Sorry, But Even Designers Think Open Shelving in the Kitchen May Be a Bad Idea

Here are 5 things to consider if you really want them

Lori Loomis Kitchen with white cabinets, open shelving, and blue and white porcelain

Mick Anders Photography

Open shelving has been one of the most divisive trends in kitchen design over the past few years. And sure, it’s chic, it’s airy, it’s ‘modern farmhouse.’ Yes, all of that is true. But before you set your Pinterest dreams in motion, it’s important to consider if this trend really works for the way you operate, organize and maintain your kitchen. Here, designers weigh in on five reasons why you should think twice before embracing this trend all out.

1. Can You Maintain a Styled, Curated Look, 24/7?

Lori Loomis white kitchen with open shelving with pops of blue throughout

Mick Anders Photography

Read: it's high maintenance.

The biggest challenge with open shelving is that, in order for it to maintain a clean, organized look, you have to commit to both cleaning and keeping the shelves organized regularly. “It’s very difficult to maintain a ‘styled’ home on a day to day basis—which open shelving requires,” writes Lori Loomis, of Lori Loomis Interiors.

Most folks are drawn to an open shelving concept because it can help a space to feel larger and more open. But once the inevitable clutter of every day takes over, it easily negates the overall goal of this design choice.  “If you are on either extreme of the tidiness spectrum—very disorganized or super type-A organized—open shelves may not be for [you],” adds Caroline Harvey of Simply CH Lifestyle & Interiors. “Messy folks won’t want the stress of keeping them organized and dust-free, and neat freaks [won’t] like the look of having dish ware out in the open.”

2. Do You Have Display-Worthy Dishes?

a white kitchen with open shelving by JTW Design

Alexis Courtney – JTW Design

You may have to overhaul your dish collection.

Open shelving is a design concept that assumes we all have beautiful, matching dishes that we’ll want everyone to see. “Mismatched dishes and kitchen gadgets aren’t display-worthy,” says Jennifer Chambers from Refine Home Design. It’s important to think about what kinds of dishes you do have, she adds. “Are your dishes, glasses, and mugs display-worthy? Having a cohesive look with items displayed keeps open shelving from feeling chaotic and cluttered...think white, wood, glass, and metal.”

3. Do You Have the Real Storage Space to Lose?

It's valuable real estate.

When you decide to give over a good chunk of your kitchen’s precious real estate to pure display, what you lose is practical, functional storage, and you create the need to fashion storage elsewhere in your kitchen. “Generally speaking, I do not typically recommend doing open shelving in a kitchen unless it is a very large kitchen with a dedicated area that is more for display,” explains Loomis. “Rarely does [open shelving] work to serve the needs of all upper storage,” adds Jessica Williamson, of JTW Design. For example, large, heavy dishes often have to find homes elsewhere, as their weight could cause the shelves to buckle or if anything is left unsteady, they could come crashing down.

4. Is It the Right Organizational System for You?

If it's not prepare to be frustrated—a lot.

Another word on organization and functionality—you adapt to open shelving, it doesn’t adapt to you. Having the right organizational system for your kitchen, and the way you operate, is essential. And if you’re forced to use a system that doesn’t work for you, even the tiniest kitchen tasks will become tedious and frustrating (speaking from experience). “We all have storage tendencies,” says Williamson. “[S]ome of us are ‘pilers’ who need to see everything in front of us; some of us are ‘stashers’ who like everything behind closed doors; and some of us are ‘minimal’, only using what is absolutely necessary.  If you can understand your tendencies, we can [find] the appropriate storage solution [for your needs].”

5. Can You Handle the Dust Collection?

Think about what floats around in your kitchen on a daily basis. Dust particles in the air, oils and grease that are a result of cooking, and much more. All of that settles and collects on your displayed dishes if you don’t use them regularly. This is especially true if you cook a lot at home. Loomis writes “I think open shelving is best suited for regularly used (and attractive) dishes…that will be frequently washed so as to avoid dust and kitchen residue.”

 If You Still Want It...

If you do have your heart set on this decorative style, consider using it as an accent, and spend time doing an inventory of your dishes and thinking about how you work in your kitchen before you dive in. Kitchens are not just the workhorses of our homes, they are the hub of our homes; and, yes, it is important that you like the look. But, don’t make the mistake of having functionality take a back seat to aesthetics in your kitchen. In this room, more than another other, the amount of truly usable space and usable storage will determine whether you love (or even just like) your kitchen, or whether you can’t wait for demo day.