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An Ode To Open Shelves: 15 of Our Favorites

by Grace Bonney


Open shelves seem to be both the favorite to have and hate on at home these days. On one hand, their open form helps rooms feel lighter, brighter and airer. But on the other, their lack of doors means things on them gather dust and grease (in kitchens) more easily, and they require a bit of regular tidying to keep them looking sleek and organized.


I hated on them for a while, until we moved into our house and realized how heavy the closed shelving looked on the wall. A few days later the cabinet came down and an old work bench went up in the form of three open shelves (see ours after the jump!). The openness encouraged us to pare down to the pieces we really use and donate the rest and, despite not having a strong stovetop fan, we haven’t had any problem keeping them grease-free. So now I’m fully a convert. While I agree they may not be for everyone (I can see how low open shelves might be tough for families with pets or little ones), in the right space, they are just the ticket for opening up a smaller area and letting the shelved objects shine. So today I’m celebrating 15 of my favorite open shelves. Hopefully they’ll inspire some redecorating at home! xo, grace


Top image: The Jersey Ice Cream Co. used salvage wood to create open shelves in this kitchen projectMiddle image: Loyal Supply Co. in Massachusetts created a bold peg system to hold their open retail shelving; Bottom image (directly above): Dana and Chris’ Hudson Valley home contains a full wall-length of open shelving to store the family’s kitchen supplies and machinery.


I love the copper pipe rods that support these sleek white shelves in this Tacoma, Washington home.


The blue cabinets in this Brooklyn kitchen pick up the warmth in the room’s open salvage wood shelving.


Probably my favorite floating open shelves we’ve ever run: these almost invisible floating record shelves in Monterey are the one break in pattern here (they’re not in the kitchen), but they’re my absolute top pick. I love the way this lets the albums really shine.


Our Hudson Valley kitchen said goodbye to a heavy Victorian cabinet with curtains (that was not original to the house) and embraced open shelving that lets us focus on the everyday glasses, cups, plates and bowls we really use (mostly from IKEA, CB2 and a few older family pieces).


Eva’s kitchen makeover combines soapstone, found branches and salvage wood open shelves and countertops.


If you’re open to making your own shelves, this DIY floating shelf project is a great way to display treasured objects without sacrificing natural light.


Scott’s San Francisco kitchen uses classic metal IKEA shelving to free up wall space in a small room.


The Emersonmade homestead proves that open shelves don’t have to be minimal and modern, they can feel textured and traditional, too.


The open shelves in this Portland home serve as practical shelving and a great way to display beloved art pieces (where they’re high enough to not be at risk from the sink water!).


Bright green cabinets are the star of this Louisiana kitchen, where open shelving allows the rest of the space to feel open.


This Connecticut home turns a small kitchen corner into a sleek storage space.


This southern home uses dark paint to turn open shelves into tiny backdrops for special cooking vessels.

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  • Love the look of all of these, but sadly they’re just not for me! Food and cooking ingredients comprise most of what I keep in my kitchen cabinets – I have a buffet where I keep my dinnerware set as well as pots, pans, and other cookware. Open shelving would look so unattractive in my place unless I got stylish jars to hold literally all of my food – including my store-bought packaged cookies and potato chips! That just seems impractical and like too much of a challenge to do. If I had plenty of lower cabinets to store food (right now I pretty much only have upper cabinet space in my rental), I could see doing open shelving up top to hold dinnerware, cookware and décor. Kudos to those who pull off this look!

  • Ahhh, I LOVE those record shelves! My partner and I are avid vinyl collectors and have over 1,000 records, which is probably (definitely) too much weight for a wall. But damn those look good!

    I would love a similar round-up of favorite bookshelves in tours — I’m currently re-configuring a lot of our books trying to style some new shelving, and could use some inspiration :)

  • I love the look and idea of them, but unless you use most things daily, they are going to need washing all the time. Not sure I could handle that – but still love looking at them!!

  • I had open shelves in a previous kitchen and am having an area of open shelves in a remodel of my “new” 1960’s kitchen currently under construction. I found them wonderful! I loved the ease of reaching all my everyday dishes and glasses and cooking pans and utensils. I do have a good blower on my range hood so perhaps that was helpful.

  • I respectfully hear the naysayers but I feel there is a beautiful honesty in open shelving. The things you put on them should be useful AND visually appealing. In addition to relieving the awkwardness a wall cupboard often creates, (what’s holding it up? Says your brain) it’s a statement of purpose and lightens the kitchen which can feel cave like.

  • Having personally seen the contents of my open shelves all over the room after an earthquake, I am hesitant to install these to store or display anything that will break or injure when we have the next shaker. I love the look, but open shelving is a risk any where here on the west coast if you aren’t going to fix everything down with earthquake putty.

  • Did a kitchen renovation 8 months ago and replaced all my top cabinets with open shelving. At the time I had sleepless nights, went back and forth countless times, wondered if I was sacrificing practicality for aesthetic, etc. I have yet to regret my decision. My kitchen feels open, airy, and it’s helped me to mindfully edit my collection to what’s both practical and beautiful (where in the past I’d usually just keep everything because I could shut a cabinet and forget about it). Cleaning is not a nightmare – a wet cloth once a week for the upper shelves when doing a Saturday afternoon deep clean, a daily wipe for the lower shelves (along with the countertops, takes no time at all), and rinsing dishes under warm water before using (as I would do anyway). The rest of the shelves house cookbooks, plants, and frequently used dry food in pretty glass jars. Bonus: The few dishes I do own are such workhorses, they never stay on the shelf long enough to gather dust.

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