Is open shelving in a kitchen a good idea? Experts decide whether it's a practical choice or just form over function

Kitchen open shelving embraces personality through the display of your cookware, but is it a convenient choice? Here's what design experts had to say

a marble kitchen with open shelving
(Image credit: Michael Clifford. Design: Aker Interiors)

Open shelving is everywhere right now. The latest interior design trend is all about curating a display of ornaments and artifacts on your shelves as part of your overall decor, adding personality and character to your space. Now, having been embraced in virtually every other room of the home, the trend has found its way into the kitchen. 

Praised as a way to show off items you'd typically store out of sight, open shelving has become a popular choice for displaying luxury cookware in the modern kitchen. Others also hail its functional qualities; in such a fast-paced environment, they argue that the act of essentially removing your cabinet doors makes for a far more convenient kitchen. 

Clearly open shelving has its advantages, but it doesn't come without its downsides, either. From grease splatters to crockery smashes, there are various drawbacks you ought to be aware of before committing to this stylish approach to storage. To help decide whether you should have open shelving in your kitchen, we asked some designers when they think this trend pairs style and functionality or if it merely puts form over function. 

Lilith headshot for bio
Lilith Hudson

Lilith is an expert at following news and trends across the world of interior design. She's committed to helping readers make the best choices in their homes through sharing practical tips and guides that promise to maximize both style and functionality. For this piece she asked kitchen designers whether we should have open shelving in a kitchen. Here's what they had to say

a kitchen diner with glasses on open shelving

(Image credit: Fennessey. Design: Tamsin Johnson)

From a design perspective, there's clearly a lot to love about open shelving. Be it a carefully curated selection of complimentary items or an eclectic mix of heritage pieces, the shelving idea is essentially an extension of your personal style. Besides your typical furnishings, it encourages the curation of smaller detailed items, tailored to your taste. But why the sudden appreciation for the finer minutiae of our homes?

According to Bo Hellberg of String Furniture, it's all about injecting personal flair into our homes. 'Shelves should be a reflection of our personalities and exhibit the objects that we have collected throughout our lives,' he says. What better place to do so than the kitchen, where the variety of glassware, tableware and cooking utensils out there offers a means of self-expression? After all, those le Creuset pans deserve to be seen.

Is open shelving a practical choice for a kitchen?

roost episode 6 - green kitchen with black marble worktop and splashback - Credit-Future_-Paul-Massey_

(Image credit: Paul Massey/Future PLC)

When it comes to the kitchen, it's the practical benefits of open shelving, as well as the aesthetic appeal, that people are often drawn to. We've all understood the inconvenience of cabinet doors at some point in our lives: opening and closing them with messy hands while we multitask at cooking can be a hassle. 

They can also help to make a small space look bigger by lessening the need for deep cabinets and offering more space on your countertop. 'When you cook a lot, open shelves also mean that everything is easily within reach,' says Bo. 

But there are negatives, too - and some would say they outweigh the advantages. From hot steam and smoke to greasy splatters, our kitchens see a lot. With open shelving, dust, grease and food residue can all build up on your pots and dishes over time (and no one wants more washing on their hands). There's also the question of clutter. Storing all your mix-and-matched dinnerware and utensils on open shelving might cause your kitchen to look busy and untidy. 

According to Bob Bakes, Head of Design at Bakes & Kropp, premier kitchen design and luxury cabinetry company, open shelving is probably best avoided in a small kitchen. 'Truthfully, the benefits of open shelving are solely aesthetic,' he says. 'They're useful in freeing wall space and creating more air and movement within a kitchen, but a considerable con is the loss of sensible storage, as an open shelf has a much tighter capacity compared to cabinetry. My general recommendation is to avoid them unless your kitchen has generous existing storage space.'

Industrial Wall Mounted Iron Floating Pipe Shelves, from Amazon
Go industrial

Industrial Wall Mounted Iron Floating Pipe Shelves, from Amazon

This industrial style 4-tier shelving is the perfect storage space for plates or glassware. We love the retro style with its water pipe frame paired with the rustic wooden shelves. 

When is open shelving a good idea?

A white kitchen with open wire shelving

(Image credit: String furniture)

If your spacious kitchen permits greater design freedom, an open shelving feature combined with regularly cabinetry (to hide the less aesthetic items) could be a nice touch. Although it might be tempting to give everything its own pride of place, Bo is keen to emphasize that less is sometimes more. 

Rather than using your shelves for larger dinner sets, reserve them for a select few items that contribute to your overall design, such as cast iron cookware or wooden chopping boards. 'Experiment with your style but don’t overwhelm the shelves,' says Bo. 'When it comes to styling my own, I've found that selecting just a few beautiful pieces to display can make the most decorative impact and be the most sentimental.'

Jennifer Bell, kitchen designer at Summit Remodeling Inc, also agrees open shelving works better for items you don't plan to use often. 'I typically recommend them for more decorative items rather than dinnerware,' she says, 'otherwise, your dinnerware is out in the open it typically needs to be cleaned off before using'.

You'll also want to give some thought to how your style your open shelving. 'Recently, we've noticed an increasing trend for industrial kitchens within the home,' adds Bo. 'Open shelving can give a rustic look if you opt for wire shelving alongside hooks, hanger racks, and rods.' For a modern farmhouse, opt for wooden shelving instead and use it to house jugs or copper cookware. 

To cohesively tie a room together, he also suggests coordinating different colors on your shelves alongside cookery books to make pieces stand out. 'Many forget that storage can be part of the interior design scheme and by styling our objects, we can merge function with decoration,' he notes. 

The jury's still out on whether the functional benefits of this shelving idea go far enough - really, it depends on the space you have available. If you do decide to display your kitchen items, make sure they contribute to your overall design to make open shelving worthwhile, as sadly, the practical benefits mostly fall short. 

Color & Trends Editor

Lilith Hudson is the Color & Trends Editor at Livingetc. Writing news, features, and explainers for our digital platform, she's the go-to person for all the latest micro-trends, interior hacks, and color inspiration you need in your home. Lilith discovered a love for lifestyle journalism during her BA in English and Philosophy at the University of Nottingham where she spent more time writing for her student magazine than she did studying. After graduating, she decided to take things a step further and now holds an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London, with previous experience at the Saturday Times Magazine, Evening Standard, DJ Mag, and The Simple Things Magazine. At weekends you'll find her renovating a tiny one-up, one-down annex next to her Dad's holiday cottage in the Derbyshire dales where she applies all the latest design ideas she's picked up through the week.