White or Walnut open shelves above my kitchen sink?

Mittens Cat
October 9, 2019

I'd planned to do a couple walnut open shelves above our kitchen sink, but now I'm leaning toward white to calm the visual chaos of our two-toned kitchen. What do you think? Stick with the walnut or switch to white?

As for what we're going to use the shelves only real goal at this point is to keep it from looking too cluttered! Backsplash to be determined at a later date (I'd love to do a blue Heath tile but will probably end up going with a simple white, just like our white quartZzzzz counters).

The white cabinets were a last minute switch from an all walnut kitchen. The white beam was going to be left natural wood, but we decided to wrap it because it felt it might just add to the visual clutter.

The shelves (either white or walnut) will be above the kitchen sink and will have lighting mounted underneath (we did not install a light directly above).

Stick with walnut shelves
Go with white shelves
Something else! (comment below)

Comments (25)

  • PRO
    Patricia Colwell Consulting

    Are those the only white cabinets ? I would do walnut you need to find some balance with the large tall walnut wall

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  • Mittens Cat

    Yes @Patricia Colwell Consulting, those are the only white cabs. We're also doing white quartz and probably white for backsplash and pendants...if that helps?

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  • PRO
    Patricia Colwell Consulting

    Walnut and thick shelves with some nice white pottery

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  • Shannon_WI

    When you are standing at the sink, won’t the shelves be right in your face?

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  • mononhemeter

    Not a pro. What about a large mirror with a walnut frame?

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  • calidesign

    I would use white shelves. But only use two shelves - one at the top of the cabinet and one 1/3 of the way from the top. Leave the bottom open over the sink. Put wooden bowls on the middle shelf and leave the top bare.

    Mittens Cat thanked calidesign
  • wilson853

    A few other options. White on walnut or stainless over tile.

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  • PRO
    Beth H. :

    don't forget, you'll have white splash (yawn) and a white countertop. along w/the walls and the beam, that's a lot of white. you're trying to decide now before you get the other elements in.

    do the walnut shelving and top it w/white objects, or greenery of some type

    place them something like this

    white shelves against white cabs look cheap to me

    I just did walnut shelving in my own kitchen. went and bought a solid walnut board for $45. stained it myself, cut it to size, and installed w/lag bolts. looks great. (or are you paying someone a bunch of money to do all of this?)

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  • waverly6

    i think the walnut will look great. It ties everything together. Have you looked into live edge walnut?

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  • redsilver

    I like Cali's ideas...but on the top, put some aloe vera plants amidst some philodendron.. silk or real, whatever you can handle. I think the real would do very well there however..

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  • B F

    definitely walnut for the shelves.

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  • Mittens Cat

    Thanks all! Really appreciate the input!

    @Shannon_WI, lol. I'm only 5-1, so it shouldn't be a problem. But I was thinking the lower shelf would be within reaching distance for me, and the upper shelf would be another foot or so above (decorative stuff, I guess?).

    @mononhemeter, intriguing idea! I never thought of a mirror. I will ponder! Thanks.

    @calidesign, definitely two shelves, yes! I like your style. :)

    @wilson853, stainless--my DH would probably love that. And it won't turn yellow!

    @Beth H. : I started scrolling up and saw a bunch of stylish photos and thought, "Oh! I wonder if this comment is from BETH!" And it is! :) Thanks for always brightening my Houzz time with such good visuals! As for the snore-fest of white, yeah, I realized I love color soooo much (esp blues-greens) that I had better restrain myself to keep it from being a hot mess. Editing, I think it's called? My DH is not such a fan of color (or can't really perceive it that well?), so I'm trying to hold myself back and aim for accent colors instead. (Though watch out shower niches!!!!!!!! Ha ha!)

    And hey, I'd love to see that new walnut shelf you made! I'm a huge fan of walnut, but I think I was scared to unwrap the walnut shelves that came with the cabinets for fear of seeing one more yellowed piece of wood. But yes!

    @redsilver, our son is a plant man, so yes, There Will Be Green(ery)!

  • PRO
    Beth H. :

    Mittens, I’ve seen a few sinks facing a wall like yours, done with mirror.
    You could do a solid piece mirror and set your shelving in front of it. It would give some depth and reflect some light back to while standing there.
    I’ll try and get a better pic of my shelving for u. It’s an L shape over my little coffee bar corner. I haven’t tiled yet so it doesn’t look great

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  • Mittens Cat

    Thanks @Beth H. : One concern I'd have with a mirror is the reflection/glare from lights. I am kind of glare-sensitive and wondering if there's a way to make a mirror work for me in that regard? Thanks

  • PRO
    Beth H. :

    mittens,,what if you did a type of beveled mirror tiles? I don't think you'd get the same glare. (but as a test get a small mirror and hold it up against the wall and see how bad the glare is. and don't forget, with the shelving going across the mirror, and items on the shelving, the light reflection isn't going to bounce back in your face. it will be deflected.

    don't forget to install some tiny LED tape lights to the tops of your shelving (it won't glare your eyes but will add a nice up-light effect) (these are SS penny rounds)

    you could also line the entire space behind the shelving w/a piece of walnut veneer (like a panel) and span that between the two cabinets. here it's done in a corner, somewhat enclosed, but it should give you an idea of what I mean. (I love the penny round backsplash w/your type of cabinetry)

    I found a bunch of pictures I wanted you to see. walnut/white cabs w/shelving and diff splashes. It may take two comments to fit them all

    here's your white shelving and a scallop tile splash

    this is prob one of my favorite walnut/white kitchen.

