A pantry-style display, a selection of decorative and practical items, some charming contrast… Introducing some open shelves can revolutionize your kitchen and add to your decor. Here are some ideas.
You probably already have some cupboards and closed storage in your kitchen, so be honest: how easy is it to cram plates, random items, and bulky equipment behind their closed doors? Yep, very.
Open shelving solutions, on the other hand, are an exciting opportunity to keep your kitchen clutter-free and tidy while also complementing your palette and decor.
From long to space-saving and corner models, they're also a lot more versatile, allowing you to optimize your existing wall space strategically.
To help you find the right style, shape, and colors for your kitchen, our experts have put together a varied list of tips and examples that you can steal or turn into your own.
1. Place your open shelves against colorful tiles
Your new shelves can be an opportunity to add a splash of color to your kitchen. Have you considered a tiled wall section?
It would also allow you to introduce a visually interesting pattern, which is especially wise in kitchens that mainly rely on monochrome cabinets.
As for the actual shelves, we recommend sticking to a simple design: you don’t want that area to look too busy.
2. Create an airy feel with some white on white
Normally, it’s good practice to choose open kitchen shelving in a color that contrasts against that of your wall, as it’ll help it pop and stand out.
However, don’t be afraid to experiment with a monochrome twist. For example, a white overload can even help you make your kitchen appear wider than it is: a handy trick in smaller settings!
3. Curate a symmetrical section…
There are so many different ways to organize your open kitchen shelving. Opting for a symmetrical composition, though, is one of the most popular ones… and for good reason!
As you can see with these four medium-sized shelves, it will achieve a balanced and clean feel in your kitchen. You can then spice it up and break this symmetry through the actual items on the shelves or your wall decor.
4. … or break it consciously
Dare to think outside the box, too! While it’s trickier in smaller kitchens, placing your shelves in a more creative way can translate into a beautiful result in larger settings and wall sections.
To maintain a curated and tidy feel, however, we recommend letting their opposite edges overlap vertically like in this neat example.
5. Choose fewer but longer shelves
Whether you should opt for this solution or a higher number of smaller shelves will depend on the layout of your kitchen and the size of the items to store.
Longer shelves, though, can easily become an eye-catching focal point in your kitchen. As you can see in this stunning example with crockery, plants, and books, they also give you more flexibility when alternating functional and decorative items.
6. Complement your existing finishes
When choosing your new open shelves, don’t make the mistake of thinking of them as separate elements: for a cohesive result, you want them to match one of your finishes.
If, like most kitchens, yours includes two main ones, opt for the hue that would look better against your wall color. In this example, the light wood finish complements the cabinets and island while avoiding an all-white section.
7. Include some noticeable accents
If you’re striving for a contemporary or minimalist look, it’d make sense to stick to open kitchen shelving in streamlined shapes without any kinds of brackets or ornate details.
Does your kitchen look a bit too bland, though? Perhaps you’ve opted for a more decorative interior style, like shabby chic or French country?
Then go the opposite way by choosing shelves with decorative brackets in a noticeable finish or accent color.
8. Optimize your space with corner shelves
Are you already putting yourself down by thinking “I can’t possibly fit any open shelving in my tiny kitchen”? Check out corner shelves, and cheer up!
Unlike traditional horizontal models, they’ll fit in smaller nooks but still offer you a practical portion of storage space thanks to their depth.
As you can see, it’ll be easier to place them in a tiny or cramped setting when relying on several narrow pieces.
9. Use an accent color
While in most cases they tend to match your primary or secondary color, keep in mind that your new shelves can be a cheerful opportunity to complement or introduce a bolder accent hue.
For example, these long shelves become an extension of the green wall, and they prevent an overwhelming feel by displaying several items in neutral hues.
10. Turn your shelves into a pantry
It can be hard to reduce your plastic footprint if your jars with loose ingredients are hidden behind closed cupboards: their content keeps on running out before you notice it’s too late, right?
Instead, use your new shelves to display all these jars and canisters. Not only will it be easier to keep track of them, but they’ll look absolutely delightful, too.
11. Have cabinet-style shelves
When thinking of open shelves, we tend to picture separate surfaces, don’t we? Well, if you’re after an even tidier and more cohesive vibe, you might want to consider a compact wall shelf unit.
These bad boys keep that area clean, can be a safer option for heavier items, and they make it easier to match your other finishes by relying on more visible vertical elements.
12. Use an entire wall
A problem with traditional kitchen cabinets is that, once they’re open, they don’t leave you enough space to move around them comfortably if your room is on the narrow side.
Instead, you could fill up that long wall with open shelving that doesn’t get in your way when squeezing past it.
As we’ve seen before, sticking to white can help you make a narrow setting look wider and airier, too.
13. Complement your kitchen’s existing features
Does your kitchen include a quirky corner? Perhaps a section in an unusual shape or material?
Then plan your new shelving around it to complement it and draw attention to it.
For example, look at the small shelves on this recessed wall: their color and simple shapes balance out the decorative stone section while matching the more contemporary lines of the kitchen island and standing out against the marble wall.
14. Add a glam touch
We’ve already looked at natural wood finishes and monochrome hues, but have you considered a more metallic alternative?
If your kitchen already relies on smaller accents in that material (for example, your drawer handles or the legs of your island stools), your new shelves can be an excellent spot to complement them without obtaining an overwhelming result.
