How To Style (and Organize!) Open Shelves in the Kitchen

Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Lowe’s Home Improvement. All opinions and photography are our own and are not influenced by Lowe’s Home Improvement.

Now that The DIY Playbook is back up and running for 2019, we are back to our weekly kitchen updates! Although a lot of the dirty work is done (yay!), I have plenty of kitchen details that I still need to share. We’re still waiting on the crown molding and a few other small pieces, which is why the final reveal hasn’t happened yet. BUT, once those materials arrive, I promise the reveal will follow quickly after. Heck, I’m just as excited to check this ENORMOUS project off my to-do list as you guys are to see it come together.

In the meantime, every Tuesday I’ll be checking in with kitchen details. Today, I’m sharing how to style open shelves, next week I’ll be sharing the organization we added inside of the cabinets, I have a post coming up about what I WISH I knew before starting this project, super specific details on the window seat, and more.

Bottom line, I still a lot to cover so lots more kitchen details coming your way in January and into February. But until then, let’s chat ALL about open shelves in the kitchen… one of my favorite parts of our new kitchen.

Open Shelves in the Kitchen – What To Consideropen shelves in the kitchen

I always loved the look of open shelves in a kitchen. I appreciated how they made a kitchen feel a little less “heavy” by offering some airy space in place of traditional upper cabinets. But when it came time for me to commit to open shelves in my own kitchen, I was very hesitant. How could I love the look so much, but at the same time, feel nervous about putting them in my home?!

After some more careful thought, I realized that it can down to one major concern. the pros and cons to open shelves in the kitchen

I was nervous that open shelves may be more about style and less about function. And in the most hardworking space in our house, could I afford to sacrifice that much function for the sake of style?!

Honestly, I think the answer to that question will be different for everyone. But after more and more contemplating, I convinced myself of a few things…

  1. I knew I could make these shelves functional (while still being stylish).
  2. With the amount of cabinetry we picked up in the dining room, I could afford to lose some hidden storage and swap out tradition upper cabinets for open shelves in our kitchen.
  3. For me, my old kitchen was small and very closed off. My number one priority for our new kitchen was opening up the space and making it feel light and airy. Open shelves were one major change I could incorporate in order to do so. (Spoiler alert: I haven’t regretted this decision for one second. In fact, I think these open shelves are one of the best parts of the whole room!). how to decide if open shelving is for you

The decision to add open shelving may not be right for everyone. I’d advise you to weigh the pros and cons and decide what’s best for your space. But if the only thing keeping you from pulling the trigger is fear of doing something a little different, my advice would be to DO IT! You can ALWAYS add upper cabinets in the future if the open shelves don’t work out. And when you do decide to take the plunge, today’s post is for you… because yes, you can have stylish open shelves that are functional too!

My Shelf Details

But before we dive into the details on styling and organizing open shelves in the kitchen, let me chat a little bit about my open shelves. Because we were overcommitted at the time and I was very under-the-weather during my first trimester, we ended up buying these shelves but I could have saved a lot of money by DIY-ing this project using this step-by-step tutorial. I love the simplistic floating look in that tutorial, but also love the idea of adding brackets like these or these! If you’re looking for the floating look, these ones, these ones, or these ones are a bit smaller, but very budget-friendly options from Lowe’s.

After my shelves arrived, I ran to Lowe’s and picked up the tools needed to hang these bad boys onto our backsplash tile (which was already installed!). Here’s what we needed:

  • Carbide Drill Bit (necessary to drill into the tile with minimal cracks or chips)
  • Drill
  • Screws (we didn’t need anchors like these because we drilled right into a stud, which is highly recommended since the shelves will be holding quite a bit of weight)
  • Masking Tape (so the drill bit doesn’t slip on the tile’s surface)

Full disclosure, I handed these materials off to my contractors because I was a bit nervous to tackle this job. There was absolutely NO room for error and drilling into tile for the first time made me a little nervous. Since the contractors had lots of experience in this department, they were happy to tackle this job, and they had these gorgeous shelves hung in about an hour! The best piece of advice they offered was making sure you had the right drill bit and hitting as many studs as possible.

How To Style Open Shelves in the Kitchenhow to style open shelves in the kitchen

Once I decided that open shelves were for me and they were securely installed, I was committed to making these shelves functional and fashionable. Here are the rules I followed to make that happen.

Mixing Function & Styleorganizing open shelves in a kitchen

Mixing items that were functional and others that were stylish was the first, and possibly most important, “rule” I followed when styling and organizing these open shelves. When someone comes into my kitchen, I’m sure they’re probably thinking that the shelves look styled and not very functional. But actually, almost every single thing on these shelves has an intentional purpose in our kitchen. The only two things that don’t? The flowers and the frames.

