Open shelves in the kitchen have become a popular design choice in recent years. The visibility and easy access they provide to dishes, cookware and pantry items is appealing. However, open shelves also come with some downsides to consider before installing them in your kitchen. Here is an in-depth look at the pros and cons of using open shelves in the kitchen to help you decide if they are right for your space.

Aesthetic Appeal of Open Shelves

One of the biggest draws of open shelving is the aesthetic appeal. Seeing all your beautiful dishes, glassware and cooking tools on display can be an integral part of your kitchen design.

Creates a Light and Airy Look

The open and visible nature of the shelves themselves creates a light and airy look in the kitchen. It makes the space feel more open and less closed in. The transparency of being able to see through the shelves contributes to a room feeling larger and more spacious.

Highlights Decor Items

Open shelves allow you to highlight decorative plates, mugs, vases and other items in your regular rotation. This creates a personalized look in the kitchen reflecting the homeowner’s style.

Adds Visual Interest

The shelves themselves and the items styled on them add great visual interest to the kitchen. It breaks up plain walls and cabinet fronts. The eye is drawn to the shelves and the items artfully arranged on them.

Convenience of Open Shelves

In addition to their aesthetic appeal, open shelves provide some functionality and convenience factors in the kitchen.

Easy Access to Items

Open shelving creates extremely easy access to whatever you store on them. You don’t have to open up cabinet doors to access your items. Everything is instantly visible and within reach.

Promotes Organization

The visibility of open shelves encourages homeowners to organize what goes on them. You likely won’t want to clutter the shelves with random items, so only the most visually appealing and frequently used items end up on display.

Flexible Storage

Open shelves provide a place to store items that don’t fit well in cabinets or drawers. Their adjustability and lack of doors allow you to place large or oddly shaped items on them.

Should You Use Open Shelves in the Kitchen?

Dust Accumulation

One of the biggest complaints about open shelving in the kitchen is the dust that accumulates. Without cabinet doors to close, dust particles freely settle on the shelves and items. This means more frequent dusting is required.

Ways to Reduce Dust

  • Only place items you use often on the open shelves. Items that sit for long periods gather the most dust. Frequently used items don’t allow much dust to accumulate between uses.
  • Protect pieces you display with glass domes or covers. This cuts down on dusting individual pieces.
  • Use shelf liners or paper meant to line shelves to simplify wiping them down. Change the lining as needed to remove dust.
  • Install the shelves away from air vents or fans that can blow dust around. These create dust magnet areas.
  • Use finishes like satin nickel rather than black for the shelves themselves, as the dark color shows dust more. Lighter finishes hide dust better.

Grease and Splatter Issues

Another potential downside is that open shelves can end up with splatters of grease or food on them from cooking. Steaming and sautéing can send tiny grease particles through the air that coat anything in the vicinity.

Avoiding Grease Splatter

  • Don’t place open shelves directly adjacent to or across from the stove or oven. Allow a few feet distance to avoid grease splattering onto them.
  • Place dishes and glassware you use most often for serving meals into cabinets instead of on open shelves. These items are more prone to collecting grease that transfers from cooking.
  • Use shelf liners that protect the shelves and make wiping up grease splatters simple. Replace the liner as needed.
  • Choose plates and serving pieces in darker colors and patterns rather than light. This helps camouflage any grease marks.

Lack of Storage Space

One thing to keep in mind with open shelving is it does not offer as much storage space as traditional cabinets. You lose the enclosed storage space so the amount you can fit is decreased.

Maximizing Shelf Space

  • Use wall space vertically to allow for multiple shelves. Floor to ceiling shelving opens up more space.
  • Opt for deeper shelves that allow you to stack items if needed.
  • Store only your most visually appealing and frequently used items on the open shelves. Keep other items in cabinets.
  • Utilize racks, stands or dividers to group similar items and maximize space.

