to be or not to be: open shelving.
by victoria comment


white modern kitchen with open shelving. / sfgirlbybay

the thing about buying an old house is that there are always renovations to make. you want your house to suit you perfectly, so it’s difficult to not look around constantly thinking how you might go about upgrading. sigh. now that i’ve finished my bathroom remodel, next comes the kitchen, and ouch does it get expensive. i’ve got ikea cabinetry in my current kitchen and it’s pretty nice, but what i’m debating about is taking down some of the existing cabinets and open up the kitchen a bit with open shelving. i have lowered ceilings but if i knock those out i’ll have beautifully beamed ceilings like these pictured up top. i really love the way this looks, and i like my dishes and glassware enough to display them out in the open. i know everyone speaks of the hassle of extra cleaning, but i plan to keep it pretty minimal as far as exposed storage. so, to be or not to be opening shelving — that is the question of the week. would you like to weigh in?

white dishes on open shelving. / sfgirlbybaylittle white kitchen with beamed ceilings. / sfgirlbybay ceramic dishes on open shelves. / sfgirlbybay arched doorway in kitchen. / sfgirlbybay open shelving. / sfgirlbybay tall white shelves. / sfgirlbybay modern white kitchen. / sfgirlbybay pendant lamps on chain in rustic kitchen. / sfgirlbybayopen blue shelves in white kitchen. / sfgirlbybay white open kitchen shelves. / sfgirlbybaywhite walls in small kitchen. / sfgirlbybay white walls in eclectic kitchen. / sfgirlbybaywhite open shelves. / sfgirlbybay

• photography credits in order of appearance: remodelista; kara rosenlund’s kitchen via inside out magazine; My Paradissi; @maraserene; giorgio baroni for elle decoration; Sjoerd Eickmans photography; rue scenic; freunde von freunden; tom delavan; @essicacomingore; gravity home; jj locations; the glitter guide; desire to inspire; aston konaté; atelier doré; roseuniacke’s kitchen via vogue; frankly esoteric; est living; tessa hop’s home via live loud girl; beth kirby’s kitchen via simon said; @mizmaggieb.


35 responses to “to be or not to be: open shelving.”

  1. Personally I love open shelving. Besides the airy feel, it forces you to pare down to the essentials. This works with dishes and I’ve seen people even arrange dry goods beautifully. But I am glad they did away with the glass door refrigerators…remember those?!

  2. I think it just depends on the person/family. I have friends who love their completely open shelved kitchen and know other people who think it’s an insane choice to make. We have some open shelving and some cabinets and i think it’s a great mix. The one thing that I’d recommend is to carefully consider your cooking style and ventilation situation. Dust is one thing, but if you’re regularly pan frying, aeresolized oil can sneak up on you and that’s a whole different kind of regular cleaning (when it settles onto the tops of the carefully displayed contents of your shelves).

  3. I love the look, but opted for standard upper cabinets in our kitchen remodel. I am already pretty anal about how my dishes/etc are arranged inside closed doors, I couldn’t imagine how much time I would obsess about styling open shelving. We made our kitchen open-concept, and the dining area (at the end of the island) has the perfect 80″ of wall space (between window and end of cabinets) where I can put a buffet/hutch to display items and add a “furniture” element.

  4. Do it. My open shelving has never been a hassle in any way aside from occasionally needing to wipe out a mixing bowl I haven’t used in a while. I find it to be energizing to live, cook, and even clean in a kitchen that I truly love!

  5. I love the look of open shelving, but definitely the extra cleaning part puts me off. I went with a few glass doors on my cabinetry, and get the best of both. If open shelving is the option, I would limit the size of it, and display only what is used frequently that will get washed as used. Also while the look of rustic wood shelving is visually interesting, I can’t imagine trying to keep that clean. These days I’m enjoying a simpler life, visually, and easier to keep clean as well. Keep us posted on your choice.

  6. You’re the type of person who could pull off open shelving beautifully. Your dishes are probably all white and will look beautiful with glassware. I like open shelving best when it is for the everyday essentials…so not too much clutter and everything is getting used so nothing is collecting dust. Also, it’s important to be able to easily reach your open shelves. High things may photograph beautifully but the day-to-day is a royal pain. Can’t wait to see what you do!

  7. I will be rnoving into a new house next year, and I am planning to have open shelves to display some wares but i know that this is not a practical solution when ti comes to cleaning. Visually it is my fav option, and after seeing it so much around everywhere in the Internet I guess it gets stack on your mind. Back in the Victorian era, the kitchens were made up of different pieces of furniture all mixed in colour and shapes with open display shelves, I would go with what suits best the house period and style and what makes u happier.

  8. I love my open shelving, reclaimed wood supported by custom raw iron rods. I have black subway tiles below for the backsplash with a honed black granite counter. White custom cabinetry with antiqued brass hardware elsewhere. It all fits my 1940s era house very pleasantly. I can add color (mostly green) to the black and white through shelving displays, with which I play occasionally…

  9. I love my open shelving with one caveat. I don’t have a problem with the dust which never collects on the more often used dishes. I don’t have a problem with visual clutter as I stick to all white. The one problem I have, that no one ever seems to mention, is when I have a party or cook a big dinner, I pull practically everything off my shelves to use. So when I’m entertaining I’ve got awkward bare shelves. I’ve even gone so far as to keep a separate set of dishes so I can keep the open shelves styled and pretty for guests. In the end I would rather have open shelving, but I’m thinking for my next kitchen having at least one closed cabinet to keep the entertaining stuff.

