Open Shelving - Are you a Fan or Not?

Martha Scott
January 19, 2019

Opinions on Open Shelving:
It's all the rage -- you tear out good upper cabinets (with lots of storage) and put up open shelves which you style with perhaps a stack of six plates, a mixing bowl, and something "cute" -- on blogs and HGTV, those shelves are very definitely staged and not really for storage . . . and the third shelf (if there is one) you have to get a ladder to get up there -- so those things are basically unusable on a daily basis!

I look at the HGTV shows and think where are they going to put all the stuff that was in those cabinets before they tore them out.

So are you a fan or not? And why!

Comments (100)

  • artistsharonva

    No to open shelving near steam.

    It creates a dusty grime on everything.


    Some select accent shelving away from steam for items people do not eat on is ok. Better as a selective decorative feature.

    I prefer cabinets.

    Cabinets were invented to store things & keep dust off.

    Very functional & logical.

    I love cabinets in kitchens.

  • tartanmeup

    pippabean....Wow. You people have STYLE. You're making my shelter mags jealous. I think I'd call my kitchen "done" if I had those salt and pepper shakers. Adorable. And your cats. :D

  • artistsharonva

    I see the shelving more as a trend. I would not be surprised the shelving trend will fizzle out due to people getting tired of cleaning them. Marketing & changing a trend is a big $$$ maker for the remodeling industry.

  • Elmer J Fudd

    In the photo above, I wondered about the hazed sections of the window over the sink (instead of a shade of some kind, if privacy is needed), and even more so about the light fixtures in front of and so blocking the view of the window.

  • Feathers11

    I have to clean the cabinets, backsplash and counter around my stove much more than I have to clean my open shelving. And the finger prints and splashes where I continually reach for the handle... Cabinets aren't inherently cleaner or conducive to less clutter. They just hide it better. We each choose our battles. My open shelving is one of the easier battles in my world of cleaning.

  • Feathers11

    I fear for those who try and sell after ripping out all their uppers and putting in open shelving. I think they are a fad. I do not think they are something the general population will embrace for any amount of time.

    The same thing has been said about stainless steel appliances and the amount of work they take to look good vs. black or white appliances. But yet...

  • PRO

    I've had them and no, I did not like them. It was not a "fad" decision; it was in our dorm apt in Maine and there was only 1 small upper and one over the refrigerator that was impossible to use. I had no where for my dishes. I bought vinyl covered wire shelving and had my dishes and glassware on 3 shelves. I am by nature a very orderly person - my dishes are orderly in a cabinet, too. But the dust and pet hair was a constant problem. And keeping the cats off the shelves as well. At least with the wire, there was less dust on the shelf, but I quickly learned to give each piece a quick "dust-off" to avoid dog/cat hair in my tea or my cereal.

    I do love my glass-door cabinets in my kitchen. It breaks up all those solid cabinets - a sea of cabinets.

    And yes, they are always neat. I've never quite figured out how one could stack dishes (and surely one has enough that they must be stacked!), and not do it in an orderly fashion.

  • Julia Kay
    I think it LOOKS awesome. But not my reality!!! I don’t have enough space and I don’t have cutesy stuff to display.
  • modellie

    I'm a fan of open shelves when they're done well. I don't like them if, as noted above, they're placed close to a cooktop.

    That said, I think open shelves can add functionality to a kitchen. The 60s kitchen I grew up in had cabinets all along one wall, that each had an open shelf at the bottom. Every day items were stored in these, and I think the cabinets above lessened dust on the shelves below quite a bit.

    I love Pippabeen's and Sloedjinn's open shelves.

    I'm envious of Sloedjinn's eclectic thermos collection, so cool. And Pippabeen's cabinet above that shelf probably protects her stored items from dust, just like in my childhood kitchen cabinets did, and I like that what she stores there are mostly everyday items, and her things are not overly "precious" and just for show. All the same, I too love the salt and pepper shakers, those striped, funny cats and the beautiful vase on top of that super wide cab. Cool kitchen!

  • littlebug zone 5 Missouri

    No, I don't like them. I think they look temporary and make-shift until real cabinets can be afforded.

