Kitchen open shelves are a popular design choice that allows you to stylishly display dishes, cookbooks, and decor. However, arranging open shelves can be tricky. The key is creating an organized aesthetic that also functions efficiently. Follow these tips for how to beautifully arrange your open kitchen shelves.

Choose Complementary Decor

When arranging open shelves, aim for a cohesive look using decor in complementary styles and colors. For example:

  • Farmhouse styled dishes with vintage-inspired ceramic canisters
  • Sleek modern cookware with concrete bookends and geometric accents
  • Bold solid colored dishes with brightly patterned linens

Mixing and matching pieces with a similar aesthetic will give your shelves a curated feel. Steer clear of items that starkly clash.

Group Functionally

Think about practicality when grouping items on open shelves. Depending on your space, try organizing:

  • Dishes by type. Place plates together, bowls together, etc.
  • Glassware by function. Display wine glasses, cocktail and water glasses in their own sections.
  • Food staples like oils and spices can be grouped in one area.
  • Everyday dishware separate from special occasion pieces.

Having a functional grouping system makes locating and putting away items easy.

Layer Heights

Fill your open shelves dynamically by layering pieces from tall to short. A few design tips:

  • Place taller items like tall ceramic vases or cookbooks towards the back.
  • Use medium-height items like canisters and plants to add visual interest in the middle.
  • Display shorter items like candles, small decor or dishes near the front to finish the layered look.

The staggered heights create dimension for a livelier look.

Use Bookends

Strategically placed bookends instantly neaten your open shelves. Try bookending:

  • A row of cookbooks to keep them upright and organized.
  • Your dish collections, using decorative bookends that match your dishes.
  • Baking essentials like spices, oils and baking pans to define the area.

Sleek metallic bookends add structure, while ceramic ones coordinate with your decor.

Add Warm Lighting

Illumination is key for open shelves to truly shine. Try:

  • Under-cabinet lighting or puck lights to create a glow.
  • Stylish glass lamps to highlight your collections.
  • A hanging lamp above the shelves as a dazzling centerpiece.

Lighting casts a beautiful glow on your displays and makes your shelves more of a focal point.

Use Baskets Artfully

Baskets are a versatile option for keeping items tidy. Stash smaller items like packets of tea or cooking utensils in baskets, and use them to:

  • Corral all your spices, oils and condiments.
  • Discreetly store less aesthetically-pleasing items like food storage containers.
  • Pull colors from your dishes by choosing coordinating baskets.

Arrange the baskets neatly so they enhance, rather than clutter your shelves.

Add Greenery

Greenery instantly livens up your open shelves. Choose leafy plants like:

  • Succulents or air plants in minimalist pots for modern shelves.
  • Vining plants like ivy or pothos trailing down to add organic flair.
  • Herb pots like basil, rosemary or mint to add kitchen functionality.

Avoid large plants that will overpower or block your shelves. Go for smaller pots that inject natural vibrancy.

Style with Signs

Add character with signage styled to match your shelves. Ideas include:

  • A “Spices” sign to label that section.
  • Quirky distressed wood signs for a farmhouse kitchen.
  • Rustic chalkboard labels identifying foods or dishware.
  • Metallic wire or marble signs that say “Plates,” “Mugs,” etc.

Signs instantly make your organizational system and displays feel more curated.

Keep it Clutter-Free

While open shelves display your wares, they can also easily look messy. Avoid clutter by:

  • Only displaying your most aesthetically pleasing tableware and decor items.
  • Keeping the number of items on each shelf reasonable so it looks tidy.
  • Removing rarely-used items to free up space.
  • Frequently dusting and straightening shelves.

Follow a minimalist mantra so your shelves appear clean, not cluttered.

Add Personal Touches

Make your open shelves truly you with personal styling touches like:

  • Displaying treasured antique dishes or family serveware for a sentimental element.
  • Putting favorite photos or art pieces in fun frames on the shelves.
  • Tucking meaningful cookbooks, or cookbooks you reference often on the shelves.
  • Adding decorative touches that reflect your tastes, like travel trinkets or favorite colors.

Your unique personality flourishes will give your styled open shelves extra heart.

Adjust Displays Seasonally

Keep your open shelves looking fresh by switching out some decorative elements seasonally. Rotate:

  • Cookbooks – Display baking ones prominently in the winter and grill books in the summer.
  • Seasonal produce like oranges or squash into your styling.
  • Holiday serveware – Use bunny dishes at Easter or snowflake mugs in December.

Rotating some key items makes your shelves exciting and ever-changing.


Arranging open shelves in your kitchen takes a thoughtful approach. Combine visual appeal with function by organizing smartly, elevating styles cohesively, and adding personal touches. Use height, signage, lighting and displays creatively to make your open shelves shine. With a little TLC, your shelves will be both beautiful and easy to use all year round.

FAQs About Arranging Open Shelves

Here are some frequently asked questions about stylishly organizing open kitchen shelves:

Should plates go in back or front on open shelves?

Plates can go either place, depending on your styling goal. Place every day plates/dishes near the front for easy access. Display your prettiest plates/serveware towards the back as decor focal points.

How deep should items on shelves be?

Around 12 inches deep is ideal. Shallower than 10 inches can look skimpy. Over 14 inches deep risks things getting lost in the back. Find your shelf depth sweet spot based on your items.

Should I organize shelves by color or type of dish?

Grouping by type makes locating items easier day-to-day. Organizing by color creates a vibrant, rainbow look. You can also do a blend – group by type but place same colored items together for a coordinated look.

Should open shelves have knick-knacks or only functional items?

This depends on your space and personal style. Some decorative accents add visual interest. But too many knick-knacks can feel cluttered. Edit non-essentials so your displays feel clean.

How often should I clean open shelves?

Clean open shelves 1-2 times per month. Use a microfiber cloth to dust shelves and wash any dishes/glassware. Wipe down the shelves themselves with an all-purpose cleaner. More frequent mini-wipes between deep cleans are a good idea too.

How do I make open shelves look more elegant?

Styling your shelves elegantly comes down to your choice of materials and design accents. Use elegant materials like marble bookends or brass shelf brackets. Choose decorative pieces like crystal glassware, woven baskets and gilded frames. Sophisticated greenery, lighting and signage also elevate shelves.


With some strategic organization, stylish storage options and decorative accents, your kitchen’s open shelves can be both stunning and highly functional. Mix and match your favorite pieces while keeping practicality top of mind. A little creativity goes a long way when arranging open shelves – your personalized flair will make them shine. Refresh your shelves seasonally and keep them tidy for a space you’ll love to use and admire all year long.