    Vertical layout but they did a slight off-set in vertical! you don't see this very often.

    I also love this one.

    see the next photo for a similar type of tile that would look fab w/this, or your cabinets.

    Have you thought about doing a linear bar in the calacatta?

    It would be classic, beautiful, give you just enough oopmh... another poster on here did them. I love the look of it: carries this Tuscany Calacatta linear sheet tile. order a sample. I love the looks of this.

    phase II ideas, next comment!

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  • PRO
    Beth H. :

    few other shelving ideas for over sink. I like the sconce atop the shelving.

    this is similar to that calacatta option I showed you. the one is this pic is thinner, but gives you an idea of how it would look w/the white and walnut. I love it

    and here's your plain old subway tile w/the white and walnut. Sorry, but I don't think this looks great. the modern type of cabinetry (like yours too) is just downgraded by using this 3x6 type of tile

    but hello beautiful black! love black and walnut

    oh and you wanted to see mine. here are my shelves. once I tile, I'm going to do an upper shelf on the left side. I plan on doing the cement tiles either all the way up, or just up to the second shelf. haven't decided yet. it looks very rough now!

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  • Ephma

    The one with the offset vertical tile backsplash that Beth posted above is super. Do it!!! ;)

  • mnmamax3

    Mittens - Loving your kitchen so far and I hope you decide to go with some color. But if not, at least consider a nice grey/brown. This is one of favorite white/walnut kitchens...

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  • Mittens Cat

    All terrific!!! In meeting, more later! Thanks!!

  • Mittens Cat

    Oh my gosh, I don't even know where to begin! So many lovely ideas, my head is spinning! Thanks you guys!!

    @Beth H. :, you are amazing, thanks for all those visuals! And don't worry---I'm no fan of subway tiles either. Of all your suggestions, my top favorites are: walnut panels behind the shelves (great idea!); the offset vertical tiles (though wondering if that would be weird since our grain is horizontal), and, to my surprise, the calacatta linear bar! I've never really considered marble since I'm always thinking it's a more traditional material, but it looks great with the W+W.

    And funny, as I was just about to say to @mnmamax3, I never considered pairing grey with white + walnut--I generally say "Nay to Gray"--but these both those images make the combination look both cool and sophisticated. I just might consider it! Thanks again!

    p.s. it also really helps me see all these different flooring colors with the walnut. It looks a lot better in these pics than what I'm seeing IRL. Gotta figure this out asap. Floors supposed to be going in the next week or two. Eek.

  • Mittens Cat

    OH! keep forgetting to ask: with our sloped ceilings, I don't know how high to take the backsplash. I hope we don't need to take it all the way to the ceiling because funds are becoming a bit scarce!

  • Mittens Cat

    Well, walnut shelves win by a mile (per the poll and the judges in our household). We finally opened up the box containing the shelves and they are much better looking--thick, sturdy--than I was expecting.

    But, man it'll be a tight fit between the white cabinets. I don't think there will be a quarter inch to spare. Since I hear so much about expansion of hardwood floors, do I need to be concerned that this might be a bit too tight a squeeze? Do cabinets expand and contract with the humidity? The cabinets are veneer on MDF core. I guess I could use these elsewhere around the house and buy some narrower ones for this space. I think I prefer that they have a bit of air on each side instead of looking like they're being squeezed between the cabinets. @Beth H. :, curious to hear your take (especially since you posted several pics of floating shelves with breathing room!).


  • PRO
    Beth H. :

    I think the shelves will be fine. don't worry.

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  • PRO
    Beth H. :

    oh, as for how high,,no higher than the white cabinets.

    I don't know what kind of vent hood youre getting. if the sides along vent hood are visible, then take tile up to the top of white cabs.

    if the hood will be eating up those sides, then take it up to the bottom of the vent hood.

    I don't like this look. I would have taken it all the way up to the ceiling on this one. (yes, even over above the crown. otherwise, you'd stop even w/the top of the cabinets if the ceiling was higher up like yours)

    of course, doing the entire wall all the way up works too!

    is there another wall that's getting tile?

    Mittens Cat thanked Beth H. :
  • Mittens Cat

    Thanks! @Beth H. : that space will be the kitchen sink (induction cooktop is going on the island). No other wall. Was in the space today and decided we MUST do some color on the backsplash or we will be bored to death by white!

    Yay! :)

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