  • modellie

    Pippabean - your shelves look thin for being floating shelves , are there supports that I can't see? The required internal supports make floating shelves quite thick and heavy looking. I've considered them for my kitchen, but have abandoned the idea, due to the heavy look.

  • Heather N

    Use the bottom shelves on ours all the time. They're on either side of the stove (you can see the range hood in one picture), but they don't get greasy - they're placed much higher than the bottom of a typical cabinet. And we use the fan over the oven. The glasses don't get dusty because they're used frequently. The acrylic shelves get dusty, but not a big deal to dust every few weeks.

  • Heather N

    More open shelves by our coffee machine. . .although these are "open", they're pretty enclosed, so don't get very dusty. All of our glasses/mugs are stored on open shelves since we don't really have any upper cabinets in the kitchen. Dishes/bowls all stored in drawers. It's not hard to keep it looking nice, but I do have to make sure the handles on the mugs are all facing the same direction, otherwise it looks a little sloppy.

  • Storybook Home
    Not for me. I like cabinets. And stuff. But for a minimalist who doesn’t have much clutter and enjoys the aesthetic they can be functional. I see them like glass front cabinets. It’s for the look separate from storage solutions.
  • pippabean

    tartabmeup - wow, thanks! You made my day. Yep, I like a bit of style, frumpy old woman or not. ;-) And I do like the idea that our DIY kitchen might make design mags publishers jealous, haha.

    modellie - Yes the visible shelves sit on bent 4"h x 4"d steel pieces, which we topped by 7" deep shelves. We had the steel supports made to size by a local steel fabricator. Ca $100 for bending both shelves. We primed and painted them, drilled holes to attach to the studs and to screw them into the shelves above. The support can be seen only from certain positions, lighting and angles, as the shelf shadows fall over them.

    When we moved into this house the kitchen was miniscule compared to the house's square footage. It had a cool looking 60s kitchen with no uppers, but a long corner shelf. Oh, how I hated that shelf! Everything on it had a layer of greasy dust on it within days of cleaning. Also, the kitchen was way too small to forgo uppers and the vent was not located over the range, but way up high in the middle of the kitchen ceiling (go figure!), catching almost none of the greasy steam. Ugh! So we ripped the corner shelf out, and as a temporary measure we installed cheap, on-the shelf, white melamine wall cabinets from HD which helped keep our things clean. We also put in an OTR microwave which improved the grease situation overall, but not by much.

    Now after remodeling and tripling the size of our kitchen, dust/grease layers on everything are not a problem any longer. The oversized baffle vent does its job efficiently, visibly pulling most of the steam into the vent. We've been using the kitchen since last spring, so far I removed the release paper that protects the top of my horizontal cab just once, it was a bit dusty, but not greasy. By the way, I don't clean up there, I just replace the the paper.

    As to open shelving having a temporary and unfinished look, that's true of some, but just like Sloedjinn above, I planned my kitchen around mine. They are an integral part of the overall kitchen design. (See below) What I wanted was balance vs symmetry and something that would emphasize the "horizontal", and help the space look wider while keeping everyday items in the open for easy access. While our kitchen has no other uppers than the long cab above the shelf, this is not due to lack of funds, lol, but to existing windows on the stove wall, which brighten the space and we definitely didn't want to remove. Also, we have more than adequate storage now, some drawers are still empty or only half used :-)

    pic of the kitchen right after moving in. Still no baseboards, steel bs behind cooktop is still missing etc.

    Also to see what's possible, check out these well planned kitchens with open shelving. I doubt that anyone would think that these are temporary solutions:

    Backsplash Ideas · More Info

    Kitchen details, appliances etc. · More Info

    Kitchen details, appliances etc. · More Info

  • lgmd_gaz

    Pippabean, even though I would not want open shelving in my kitchen, those Shmoos would have a place of honor for showing off. I had a Shmoo 'piggy' bank growing up. Always loved them.

  • Annie Deighnaugh

    While I think they can look nice, and more power to the women who can keep them looking neat, I know I can't. Yet I had the issue of the higher ceilings with the higher cabinets and not being able to reach the top shelves. So we decided to do upper cabinets with separate glass doors and lit just for display and the lower cabinets with solid doors for all my stuff.

