There are a few things you should know before you install open shelving in your kitchen like we have in ours. Read on to learn more about our experience, our tips for making it more functional, and some ideas for making it look great in your home.
I’ve been a big fan of open shelving in a kitchen ever since I first saw Martha Stewart’s incredible set for her show “The Martha Show”. That show debuted about 14 years ago (I think) and that set still has such a timeless, stunning look to it. Go ahead and google it, I’ll wait. 🙂 …See what I mean? It’s the stuff that dream kitchens are made of. While it would take a pretty huge space to really pull off that look in a real kitchen, I’ve always wanted to try to emulate that look on a smaller scale if possible. When Chris suggested that we install open shelving on the empty wall where we used to have a weird window looking into the mudroom, I knew it would be a good chance for me to play Martha a little bit.
Open shelving can definitely come with quite a few challenges when it comes to design and function, so I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on this project, now that we’ve had our shelving installed for a couple of months.
Things to Consider Before You Install Open Shelving
They Really are an Instant Update For the Whole Room
When you install open shelving, even if it’s only in one little corner of the room, it really does update the look of the whole space. Open shelving is such a classic idea, but it’s also so “now”. If you’re looking for something that will take your kitchen from bland to beautiful, open shelving is a great option because it gives you and instant focal point for the room.
DO NOT Count on Them to Replace Closed Cabinets
Unless you either live alone or rarely actually eat on your dishes, I think it’s a big mistake to rely on open shelving to completely replace existing closed cabinetry, no matter how matchy-matchy your dishes are and how amazing your organizational skills are. First of all, you need somewhere to hide those brightly-colored kids’ bowls and the souvenir mugs that always somehow make their way into our homes. No matter how organized you are, life still happens.
Plus, imagine this scenario: You get your shelves all nicely styled, with the perfect number of dishes to make them look full but not cluttered, but then you have 12 of your closest friends over for dinner and suddenly your shelves are left looking sad and empty. Or you get your shelves looking perfect, but what looks good isn’t actually enough dishes for you and your family so you end up having to find another location in your kitchen to store the extras that you need. And your husband gets confused every time he unloads the dishwasher and you need to rearrange the plate situation daily just to make your shelves look normal again.
Plan in Advance for How to Use Them as Both Useful Storage and a Fun Display Area
We all have items in our kitchen that are both beautiful and functional and those are the items that you want to store on your open shelving. It may take a little bit of planning and a little bit of reconfiguring, but it will make your open shelving experience so much more enjoyable. Think about storing things like your favourite platters and serving dishes, big mixing bowls, or tea cups. Things that you might normally only use one or two of at a time so you don’t mess up your display too much, but that you want to see and make use of regularly.
Also, feel free to use baskets as much as needed for anything you could use some extra space for that isn’t particularly beautiful. I thought our baskets would be strictly utilitarian and I’d have to take them down and rearrange things if I wanted to make the shelves actually look pretty (like for photos such as these), but I actually think they look great! They add some much needed warmth and texture into the room while still looking nice and tidy.
Don’t Worry if Your Kitchen is Weird
If you’re trying to install open shelving in a weird little corner of your kitchen, or if you don’t have the perfect symmetrical spot for your open shelving like you’ve seen on Pinterest, don’t fret too much. It turns out that this look is pretty forgiving. We spent quite a bit of time back-and-forthing about how to execute our shelving plans to fill in the empty wall space but also go over the fridge to try to tie that in to the rest of the room. Then we ran into an issue where the wood we wanted to use was just a smidge too short and we thought it would be a disaster. We ended up going for it anyway and the weirdness with the slightly too-short shelf turns out to be totally unnoticeable because you’re too busy looking at all the pretty stuff on the shelf and the lovely overall effect!
An Eye-Catching Bracket Makes Them Easier to Style
If you’re a little worried about your styling/decorating skills and aren’t sure if you’ll be able to actually make the shelves look good, make sure you choose a bracket style that’s a little on the big size and as eye-catching as you can. Having them in place is kind of like permanent decor and it means you can go a little more simple when it comes to actually filling the shelves without sacrificing any style points.
Bonus Points if You Can Find Something Chunky to Use for the Actual Shelf
A chunky shelving material is practical, first of all, because it can handle a little more weight without bending in the middle if you accidentally put too much stuff up there, but it will also draw your eye to the open shelving area a little more as well. Just the same way that we all love a room with a big, chunky wood mantel. It works just the same when you go to install open shelving in your kitchen. We actually used wood counter material from the Home Depot for our shelves, which worked out well because while it’s still substantial, it’s actually about 1/2″ less thick that our IKEA wood counters, so they don’t end up competing of looking out-of-balance visually.
Are you thinking you might like to install open shelving somewhere in your kitchen? What concerns/worries do you have about making it work?
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Courtenay Hartford is the author of creeklinehouse.com, a blog based on her adventures renovating a 120-year-old farmhouse in rural Ontario, Canada. On her blog, Courtenay shares interior design tips based on her own farmhouse and her work as founder and stylist of the interior photography firm Art & Spaces. She also writes about her farmhouse garden, plant-based recipes, family travel, and homekeeping best practices. Courtenay is the author of the book The Cleaning Ninja and has been featured in numerous magazines including Country Sampler Farmhouse Style, Better Homes and Gardens, Parents Magazine, Real Simple, and Our Homes.