You’ve probably seen them in home design magazines, those beautiful open kitchen shelves with artfully arranged plates and accessories.


Half design element, half storage, floating shelves add a touch of openness to walls of cabinetry and an airy feel to a room that can sometimes seem like a heavy space dominated by boxy appliances.

But how well do open shelves actually function for a real family in a real working kitchen? The answer is: it depends! Open shelves make perfect sense for some homeowners and would never work for others; the key is being honest about how you function best in your kitchen and how your family likes to live. Here are a few things to consider if you are remodeling or renovating your kitchen or building a new custom kitchen from scratch:


The first step in determining whether open shelves would work for you is walking into your kitchen right now and opening your cabinet doors. What do you see? Do you have nicely organized dishes, glasses and coffee cups that match – or are artfully mismatched – and are not cluttered? Or are your pots and pans precariously stacked so that the doors are the main reason they stay contained? If you want to hide your messiness behind closed doors, open shelves are your worst nightmare. If you have a touch of OCD or if the idea of putting your china on display is motivation to keep you neat and organized, having at least some open shelves might be the right choice for you.

Wellborn Cabinetry and open kitchen shelves

Wellborn Cabinetry: Premier Series, Estate Collection


Open shelves make sense for some families but can be a challenge for others, depending on the age and tendencies of your children. Of course, with young kids, certain things – like cleaning products and heavy pots and pans – must always be kept out of reach, so a combination of open and closed cabinets may be best. Open shelves that children can reach on their own are actually a blessing at some ages, because it can teach them to be more self sufficient when it comes to getting their own snacks. In these cases, open shelves should be placed low, where children can easily access them without reaching too high or over dangerous areas (such as cooktops).

Aging in place.

As a rule, open shelves tend to be more accessible for folks who need extra assistance getting around. They are easier to reach into, because you don’t have to navigate around an open door. This seemingly simple task of opening a cabinet door can become an insurmountable obstacle for someone who is wearing a cast, moving around with a walker, or who is confined to a wheelchair. Of course, you must use common sense and ensure that open shelves are kept neat and are not placed in areas where heavy objects can fall from above and injure someone with limited mobility.


Honestly assess how much space is available in your kitchen. Open shelves tend to work best in large spaces, where they serve primarily as accents, or in tiny kitchens, where every inch of space is at a premium and their very openness shines a proverbial spotlight on clutter and disorganization. Again, it all goes back to functionality and what works best for how your family lives.


This goes hand in hand with neatness, but it bears separate consideration. If your home is dusty – think of situations like running a dusty gas heater, a space where pollen is a problem when you open your windows, or owning a dog with a propensity to shed or long-haired cats – open shelves might not be for you. While dishes that you use daily will get washed frequently, other accent pieces or infrequently used small appliances may accumulate dust and need to be cleaned more frequently than you normally would if they were safely concealed behind closed doors.