The One Time Open Shelving Is a Terrible Idea

published Sep 12, 2017
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(Image credit: Rachel Jacks)

Do I like the look of open shelving? Check. Am I organized enough to rock it? Check. Do I think it adds an extra layer of design and personalization to any kitchen? Check. Would I recommend it to my own design clients? Check, check, check.

Will I be ditching my cabinets for a fresh new open shelving look? Negative.

I adore the look of open shelving in a kitchen, maybe even more so than crisp white cabinet doors, but as long as I live where I live and I am who I am, I have zero plans to abandon my closed-cabinet lifestyle. In another life — with a basement, and craft room, and guest house devoted exclusively to paint brush storage and errant lamp shades I plan to use someday — perhaps open shelving might be on the menu.

For now, however, living in a small apartment in New York City, it is not an option.

When is open shelving a bad idea? When you live in a small apartment and have a lot of stuff.

Why Open Shelving Is a Bad Idea for Small Spaces

My kitchen is hardly a cooking-exclusive space when it comes to both activity and storage. I am quite organized, but when it comes to what you’ll find cabinet to cabinet, that might come as a surprise. Open one door and you will find traditionally organized dinnerware. Open the next and you’ll stumble across my drill, a tub of spackle, a few sheets of sand paper, and more picture-frame hooks than I could ever dream of using. As an interior designer, I use my kitchen as a workshop of sorts, and so I need as much close-doored storage space as I can get. Even if you are not an interior designer, you may be able to relate. Having limited storage — and lots of stuff — can leave the brightest people scratching their heads when it comes to finding a home for a drill.

Surprising Things That Can Go on Open Shelving

Don’t get me wrong — I think that plenty of non-culinary-related things can find a home on open shelves in the kitchen. I urge my clients all the time to layer in personal touches along with plates, cups, and serving pieces — picture frames, figurines, candles, art, etc. I’d even be fine with keeping my paint brushes in a cute little cup. I just don’t need to display my tool box next to the electric kettle, if you know what I mean.

All this is to say that there are no rules about what you can and cannot put out on open shelves. They key is getting real about what you do want to see every day as you make your coffee or tea in the morning — and what you don’t. For me, I have enough in my kitchen that I don’t want to see (with no other place to store those pieces), that I will be keeping my traditional closed cabinets — no matter how big a fan of open shelving I may be. (Until I get that lamp-shade-storage-guest-house, that is.)

What about you? How do you make open shelving work in your kitchen? Or what’s keeping you from making the jump into an on-display world?