This Controversial “Trend” Is Actually the Most Functional Part of My Kitchen

published Aug 10, 2023
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Kitchen with view of terra cotta colored wall with an organizer rack. wood cabinets and stove
Credit: Erin Derby

Since its descent upon the kitchen design scene, open shelving has remained a hot-button issue for decorators and home cooks alike, and now some interior designers even say the trend is on its way out. This is all fair and well — I know that trends cycle faster than ever these days — but I’d make the case that open shelving isn’t a trend at all. In small kitchens that are short on storage, they’re a necessity more than anything else. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that I can put my favorite glasses and dishware on display, too.  

The open shelves in my kitchen were actually a DIY. After moving into our apartment and unsuccessfully trying to create an organizational flow in the galley-ish kitchen, it became apparent that we needed to look to the empty back wall for more storage. Knowing I wanted to store glassware, bowls, and some jars, I chose 7-inch-wide boards and cut them to fit in the space. This depth allows room for the cabinets on either side of the shelves to open and close without issue. I added sides to the shelves with wood glue and drilled holes to fit a wooden dowel to the front in order to prevent items from sliding or slipping off. Then, I painted them in Behr’s Minestrone” to match the walls, and finished the dowels in a brass-toned Rub ‘n Buff to tie into the other brass accents in the kitchen. Finally, I leveled and attached them to the wall with sturdy L-brackets and drywall anchors, knowing that these shelves would need to support a considerable amount of weight. To further maximize wall storage, I added a row of three 12-inch magnetic utensil racks under the shelves, which hold knives, spatulas, measuring cups, and more. 

Credit: Erin Derby

Initially, I wasn’t sure we’d want to keep the shelves, for the same reasons online commenters point out they might not be functional. I was worried that the glasses would collect cooking grease and dust, but we’ve found that we’re using and washing our drinking glasses so often, they never sit long enough to get dirty. Perhaps it’s because we’re a beverage-heavy household (I love me some iced tea and apple juice), or because we have friends over frequently and not a ton of glasses, but the turnover rate on our drinking cups is more than enough to keep them all shining. Same goes for the bowls — they’re always in use. Between late-night ice cream fixes, quick dumpling sauces, and bowls of morning yogurt, the various bowls are in constant rotation. The only items that require a wipe-down from time to time are the jars (which hold flour and sugar) and the mortar and pestle, and that’s really par for the course with anything in the kitchen. 

My other main worry with the shelves was that they’d be an interference on our range of motion while cooking and going about our routine. I originally wanted to be able to store plates on these shelves as well, but they would have come too far off the wall, thereby increasing the risk of us hitting our head or arms on a sharp corner. Thankfully, the 7-inch boards were the perfect size, and we haven’t had any issues moving freely about our little kitchen. 

After almost two years in our apartment (with open shelving, as well) I can say that they’re easily the most functional part of our kitchen. The cramped, oddly sized cabinets are home to numerous other things that don’t look nearly as good on display, like mismatched bakeware, well-worn frying pans, and a collection of flower vases I can’t seem to part with, which doesn’t leave much space for everyday dishes. Plus, I’m more than happy to display a curated selection of glassware out on the shelves, and we’re so pleased with how well they’ve worked for us. The only piece of storage that rivals the open shelving? This magnetic towel and spice rack perched on the side of the fridge, but that’s a story for another time