An open kitchen with minimal upper cabinets creates a light, airy aesthetic and makes the space feel more open and expansive. This design trend offers numerous benefits but also requires some adjustments from a traditional closed kitchen. Here is an in-depth guide to open kitchen cabinets.

What are Open Kitchen Cabinets?

Open kitchen cabinets refer to kitchen designs that minimize visual barriers between the kitchen and other living spaces. This is achieved by:

  • Removing upper cabinets entirely or replacing them with open shelving
  • Installing glass-front upper cabinets or cabinets with open shelving
  • Reducing the number of upper cabinets and increasing space between them

The lower cabinets remain but have a lightweight, furniture-like feel enhanced by legs or a plinth beneath a counter-height work surface. The overall visual effect is clean, streamlined, and contemporary.

Benefits of Open Kitchen Cabinets

Create an Open, Airy Feel

Removing obtrusive upper cabinets makes the kitchen appear less cluttered and closed-off. This design immediately creates a lighter, more expansive look.

Allow More Light In
With fewer overhead cabinets, natural light can permeate the kitchen more freely. This also amplifies the feeling of openness.

Showcase Decor
Open shelving provides areas to display beautiful dishware, cookbooks and other treasured items. Glass-front cabinets also put decor on exhibit.

Increase Visibility
An open kitchen lets the cook see and interact with the rest of the household instead of being isolated. It also lets others see what’s cooking!

Easy Access
Open designs allow immediate access to dishes, glasses and cooking items so family and guests can help themselves. No more rummaging through cupboards.

Highlight Architectural Features
Removing bulky cabinetry draws attention to attractive ceilings, windows and other architectural elements that get lost in a busy kitchen.

Contemporary Style
The minimalist look of open cabinets creates a fresh, contemporary aesthetic. The lighter space feels current and invigorating.

Challenges of Open Kitchen Cabinets

While beautiful, open kitchens present some functionality challenges:

Lack of Storage
No upper cabinets means significantly less kitchen storage space. Dishes, food items and appliances need a new home.

More Cleaning
Open shelves will need cleaning more frequently since dust and grease are more visible. Items stored on shelves also get dusty.

No Way to Hide Clutter
Everything on open shelves and in glass cabinets is visible. The kitchen must be kept tidy at all times.

Accessible to Children
Items stored on open shelving are within reach of small children. This could present safety issues.

Lacking Privacy
Open designs make the cooking area visible to household members and guests, so messy prep work and dirty dishes are exposed.

Showcases Flaws
There’s no way to hide an organizational mess. Open cabinets must remain meticulously styled.

With smart planning, these challenges can be overcome. The right organizational systems and storage solutions make open cabinets highly functional.

Maximizing Storage in Open Kitchens

While open kitchens have less physical cabinet space, there are many ways to creatively increase storage:

  • Add functional open shelving – This can accommodate dishes, cookbooks and decorative items in daily use. Utilize shelves of different heights and depths.
  • Use wall-mounted rails – Installing rails on the wall provides hanging space for utensils and pots.
  • Incorporate furniture pieces – Freestanding pantries, hutches and baker’s racks provide storage and display space.
  • Add pull-out drawers – Making better use of base cabinet space, pull-outs hold food containers, baking pans and other items.
  • Utilize blind corner organizers – Specialized lazy susans make the most of difficult blind corner cabinet spaces.
  • Install custom pull-out cabinets – Companies like Rev-A-Shelf make pull-out cabinets for everything from trash bins to mixers.
  • Maximize under-counter space – Use the area under the sink and counters for pull-out cabinets.
  • Use over-fridge cabinetry– Installing full cabinets over the fridge regains storage space lost from no overhead cabinets.
  • Hide items elsewhere – Store little-used items in closed cabinets in a pantry, mudroom, etc.

With creative customizations, open kitchens can function just as well as closed ones.

Ideas for Open Kitchen Shelving

Open shelving is a hallmark of open kitchen style. Shelves can be integrated above counters, on walls or in furniture pieces. Here are some options:

  • Rustic wood planks in combinations like pine and cedar
  • Sleek stainless steel or anodized aluminum for contemporary flair
  • Glass or acrylic shelves to maintain the open look
  • Economical, easy-to-install wire shelving
  • Mix materials like wood and metal for an eclectic look
  • Incorporate plate racks and wine glass racks
  • Use L-brackets for a floating shelf look with hidden hardware
  • Try corner brackets to utilize awkward angled space
  • Go for wall-mounted rails for hanging utensils and pans

Get creative with shelf shapes too. In addition to basic rectangle shelves try rounded, triangular, geometric and zig-zag designs. This adds visual interest to shelves.

Best Paint Colors for Open Kitchens

Since the open kitchen is on display, paint color choice is important. Stick to light, airy shades that enhance the open feel rather than darker dramatic colors. Here are top paint ideas:

  • Soft white – A crisp, clean white adds a spacious look. Try whites with a subtle undertone like Sherwin Williams Alabaster or Benjamin Moore White Dove.
  • Light gray – From a pearly gray-beige to soft French grays, light grays work beautifully. Benjamin Moore Gray Owl is a popular choice.
  • Creamy off-whites – These lend a warm, elegant feel. Behr Cappuccino Cream or Sherwin Williams Accessible Beige are nice options.
  • Light blues – Soft powder blues and sky blues keep things light and airy without being cold. Try Valspar Right Blue.
  • Pale greens – Subtle green tints like sage and celadon maintain the open vibe. Check out Valspar Camden Green.
  • Yellow undertones – Rather than a bright yellow, go for soft buttery options like Benjamin Moore Lemon Cream.

