why this trend is controversial |

Designing a kitchen is a big project and finding the right storage is half the problem. With open shelving that has been popping up in so many projects lately, it’s hard to avoid wondering if they still look as good as when they’re styled. Do they really stand up to the rigors of everyday life? Unfortunately, open shelving has some drawbacks that people don’t talk about.

Kitchen shelving ideas are a great option when you’re trying to expand a small space, or want to display your best crockery but, in a room so focused on function and practicality, little things like the Dust collection and everyday organization can leave these wonderful design touches on practicality.

Here, experts share their thoughts on the practical impossibilities of open shelving in a kitchen and offer alternatives if you want to achieve a similar look with less hassle.

The disadvantages of open shelving

Here are four reasons why you might want to avoid open shelving in your kitchen.

1. They can be difficult to organize

A laundry room with open shelves connected to a kitchen

(Image credit: Cat Dal)

Unlike living room shelving ideas that can be styled and then left alone, kitchen shelving is constantly in use. Whether it’s storing food, pots or dishes, it’s hard to avoid moving things around.

“Open shelving, while looking amazing, comes with its practical impossibilities,” says Cat Dal, founder of CAT DAL interiors (opens in a new tab). “Items can easily clutter up on the shelves, making them look messy, or even fall over and cause damage. Conversely, too few items on the shelves can make them look sparse – like second thought.

If you wanted to add open shelving to a kitchen, learning how to style a shelf is paramount to getting the space just right.

2. They can be difficult to clean

An open kitchen with brick walls with open wooden shelves

(Image credit: The Main Company)

“When considering adding open shelving to your kitchen ideas, you need to know where you place them in the space,” continues Cat. “Placing open shelving near an exhaust fan can make your shelves too greasy, for example, and they’re notoriously a pain to clean. You may also find that items on open shelves need to be cleaned more frequently, even every time you come to use them, which makes them impractical for grabbing takeout.

“Avoid open shelving near the cooktop, as greasy display items more easily collect hard-to-move dust and grime that clings to surfaces and objects,” adds designer Jaye Tidbury of The Myers Touch. (opens in a new tab).

Since cleaning a kitchen is most people’s least favorite chore, adding even more surfaces to keep them spotless doesn’t make the job any easier.

3. They’re not the best storage options

A white marble kitchen with a singular open shelf

(Image credit: Cherie Lee)

Since designing a kitchen is all about coming up with clever kitchen storage ideas, open shelving doesn’t necessarily make for the most logical organization.

“Open shelving has its place in the kitchen if you’re looking to add personality and make a kitchen feel cozy,” says Cat. “You can decorate open shelving with art and plants to make the space look a little less like a kitchen and more like a living space, or warm up the space with a lamp for lighting ideas from interesting cuisine.

“However, I wouldn’t recommend using open shelving in your main kitchen as general storage for cups and plates, as it can quickly become clutter and leave your dishes dirty before you’ve had a chance to use them.”

4. Custom open shelves aren’t much cheaper than cabinets

kitchen with open shelving and wall lights

(Image credit: Maxwell Attenborough)

If you’re looking to order custom millwork for your kitchen or are planning a completely custom kitchen, open shelving is sometimes seen as a way to save money. Even so, custom shelves in place of two or three cabinets aren’t much cheaper – and aren’t as likely to stand the test of time compared to some of the more durable kitchen cabinets.

“Our favorite trend right now is the continued movement towards more environmentally friendly choices. We’ve seen growing interest in our lifetime warranty and sustainability credentials, which isn’t surprising when consumers continue to choose products made with quality and longevity in mind,” said Mor Krisher, design manager at Caesarstone. (opens in a new tab). “When financial concerns are high, consumers want to know that the choices they make will be a wise investment, and so choose products made with durability and quality in mind so they can have peace of mind.”

What to use instead of open shelving in a kitchen

Luckily, there are a few options to consider instead of wide open shelving that can provide a similar aesthetic without compromising practicality.

1. Choose a decorative French chest of drawers

Showcase showcase coffee sugar bowl jars glassware

(Image credit: Symons Hatton)

Kitchen cabinet ideas don’t have to be limited by what you can fit around your main walls, like Sally and Sarah Wilkie, founders of Home Barn (opens in a new tab) report. “The French chest of drawers is the piece de resistance of traditional kitchens and is a wonderful alternative to open shelving. With neat shelving above and deep cupboards below. A glass-fronted piece offers the aesthetic of open shelving and will happily store large pots, pans, or kitchen utensils while proudly showcasing ornaments and necessities.

When decorating shelves in this way, consider mixing your functional pieces (now protected from dust and dirt behind glass) with a few decorative elements to dress up your more mundane crockery. “Coordinating different colors on your shelves is another easy and effortless way to make these pieces stand out and decoratively tie a room together,” says Peter Erlandsson, co-owner of String Furniture. (opens in a new tab). “Many forget that storage can be part of the interior design scheme and by displaying and styling our objects we can merge function with decoration.”

2. Consider glass-fronted cabinets

A white kitchen with glass cabinets

(Image credit: Martin Moore)

“A great alternative to open shelving is glass-fronted cabinets,” Cat points out. “Open shelving is often added to a space in an effort to make a kitchen appear larger and show off your dishes. For this reason, glass-fronted cabinets are a great alternative. Consider choosing ribbed, frosted, or fluted glass if you think you have trouble keeping the contents of your cabinet organized and looking good.

“Fluted/ribbed glass shelves are also becoming more popular as they add great texture to a kitchen and interest to a kitchen space, especially when backlit,” adds Jaye Tidbury of The Myers touch.

3. Use the space around your kitchen island

A light blue kitchen island with open shelving to the side

(Image credit: Tom Howley)

When designing a kitchen island, consider utilizing some of the dead space lost under its large footprint.

“Built-in cabinets at the back of the seating area can provide additional storage space in the kitchen for rarely used items,” suggests kitchen designer Sophie Hartley of Tom Howley. (opens in a new tab). “A glass cabinet next to a wine fridge or cabinet at the back of kitchen island ideas allows guests to pour themselves a drink without entering kitchen prep areas.

‘Bespoke drawers with cutlery dividers make it much easier to set up the table. And shelves can be included to hold all your inspirational cookbooks.

Why do people have open shelves?

Open shelving is a great feature if you want to expand a room such as a kitchen without compromising on storage space. They provide a great place to display some of your finest tableware and kitchenware while keeping the space practical, allowing people to create a design element from functional tools.

How to protect open shelves from dust?

Unfortunately, given their outdoor nature, it’s nearly impossible to keep open shelves dust-free no matter where they are in the home. One of the only ways to keep dust away is to regularly take everything off the shelves and dust it well before putting everything back – although this is far from practical.