  • rich69b

    Pretty to look at, but the dust and eventually grease and grime if you don't use the items often, so not for me. With that said, when I painted our kitchen cabinets last year, I removed the doors of the cabinet above the fridge, painted it teal, and it displays some vases and seasonal decor.

  • OutsidePlaying

    One or two wouldn’t bother me too much. I am not very artsy when it comes to arranging things. And they would be a magnet for DH to put some cr*p on if there is an available spot unused. Not to mention the dust. We are in the country and it seems worse especially in pollen season.

  • raphaellathespanishwaterdog

    We fitted open shelves in the kitchen of our last but one house. They were used to store jars containing everything from sugar to pasta to sweet treats :) As they were well away from our range we didn't have too many issues with grease/grime, but we've not repeated the look in our kitchen remodels since...

    Here are a few pics from before they were painted and while we were still deciding how far to go with the tile!

    Apologies for the terrible screen shot pics and photo bombing dog!

  • Peppapoodle

    I have some open shelves in the kitchen &laundry room. In the kitchen-they are by the range-but the range is so powerful it hasn't been an issue anymore than the ones in the laundry room. Kitchen shelves have everyday dishes on them. Everything else is in drawers. In fact, I think thenlaundry room may get dustier.

    I love this look, but it's too much for me.

  • rrah

    Not a fan. I don't want the pressure of keeping everything perfectly lined up and looking beautiful always.

  • Nadya

    Only in conjuction with live-in maids.

  • Debby

    If I had a nice walk in pantry I would get rid of my upper cupboards. My sister didn't have any upper cupboards in her log house. She had wall-to-wall windows over her counters. All her dishes (plates, cups, bowls, glasses) had special pull out drawers. Her pots and pans hung above her island. All her food was in her walk in pantry. Only her spices were in a drawer near her stove. I loved that kitchen. I loved that house!!

  • katlan

    Murraysmom I have the 4 pc set of round Pyrex mixing bowls. I also have the 4 pc set of square Pyrex, all 4 with lids! Love them. One of my sister's painstakingly found each piece to the round set to gift to me, our other sister, her own 2 daughters, my other sister's daughters and my daughter.

    Our mother had the 4 pc round set. After years and years all she had left was the big yellow bowl. Very sentimental to all of us because of my mom.

  • miniscule

    We are in a small house now with a much smaller kitchen designed by the previous owner. The saving grace for storage is a wall of cabinets in the eating area, broken by a stack of open shelving. I keep our everyday dishes (Portmeirion Botanic Garden) and some similar pieces in there. In one of the closed cabinets beside, I keep our second set of everyday dishes (Hutschenreuther Medley). Keeping the shelves clean and tidy has not been a problem at all, partly because most of the items are used frequently. I also find that having the open section breaks up the look of a phalanx of closed cabinets.

  • murraysmom Zone 6a OH

    Miniscule, I love your setup!! It looks so clean and the open shelves are just beautiful the way you have them set!!

    Katlan, I love the story of your Pyrex. It makes them so much more precious, doesn't it? Mine, too, have a story. I found just the two biggest at a consignment shop years ago and bought them. Then my sister (who has passed away) gave me the little red one. That left just one size missing. Well I found that one at another consignment shop but the color isn't right for this particular set but the size is, so that works for me. :)

    As for your square ones - that is so awesome!!! I didn't even know they existed until a few months ago. An elderly neighbor (and friend) was having an estate sale in anticipation of selling her house. She moved to assisted living a few years ago and was now ready to let go. Anyway, I wanted a memento of her so her daughter-in-law let me in before the sale and I got to choose something of Helen's. I saw a square Pyrex, just one piece and liked it but got something else. When I got home I looked up the square pyrex and thought they were pretty neat. So the day of the sale I went up to the house. I was second in line. The guy in front of me had gotten there over an hour earlier. The moment we were let into the house, he made a beeline for the pyrex! He was friends with the person handling the sale and she had alerted him to the piece. He told me he had a whole room of pyrex!! That's quite the collector. I love pyrex, but I do use mine. I don't have room to collect something like that.

