Open kitchen shelves – Everything you need to know

If you’re redesigning your kitchen or building a new one for your home, you need to choose your kitchen shelves wisely. There are many options available – some of which are easier (or cheaper), while some others more expensive. All of them have their pros and cons. One kitchen shelving trend that’s been picking up traction is open shelves.

Now, what are open shelves? What benefits do they offer? Are they right for you? Which type of wood is best for making them? In today’s blog, we’ll answer those questions!

 What are open kitchen shelves?

What are open shelves, and how are they different from regular kitchen shelving? In the usual kitchen, you’ll find a countertop, and cabinets. When you remove the cabinet doors and sides, you’re left with plain old shelves – and that’s what we call ‘open kitchen shelves’.

With minimalism being in vogue, more and more people are opting for an open, airy look. While closed cabinets have their pros, they tend to look rather boxy. That, however, isn’t the only reason why! Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of open shelving.

Advantages of open kitchen shelves

Here are some of the reasons why people are starting to choose open shelves over the traditional option:

1. More open space in the kitchen

Cabinets are rather boxy, and make the kitchen feel like a small, claustrophobia-inducing space. If you want to make the best use of a small space or prefer an airy feel, eliminating cabinet doors is a great idea. Unlike our wardrobes, kitchen cabinets are rarely stuffed full – so you’ll free up a lot of space around eye height. It’ll do wonders for the environment! If your kitchen feels cramped and small, this may not sound like it’d help much, but trust us, it will.

2. More light in the kitchen

Many people install in-cabinet lights for the kitchen. This is less an aesthetic preference and more a necessity, since the inside of a cabinet can be rather dark. Open shelves don’t present this problem.

3. They need less maintenance

Hinges need oiling, locks need fixing, and doors can start to splinter and break with repeated use over the years. If the material was poor or non-waterproof, you’re looking at much more maintenance. Open shelves eliminate all these problems. All you need to do is ensure they’re made and installed correctly, and then they’ll be good for a couple decades.

4. Open kitchen shelves are easier to clean

Getting into the corners to tackle dust and dirt is that much harder with a cabinet door in your way. So if there’s grime buildup, moisture damage or a dead bug in a kitchen cabinet, you’d have an irritating chore to get to. Open shelves are a lot easier to clean. Just moisten a rag, and wipe in one smooth movement. Easy peasy!

5. They’re easier to make

If you’re a DIY guru or enjoy woodworking, you probably make your own cabinets and shelves. It’s a very satisfying process. However, cabinets are still rather complicated and time-consuming to make. Plain old open shelves, on the other hand, are wonderfully simple. Just cut the wood to size, treat and/or polish it, and install it.

6. They cost less

Since there’s less work involved in making them, open shelves cost a lot less. Whether you’re making them yourself or hiring a contractor to do it, it’s always nice to save a little money.

Disadvantages of open kitchen shelves

 After this nice long list of pros, you must be wondering what downsides this concept has. Well, wonder no longer!

1. Visual clutter

Since the aim when making open shelves is to create a minimalistic, airy feel, this beats the purpose somewhat. Everything that’s hidden away behind tasteful cabinet doors will be on display – a jangling mess of bottles, jars, crockery, boxes, and heaven knows what else. Mismatched lids, torn boxes, duct-taped handles will be on full display. That’s some serious visual clutter right there, which can potentially cause anxiety.

2. It won’t look as good as you imagine

Pinterest ideas never look good in real life. The visual clutter we mentioned above will look unpleasant, and if you have to go overboard shopping for cute containers and same-size jars, you defeat the purpose of simplifying your kitchen and keeping the budget small. You’ll probably be disappointed with the look.

3. Dust-collecting nightmare

Open shelves in the kitchen might be easier to clean, but they’ll need cleaning oftener since they’ll collect more dust. And the worst part is, you won’t have to dust just the shelves, but every item on them. If you don’t have too much stuff, then it’s all good. Otherwise, maybe not so much. This’ll be an especially annoying problem for people who live in dusty areas.

4. Stuff can fall off the shelves

Do you have a cat? If yes, open shelves are not for you. Our furry feline friends may be cute, but boy do they take joy in knocking things off tables (and shelves). Even if you don’t have a cat, unless the shelves are deep enough things will fall off every now and then. And you don’t want to make the shelves too deep or they’ll be hard to clean.

The lowdown

So, what’s the lowdown? The pros and cons are equally convincing, so should you try out this new trend or stick with the good old trusty design?

In our opinion, the downsides are largely appearance related, so open shelves should be alright if you value space and convenience over appearance. If you design floating shelves for the kitchen you will have a few problems, but let’s face it, everything has some downsides. If you don’t own too many things, that’s a huge plus.

If, on the other hand, you wanted open shelves for the ‘look’, take our word for it – you’ll be disappointed. You can always convert them into normal cabinets if you still want to give it a try, but if you’re getting them made by professionals it would cost you quite a lot extra.

Weigh the pros and cons, and decide for yourself whether they’re for you. As someone who’s had open shelves in the kitchen for over a decade, I can promise they work great – if you can deal with the downsides. Our kitchen is extremely simple with one small utensil unit, two countertops and a couple open shelves (no cabinets anywhere), and it’s fantastic! It does look cluttered, but we’re used to it. We haven’t had to deep-clean any areas other than the sink in years.

The best type of wood for open shelves

So, you’ve been through the pros and cons, and you’re still here. That probably means you’re still interested in open kitchen shelves. Great!

If you’re good at making stuff and want to give your kitchen wall shelves a try, you first need to know which type of wood you should use. Here’s a list of some of the best:

Pine – It’s affordable, easily available, and easy to use. Pine is a wonderful softwood, and ideal for kitchen shelving. One downside of pine, however is that it’s relatively soft so it can bend or dent if there’s weight on it. So if you want to store large, heavy containers, this is not the right wood type.

Plywood – It’s the best all-rounder option. Plywood is strong, long-lasting, inexpensive, and readily available. It’s not as pretty as the others, but if you plan on painting the shelves (which is a good idea, because wood is very dark), it should work perfectly.

Red Oak – Strong, DIY-friendly and long-lasting, red oak is perfect for shelves. It’ll be easy to work with, and you can expect it to last a couple decades. It’s a little expensive compared to plywood, but the money would be well-spent.

There are many other wood varieties you can choose from – mahogany, koa, padauk, cherry – but they aren’t particularly suited to kitchen shelves in our opinion. Some can also be a little hard to work with, which can make it a frustrating job for DIY enthusiasts.

Making open shelves – dimensions and tips

When it comes to depth, go with shelves that are 10-12” deep to reduce chances of items falling, and to make them usable. 9 inches and below would be frustratingly narrow.

Leave 12” between the shelves, although if you’re designing shelves specifically for smaller or larger items you can go ahead and change that figure to suit your needs. I would say 6” is a bare minimum for height, even if the items on it will be small, because you don’t want the area looking too busy. Leave 15-20” between the countertop and the lowest shelf.

When making open shelves, try to position the shelving brackets and other fixtures behind the wood of the shelf for a neater look. That would make them floating kitchen shelves rather than plain old shelves, and they wouldn’t just look better – they’d also be easier to clean and give you more pride.

So this was a guide on open kitchen shelves. While they’re wonderful and simple, they certainly aren’t for everyone. Compare the pros and cons, and consider your needs and present conditions before making a decision. If you’ll be making the shelves yourself, consider installing a smaller shelf on one side to try it out for a few months.

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