7 Tips and Tricks for Open Shelving in the Kitchen

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7 Tips and Tricks for Open Shelving in the Kitchen

Having open shelves instead of closed cabinets in the kitchen is a look that tends to inspire love or hate, with few in between. Those who love the look sing the praises of open shelving's ability to:

  • Make a small kitchen look bigger
  • Create a light, airy feeling
  • Work with styles as diverse as country, Cape Cod and contemporary
  • Turn everyday dishware into something special
  • Keep kitchen items handy
  • Cost far less than cabinets when remodeling the kitchen

Those who are against open shelving in the kitchen complain that:

  • It creates a cluttered, messy look
  • Dishes and glassware get dusty and need rinsing before use
  • Grease from the stove settles on the shelves and dishes
  • It’s extra work to arrange the shelves attractively
  • It’s a look that only works for those with matched, beautiful dishes

Both sides have valid points; so ultimately, it comes down to your personal preference and decorating taste. If you love open shelving and can’t wait to install it in your kitchen, or are moving into a new home that already has open shelving, there are a few tricks and tips that will keep your kitchen looking almost as good as those glossy spreads in the decorating magazines.

1. Display Your Nicest Pieces

While it’s not necessary to go out and buy an entire new set of matching dishes just to display on your shelves, it’s also not especially attractive to see a jumble of mismatched plastic plates, oversize cups from fast-food joints and stained carafes. Keep your unattractive but necessary kitchen items in drawers or your lower cabinets. Use your open shelves for glassware, dishes, serveware and collectibles that have at least some decorative value.

2. Keep Things Of A Nature Together

Even ordinary plates look special when massed together. One of the biggest secrets to an attractive display on open shelves is keeping items grouped by color, function, shape or design. Keep all your mugs in one area, and all your dishes in another. Or keep a set of white dishware on one shelf, serving bowls on another. You don’t have to get excessively rigid about grouping items, but loosely follow some system of organizing. At a minimum, keep food items, dishes and cookware on separate shelves.

3. Keep It Functional

You don’t want to sacrifice function for form. Keep items you use every day within easy reach. Heavy appliances that are used on a regular basis should be down low, while serving pieces only used once or twice a year can go on the upper shelves.

4. Invest In Containers

If you are keeping food items or cooking ingredients on open shelves, invest in a few glass or attractive plastic containers to hold foods like cereal, pasta, rice and grains. Jumbled boxes of Cap’n Crunch and Rice Krispies are unattractive; but transfer the contents into a glass, lidded jar, and suddenly your cereal becomes decorative. Use pretty bowls to hold small items, and baskets to keep bags of chips or other oddly shaped items contained.

5. Keep It Clean

A busy kitchen produces a lot of steam, cooking odors and floating or spattered particles of grease. Be aware that this will tend to settle on the contents of your shelves, and grease especially attracts and holds dust. Dishes and glasses that are rotating on and off your shelves daily won’t have time to build up a coating of grime, but items that sit on the shelves are likely to become dirty. You’ll need to rinse or wash off items before using them more frequently with open shelves than with closed cabinets.

6. Have Fun

Open shelving is like a display case in your kitchen. Take advantage of that to show off a few favorite collectibles, a whimsical teapot, or a collection of antique cookbooks. If your shelves are white, as is the case with most open shelving, and the majority of your dishes are white, create interesting contrast by painting the back of the shelves a deep color that complements the rest of your décor. You can even use wallpaper for a subtle touch of style.

7. Don’t Go Overboard

Don’t let your shelves get so full they start to resemble the housewares section of the Goodwill. You want to keep some open space around groupings of items so it’s clear that you’re decorating with a purpose, not just stuffing items wherever you have room. Periodically step back and look at your shelves. If there is too much on display, put the least attractive or least used items in your bottom cabinets.

Open shelving does require a little bit more planning and effort than a kitchen filled with closed cabinets, but if you love the airy, open look, the relaxed style and the current yet old-fashioned appeal of an open-shelved kitchen, you’ll find the extra effort is a pleasure, not a chore.

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