Should there be open shelves in a kitchen? The designer’s path

Open shelving is everywhere these days. The latest trend in interior design is to arrange a display of ornaments and artifacts on your shelves as part of your overall décor, adding personality and character to your space. Now, after being adopted in virtually every other room in the home, the trend has found its way into the kitchen.

Praised as a way to show off items you typically store out of sight, open shelving has become a popular choice for displaying luxury cookware in the modern kitchen. Others also praise its functional qualities; in such a fast-paced environment, they argue that essentially removing your cabinet doors makes cooking much more convenient.

Clearly open shelves have their advantages, but they are not without disadvantages either. From grease splatters to broken dishes, there are various drawbacks you should be aware of before committing to this elegant approach to storage. To help you decide if you should have open shelving in your kitchen, we asked some designers when they think this trend combines style and function or if it simply puts form above function.

Lilith is an expert at keeping up with news and trends in the world of interior design. She’s committed to helping readers make the best choices in their homes by sharing practical tips and guides that promise to maximize both style and function. For this piece, she asked kitchen designers if we should have open shelving in a kitchen. Here’s what they had to say

a kitchen-dining room with glasses on open shelves

(Image credit: Fennessey. Design: Tamsin Johnson)

Design-wise, there’s clearly a lot to love about open shelving. Whether it’s a carefully curated selection of complementary items or an eclectic mix of heirloom pieces, the shelf idea is essentially an extension of your personal style. Besides your typical furniture, it encourages keeping small, detailed items tailored to your tastes. But why the sudden appreciation for the finer details of our homes?

According to Bo Hellberg of String Furniture (opens in a new tab), it’s about injecting a personal touch into our homes. “Shelves should reflect our personalities and display the items we’ve collected throughout our lives,” he says. What better place to do this than in the kitchen, where the variety of glassware, dishes and cookware provide a means of self-expression? After all, these Le Creuset pans deserve to be seen.

Are open shelves a practical choice for a kitchen?

perch episode 6 - green kitchen with black marble worktop and splashback - Credit-Future_-Paul-Massey_

(Image credit: Paul Massey/Future PLC)

When it comes to the kitchen, it’s the practical benefits of open shelving, along with the aesthetic appeal, that often draw people in. We’ve all understood the downsides of cabinet doors at some point in our lives: opening and closing them with dirty hands while we multitask cooking can be a hassle.

They can also help expand a small space by reducing the need for deep cabinets and providing more counter space. “When you cook a lot, open shelving also means everything is easily within reach,” says Bo.

But there are also downsides – and some would say they outweigh the pros. From hot steam and smoke to greasy splatters, our kitchens see a lot. With open shelving, dust, grease, and food residue can all build up on your pots and dishes over time (and no one wants to wash their hands anymore). There is also the issue of clutter. Storing all your crockery and assorted utensils on open shelves can make your kitchen look busy and messy.

According to Bob Bakes, Head of Design at Bakes & Kropp (opens in a new tab) kitchen manufacturers, open shelving is probably best avoided in a small kitchen. “Truly, the benefits of open shelving are purely aesthetic,” he says. “They are useful for freeing up wall space and creating more air and movement in a kitchen, but a considerable disadvantage is the loss of noticeable storage, as an open shelf has a much more restricted capacity than cupboards. My general recommendation is to avoid them unless your kitchen has generous existing storage space.

When are open shelves a good idea?

A white kitchen with open wire shelves

(Image credit: String Furniture)

If your spacious kitchen allows for more design freedom, an open shelving feature combined with regular cabinetry (to hide less aesthetically pleasing items) might be a good idea. While it can be tempting to give everything its place of honor, Bo is keen to point out that sometimes less is more.

Rather than using your shelves for larger table settings, reserve them for a few select items that contribute to your overall design, like cast iron cookware or wooden cutting boards. “Experiment with your style, but don’t overwhelm the shelves,” Bo says. “When it comes to creating my own style, I’ve found that selecting a few beautiful pieces to display can have the most decorative impact and be the most sentimental.”

Jennifer Bell, kitchen designer at Summit Remodeling Inc. (opens in a new tab)Also, agree that open shelving works best for items you don’t plan to use often. “I generally recommend them for more decorative items than for tableware,” she says, “otherwise your tableware is out in the open, it usually needs to be cleaned before use.”

You’ll also want to think about how you style your open shelving unit. “Recently, we’ve noticed a growing trend for industrial kitchens at home,” adds Bo. “Open shelving can give a rustic look if you opt for wire shelving alongside hooks, hanging brackets and rods.” For a modern farmhouse, opt for wooden shelves instead and use them to store jugs or copper cooking utensils.

To tie a room together cohesively, he also suggests coordinating different colors on your shelves with cookbooks to make the pieces stand out. “Many forget that storage can be part of the interior design scheme and that by styling our objects we can merge function and decoration,” he notes.

The jury is still out on whether the functional benefits of this shelving idea go far enough – really, it depends on how much space you have. If you decide to display your kitchen items, make sure they contribute to your overall design to make open shelving worthwhile, as unfortunately the practical benefits are usually insufficient.