvements. For instance, installing new cabinets, which is a common kitchen upgrade, could cost significantly more than open shelves. The price for new cabinetry often ranges from $3,000 to $8,000, depending on the materials and the scope of the project.

On the other hand, a fresh coat of paint, which can dramatically change the look and feel of your kitchen, may cost between $200 to $600 depending on the size of your kitchen and the quality of paint you choose. Similarly, backsplash installation costs can range from $600 to $1,350.

It’s important to note that while open shelving is typically less expensive than these projects, the final cost can be influenced by the materials you choose, the complexity of the installation, and whether you opt for a custom design. Considering the style and improved functionality that open shelves provide for the money, they offer an excellent return on investment.


Installing Open Shelving

Man installing open shelving in kitchen

Installing open shelving is a satisfying and fairly simple DIY project. 

The decision on how to install open kitchen shelving largely depends on your comfort level with DIY projects and your budget. Manufacturing the shelves yourselves offers all the benefits of customizing the look all the way down to the brackets and finish. But you can find endless choices of shelves from home improvement stores or even Amazon and you can still install them yourself to get a look your most satisfied with.

The idea of open shelves, as we’ve discussed, is simple and the same can be said for installation;

You’ll need some basic tools like a drill, level, and brackets and start by marking the position of the shelf on your wall, ensuring it’s straight with a level.

Then, drill holes and fix the brackets.

Rest the shelf on the brackets and secure it.

Wallah, you have open shelves.

However, sometimes your kitchen may require a bit of customization or renovation if you need to make space for the shelves, such as moving pipes and/or electrical wires or removing cabinets, etc. If you’re not comfortable with this type of renovation work, it’s best to seek professional advice and assistance.

For those who aren’t as comfortable with DIY, or who want a specific, custom look, hiring a professional can be an excellent choice. A professional can help design, construct, and install the shelves, ensuring they are secure and fit perfectly with your kitchen’s aesthetic.

A middle ground option is to purchase stock shelves and hire a professional to install them. This can help to ensure the installation is done correctly and safely, especially if the shelves will be holding heavier items.


Disadvantages Of Open Shelving

Women cleaning open shelves in kitchen

We’ve talked a lot about how open shelving can be a great choice for many kitchens but what are the downsides?

On of the biggest concerns with incorporating open shelving into your kitchen is maintenance – especially if you have multiple cooks in the home.

In a busy kitchen, items on open shelves can quickly fall into disarray. This is why people often choose to decorate shelves with items that are not often used in everyday cooking sessions – but that means you’re only benefiting from integrating open shelving as a decor element and missing out on all the added functionality benefits.

Some other drawbacks;

We all know dust and grime love to hang out on open flat surfaces.

With open shelves you can expect to have less traditional cabinet space for hidden storage. If you’re someone who likes to keep your kitchenware out of sight, open shelving may not be for you. Not everything in your kitchen may be display-worthy, and open shelves leave little room for hiding less attractive items.

If you’re storing glassware or delicate dishes on your shelves, there is an increased risk of breakage.

Open shelves might not be the best option if you’re seeking a limited maintenance minimalist aesthetic. They tend to look cluttered if not properly organized, unlike closed cabinets which can conceal a myriad of items behind their doors. This requires a commitment to tidiness, as any disarray is in full view. Despite these potential drawbacks, with careful planning and organization, open kitchen shelving can still be a stylish and practical addition to your kitchen.


Wrap Up

If you’re considering open shelving for your kitchen but aren’t sure it’s right for you, check out online visualizer tools to get a quick idea how it may look in your kitchen. If you like the look, start small by replacing one upper cabinet with a set of open shelves to test the waters. Experiment with different styles and materials to find what suits your kitchen best — it doesn’t have to be a complete overhaul all at once — gradual changes can lead to a stunning transformation.

Don’t shy away from consulting with a design professional for personalized advice tailored to your specific needs and preferences. Open kitchen shelving is a trend that’s here to stay, and with some thoughtful planning, it can be a perfect fit for your kitchen. Feel free to reach out to us here at Hunt’s Kitchen & Designs for more design support or questions related to your kitchen’s design and style.


Get in touch with us today, and let’s start your kitchen transformation journey together!

If you’re considering integrating open shelves into your kitchen or seeking other design improvements, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Jeff and Josh Hunt at Hunt’s Kitchen Design are always here to help. We can answer any questions you may have or offer personalized advice to create a kitchen that suits your lifestyle and reflects your unique taste.

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When you engage our design team, we simplify the very complicated and tedious kitchen remodel process. We do this by listening to what you want, then translating your vision and expression into a virtual design that is uniquely yours.

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