15. Use your open shelves to showcase some decorative items
As long as you already have plenty of storage space and wall surface left, your new open kitchen shelving can be a stylish and decorative choice rather than a primarily functional addition.
Use them to create a visually appealing composition just like you would in your living room.
To take this idea to the next level, add some small task lighting that puts these items in the spotlight, too.
16. Create a double contrast
If you’re planning on introducing some open kitchen shelving on different wall sections, there’s a crafty trick that you can use to keep them consistent while also showcasing your decorative flair.
Stick to the same two colors for your shelves and wall… but in opposite combinations!
This stylish kitchen includes white shelves against a wooden background on the left and some wooden shelves against white tiles on the right.
17. Choose a kitchen island with open shelving
If you haven’t got a lot of wall space left, introduce some open shelving through your kitchen island instead.
This choice comes with three main benefits. First of all, it’ll be easier to reach out for your equipment and ingredients during food prep. You’ll also be motivated to keep your shelves minimal and tidy, and an open design will translate into a lighter and airier visual flow in your kitchen.
18. Keep your open shelving minimalist
Introducing some open kitchen shelving shouldn’t automatically mean ‘burying it underneath dozens of items.’
Instead, focus on displaying only those that you actually need to keep at easy reach or that make a meaningful decorative statement.
For example, by sticking to some monochrome crockery, this open shelving kitchen idea also makes it easier to match the white cabinets around it.
19. Include hooks for your pots and pans
Looking for an open shelving kitchen idea that’s both practical and delightfully nostalgic or rustic? Use your pots and pans as wall decor by choosing shelves with hooks!
This trick works particularly well on areas with plenty of wall space underneath the actual shelves and if your set of pans looks cohesive (same style and colors).
20. Complement your decor with your new open shelving
While functionality and wall space are still paramount, you’ll be looking at these shelves every single day, so trust us: you don’t want them to look out of place with the rest of your kitchen!
Always think of your existing decor before choosing them. For example, these shelves with decorative iron brackets would look extremely mismatched in a minimalist or contemporary kitchen, but they work divinely in this nostalgic setting.
21. Make it rustic
Rather than being about food preparation alone, your kitchen can become a cozy and special room to gather with your family before or during meals if you have a breakfast bar or island with seating.
To add to this charming vibe, consider adding a rustic twist. The trick? Wooden shelves, surfaces, or items in natural finishes.
For some bonus rustic points, include fresh flowers or herbs on your new shelves.
22. Let these open shelves take over your kitchen
Have you got a lot of kitchen equipment, perhaps because you love hosting parties or cooking for your entire family and group of friends?
Then use your new open shelves to showcase it proudly instead of cramming it all behind the closed doors of some cabinets and cupboards.
23. Place them above your island or countertop
Here’s another often-overlooked spot to place your new shelves: your central island or that part of your countertop that hasn’t got any cupboards above it.
These units will be attached to the ceiling and include two or more layers to really optimize that space.
This is a particularly effective and game-changing solution in kitchens that haven’t got a lot of wall space left.
24. Include some plants
We tend to spend a fair amount of time in our kitchen: we might as well make it look just as welcoming and visually appealing as our living room and bedroom!
From plants to terrariums and herbs, use your open shelves to showcase some green.
Other than herbs, some of the most adequate plants for this environment are English ivy, cast iron plant, spider plant, aluminum plant, and pothos.
25. Fill up some wasted corners
Other than large and bare wall sections, open shelving can be used strategically to make the most of smaller and overlooked areas.
Because they’re available in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, it’ll be a breeze to find a design that fits in that awkward corner where you thought nothing could be added, just like the symmetrical shelves on both sides of this cooker hood.
26. Combine open and closed storage
Open shelves and traditional cupboards can and should co-exist in harmony in your kitchen. In fact, if you’re planning on adding them to the same side, they can easily complement each other, especially when relying on a large cabinet.
Another compromise would be to include some open shelves behind see-through cabinet doors, whether that’s because they’re made of glass or wire.
27. Add a clean industrial vibe
A popular material combination when it comes to wall shelf units involves choosing wood for the actual shelves and dark iron for their brackets and external design.
This also happens to be the most popular combo in industrial homes! If you’re fascinated by the raw and warehouse-style inspiration behind these interiors, stick to shelves or units with clean lines and streamlined shapes.
28. Decorate with your actual crockery
The design of your open shelves plays an essential role in complementing the rest of your decor style, but what you place on them is just as important!
In some cases, it can grab your and your guests’ attention even more.
So, choose the items to display wisely. For example, if your kitchen mainly relies on two hues, your colorful crockery could be your chance to liven it up a bit.
29. Use the right items against their background
Just like you should pick the color of your shelves in relation to that of your wall, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to take your crockery into consideration, too.
Look at this kitchen, for instance! Had its designer not brought the actual items into the equation and painted that wall white, the white crockery would have pretty much disappeared against it. Instead, it really pops against the black background.
30. Try some glass open shelving
Wood, metal, glam finishes… aren’t we forgetting about something? If you’d rather maintain a particularly airy feel in your kitchen, consider some glass shelves instead.
They can create an even more beautiful look as hanging shelves above your kitchen island or countertop.
Plus, glass is an excellent material for a more contemporary twist, especially when part of a streamlined design.