    Anyway, I love your story and all the more so for the sentimentality!!

  • kudzu9

    I have a few open shelves where big things -- like ceramic pots -- get stored, and the rest is hidden behind cabinet doors. If you are debating whether to have all open shelves rather than standard upper cabinets, here is the way to make a decision: open all of your cabinet doors, stand back, and take in the view. If you like seeing everything that is in sight out in the open 24/7 and are happy with how it is all arranged, then maybe open shelves are right for you. If you are like me, and you have a lot of things stuffed into the cabinets, some of which have no more room left, and some of which contain completely non-matching items, you might be happier with traditional cabinets.

  • miniscule

    Thank you murraysmom. I too enjoy the personal, sentimental stories!

  • vinmarks

    I like them but only for display. I have 3 open shelves which I use to display my husbands mothers copper items. I have plenty of cabinet space and drawers plus a large pantry so I wasn't giving up storage space.

  • PRO
    Creative Design Cabinetry

    I could't have them. Just one more thing to clean for one reason. Storage for another.

  • DawnInCal

    I like the look, but I wouldnt want to have them in my own home as I see them as another thing to dust and keep clean. If I were going to to that route, I'd have glass fronted cabinets instead.

  • quasifish

    Not for my house. We are not minimalist enough, or tidy enough to pull that off. Plus we have a cat who would just love that as a kitty condo.

  • A

    I definitely am! I've collected too much pretty dishes and glassware over the years to keep it hidden away in cabinets, and everything that's currently housed in my uppers is pretty enough to be displayed. I hate the look of glass-front doors, and I keep my cabinets neat - since I don't have any clutter, I don't need to use them to hide clutter. We had open shelving in our old house, and you needed to dust them about as often as you need to dust closed cabinets. I think people just don't realize how much dust gets into their cabinets because they think the doors are keeping all of it out. I know I can keep them looking nice, and they're very functional for me. I've legitimately forgotten that some of my serving bowls existed because they were hidden by a cabinet door. Can't really have that problem with open shelving, huh? We are gonna keep our existing uppers around, though, just in case we decide to sell.

  • littlebug zone 5 Missouri

    Never. I cringe when I see Joanna you-know-who gushing about the ones she puts in. It’s too Little House on the Prairie for me. And dirty dust-magnets.

  • pippabean_5b

    Who's Joanna?

  • cherryfizz

    I don't have enough cupboard space and almost had shelving put up last week to move stuff out of my cupboards and off my countertops to give me more space for dry goods. I bought a metal rack instead. haha ignore the 4 tins of cookies my brother bought on sale. The cookie jar is for dog treats

  • Lauri

    Pretty kitchen! You are neat and organized; I could never keep this clean!

  • eld6161

    I'm guessing Joana Gaines.

  • marylmi

    Open shelves are fine for a few things but they do catch more dust than cupboards. I like plain glass doors with a little lighting in them to show off items . yes, cupboards get dust in them too but not nearly as fast as open shelves.

  • ilikefriday

    I recently removed 6 upper kitchen cabinets and replaced them with 3 open shelves. I love them. Should have done it years ago.

  • littlebug zone 5 Missouri

    Joanna Gaines of course. From Fixer Upper.

  • pippabean_5b

    Of HGTV I assume. I had cable for about 3 months or so, years and years ago. So many channels and nothing I wanted to watch! So now I'm totally out of the loop and not familiar with the current shows and designers. :-)

    So this thread has made me think about why I really like some open shelving and intensly dislike others.

    I like open shelving when the following is mostly true:

    • It's not anywhere near the cooktop at which point it WOULD be a grease magnet.
    • it's part of the overall design, not an afterthought.
    • It serves a practical purpose ( such as my own shelf up-thread, which serves as our tea/coffee and drink station).
    • It serves a design purpose, such as topping a backsplash, or emphasizing or continuing a horizontal line.
    • It's one single shelf. No stacked shelves. (I guess that's the Little house look?)
    • It's low enough to be easily reached. Essentially an extension of the countertop, which might otherwise be cluttered with the items sitting on it.
    • It holds daily used items, so dust is not an issue, as they will go in the dishwasher after use anyway. Any storage jars and tins will need their tops wiped every so often. Thing is, they also need to be wiped when sitting on the counter, haha.
    • It sits below wall cabinetry, which eliminates at least 3/4s of the dust that otherwise might settle from above.

