Open shelving has become an increasingly popular kitchen design trend in recent years. The removal of cabinet doors creates a sense of openness and lightness in the kitchen while also displaying attractive dishes and cookware. However, fully open shelving may not be the best solution for every home. Partly open shelving provides a compromise – keeping some cabinets doorless while leaving others with doors for concealed storage. There are many benefits to including partly open shelving in your kitchen or other living spaces.

The Pros of Open Shelving

Before examining the case for partly open shelving, it helps to review the advantages of open shelving in general:

Creates a Light and Airy Aesthetic

Removing cabinet doors instantly lightens up a kitchen. The openness showcases wall colors, backsplashes, and other design elements. It also makes rooms feel larger and less closed in. The visibility creates a clean, minimalist look.

Displays Decor Items

Open shelves allow you to exhibit your most attractive dishware, cookbooks, and kitchen tools. It creates a personalized look that reflects the homeowner’s style. Open shelving instantly becomes a focal point.

Improves Accessibility

Since everything is visible and in reach, open shelving makes items easier to access. There’s no more fumbling around with cabinet doors. This improved accessibility can lead to more efficient cooking.

Promotes Organization

Without cabinet doors to hide behind, open shelving encourages tidy organization. Homeowners are motivated to keep items neatly arranged and dust-free since the contents are exposed.

Feels Modern and Fresh

The openness of doorless cabinets aligns with contemporary design trends. It feels new, stylish, and updated. Open shelves add visual interest to otherwise boring cabinetry.

Concerns About Fully Open Shelving

While the pros are significant, some downsides to open shelving exist:

Lack of Concealed Storage

The visibility of open shelving means nowhere to tuck away rarely used items or appliances. Everything is on display. For smaller kitchens, the lack of hidden storage space can be problematic.

Dust and Grease Accumulation

Without cabinet doors, open shelves allow dust, grease, and other airborne contaminants to freely settle on dishware. Items demand frequent wiping down.

Cluttered Appearance

A cluttered look can occur if open shelves become overcrowded. Too many items or haphazard organization creates visual chaos rather than an orderly display.

Lack of Noise Concealment

Noisy appliances like mixers and blenders are exposed. Open shelves do not muffle sound like closed cabinetry does. This could be an issue in open floor plan homes.

The Solution: Partly Open Shelving

The best of both worlds is available with partly open shelving. Leaving some cabinets doorless while using doors on others provides:

  • Display space for decorative items
  • An airy, open aesthetic
  • Accessible storage for everyday dishware
  • Concealed storage for little-used items
  • Less dusting and wiping required
  • A balanced look between open and closed

Partly open shelving limits clutter since not everything is on display. Doors can conceal rarely used appliances and cooking tools. The combination of open and closed allows you to reap the benefits of open shelves while mitigating the downsides.

Guidelines for Partly Open Shelving Design

When incorporating a mix of open and closed cabinets, keep these tips in mind:

Prioritize Upper Cabinets for Open Shelving

The most convenient place for open shelving is upper cabinets. Items stored up high likely get limited use, so frequent access is not necessary. Displaying collectibles or infrequently used dishes makes sense. Lower cabinets should prioritize concealed storage.

Use Glass Doors on Some Upper Cabinets

Glass door upper cabinets provide a middle ground between open and closed. Contents are visible but protected from dust. Glass doors also reflect light to add to the visual openness.

Choose Interior Organizers for Lower Cabinets

Pull-out drawers, lazy susans, and other interior organizers in lower cabinets create efficient use of hidden storage space. Doorless lower cabinets become black holes whereas organizers improve access.

Incorporate Closed Cabinets Near Appliances

Strategically place cabinets with doors next to noisy or messy appliances to conceal them. For example, have closed cabinets near the microwave, blender, or mixer. Locate open shelves across the kitchen.

Display Collections Creatively

Make open shelves truly decorative. Display collected items like rows of neatly arranged teacups or stacks of colorful cookbooks. Avoid just tossing random items onto open shelves. Curate the look.

Light Items Only

Heavy dishes or large cookware could make open shelves seem cluttered and weighted down. Opt for open display of lightweight glassware, small decor items, or herb jars.

Limit Lower Open Shelving Near Sinks

Splashes and spills are likely near sinks. Enclosed cabinets help protect items. Limit lower open shelving to the other side of the kitchen.

Use Wall Brackets for a Minimalist Look

Open shelves don’t need cabinet boxes. Wall-mounted brackets provide an ultra-minimalist look. They work well in small kitchens to avoid bulky lower cabinets.

Combine with Glass Wall Cabinets

Glass wall cabinets have solid sides but glass fronts to allow visibility. They work well positioned between open shelves to create an integrated look. The mix of materials provides visual interest.

Include Closed Drawers

Drawers tucked under open shelves balance the look with concealed storage. The drawer fronts can even use glass for a see-through effect. Just be sure to organize drawer contents neatly.

Style Considerations for Partly Open Shelving

The right style of open and closed shelving varies depending on the overall kitchen aesthetic:

Traditional Kitchens

For a classic vibe, wooden open shelves with visible end grain provide warmth. Glass door wall cabinets also suit traditional kitchens. Enclosed lower cabinets should feature detailed raised-panel doors.

Contemporary Kitchens

Modern kitchens demand a sleeker look like floating glass and metal open shelves. Combine with unfussy styling on the closed cabinets – opt for handle-less doors painted the same color as the walls.

