Display Your Style: Decorate Your Kitchen With Shelves

Vibrant red teapots neatly arranged on a sleek black shelf make a bold style statement in a modern farmhouse kitchen. Freshly cut herbs displayed in glass jars on a rustic wooden ledge add a pop of green in a cozy country kitchen. A set of gleaming copper pots perched on a delicate metal bracket shelf creates an unexpected decorative touch in an industrial loft.

Open shelving offers a fresh, functional alternative to traditional closed kitchen cabinets. With strategic planning, the creative use of shelves can completely transform the look, feel, and utility of your culinary space. Let’s explore how to make the most of shelves to design a kitchen that perfectly reflects your personal taste.

shelves in kitchen instead of cabinets

Shelving Basics: An Introduction

At their most basic, shelves are platforms designed to hold, display, and organize items. Kitchen shelves typically consist of horizontal lengths of material, like wood or metal, anchored securely to the wall. What distinguishes shelves from traditional cabinets is their open design. Rather than containing stored objects behind closed doors, kitchen shelves showcase kitchenware, food staples, and decor in plain sight.

Shelves can enhance your kitchen’s storage capacity, accessibility, and style when used thoughtfully. Unlike bulky cabinetry, lightweight shelves can adapt to a variety of spaces. Try stylish shelf solutions in place of wall cabinets, above working surfaces, or next to refrigerators and stoves. Shelves’ slender profile makes them perfect for smaller kitchens where excessive cabinetry could overwhelm. Their simple installation also makes shelves an ideal DIY project for design-lovers craving a weekend project.

Kitchen shelves come in numerous styles to suit any home. Floating shelves offer a streamlined, modern look perfect for contemporary spaces. Sturdy bracket shelves lend an architectural element with their exposed supports. Ledge shelves mounted directly to the wall create subtle built-in storage. For a touch of glamour, glass-front shelves keep contents dust-free behind transparent doors. Mix and match shelf designs to make your kitchen uniquely you.

Benefits of Open Shelving

Trading all your upper cabinets for open shelves probably isn’t realistic for most cooks; those cabinets do provide valuable enclosed storage. However, incorporating some shelves can provide an array of aesthetic and functional benefits.

Aesthetic Appeal

Nothing transforms a kitchen quite like trading bulky cabinet doors for streamlined shelves. Removed doors immediately create a lighter, airier look and feel. The eye travels smoothly along shelves and their contents instead of being stopped by closed cabinets. Items on display also add pops of color against neutral walls.

Shelves essentially turn necessary kitchen storage into a decorative feature. Rather than hiding small appliances or dishware behind closed doors, you can artfully arrange your most beautiful, meaningful, or functional pieces. Like artworks in a gallery, displayed objects become part of your kitchen’s design.


One of the best aspects of shelves is their flexibility. With adjustable or removable brackets, shelf height can easily shift to accommodate your evolving storage needs. You can also switch shelf lengths and depths by simply mounting new materials.

Since shelves don’t require permanent construction like cabinet boxes, their contents can be shuffled around on a whim. Closed cabinets often lead to “out of sight, out of mind” neglect of items stored in back. Shelves let you regularly rotate goods you want to use. You can instantly update your display with the seasons too.


Open shelving allows for personalization that solid cabinetry just can’t match. While cabinets come in limited widths with few design options beyond small hardware swaps, shelves’ simpler construction means nearly endless variety.

After choosing a shelf type that fits your space, customize with your preferred materials and finishes. Opt for warm wood, cool marble, or modern glass. Coordinate metal accents and brackets. LED lighting can spotlight special pieces too. This flexibility lets shelves seamlessly suit your evolving style.


For many homeowners, extensive built-in cabinetry is cost-prohibitive. Quality materials and professional installation make cabinet sets a significant investment. Shelving offers a more budget-friendly storage solution without sacrificing style.

With smart planning, shelves can stretch existing storage too. Adding a few choice shelves allows displaying special items you want to highlight rather than keeping them stashed away. You can also install shelves above counter areas lacking cabinets. This expands storage and functionality without a full cabinetry overhaul.

Choosing Your Shelves

Once you decide to incorporate shelving, thoughtful planning ensures your new shelves both look fabulous and function efficiently.

Measure Carefully

Take detailed measurements of the spaces you hope to fill with shelving. Account for elements like windows, appliances, and countertops when planning placement. Shelves come in a range of standard widths, depths, and mounting heights, so pick options suitable for your kitchen’s dimensions.

Also, consider how your current cabinet and counter storage is utilized. How much space do you reasonably have to dedicate to open shelves? Determine what you can consolidate or eliminate from your existing storage to free up room for shelves without reducing overall capacity.

Select Materials

The materials you select impact both form and function of your shelves. Handsome hardwoods like oak bring natural warmth. Powder-coated metals offer an industrial vibe. Tempered glass provides elegant transparency. Marble and stone shelves deliver richness.

Consider shelf weight capacity too. For example, delicate glass shelves often can’t bear hefty dish stacks. Durable wood or metal is better suited for heavy items. And don’t forget the brackets! Their design significantly contributes to the overall aesthetic.

Style Strategically

Make sure your shelf style aligns with your overall kitchen decor. Floating shelves work beautifully in contemporary spaces, while chunky bracketed shelves feel traditional. Glass-front cabinet-style shelves provide refined lines.