Stay away from darker paint colors like black, charcoal, rich red or navy blue. These close the space in. instead of keeping things open and light.

Decor Tips for Open Kitchens

How you decorate and style an open kitchen is key to making it feel put-together and polished. Here are some top tips:

  • Edit ruthlessly – Only display those items you use regularly and your very favorite decorative pieces. Remove anything that clutters.
  • Keep counters clear – Counter space is precious in an open kitchen, so only keep small appliances on counters that you use daily like a coffee maker. Store the others out of sight.
  • Hide small appliances – Things like stand mixers and blenders can be housed in pull-out cabinet spaces when not in use.
  • Use decorative bottle rails – Mounting rails underneath upper cabinets keeps condiments, oils and spices organized.
  • Invest in matching containers – Storing dry goods in clear, uniform glass or stainless-steel containers looks tidy.
  • Use concealed trash bins – Hide unsightly trash cans in cabinet pull-outs or toe-kick drawers.
  • Arrange carefully – Style shelves neatly and symmetrically with the most attractive dishware on the most visible open shelves.

With a minimalist, coordinated decorative scheme an open kitchen appears well-organized and inviting.

Closed Storage Solutions for Open Kitchens

While open kitchens maximize open shelving, some closed storage is still needed for items best kept out of sight. Here are ways to incorporate closed storage:

  • Tall pantry cabinet – A floor to ceiling pantry cabinet provides ample storage for food items, small appliances and cookware. Use a single cabinet or entire pantry.
  • Bottom drawers – Frequently used pots, pans and baking sheets can live in large drawers under the oven. Dedicated cutlery drawers are useful too.
  • Under cabinet pull-outs – Pull-out trays and drawers utilize the full depth under counters for everything from food to cleaning supplies.
  • Upper glass cabinets – Glass door cabinets maintain the open look while concealing their contents. Great for collectibles and dishware.
  • Larder unit – Freestanding cabinetry like a hutch or armoire can house lesser-used items. Position it adjacent to main kitchen.
  • Butler’s pantry – For larger kitchens, a full dedicated butler’s pantry provides ample closed cabinet and countertop space.

When thoughtfully incorporated, closed storage options prevent open kitchens from feeling too sparse while maintaining the light and open aesthetic.

Creating an Open yet Functional Kitchen

It is possible to achieve a gorgeous open kitchen without sacrificing storage and functionality. Follow these tips:

  • Determine what you must keep in closed storage like cleaning products, overflow dishes, etc. Allocate cabinet space for these essentials first.
  • Think vertically. Use tall pantry cabinets, full-height open shelves and high wall rails to maximize every inch of vertical storage space.
  • Incorporate specialized pull-outs like spice racks, tray dividers, and appliance garages into lower cabinets and drawers.
  • Edit ruthlessly. Only keep items you use on a very regular basis on open shelves.
  • Keep surfaces clear. Limit small appliances on the counter to essential daily-use ones only.
  • Use furniture pieces like hutches and pantries to integrate closed storage adjacent to the main kitchen.
  • Invest in coordinating storage containers in clear glass, matching wood and neutral metal. Uniform jars and canisters create a tidy look.
  • Remember that open kitchens work best in larger kitchens. Tiny galley layouts can quickly become cluttered without enough closed storage.

With strategic storage placements and selective editing, your open kitchen can achieve a perfect balance of openness and function.

Frequently Asked Questions About Open Kitchen Cabinets

What are the pros and cons of open kitchen cabinets?

Pros: open, airy feel; allows more light in; provides display space; improves visibility and access; highlights architectural details; creates contemporary style.

Cons: reduced storage space; requires more frequent cleaning; clutter is exposed; items are accessible to children; lacks privacy; imperfections are visible.

What kind of shelving works best in an open kitchen?

Rustic wood, stainless steel, glass, acrylic, wire, and mixed materials all work beautifully. Incorporate specialty racks and funky shapes beyond basic rectangles.

How do you maintain an organized look in an open kitchen?

Edit ruthlessly, keep surfaces clear, store small appliances out of sight, invest in uniform storage containers, carefully arrange shelves, incorporate closed storage like tall pantries.

What do you do with extra kitchen items when you remove upper cabinets?

Use functional open shelving in the kitchen. Add closed storage with tall pantry cabinets, bottom drawers, under cabinet pull-outs, glass door uppers, freestanding hutches/pantries, and incorporate a butler’s pantry.

How do open kitchen cabinets affect resale value?

Open kitchens are currently very desirable, so they boost resale value. Choose timeless, trend-proof materials and high-end finishes to retain value. Good lighting and roomy proportions also help.

Can open cabinets work in a small kitchen?

Open cabinets maximize in larger kitchens. Small galley layouts can become cluttered and cramped. Consider just a few upper glass cabinets or open shelves rather than removing all uppers in a small kitchen.

What kind of lighting works best for an open kitchen?

Linear LEDs, recessed cans, pendant lamps, and accent lighting provide both overall illumination plus task lighting. Strips under upper cabinets are perfect.

What wall color looks best for open cabinets?

Light, airy paint colors enhance openness. Creamy off-whites, soft grays, light blues and greens, and whites with subtle undertones work beautifully. Avoid dark, dramatic colors.


Open kitchen cabinets provide a light, expansive look and contemporary style. Removing upper cabinets and integrating open shelving creates visual appeal but requires smart storage adaptions. Utilize a variety of storage solutions like pull-outs, furniture pieces and closed storage cabinets. Careful organization and styling keeps the space looking tidy. With strategic planning, an open kitchen can be highly functional while remaining sleek and gorgeous. The clean lines and minimalist aesthetic of open cabinets will appeal for years to come.