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What should I put on open shelves in a kitchen? Benefits of open shelving?

Open kitchen shelves are a wonderful way to showcase some of your favorite kitchen tools, dinnerware, or even some small sculptures. Styling them makes all the difference, so let’s look at the best items to keep on open shelves to create a beautiful and functional display. 

Related: How Much Weight Can Glass Shelves Hold? | How Far Apart Should Shelves Be?

Reasons to use Open Kitchen Shelves

There are some major benefits to open shelves in a kitchen, let’s walk through all of them.

1. Easy to Reach


They’re kept in easy reach, which speeds up your morning just that little extra bit. And it’s especially convenient for guests who may want to grab a coffee mug or water glass without having to poke through every cabinet. The open nature makes it so that you can easily see what’s in the shelf, meaning that anyone less familiar with the layout will still be able to access a glass for water or wine without having to open every single other cupboard in the kitchen first.

2. Avoid Dust Buildup


Second, putting often-used items on shelves avoids the issue of dust buildup. If the items are used frequently, they won’t sit for long. If you keep rarely used items like specialty glasses or serving pitchers on open shelves, be prepared to give them a rinse before use. Plus, with everything front and center, it is much easier to wipe down open surfaces. Ultimately, open shelving should be for the items you want to grab for quickly, or display items that you don’t actually use. Either way, dust buildup shouldn’t be an issue.

3. They make spaces look brighter and more open.


Open shelving can help a tiny kitchen feel open and airy just by taking those cabinet doors out of the equation. You’ll also be able to utilize the wall behind as a design aesthetic, whether is be a beautiful backsplash tile, natural wood, or a popping paint color. The shelves themselves can range from sleek, über-modern to rustic, unfinished wood, centering your kitchen design around your storage. Have some beautiful serving dishes, vases, or pitchers to display? Open shelving is a great way to get everyday aesthetic use out of these items, even if you don’t use them on a day-to-day basis. LED lights are easy to install on your shelving to help create a displayed feel while adding a bit more light to your space. You can also consider using some of your open shelving to display a few books, greenery or herb gardens, and decorative pieces that you might ordinarily store on the counter.

6. They are inexpensive


If you’ve ever done a kitchen renovation, you know that cabinetry is often one of your biggest expenses. However, going with an open shelving plan in your kitchen can actually save you quite a bit of money. It could even work well as an interim solution; if you know you’d eventually like closed cabinets, but can’t quite afford the upgrade yet, install inexpensive open shelving.

Reasons Not to Use Open Kitchen Shelves

There are also some downsides to open shelving in a kitchen, let’s walk through them here.

1.They Can become Cluttered


Open shelving can become cluttered like any other shelving, but these ones just show it all to the world. If you continue to accumulate a new mug everywhere you travel, and just add it to your cupboard, open shelving may be the wrong type for you. With this type of shelving, you want to create a minimal and curated selection of items that you can display. To curb the clutter on your shelf space, consider hiding smaller items in baskets and transferring food staples such as dried beans, rice, flour, and sugar into glass canisters. Or beautify your kitchen storage with clear plastic or wire bins on this kind of built-in shelving.

2. They Can Require more Maintenance


While there’s technically not a huge amount of maintenance for an open shelving concept in your kitchen, you will have to be diligent about keeping your shelving and kitchen items clear from dust and debris. You probably won’t need to worry about your everyday dishes and most-used items, but larger serving platters and pitchers may get dusty from sitting unused for the majority of the time. Shelves lower to the ground are especially susceptible to dust (or animal hair!) accumulation, so you’ll want to stay vigilant when it comes to your kitchen cleaning routines. If you’re using an untreated wood, you’ll need to oil the shelves regularly to keep them from drying and cracking.

3. Open Shelves can be Hazardous


With no barrier between the glasses in the shelf and your hands, it can be a little dangerous. If you consider yourself a klutz, or anyone in your family for that matter, then you may want to be careful. At the very least, you’ll want to place the items far back enough in the shelf that you won’t be able to knock them over with a wandering arm. One more thing you’ll want to be sure of before you start packing the shelves with your kitchen items is how much weight each shelf can hold. Be proactive and choose quality material for your shelves to ensure they won’t warp, sag, or damage your walls. Better yet, we highly recommend using a professional to help choose the right shelves, braces, and installation for your shelving. The last thing you want is for your good china to come crashing down!

4. There is Nowhere to Hide


As with anything, you should choose wisely what you have on display. Refrain from storing things like souvenir cups and mismatched bowls on your open shelves, as it can make your kitchen look cluttered. There are some kitchen items like blenders and food processors that you don’t necessarily want to display to guests. This is why having a mix of open shelving and and closed cupboards is the way to go: you will be able to hide the things you want, and display all the items that deserve it. Let’s be honest, there are always some times when things get busy, everything gets messy, and its so helpful to have somewhere to just stuff things temporarily out of sight, so you can at least feel like things aren’t a complete mess.