Not Ideal for Breakables

Open shelves don’t provide the most secure spot for delicate glassware or breakable dishes. Bumping the shelves or an item being pulled off could lead to chipping or cracking fragile pieces.

Protecting Breakables

  • Place delicate glassware and dishes you use less often in cabinets rather than displaying them.
  • Install a railing or ledge along open shelves to keep items from being knocked off easily.
  • Use anti-slip shelf liner to help grip pieces in place.
  • Place breakables towards the back of shelves away from edges. Items rarely used won’t risk getting bumped or broken.

Lack of Noise Reduction

The openness of shelves also allows noise to travel more freely. Any banging of pots, pans or dishes on open shelves will echo in the kitchen.

Creating Peaceful Open Shelves

  • Opt for rubber-lined shelf liner to muffle noises.
  • Use foam or rubber in between stacked dishes and cookware to reduce rattling.
  • Place fabric lined baskets or bins on the shelves to contain noises.
  • Avoid directly stacking metal pans, pots or baking sheets. Interleave liners in between.
  • Choose dishes and glassware with rubberized bottoms or felt pads to absorb noise.

Not as Secure

Open shelving provides easier access, which also makes it less secure. Without cabinet doors, items are more vulnerable to little hands getting into things they shouldn’t.

Securing Open Shelves

  • Place child-unsafe items like cleaners and knives into cabinets, not on shelves.
  • Consider shelves with locking doors or mechanisms that allow you to restrict access.
  • Install shelves higher up, out of reach of children.

Requires Wall Space

Open shelves need adequate wall space to be installed. In galley or small kitchens, this might be limited. Make sure you have room for the shelf size and height you want before committing.

Finding Space for Shelves

  • Consider going vertical with shelves. Floor to ceiling units maximize space.
  • Place shelves strategically on the rear wall of countertops for a streamlined look.
  • Opt for shelving that mounts directly to the walls rather than floor supported units.
  • Extend shelving into adjacent spaces like dining or laundry rooms if kitchen wall space is limited.

Not as Energy Efficient

Lacking doors makes open shelves less energy efficient than closed cabinets. The contents are more exposed to room temperatures. However, the effect is quite minimal so this is a small downside.

Boosting Efficiency

  • Place shelves along interior rather than exterior walls to reduce temperature variations.
  • Opt for extra insulation in exterior walls where open shelves will go.
  • Use energy efficient light bulbs above shelves to produce less ambient heat.

Requires Wall Reinforcement

Don’t overlook the importance of properly reinforcing walls where open shelves will be mounted. They can’t simply be anchored to drywall alone. The weight requires them to be secured firmly to wall studs or with specialized hollow wall anchors.

Ensuring Sturdy Installation

  • Use a stud finder to mark where shelves will align with wall studs before installation.
  • For hollow drywall walls, use toggle bolts or molly bolts designed for heavy shelving.
  • Follow manufacturer instructions carefully for installing shelving into the wall properly.
  • Stagger shelves across multiple studs rather than anchoring shelves to just one stud.
  • Place delicate glassware and breakables on lower shelves in case upper ones loosen over time.

Style Considerations for Open Kitchen Shelving

Open shelves allow you to add personalized style to your kitchen. Consider what look you want to cultivate as you design the space.


Exposed piping, steel shelving and factory carts give an urban loft vibe.

Rustic Farmhouse

White painted wood paired with baskets and floral dishes brings farmhouse charm.


Clean lines, woven baskets and colorful cookware embody understated modern allure.


Mix various materials like wood, metal and glass for an eclectic flair. Go vibrant and whimsical with dishware.


Light wood shelving, ceramics and minimal accessories give a Scandi vibe. Stick to a neutral color palette.

Positioning Open Shelving in the Kitchen

Where you place the open shelving in your kitchen impacts both aesthetics and functionality.

Above the Sink

The space above the kitchen sink is a smart spot for open shelves. You can store pretty dishware in easy reach of the sink. Just be aware of potential splashing and grease.