Farmhouse Kitchens

Rough wood open shelving with a handmade look pairs well with farmhouse style. Enclosed cabinets can also use a distressed painted or stained finish. Open shelving looks great next to a traditional apron sink.

Industrial Kitchens

The industrial look combines well with steel utility shelves and metal brackets for open storage. Keep closed cabinets minimalist – flat paneled or basic wooden doors. Exposed brick walls add great texture.

Rustic Kitchens

For rustic charm, use reclaimed barn wood to construct open shelves. Closed cabinets can feature planked doors and visible wood grain. Wrought iron hardware and oil rubbed bronze knobs add to the look.

Location Ideas for Partly Open Shelving

Beyond the kitchen, creative uses for partly open shelving exist elsewhere in your home:


Doorless shelving next to the front door provides a spot to drop keys, display decorative bowls, or store shoes. Closed storage can conceal coats and umbrellas.

Dining Room

Open shelving in the dining room provides space for showcasing china, drinkware, or collectibles. Enclosed cabinets can store extra dinnerware and table linens.

Home Office

Open bookcases allow for displaying favorite titles and meaningful objects. Enclosed cabinets can house files, electronics, and office supplies to keep clutter out of sight.


The humidity of bathrooms makes doors smart for concealing towels and toiletries. But wall-mounted open shelves provide a handy spot for rolled washcloths, soaps, and decor.

Laundry Room

Seemingly endless supplies like detergents and cleaning products can be stashed out of sight, while open shelves provide access to spray bottles, rags, and other laundry essentials.

Living Room

Partly open shelving near the TV can include open display areas ideal for showing off your vintage vinyl collection, framed photos, or souvenirs from travels. Enclosed storage can conceal AV equipment.

Partly Open Shelving Adds Function and Style

Done right, open shelving strikes an ideal balance – keeping the items you use most visible and accessible while hiding rarely needed items. Partly open shelving blends beauty and utility for a fashionable yet functional storage solution.

Doorless shelves make a design statement and create decorative display space. They allow you to highlight special dishware, books, collectibles or other items that reflect your tastes. Combined with closed cabinets, partly open shelving maximizes storage flexibility.

As you reimagine your kitchen or create display space in any room, consider adding this winning combination. Partly open shelving brings together the best elements of doorless and closed cabinetry for a storage solution with timeless, tailored style.

Frequently Asked Questions About Partly Open Shelving

What are the benefits of partly open shelving?

The main benefits of partly open shelving include:

  • An open, airy aesthetic from the doorless shelves
  • Display space to showcase decorative items
  • Easy access to frequently used items
  • Concealed storage from closed cabinets
  • Less dusting required compared to fully open shelving
  • A balanced, uncluttered look

Partly open shelving provides the pros of open cabinets while limiting the cons.

What should you store on open shelves?

Focus open shelves on items you use often or want to display. Everyday dishware like plates, bowls, and glasses are ideal. Also display collectibles, cookbooks, photos or baskets. Avoid bulky appliances or rare-use items.

Should upper or lower cabinets be doorless?

Most designers recommend prioritizing upper cabinets for open shelving. The hard-to-reach upper shelves are perfect for displaying special items you won’t need daily access to. Lower cabinets should be enclosed to conceal items.

How much open shelving should a kitchen have?

There’s no set rule, but a good guideline is to have open shelving make up about 30 to 40% of total cabinets. This leaves ample closed storage. Avoid having all open or all enclosed cabinets. The mix of open and closed provides the most utility.

What items should be avoided on open shelves?

Steer clear of heavy pots and pans, large appliances, or other bulky items that will make shelves seem weighed down. Also avoid items that could get damaged from dust or grease exposure. Any valuables or breakables are likely better stored in enclosed cabinets.

Should you put open shelves near a stove?

It’s smart to position closed cabinets near the oven, stovetop, or other cooking appliances. The doors help protect items from cooking splatters and fumes. Locate open shelves away from major cooking zones.

How do you clean open shelving?

Expect to dust open shelves frequently. Grease cleaning spray or vinegar work well. Removing all items at once to thoroughly clean the shelves is recommended weekly. Be sure to also wipe down any displayed items.

What finishing styles work for open shelving?

For a modern look, glass and metal shelves have an airy feel. Rustic kitchens can use rough wood shelves. Brackets alone create minimalist open storage. Finishes on enclosed cabinets below should coordinate with the doorless shelves.

What are glass door cabinets?

Glass door cabinets have solid sides but full glass fronts to allow visibility inside. They provide enclosed storage with a lighter feel. Glass door upper cabinets nicely complement open shelves below them.

Should you use any closed cabinets with open shelving?

Yes, the combination of open and closed storage is ideal. Closed drawers and cabinets balance the look and provide essential concealed storage. Completely open kitchens lack needed hidden storage space.


Partly open shelving blends the airy appeal of doorless cabinets with the functionality of enclosed storage. Leaving upper cabinets open to display special dishware and collectibles while using lower cabinets for concealed storage creates a light, uncluttered look.

The mix of open and closed storage showcases your style while also keeping necessities readily accessible and out of sight as needed. Partly open shelving works well in kitchens, entryways, home offices, bathrooms, living rooms and other spaces.

Take advantage of this best-of-both-worlds trend. Partly open shelving adds visual interest, creates specialized display space for your belongings and improves the storage capacity and efficiency of any room.