What Do You Think? – Open Kitchen Shelves


One of the projects we’ve got lined up for this year is remodelling our horrible downstairs kitchen. 

The good news is that we have two kitchens in this house.  The bad news is that they’re each as ugly as each other – the downstairs one is a relic from the seventies, complete with crumbling cabinets, laminate countertops, ancient linoleum, probably an asbestos problem. I’ll show you pictures one day when I’m feeling especially mean.

I’m starting to consider design ideas and am very tempted to include lots of open shelves. They look good and of course are WAY cheaper than cabinets. openkitchenshelves

From a gorgeous house tour on Design Sponge. My kitchen is NEVER this neat..


I’m loving these open steel shelves shown in last month’s Livingetc. I suspect they only look this good though, because they’re carrying half a ton of gorgeous vintage tea plates and spoons.




Source unknown.  Love the juxtapostion of white shelves with dark wood counter tops.




I could never keep shelves as tidy and uncluttered as these. From a this tour on Houzz.




It would be nice to have a least some of my two hundred and fifty-odd cookbooks on display. From The Kitchn.


I am, however, intrigued to know what open shelves are like to live with.  How easy is it to keep everything clean?  Do you have to go out and buy tons of fancy plates and crockery to make them look good?  (This is not necessarily a problem).  Is it easy to keep them tidy or do they end up with piles of stuff just shoved on them? What are your tips and tricks for keeping them organised?

Tell me all your deepest, darkest, most sordid secrets.  No one reads this blog anyway.




The above is from the Seattle house of the architects we’re hoping to use, which I previously blogged about here.




This pantry makes my inner Martha squee with delight.  However I have more chance of flying to the moon than achieving such perfection. From here.



  1. Jill says

    I’ve had open shelves in 2 kitchens. When I had the chance to remodel from scratch (2 other kitchens), I didn’t choose them. I’m a messy baker, so my glass jars of flour & sugar tend to collect flecks of cake batter etc–not good for display. None of my dishes particularly merit display, either, and I would never buy stuff just to look pretty on a shelf. Overall, I feel like my kitchen tends to be rather cluttered as is, so opaque cabinet doors are my go-to choice. I also don’t like overhead pot racks, though. I do have a couple of small shelves over the booth in the current kitchen, where I display my odd bits of kitchen “art”–mainly fish, bird and pig bones. I mention this so you’ll know I might have weird ideas about what looks good in a kitchen!
    My open shelves over the living room bar seem to always be in need of dusting, even the day after I dusted. I still love them, so clearly I’m not universally against open shelves.

  2. says

    OK I totally have some Thoughts on open shelves. I adore how they look in magazines, but have real-world gripes with them.
    First of all, unless you have a top notch exhaust fan, your kitchen has quite a bit of vaporized grease floating around when you cook. Open shelves means that everything gets a fine film on it, which then attracts a layer of dust. So anything you don’t use daily or weekly will be dirty next time you pull it down from the shelf.
    Secondly, unless you do a radically tight edit on your dishes, these will look cluttered. One of the main purposes of cupboard doors is to hide the mess. The spices, the cans, the mismatched mugs. Unless you have picture perfect matching everything it will feel like a jumble.

  3. says

    I had open shelving for years. I love it! I would suggest one cupboard that you can keep your crystal in so the flour particles and grease won’t get to it. But, I’m a TOTAL fan of open shelving and plan on putting in my Port Angeles kitchen as well.

  4. susan says

    The potential for dust accumulation is too much for me. Also I think you are very neat and organized they are likely to look cluttered.

  5. Perlla Fonvielle says

    I am not sure those kitchens look like people cook in them. I love the look, but as I am often in the kitchen cooking, I find helpful to have cabinets to hide what I did not have time to clean or organize.

  6. jannine says

    We remodeled our kitchen, top to bottom, knocked down walls and really customized to fit our needs. We had way more cabinets and drawers than I ever could have filled (but did, pretty easily it turned out). Then… we moved. Our new kitchen has 4 (yes, really) drawers. Total. The only cabinets we have are lower cabinets – everything else is completely open. I am not a neat & tidy person and thought this would only be a disaster, but I am really loving it. Everything I use on a daily (or weekly) basis is out and always within reach. Things that are out of reach I likely would have had to wash before using anyway just because of the length of time between uses. We had to really pare down all the “stuff” we’d collected, but I think all for good.
    So, to answer your question, I think having open shelves is actually fantastic and not that high-maintenance as long as you edit first and use what you have out. 🙂
    good luck! can’t wait to see & read about your remodel adventures

  7. Maggi says

    We have open shelving in the kitchen of our loft and I loathe it, for all of the reasons people have already listed above! I can’t wait to have proper cabinets and pantry space again.

