Case for open kitchen shelves is far from closed, designer says

by Judy Stringer

Thumbing through home décor magazines or scrolling on sites like Pinterest, it’s easy to fall in love with open shelving in many of those beautifully appointed kitchens. Open shelves are simple, aesthetically pleasing and allow homeowners to inject a fresh, modern vibe into a prized living space. They can also create the illusion of added room in smaller kitchens.

But they’re not for everyone, said interior designer Jill Andrew of Garth Andrew Co. in Akron.

“I don’t think it’s very practical,” she said.

The main issue, according to Andrew, is orderliness. Think of all the stuff hiding behind the cabinet doors in your kitchen. How much of it matches or coordinates or is tidy enough or in good enough condition to display? Then there’s the dust, germs and grease deposits that could collect on unprotected dishes and cookware.

“Even if you have perfectly stacked dishes and perfectly stacked glasses and mugs,” she added, “I think it’s easy for it to look kind of cluttered.”

Andrew believes open shelving in kitchens works best as an accent to conventional cabinetry and can serve a purpose in some cases. A couple of open shelves above the sink, for example, can create visual interest to those washing dishes or rinsing produce, while open shelves around a window won’t block as much natural light as bulky cabinets.

And, for homeowners with colorful and/or distinctive dishware, a few open shelves are a great exhibition space.  

There are, however, alternatives that can meet some of the same objectives, Andrew said. Cabinets with glossy or shiny finishes help a kitchen look more modern than matte finishes. 

“Also, simple panel doors like a Shaker style or mission style – as opposed to something that is ornate or a Cathedral door that has an arched-look carved into it – are a more contemporary, cleaner look,” she explained.

Lightening up darker cabinets with a fresh coat of paint is another way to freshen up a more traditional look, she said. Softer shades of taupe are currently popular cabinet hues.

Glass doors on a few strategically placed cabinets, she added, can provide a space to display treasured or distinctive items. Those look nice as an extension to upper cabinets, according to Andrew, or above a bar area. ∞