  10. I love mine! I installed floating live-edge wood shelves in my kitchen myself two years ago (I have a tutorial for hanging solid floating shelves on my blog, if you need it), and haven’t regretted it for a second. They’re beautiful, highly functional, and fun to style. Combined with some normal closed cabinets, it’s perfect.
    As far as dust goes, we keep dishes we use every day on the bottom shelf, and beautiful, but functional stuff we use weekly on the middle shelf, so I don’t need to worry about that stuff getting dusty. Stuff on the top shelf does get dusty, but it’s not a big deal to dust once in a while. Knowing that they were going in the kitchen, we had the shelves finished in a polyurethane for durability, so they’re very easy to wipe down. Who says beauty and practicality are incompatible? :-)

  11. We just bought a house with the absolute intention of bringing in some wood slab open shelving. We’ll leave some closed cabinets too, but the room is kinda small and needs some open space. Right now it’s just cabinets everywhere. We really really want to vault the ceiling, and since the living room and dining area is already vaulted it makes the drop into the kitchen look really claustrophobic.

  12. 2 things:
    1. Nothing beats architectural detail. Open the ceiling. You will not regret it and no matter what items you put in the kitchen, nothing will make a statement like the open ceiling.
    2.I have had open shelving for years. It is not at all a problem, convenient and keeps you honest about what you need and what you really need to get rid of.

  13. I think your lifestyle has a lot to do with the success of open shelving. I love a fresh breeze and often have the house windows open so open shelving would be more of a challenge for me..

    The size of the kitchen would also affect the usability. The beautifully styled open shelves seem to be mainly for display and contain about 1/3 of the items as the same length closed cabinet. All those dishes need to be stored somewhere. :-)

  14. I am a real estate specialist and my wife is an interior architect. We also love the look of open shelves (in photos) and have each had several clients that requested them; but, the work it entails over time might turn you off from the aesthetic.
    For example, even if all of your flatware is curated to stack well together, and within the room, you’ll most likely be using it everyday and the occasional disorder amoung those stacks may become a pet peeve.
    Also, the traffic of the room (rooms if open plan), the decision to own pets or open your windows in busy city, and how much your stovetop is used will factor into the cleaning time required. Consider how dirty a white towel or mop head may look after cleaning your house… then factor in that grease (oil/fat) is disbursed throughout the kitchen when you cook—through steam distillation and whenever water in food touches hot oil. Now factor in that your open shelves have not just a couple horizontal surfaces; but, entire plate settings for 4,8,12 people.

    • I agree – I am a real estate specialist too. The problem is that open shelves seem to accommodate far less objects than a closed cabinet would, because they have to be arranged nicely or they look awful. You wind up with a load of things that are not good looking enough to be put on display and nowhere to put them so what cabinets you have left are groaning.

      I would be happy to have open shelves for everyday table settings next to my dishwasher though as these things are used all the time so would always be clean – I get so fed up – stoop to empty dishwasher, stand up – open cabinet door and put in dishes, stoop again, forget you have opened cabinet door – bang head – you know the routine!

  15. We have one wall in our open kitchen with 2 rustic shelves. I find them so handy for reaching for a small bowl, dessert plate, or a teacup or mug. Kept to a minimum of objects,
    they add depth, movement, and a pop of color to our kitchen.

  16. I love looking at your photos so incredibly stylish i dont know how you do it. Keep up the good work..

  17. My last house was built in 1956 and we went with the midmodern vibe. We opened the kitchen up and retrofitted a huge industrial wall sink unit with open shelving. As much as I loved the visuals of my old kitchen, the dust and fur that collected on that huge open shelf was INSANE IN THE MEMBRANE! >>>

    After my divorce, I bought a 1943 bungalow with typical bungalow closed shelving. I love it and my OCD thanks me daily.

  18. I would love to do some open shelves here, but being in an old farmhouse, surrounded by fields, my house is perpetually dusty. I mean I can dust one day and 24 hours later you would never know. So a little dust is one thing, but it’s more than a little here. If I could though, I would! I love some of these images you have posted and can’t wait to see what you do!

  19. I love open shelving, so my vote is yes. However, put them as far away from the stove as possible to avoid that nasty layer of grease/dust that falls on stuff around the stove. Use the shelves for things that you can just throw into the dishwasher once a month to keep it fresh.

  20. I’m a big fan of open shelving, for all of the reasons, but seriously consider that you are living in LA and eventually there will be another earthquake. I think I’ve mentioned this before on your blog, sorry for seeming like a bore, but when everything in your kitchen that is not held back by a closed door comes down, you’ll thank yourself for the ounce of prevention. My own glass front doors did really well in the Northridge quake, so I can vouch for those as a compromise (which mine are).

    • I agree – I was checking the comments to see if anyone else said this. I have some open shelving in my Bay Area kitchen because I haven’t remodeled, but if I were remodeling I wouldn’t have extensive open shelving in an earthquake area. I need to get some museum wax for some of the less used items on my open shelves.

  21. Great inspiration photos and I think you would do some great shelf styling!! It would help you keep things neat and minimal too because you would see it all the time. I love the beach shack vibe it gives and goes with your style!

  22. Love the look of open shelving. But I recently went with glass doors on the cabinets above the sink. However, on the other side and in previous homes, I have simply removed the doors. For rentals or otherwise, I’ve kept the doors in the closet. Maybe that way you could slid into open shelving without a total commitment. I’m all about experimenting.

  23. My husband decided I must be allergic to upper cabinets as I took all ours out. I didn’t replace all the cabinets with shelves. Instead I hung a huge vintage mirror over one counter. I love the open feeling the shelves I did install provide.

  24. Earthquakes are not a matter of if but when in CA. I’m redoing our kitchen now, and limited the open shelves to small area that would have been a blind corner otherwise… Am planning on only storing items that won’t shatter if they fell though (wood salad bowls, melamine mixing bowls, metal colanders pitcher etc.) which is turning out to be a headache in terms of styling. We’ll see how it looks once it’s done and I can play around with it.

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