Above Counters

Open shelving mounted above counters and backsplashes keep items within arm’s reach while cooking. Just be cautious of heat and grease exposure.

Along an Entire Wall

Installing shelves across an entire wall makes a design statement. Go floor to ceiling for maximum storage.

Island Installation

Open shelves along a kitchen island look streamlined. Opt for ones with a matching finish to your cabinets for cohesion.

Adjacent to Refrigerator

The area next to the fridge provides a good place for open pantry-style shelving. It’s easy to grab ingredients while cooking.

Near Entryway

Shelves by the kitchen entrance allow you to display pretty dishes by the dining table for visual appeal.

Other Open Shelving Considerations

  • Look for shelving with adjustable heights and depths to maximize storage abilities.
  • Incorporate complimenting cabinets along with open shelves for a balance of form and function.
  • Light the shelves sufficiently to spotlight displayed items and avoid shadows. Under cabinet lighting is ideal.
  • Ensure shelves have adequate support braces every few feet to handle heavyweight cookware.
  • Take care to properly anchor shelving into studs or use specialized wall anchors to handle the load.


The choice of whether open shelving belongs in your kitchen depends on an array of factors from the aesthetic you want to functionality concerns. For homeowners who value the light and airy visual appeal and convenience of everything being visible and in reach, open shelves bring wonderful design perks. Some creatively placed closed storage can help offset any downsides. However, those who want to hide away clutter and cherish durability over display may find drawers and cabinetry better suit their needs. Analyze how you cook, entertain and live in the kitchen to decide if open shelves help or hinder your lifestyle.

Should You Use Open Shelves in the Kitchen? FAQs

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about using open shelves in the kitchen:

Are open shelves hard to clean?

Open shelves do require more frequent dusting than closed cabinets. However, using liners and only displaying frequently used items helps minimize dust buildup. They can also be cleaned easily with wipe downs when needed.

Do open shelves make a kitchen look cheap?

Not inherently. Open shelves allow you to spotlight pretty dishes, cookware and barware which can give a personalized upscale look. The key is styling them neatly with decor. Random clutter can cheapen their appearance.

Do open shelves reduce resale value?

Most often they do not hurt resale value, especially in modern kitchens. Many buyers today seek an open, airy kitchen. Shelves can always be removed and replaced with standard cabinets later if needed.

Can open shelves sag over time?

Properly installed shelves secured firmly into wall studs should not sag under normal use and cookware weight. Use multiple anchor points and braces to ensure adequate support.

Should you put everyday dishes on open shelves?

It depends on your lifestyle and if you mind some dusting. Putting your daily mugs and dishes on open shelves provides convenient access while cooking. Some prefer to reserve the shelves just for decorative and occasional use pieces.

Do you need to finish the backs of open shelves?

Finishing the backs is not mandatory but can provide a more polished look. An unfinished back won’t damage walls or anything, but a finish gives a more complete built-in look from all angles.

Should open shelves match existing cabinets?

Matching finishes can provide a streamlined look, especially for built-in style open shelves. But it’s not essential. Mixing wood, metal, glass etc. allows you to use shelving as a contrasting design element.

How deep should kitchen wall shelves be?

The common standard depth is between 12 and 16 inches deep. This accommodates most plates, bowls and mugs. Deeper shelves around 20-24 inches can store small appliances and larger cookware in a stackable way.

Should you have upper and lower open shelves?

Having a mix of upper and lower open shelving is great for storage and style. Lower shelves allow you to conveniently access oft-used items while upper provide display. Just position delicates away from grabbing area.


There are pros and cons to weigh when deciding on open kitchen shelves. Assessing your lifestyle, cooking habits and decor goals will determine if the stylish visibility is worth the potential downsides of dust and grease. Proper placement and storage approaches can allow you to optimize the benefits while minimizing hassles.