11 Inspired Open Shelf Kitchen Ideas—Because Upper Cabinets Aren’t *Everything*

Time Several Hours

Budget $ $$$

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WORDS BY Rebecca Deczynski

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Published on December 13, 2022

When it comes to kitchen design, open shelving can be quite the controversial topic. For some, the prospect of abandoning upper cabinets in favor of shelves can seem intimidating on a functional level — but the truth is, there are so many ways to make this designer-approved look work for your home and your lifestyle.

The right open shelf kitchen ideas can help you to make the most of your cookspace. Have a weird space that’s not quite big enough for a cabinet? What about an otherwise empty wall in your dining area? Shelves not only offer a platform for your favorite decorative items like cookbooks, plants, and ceramics, they’re also an elevated way to bring extra dimension to your space. You can even combine both upper cabinets and open shelves to experience the best of both worlds.

The best kitchen design is one that works for you — and these open shelf kitchen ideas are proof that shelves are surprisingly versatile and customizable. Below, Havenly designer Kasee Smith shares her advice for arranging and styling open shelves in your kitchen.

Open Shelf Kitchen Ideas: The Dining Display

Open shelf kitchen ideas

No space for a buffet or china cabinet? Add floating shelves to your dining space to display your dishes and make it easier to serve your family or guests. Consider this a practical style option that also looks great (especially if you have a stunning collection of dinnerware).

Open Shelf Kitchen Ideas: The Built-In Barrier

Open shelf kitchen ideas

If you have an open floor plan that combines your kitchen with a dining area, built-in shelves in a dramatic, contrasting hue can help to break up the space. Plus, when you opt for built-ins with open shelving at the top and cabinets at the bottom, you can easily tuck away your less-than-pretty kitchen necessities. 

Open Shelf Kitchen Ideas: The Window Frame

Open shelf kitchen ideas

If your kitchen has a lower ceiling, flanking a kitchen window with upper cabinets can leave the room feeling cramped. By opting for open shelving instead, you get extra storage space while also making an otherwise unoccupied wall look polished.

Open Shelf Kitchen Ideas: The Workspace

Open shelf kitchen ideas

Open shelves in the kitchen can also be handy for avid home cooks. When arranged above counter space,  they can serve as a workstation for items you frequently reach for, like pots, pans, plates, and of course, the inimitable KitchenAid stand mixer. 

Open Shelf Kitchen Ideas: The Focal Point

Open shelf kitchen ideas

In this space, a built-in shelf that holds colorful glassware transforms a simple vent hood into a dynamic design feature. The contrasting wood helps the shelf to stand out and complement the warm wood of the kitchen island.

Open Shelf Kitchen Ideas: The Storage Grab

Open shelf kitchen ideas

If you find you don’t have enough storage in your kitchen, don’t be afraid to opt for shelves just outside of the room — like in your entryway or living space. Store dry goods in pretty canisters, and arrange the shelf with cookware or cookbooks to make it feel both stylish and practical.

Open Shelf Kitchen Ideas: The Display Cabinet

Open shelf kitchen ideas

Not 100% sold on fully open shelves? With glass cabinet doors, you can get the best of both worlds! Transparent cabinet fronts help you to display all of your favorite glassware and dinnerware, without having to worry about dusting. You can even install upper cabinet lighting inside for ambiance. 

Open Shelf Kitchen Ideas: The Styled Vignette

Open shelf kitchen ideas

If you have a small space between upper cabinets — and don’t happen to have a window — you can still design a small open shelving moment. Create a styled vignette with vintage glassware, candles, and even a small framed piece of art.

Open Shelf Kitchen Ideas: The Mini Greenhouse

Open shelf kitchen ideas

If you have a flourishing plant collection, open shelves make for a great place to arrange all of your greenery and fresh herbs. Plus, the foliage will help to bring a little extra liveliness to your cook space.

Open Shelf Kitchen Ideas: The

Open shelf kitchen ideas

If you can sacrifice the storage space afforded by upper cabinets, one long floating shelf (paved with wall sconces, of course) can give your kitchen a chic, Parisian-inspired edge. Style it with aesthetically-pleasing plates, cutting boards, and candle tapers to finish the look, plus a coat of French blue paint on the lower cabinetry.

Open Shelf Kitchen Ideas: The Marble Moment

Open shelf kitchen ideas

For a kitchen that looks seamless and elevated, fabricate an open shelf out of the same material as your backsplash (in this case, marble). This simple ledge elongates the entire wall, and creates a beautiful design feature complete with vintage cookware and fresh blooms.

Looking to give your own kitchen room a facelift? Work one-on-one with our expert interior designers for just $129 per room. Get started today with our style quiz 

Words by Rebecca Deczynski