Your 5-Step Plan for Open Shelving in Your Kitchen

published Sep 22, 2017
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(Image credit: Federico Paul)

So you’ve decided to make the switch from classic cabinets to open shelving. Congrats! This is a big renovation (even if you’re not gutting the entire kitchen) and you have a lot of things to think about. Here are a few things to consider — beyond the obvious question of what materials the shelves should be — and some pointers for arranging all your stuff. Trust me — I’m an interior designer and I’ve helped tons of clients transition to open shelving.

1. Think about the height of your stuff.

Before you (or your contractor) even hammer a single nail, you have to think about the pieces you know you’re hoping will go on your shelves. A mistake I see made time and time again is a lack of thoughtful planning when it comes to shelf placement. How tall is your favorite cake plate? Will your wine glasses fit on that shelf in the current plan? Will your tiny juice glasses get lost up there?

Your shelves may be stunning on their own, but don’t forget what they are meant to do: hold things! Measure your tallest or favorite items that you know you want to display. Also, keep in mind the brackets that will be used to hold up your shelves, as they’ll interfere with the clearance of some items. Do this and you’ll be sure to avoid the whole nothing-fits-here trap.

2. Consider the layout of your kitchen.

Shelves by windows and your stove are going to get the dirtiest (think: dust and grease!). If the upkeep is going to be too much for you (meaning, you don’t want to have to clean bowls before you use them), that area might be better off with traditional cabinets. In that case, limit your open shelving to less busy areas of your kitchen.

3. Weed through your collection.

Let’s just speed ahead and assume that your old cabinets have been taken down and the new shelves are up. (That was fast!) Before you start stacking your dishes on a shelf, take stock of what you have. Look at all of it in one place. This is your opportunity to release a lot of the culinary baggage that you maybe didn’t even know you had. You don’t have to get rid of so much that the shelves look empty or staged — you just need to cut out the unnecessary doubles or anything you don’t use so that the shelves won’t look cluttered. Toss stuff that’s broken or put discards in a donate pile. If there’s something you love but don’t want on display, find another home for it in a lower cabinet or in the basement or garage.

4. Think about what matters the most.

You might adore that vintage tea set that was a gift from your best friends six birthdays ago, but how often do you use it? Never? But you still want it on a shelf? That’s okay! If you really love it, it can go on display — on a hard-to-reach shelf out of the way. The stuff you use often (like your favorite coffee mugs) shoudl go on a bottom shelf. Which brings me to my next point.

5. Work from the bottom.

Now that you’ve identified the pieces you want on your shelves, you’re ready to start putting stuff up. Start with the bottom shelf, working front to back. The stuff that will get used the most goes in the front. The further up and back you work, the more “occasional” the pieces will become. Fun fact: These tend to be the most delicate, precious, or breakable pieces in your collection, so storing them higher up and out of reach creates safer keeping on a day-to-day basis.

Keep like pieces grouped together for simplicity and a cohesive look. There’s no need to have three plates here and five over there — unless, of course, one stack is a separate set of fancy dessert plates that is going three shelves up to be saved when your mother-in-law comes to town.