How to Create a Light and Airy Kitchen using Open Shelving Ideas

Your standard-fare kitchen cabinetry—primarily used for storing and keeping things out of sight—all share one defining feature: a door. While the recent design discovery of how to balance aesthetics and function has brought way to the new concept of open shelving in the kitchen. Read to learn whether a kitchen with open shelving should be in the cards for your next kitchen remodeling update

open shelving kitchen ideas

Whether fitted with solid wood, or inlaid glass to allow for the occasional, searching glance, the traditional wisdom behind your kitchen cabinetry was more a question of function over form. In recent years, however, as increasing design attention has been placed on openness and minimalism, something has happened—people began to want to show off the contents of their cabinets. 

It’s more common than ever to open things up with exposed shelving in your kitchen. Modern kitchens with open shelves and cabinets have come to replace the dusty china cabinets of old. 

What Is Open Shelving?

Open shelving involves opting for a door-less interpretation of the traditional kitchen cabinets one finds in any kitchen. By doing so, you open up your line of sight directly to the contents therein; something which, of course, also must be factored into design consideration.

Open shelving in your kitchen can be a bit of a balancing act. However, if done well, it can showcase a previously dormant hint of personality in your kitchen. While open-faced cabinets not only serve a practical purpose—after all, how aggravating is it to have to reach up and crack open the door to your spice cabinet with dirty hands?—they are also aesthetic. 

By taking advantage of exposed cabinetry, you can make intentional decisions to show off some of the previously hidden kitchen centerpieces, including:open shelving cabinet kitchen

  • Matching dinner sets
  • Decorative plates
  • Plants and vases
  • Cookbooks
  • Refined glassware
  • Coffee mugs
  • Pitchers
  • Sugar, flour, coffee, or salt jars
  • Or anything that brings a homey feel to your kitchen

Open Shelving in Small Kitchen Spaces

The perfect solution for creating space when you didn’t even know it was there.

People have long played with colors to impact the perception of space in any room—kitchens included. For example, by favoring white cabinetry and backsplashes, kitchen designers are often able to create the impression of space where it may be lacking. 

Open shelving is just another tool in the toolbox of people looking to conceptually open up their kitchen and dining spaces. 

Some of the reasons why homeowners with small kitchens typically consider exposed shelving and cabinets for your small kitchen include:

  • Shelves Take Up Less Space Than Cabinets – Where closed cabinets can feel bulky and protruding, open shelves can lend an air of compactness to kitchens lacking significant square footage. Looking to make your kitchen look and act bigger? Open shelves may be just the fit. 
  • They Liven Things Up – In dark or tiny kitchens, it must also be noted that incorporating even just three open-faced shelves can work miracles toward making the kitchen feel a little more vibrant. 
  • They Are Practical – Picture this: you’re reaching over your stove towards the closed cabinets above to root out the Mediterranean sea salt. Suddenly, your cayenne pepper, which apparently had shifted since you last opened your cabinets, plummets from above onto the range below and into your boiling pot of noodles. OK, is it a stretch? Maybe. But with open cabinets, you can have an eye on these things at all times—meaning you no longer have to worry about dirtying a cabinet handle to bust out the salt. 

open shelving kitchen

Materials for Open Shelves and Cabinets

In a world where marble, linoleum, granite, and many other great materials already exist in kitchens, wood can feel like an expensive redundancy. However, when it comes to the modern open shelving kitchen, there are few options more luxurious. As well as indeed timeless, more so than some well-considered, wooden shelves. 

But what type of wood should you use to pull off the perfect open shelving cabinets in your kitchen? While there’s no absolute right or wrong, here are some of the most popular choices:

  • Maple
  • Birch
  • Pine
  • Oak
  • Walnut
  • Cherry

However, when it comes to building the perfect shelf, steel is an option for those preferring more of the modern, industrial look and feel.

What Are Some of the Other Reasons to Go with Open Shelving?

Choosing to update your kitchen with open shelving and cabinets is a simple yet stylish way to keep your kitchen fresh and airy. Still not convinced? For the skeptics, we’ve broken down some of the other top reasons why an open shelving renovation may be exactly what your kitchen needs:open shelving kitchen


  • It’s Easy to Try it Out – Not sure whether or not you’re ready to commit to a full-on open-shelf renovation? You can start with something simple: by taking off the doors to your existing cabinetry, you can test drive exactly what open shelves feel like in your kitchen without committing fully. 
  • It Allows for Utmost Personalization – In the same way that a shadow box in the living room can show off a glimpse of your personality, open shelves can allow you to do the same. Fill them up with art, plants, flowers, cookbooks, or even grandma’s china. 
  • Coordinate Your Aesthetic – This point is similar to the above, but it bears repeating that if you have a matching set of plates, chinas, earthenware, or anything else that deserves to be seen instead of stuffed away to gather dust somewhere in a cabinet, then they would make an excellent candidate to feature prominently on an open shelf
  • Open Shelving Is Cost-Effective – If you’re reading this in 2021, you might know just how violently the price of certain commodities has swung in recent months. Lumber, and many other types of wood by extension, are no exception. By going with an open shelving kitchen instead of traditional kitchen cabinets for your next renovation, you could save serious cash in materials. 

The Bottom Line On Open Shelving

Whether you’re looking to cut costs, show off your unique style, or even open up the flow of your kitchen, open shelves are here to help make it happen. Previously used for woodshop and makeshift storage, the modern developments in open shelving ideas make them an excellent addition to your kitchen. And their increasing popularity indicates that this is more than just a passing fad. When done properly, an open-faced shelf in your kitchen can become a timeless touchpoint to your space. 

open shelving ideas for kitchen

For more design help, check out our blog on how to design your dream kitchen or to get even more specific design ideas, head to our blog on how to bring boho-style design into your home today.  

Looking for help with your kitchen design? Why not go with a professional? The Kitchen Shop has got the experience and know-how to help you bring your kitchen renovation to life. If you’ve got questions on open shelves or anything else, one of our experienced interior designers is here to help. Contact us today to learn more! 

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