Don't just go for the default! These stylish alternatives to solid kitchen doors will make your kitchen feel more spacious

If solid cabinets doors are making your small kitchen feel closed-in, try opting for one of these choices instead

A mid-century inspired kitchen in pale green
(Image credit: Pluck)

When it comes to choosing kitchen cabinets, most of us are slaves to a shaker or slab door. Both styles have dominated designs for decades, but we're finally moving on, and solid cabinets don't even need to be part of the picture. There are plenty of alternatives out there that make for far more visually-appealing storage, and many of them can help your kitchen feel more spacious, too. 

We can't deny that from a practical perspective, solid cabinet doors make a lot of sense. They allow you to hide all your kitchenware behind closed doors (quite literally), acting as a safety screen between your tower of crockery and the floor. However, when it comes to galley kitchens and tighter floor plans, solid cabinetry can make a space feel oppressive and closed-in. In the last few years, designers have been removing upper cabinetry in kitchens for an airier feel, and now we're going the whole way by removing cabinet doors completely (or parts of them, at least). 

From glass panel doors and shutters, to sink skirts and full-scale open-shelving, here are seven visually-appealing choices designers recommend if you want to give your modern kitchen a revamp. 

1. Glass-fronted Cabinets

A kitchen with marble countertops and navy cabinets with glass windows

(Image credit: Future)

A great way to instantly make your cabinetry feel less heavy and imposing is by choosing glass-fronted cabinets. Solid and safe but with the benefit of being see-through, these are an excellent option for brightening a kitchen. They might help you to keep your kitchenware in order, too, since the contents of your cupboards will be visible.

'Glass cabinets are a timeless solution,' says Chris Alexakis of Cabinet Select. 'They offer a sophisticated, clean look, while also showcasing your beautiful dishware and the transparency creates depth, which visually enlarges your kitchen.'

If you want a similar effect but you're worried about the potential of visual clutter inside your cabinets, interior designer Bethany Adams has a solution. 'I like to use cabinet doors with semi-obscured glass, like ribbed or reeded, which hides their travel mugs from view but still feels open,' she says. 'The glass bounces light around the kitchen, which makes it the perfect choice for darker spaces. I also make a point to finish the backs of the cabinets in the same hue as the wall they are on, reinforcing the trompe l'oeil effect.'

2. Shutters 

A close up of a kitchen with white shutter cabinets

(Image credit: Getty)

While they're not a common choice of cabinet door, shutters can make a great feature of a more rustic kitchen. Not only will they introduce the feel of the south of France to your home, but the vents will add textural interest to your space and offer a sense of flow that solid slab doors can't. 

'An excellent choice for bringing in a rustic, warm feel, shutters add texture to your kitchen and give a casual and inviting aesthetic,' says Chris. 'In terms of space, shutters - especially when painted in light colors - can reflect light and make the area feel larger.' 

3. Wire Mesh 

A navy kitchen cabinet with gold wire mesh panels

(Image credit: Nicole Dianne Photography. Design: Collected Interiors)

If you're a fan of an industrial interior design style or like the look of metallic accents, wire mesh cabinets could be a choice for you. Another great trick for making a small kitchen look bigger, wire-fronted doors offer a semi-transparent screen that still gives a sense of openness while also obscuring the contents of your cupboards. 

'These are certainly more avant-garde and give an industrial vibe,' says Chris. 'They can add a sense of intrigue, pulling the eye into the depth of the cabinets, thus giving the illusion of more space.' 

Interior designer Ashley Macuga of Collected Interiors also loves the way these cabinet doors can set the tone for a recurring accent, such as a brass accent across the hardware. 'This trending technique looks very debonair in a wet bar, but it’s also highly functional too,' she says. 'It's also great for areas that need extra ventilation, like AV cabinets or vegetable drawers.'

4. Mirrored Cabinets

If you want to make more of a statement, you could try using mirrored cabinet fronts. While they might sound daring, they're one of the best ways to make your small kitchen seem larger, reflecting the entire room back at you for an illusory effect. 

'As the saying goes, "mirrors expand space",' says Chris. 'Mirrored cabinet doors reflect light and visually double your space, giving your kitchen a grander feel. They also add a touch of glamour, making your kitchen a chic spot for your morning coffee.'

The best part is, you don't necessarily have to install entirely new cabinets to embrace this idea either. 'If you have shaker-style cabinets, it’s as easy as engaging a glass company to cut and glue the mirrors in place,' says designer Annie Downing.

5. Sink Skirts 

kitchen cabinets with a sink skirt

(Image credit: British Standard by Plain English)

Sink skirts are having a bit of a moment. Moving way beyond the cottage-core trend they're so closely associated with, they're now being embraced in more contemporary schemes as a whimsical design idea. They're also a super convenient cabinet door alternative, too. 

'These are a surprisingly effective solution,' notes Chris. 'Sink skirts can create an airy feel, hiding clutter and opening up the floor space visually. My aunt used vibrant colored sink skirts in her small kitchen and it brought so much personality and perceived space to the room!' 

It's best to use sink skirts on lower cabinetry where there's no risk of your cabinet peeking out underneath, but the advantage of this type of cabinet door alternative is the customizability. Simply measure the space you need, choose a fabric with your favorite pattern, and ask a seamstress to do the rest. If you own a sewing machine, it's simple to make them yourself, too.

6. Open Shelving 

Small kitchen with open shelving and marble backsplash

(Image credit: Future / Anna Stathaki)

Kitchen shelving is becoming increasingly popular as an alternative to cabinets. It might not be the sensible choice if you need lots of storage space, but open shelving is more functional than you might think. 'It not only creates an illusion of expansiveness but also makes accessing your items a breeze,' Chris says. 'I've used this concept in smaller kitchens and the sense of openness it brings is truly remarkable.'

As Chris rightfully notes, however, you'll need to pay attention to curated details if you want design-worthy shelving. Don't clutter them with your regular plates or pans. Instead, reserve them for a select few items that deserve to be displayed such as cast iron cookware or wooden chopping boards.

7. Beadboard Cabinets 

Finally, beadboard cabinets make a visually-appealing alternative to a more standard flat slab or shaker door thanks to the small grooves between each beadboard. 'A nod to the charming cottage-style kitchens, beadboard cabinets add depth and texture to the room without making it feel smaller,' Chris explains. 'A light paint job on these can amplify the light in the room, creating a sense of a larger space.' 

With these seven cabinet ideas behind you, it's hard to understand why you'd ever choose plain slab doors ever again. Choose one to lift your space and give your kitchen a new lease of life next time you're ready for a refresh. 

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.