    Upthread are plenty of pics of very modern spaces with open shelves that I just don't see as being in any way reminders of Little House on the Prairie ;-)

    Most of the additional pics below break one or more of my rules, but could easily be tweaked to conform to most of them.

    Right of the bat, his one breaks the most important of my rules: it sits right next to the cooktop. Ughh. But designwise it's a beauty. Nothing would prevent one from continuing the bottom line of the wall cabs near or above the sink for example.

    Like how this one tops the backsplash. Replace the staged photo-shoot items with personal, everyday items and a piece of art or small collection and voila, it's a kitchen with personality.

    A very simple, low-key and calm kitchen. Love the framed art resting on it. But again, I'd surround with some everyday stuff and a pretty thing or two. Homey, modern and practical. (Please just ignore the island cooktop without a hood, lol!)

  • ilikefriday

    Pippabean those are a lot of rules that need to mainly be followed in order for you to be ok with the shelves. Dont get me wrong, I love the photos you posted but all those rules make me exhausted :-)

    ETA the kissing cats are fab. I looked at this thread when I was deciding on open shelves. Yours made me pause. I love it. On the other hand, mine break all your rules.

  • pippabean_5b

    ilikefriday - lol! They are just MY rules for myself.

    I hope that maybe they could be "guidelines" or things to think about, for others.

    I'm currently helping my daughter with her kitchen remodel. It helps me tremendously to have a checklist when drawing up layouts.

    I planned my own kitchen. Let me tell you that planning a layout using cabinetry requires knowing many more "rules" than adding a shelf or two. Which I think is why, diy kitchens often run into trouble. From functionality issues such as no awareness of the ice-water-stone-fire "rules", to practical issues, such as doors or drawers that don't open all the way due to lack of fillers at corners or end of cab runs, etc. Rules, or if you like, "guidelines" to follow and check off, are your friend!

    Haha, we love the kissing cats too! /ᐠ=ᆽ=ᐟ \ =◕ᆽ◕ฺ=

  • Stephanie

    I think it can look nice but it’s not for me personally.

  • artemis_ma

    My open shelves are for my cookbooks.

    The rest are closed shelving. I do see some setups where open shelves look good, but essentially, most of my dishes don't match well enough, and I don't want to deal with dust and/or cat fur. Or cats deciding to climb up and over the breakables, especially if they just came from the litter box...

    So, for me open shelves are very impractical.

    Okay, I DO have one non-cookbook open shelf. Small and décor, only, and it is high enough that my cats won't get tempted.

  • ilikefriday

    Pippabean - I think checklists are good too. When I constructed my open shelves I removed 6 cabinets. I got 3 of the 4 shelves that I had planned in place and then I got sick of hanging them. I posted here on Houzz and asked how it looked with 3 instead of 4. A couple of folks said it was fab so that is what I ran with. I am more of a work on the fly kind of gal. LOL.

  • pippabean_5b

    artemis - Luckily my two cats don't ever shed ;-)

  • LaDonna Arcona

    I’m a fan when there is also storage. An example is what we are planning. We will have more than enough cabinets upper & lower on 2 walls to fit all of our stuff (and then some) so on the 3rd wall we are doing a 56 inch wide cut out (opens into the living room) about 5-10 inches above the lowers on that side with 3 open shelves per side of the cutout. I am not a fan of storing dishes out in the open and I HATE clutter but I do love antiques so I plan on putting a couple little antique decor items on them. I’ll also be putting a vintage print of a dandelion (yellow not fluff) on there since that’s the “flower” my son brings me everytime he goes outside.
    adding in I’ve personally never been a fan of china cabinets ether. I don’t see having things in your house that you never use or enjoy

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