Ok, now if you’ve decided that open shelving is right for you, or if you already have it, let’s look at all the best things to store on these shelves.

1. Daily Essentials


Open shelves are ideal for items that you want access to all the time, on the go, quick and easy. This is especially useful for guests, as they can easily access the things they need while hanging out, without having to ask you where everything is. It’s also useful for you, and your kids, and makes the daily items feel easy to grab. In addition, this can help you define what those daily items are: water glasses, plates, bowls, coffee mugs. The list could go on, and it’s up to you. Just decide what those things are, but don’t let the list go on forever.

2. Drinking Glasses and Mugs


I have a lovely collection of handmade ceramic mugs, and although they are slightly eclectic, they Glasses are especially attractive items to store on an open shelf because their clear material plays into the breezy look. Storing basic drinking glasses upside down (as is typically done in restaurants) effectively seals out dust and debris, so the glass is ready to go whenever you grab it.  Again, for less commonly used pieces like martini glasses (for some, anyway), a quick rinse will generally do the trick before use, along with the occasional seasonal dusting. We all need our Friday night vino fix so ensure your glasses are always on hand. Many open shelves come with in-built wine glass and bottle storage. Ensure you pair with oversized, ultra-thin glasses to capture an opulent look.

3. Storage Jars


Storage jars are another great use for an easily reached shelf. This keeps items off the counter so you have more free space to work, but the jars are still handy so you can grab them without having to open a cabinet with (potentially) messy fingers. Storage jars, especially if you make them uniform, can also be really beautiful. There are many nice sets on the market, and you can store dry goods in either clear glass or ceramic ones. If you’re trying to reduce the waste in your life, you can also use them at the zero waste grocery store, and keep refilling the without buying something in a plastic package.

4. Spices and Seasonings


Speaking of covetable kitchens, this one has seemingly everything a chef could need, including open shelving for an array of spices. Who knows what new dishes you might cook up with each spice and seasoning in view? Sometimes I actually end up cooking with less spices just because they are tucked away back in a drawer somewhere where I would have to sift around to find the one I want. When they’re on hand, you may even get creative and start using ones that aren’t even in the recipe.

5. Cookbooks


Not only are cookbooks a kitchen essential that need to be kept on hand, but they look great when stored on open shelving also. Style alongside glassware, olive oil bottles and foliage to help your open face shelf blend in with its surroundings. Cookbooks are usually really beautifully designed, colourful, and will add depth and interest to your kitchen space. There are many different ways to style cookbooks, standing or stacked, and arranged by colour or cuisine type. It’s up to you, but you can really play with their visual qualities to show off what you’ve got, and your greatest kitchen inspirations to guests.

6. Home Bar


Styling some bottles of liquor or wine with your favourite cocktail and wine glasses can create a mini-bar setting. If you have any extra cocktail fixings, include them in the layout. Richly hued glass bottles with ornate labels make for a subtly colorful display with a sophisticated air, especially when paired with classic bar tools in a golden finish. To keep the arrangement lasting, you can always refill an emptied bottle with water and mix it back onto the shelf.

7. Coffee Station


I find all coffee making devices to have a real beauty about them. If you’ve got an espresso machine, or a ceramic pour over, or a beautiful glass carafe French press, then showing them off on your open shelving is a great idea. You can place filters, device, and mugs in an arrangement where it is all easy to access in one place when making your cup of morning Jo. And of course, for the tea drinkers (or home-soda aficionados), you can stash tea bags, honeys and syrups, cups and saucers … the list goes on. Just be sure to consider whether such items will be OK outside the fridge and potentially exposed to warm sunlight or exhaust from nearby appliances.

8. Decorative Pieces


Do you love the look of open shelves but are concerned about having to dust lots of items? Consider using just a single shelf with only a few decorative pieces. You won’t have too much space to worry about filling or maintaining, but it will add a fun, contemporary twist to the space. Vintage ornaments and trinkets are not only a great way to add character to a lonely wall, but they can be used to house smaller bits and pieces such as keys and loose change. Interesting finds such as vases, glass jars and urns work well here and don’t overlook the handiness of a rustic storage box to hide unsightly items.

9. Trailing Plants


Foliage and plants are, in our opinion, the single best way to finish off a room’s décor. And what better way to introduce them to your space than to style them on your beautiful open face shelf. With open shelving, I would suggest opting for trailing plants. Style alongside tableware and books and allow them to droop down the side of the unit creating a natural look. Don’t be afraid to style in numbers also. You can’t have too many plants and when styled in multiples, you’ll be well on the way to creating your serene and idyllic urban jungle.

Related: Is It Okay to have a Mix of Cabinets and Open Shelving in a Kitchen?