Exposed shelves also lend themselves particularly well to certain color palettes. Warm wood shelves pop against cool gray walls. Vibrant kitchenware displays become art against a neutral palette. Just be sure to coordinate any shelf paints or stains with existing cabinetry finishes.

Consider Lighting

The right lighting elevates both form and function of shelves. For a soft glow, install puck lights or mini track lighting directly under shelves. This subtly spotlights contents without glare. Mini pendant lamps suspended above shelves provide attractive task lighting.

If you’ll use shelves near sinks, shelving integrated with light strips illuminates workspaces beautifully. Slim LED lighting can also be installed on undersides or sides of shelves themselves to create ambient glow or dramatic backlighting.

Storage and Organization

While their open design provides easy access, shelves do require more intentional styling than cabinets to stay organized. A few tips help keep your shelves functional and clutter-free.

Edit Displayed Items

Resist the urge to cram shelves full of everything you own. Thoughtful curation results in an uncluttered look. Keep shelves tidy by regularly rotating items from storage as seasons change.

Group like items, like stacks of plates or matching glassware, to look cohesive. Also combine practical and decorative items, like draping utensils over a beautiful ceramic vase.

Place Mindfully

Keep ergonomics in mind when organizing shelves. Position frequently used ingredients, dishes, and tools on lower shelves for convenient access. Display special occasion dishes or small appliances you rarely need up higher.

Don’t forget vertical storage either. Multitiered risers, hanging wall rails, and compartment organizers all maximize space. Attaching hooks underneath shelves adds extra storage too.

Maintain Tidiness

The downside of exposed shelves is more frequent dusting. But staying on top of shelf cleaning keeps your kitchen looking its best. Wipe shelves weekly with a microfiber cloth. For deeper cleaning, remove all items monthly to dust each shelf.

Glass shelves resist dust, but be vigilant about fingerprints. Install slim curtains or roll-down bamboo covers if you dislike visible dust. Just wipe and roll up when prepping meals.

Combining Shelves + Cabinets

While maximizing shelves looks stunning, most cooks still benefit from some enclosed cabinetry for ample kitchen storage. The ideal approach combines shelves, cabinets, and other storage for a customizable blend of style and function.

Divide Purposefully

Instead of entire sets of open or closed storage, thoughtfully divide purposes. Use cabinets for major storage of food staples, small appliances, cookware, and dishware. Then deploy shelves to hold key ingredients and cooking tools you reach for daily.

This provides both the easy-access benefits of shelves and concealed storage of cabinets. For nonperishable overflow, utilize baskets or bins tucked onto lower cabinets’ tops or utility spaces like pantries.

Zone Strategically

Physical location also impacts shelf/cabinet distribution. Consider installing open shelves on short walls, islands, or other spaces lacking room for floor-to-ceiling cabinetry. Use them in place of upper cabinets to open sight lines.

Then position any taller cabinetry strategically, like along the perimeter or near sinks and appliances. Integrate drawers and rollout cabinets for specialized items too. Thoughtful placement enhances both aesthetics and functionality.

Create Cohesion

When combining cabinetry and shelves, create a cohesive look with complementary finishes and hardware. For a unified aesthetic, choose cabinet frames, shelf brackets, and knobs in coordinating metals with similar finishes.

Echo cabinet colors in shelf stains as well. Consistent detailing, like exposed hinges or recessed pulls, also helps blended storage feel intentional rather than haphazard.

Shelf Inspiration

Ready to get started designing your dream shelves? Let these stunning examples spark ideas for your own kitchen.

Floating Functionality

Floating shelves instantly modernize a kitchen. Their suspended design feels light and streamlined. When spaced creatively, floating shelves become abstract art. Mix floating shelves and wall-mounted cabinets for contemporary appeal.

Natural Elements

Rough-hewn wood shelves infuse organic warmth into even the most minimal spaces. Try combining reclaimed barnwood shelves with sleek cabinetry and marble counters to create an unexpectedly harmonious blend of natural and modern.

Industrial Edge

The utilitarian look of exposed piping and metalwork characterizes industrial style. Adapt this aesthetic with shelves from galvanized steel pipes or blackened iron brackets. Contrast against wood counters for an eye-catching combo.

Rustic Country Charm

Narrow shelving mounted horizontally along the wall, also known as ledge shelving, brings cozy cottage character to cooking spaces. Group shelves closely for a layered look or space them out to highlight collected vintage dishes.

Stylish Storage

Glass-front cabinet shelves provide enclosed storage with a light, airy design. Use them in place of upper cabinets to display favorite dishware behind sleek glass. LED strips installed inside create a magical glow.

Creative shelves make kitchen storage smarter, not just prettier. Applied thoughtfully, they can completely transform how your cooking space looks and functions.

As you reimagine your kitchen, think beyond just open or closed cabinetry. Combine shelves, cabinets, drawers, and other storage solutions in new ways to create your ideal blend of style and utility. With strategic planning and inventive design, shelves offer nearly limitless possibilities to make your culinary space distinctly you.

Ready for a shelf refresh? Start by taking measurements and editing down your current belongings. Focus shelves in unused spaces and maximizevertical storage. Finally, have fun designing shelves that show off your personal taste! Our shelves reflect who we are, so let them tell your unique story.

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