  8. says

    I LOVE open shelving in kitchens, I literally have hundreds of images of them in my “kitchen inspiration” folder, unfortunately I’m in a rental now but would love some day to have a fab white kitchen with cupboards blow for all the messy looking craps like steamers, lunch boxes etc and then open shelving on top for all my lovely vintage kitchenware, sigh…

  9. Jo says

    I love open shelves, esp with the white brick / tiles and dark wood counters in some of the photos in your post. I prefer the fixed shelving than the freestanding shelves – I’d be scared the whole thing could come crashing down!

  10. camilla says

    Forget the shelves – I have a bunch of tulips in my sink even as I type which I WAS intending to put into a vase on the table….apparently not.

  11. says

    I love mine, I was a bit worried about dirt etc but it’s not been a problem. But everything is more accessible and I can’t hoard things I don’t really need/want. I already own all white crockery so if it gets broken I can cheaply and easy replace it and it looks lovely on the shelves.
    I’m now thinking of ditching what’s left of my upper cupboards now too, as to me they just seem to be sucking light and holding tons of crap I don’t really need anymore – but is hard to get to. Here’s a link to my post about it: http://violetposy.co.uk/2011/01/03/update-the-small-kitchen-makeover/
    Good luck choosing 🙂 x

  12. says

    Well, it can work, but you need to do a bit of maintenance on it. Since everything is out there to be seen, you need to make sure that everything looks nice and organized. Dust can build up if you’re not too careful, so those open shelves are often a top priority when it’s spring cleaning time.

  13. says

    What Eliza said – if you cook, they ae big dust/grease catchers. But they DO look so stylish. My friend has them in her recently reno’d modern kitchen but just for plates and glasses used daily. Still they end up dusty. Looks great though!
    I’ve done a few renos and I am itching to do another!

  14. Lucy says

    Do you remember my Battersea kitchen? I had an original Edwardian dresser which held pretty much all my china. Apart from the top 3 plates which I used all the time, everything was filthy. Just run your finger along the cast iron mantlepiece above my range cooker in the current kitchen if you want to get a sense for what happens (because, of course, I am a slattern who would as soon dream of regularly taking down the children’s “sculpture” which lives there to clean it as of flying to the moon).
    The pictures all look great.
    Back in the real world…..

  15. kassy says

    I LOVE the look, but its not practical in real life. Due to a lack of cupboards in my kitchen I am forced to have a wire rack like the one holding the vintage teapots, unfortunately I don’t have pretty teapots and it just looks sloppy. And what everyone else said about grease and dust is too true. Oh dear, now I want to reorganize my kitchen.

  16. says

    Aesthetically beautiful and welcoming … but I’m neurotic and all I can think of is the dust and grease. And having to wash each item before using it.

  17. says

    Guys, thanks for all the comments. Lots of food for thought, especially since I cook A LOT and I’m not the tidiest of people. But I’m not sure we have the budget for lots of cabinets…decisions, decisions….

  18. says

    White paint can make rooms look more spacious, Paola. I hope you’ve found a way to keep your kitchen clean now that you have a model kitchen to take inspiration from. 🙂 BTW, Asbestos exposure can lead to mesothelioma, a rare lung cancer disease, so you better fix that. You don’t wanna risk your health with that.

  19. says

    Use the “Lunch” license plate idea. The retro and grunge effect of the plate makes for a different kitchen. In a sense, it adds a rustic aesthetic to the room. Maybe you could use the idea to label food, condiments, even utensils. 😀 Which of these inspirations do think on drawing heavily from?

  20. says

    Open kitchen shelves are a trendy and more affordable replacement for cabinets. Some prefer having kitchen items arranged and on display rather than being sheltered in a cabinet. Open shelves offer more visual satisfaction. However, observe caution when moving around the kitchen to avoid accidents

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