Open shelving has become very popular in contemporary Kitchen Design.

It can serve may purposes including breaking up a run of closed cabinetry, providing a place to display collections, filling in an awkward space or just allowing homeowners to see what they have for easy retrieval.

As Kitchen Designers we need to understand the purpose for including open storage before we randomly place it in a Kitchen design.

This post will discuss a variety of open shelving options to help you decide the best approach for your client’s Kitchen design.

The simplest way to achieve an open shelf is to “remove” the doors from a standard cabinet.

Cabinet manufacturers offer this option and it will ensure that everything lines up in your final installation.

When choosing this option ensure you specify the interior of the open shelf intentionally.

Matching the interior of the open shelf to your cabinet doors is always a safe bet but consider a contrasting material for a unique look.

Where you place an open shelf cabinet in your design is also a consideration.

Experiment with smaller open shelf cabinets below or above standard closed door wall cabinets.

This approach can provide a custom look at a very economical price point.

The area above the refrigerator is also a place to consider an open shelf cabinet.

This location is not always a very functional place for storage, especially when a tall refrigerator is specified, so take advantage of this with a display cabinet.

A hint here is to specify a shallow depth cabinet of around 12″ to 18″ deep instead of a full depth cabinet for the best display space.

Placing open shelving in the corner is a smart solution.

When the layout forces the upper cabinetry to extend in a straight line into the corner, open shelving makes this area much more functional.

The swing of a door on a cabinet in a corner can block access to the shelves, so remove the doors and make this area a focal point!

Open shelving is not just for upper wall cabinetry.

Placing an open shelf as part of base cabinetry can be a great solution in your Kitchen designs.

Consider the end of an island as a starting point.

Often the end of an island has a site line to the dining space or a living space making it a logical location for a focal point.

Instead of just plunking down a basic open shelf, add some detail to make it a worthy focal point.

You can also use base open shelving to conceal an obstruction.

Sometimes there are mechanical elements that cannot be moved in a layout. Place a shallow base open unit in front of them to conceal the mechanical and produce a finished look.

Kitchen Designers are a creative bunch and open storage is a way to indulge that creativity.

The examples above show how the Kitchen Designer used open storage to enhance the design of the space.

Curved open shelves bridged the gap between the support post and wine refrigerator in the first example.

In the second example the Kitchen Designer used horizontal line to add a unique open storage unit to the corner of an island.

Floating shelves have become a staple in many contemporary Kitchen Designs.

The definition of this style of open storage is a shelf that appears to float with no visible form of support.

Floating shelves are available in stained wood, painted wood and even stainless steel, providing a lot of stylistic options for Kitchen Designers.

The most important aspect of specifying floating shelves is to ensure they are strong enough to support the items that will be placed on them.

Always check with your manufacturer for the weight the shelf can take before you stack heavy dinnerware on them.

To provide additional support for “floating” shelves, specify them between cabinets or beside cabinets.

Your cabinet installer can then secure the shelf to the cabinet for some additional support and piece of mind!

Also remember that floating shelves place at the end of a cabinet run into a corner are great for display and accessibility.

Another way to provide support is to include actual additional support.

There are a variety of support brackets available on the market so explore the possibilities.

Adding a bit of detail to your open shelves is a creative way to elevate your design.

Bead board is an easy material to add behind a shelf for a farmhouse or classic design aesthetic.

For a modern look clad the entire wall behind the floating shelves in a show stopping stone slab.

Floating shelves are also the perfect element to use in areas where traditional cabinets wouldn’t work.

I love specifying them in niches such as in this corner that transitions from the kitchen to the breakfast nook. This was accomplished by stealing a bit of space from the walk-in pantry.

Open shelves work well on angled walls.

By staggering the size of the floating shelves, the line of the angled staircase is followed and produces a custom installation.

Open shelving can be used to help define spaces.

In this first example I wanted to separate the dining room from the kitchen but still keep the space feeling open.

A tall microwave column and floating shelves did the trick.

In the second example a support post ended up in the middle of the great room.

Suspending floating shelves from it was the perfect solution to define the kitchen in this open space.

The single floating shelf is a great addition to many Kitchen designs.

Potential placements include above mid height cabinets or below upper cabinets.

An on-trend placement for a floating shelf is to place one at 24″ above the countertop as a backsplash floating shelf.

This placement produces a very clean lined modern look.

My final suggestion for open shelf design is floor to ceiling shelves.

A great way to expand the storage and display aspect of a Kitchen design is to specify floating shelves at the end of the Kitchen into the dining space.

By keeping them at a shallow depth they will not impede the dining space and you will have a stand out focal point in your design.

As you can see, there are multiple ways to include open storage in your designs.

I’d love to hear how you incorporate open storage in your Kitchen Designs. Please leave me a comment below.

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Jan Rutgers B.Sc. H.Ec.

Jan Rutgers has been designing kitchens and products for over 25 years and is a recipient of Kitchen & Bath Design News’ Top Innovators in 2020 for the Kitchen & Bath Industry. She has designed more than 1000 kitchens learning valuable skills with each one! Her experience in Kitchen Design, Millwork Manufacturing and Product Development has led her to create VESTABUL SCHOOL OF DESIGN where she educates and mentors people passionate about the Kitchen Design Industry.

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