If you’re filling your own open shelves in the kitchen, my advice would be to try and make sure the majority of the items you add have a specific purpose in your kitchen. I’ll chat about what items you can use to do this throughout this post, but here are some of my favorite stylish, yet very functional pieces.

plates and dinnerware on kitchen shelves

Plates, bowls, or everyday dishware is the number one priority. Having these items in the open so you can quickly grab them is key! Do you need to showcase a whole set of 12 dishes? Probably not. I chose a set of four plates, bowls, and glasses because we run our dishwasher often and don’t typically use more than that during any given load. The size of your family and the amount of space you have will help determine how much dishware you choose to display.

The left photo is actually one of my favorite and most hardworking accessories on our shelves. To the naked eye, it looks like a pretty gold bowl sitting out on our shelf with no real purpose. But in reality, this bowl is located on the shelf right as you enter our kitchen from our mudroom. This is where we drop our keys when we walk through the door so they’re never sitting out on the counter and we always know where to find them.

We also made sure to use our shelves to showcase everyday cooking essentials, like a cutting board and oil/vinegar. It’s been so convenient to have these items within reach at all times! Plus, these items can easily double as gorgeous decor. #winwin

fruit bowl on kitchen shelves

Adding bowls of fruit to the open shelves is a great way to add color while still keeping these shelves functional. I’ve found that having a bowl or two of fruit on the shelves is also an easy way to free up some counter space and make the kitchen feel less cluttered.  hidden storage on kitchen shelves

And last, but certainly not least, some of our favorite canisters allow us to inject some secret storage onto the shelves. I hide coffee filters in one of the canisters and decaf coffee in another. I literally use these every single day and having them accessible is so convenient. Plus, having them up here saves even more counter space.

Regardless of what you choose to display, please know that your open shelves can be very functional while looking great. Are the shelves going to offer as much functional storage as traditional upper cabinets? No. But that doesn’t mean they still can’t be hardworking!

Consider Heightthe height of open shelves

As you consider how to organize your open shelves, keep in mind the height of the shelves. I put all of the items that I use on an everyday basis on the first shelf. This shelf is mounted at the same height an upper cabinet would be (about 19 inches above the counter). Therefore, it’s very easy for me to grab a plate, bowl, glass, coffee filter, etc. on an everyday basis… just like I would be if they were hidden behind a cabinet door.

easy tips for styling open shelves

I save the top shelf for items that I don’t need to grab each and every day, like cookbooks, a marble grinding bowl, and a container of baking supplies. Be sure to consider the height of each shelf when you’re choosing what items will go where.

Kitchen Accessories Doubling As Decorkitchen accessories on open shelving

Before I actually set out to “style” my open shelves, I wondered what I could use from my own kitchen that actually looked good enough to set out. Not all of my dishware, baking ware, or cooking accessories are “pretty” enough to be displayed on open shelves. And if you’re in the same boat, I get it! But like me, you’d probably be surprised that some of your kitchen gadgets could work!

using cookbooks to display on kitchen shelves

Wooden utensils, cookbooks, kitchen gadgets that have a family history, canisters for providing secret storage, cutting boards, vases, bowls for fruit…you probably own more kitchen accessories that are acceptable for displaying than you even realize.

I don’t think you should have to go out and buy all new things (although a few new things could be a fun touch). But before you do, take inventory of what you have! You may be surprised to find some of the “cool” gadgets or kitchen necessities that could do the trick!

Add Lifehow to decorate open shelves

Like we advise in just about any “shelfie” we style, it’s important to add life and open shelves in the kitchen are no different! This means a plant, some fruit, some flowers, anyway that you can add greenery is key!

Lowe’s has so many gorgeous houseplants to choose from, I plopped this low maintenance snake plant in a planter and love the color, texture, and freshness it adds to the shelves. Even a natural herb (like this one) could be a perfect addition. Plus, how cool would it be to showcase herbs that can double as fresh ingredients for your next recipe?!

Other Ideas

Still need a few ideas on what to display on your open shelves? Don’t be afraid to use a few frames or a letterboard. I love the idea of framing a family recipe, an old photo of grandma cooking her famous pie, or even a letterboard to showcase what’s on this week’s menu. I’m all about function but saving a little space for style is worth it!

Utilize Cabinets Elsewheredisplaying glasses on kitchen open shelves

And last but not least, let’s address the burning question… what do you do with all the rest of your plates, bowls, glasses?! Yes, I own more than 4 of these items BUT I don’t feel the need to showcase all of them on the shelves because I have other cabinet space reserved for them. I probably don’t need all of those (especially on an everyday/weekly basis) but I do need to save them for when we entertain. But in our kitchen, storing these “extras” isn’t a problem because we have plenty of cabinet space.

Make sure you consider this before committing to open shelves. Do I want to showcase Ben’s baby bowls/cups on the shelves or even Matt’s collection of cups from different baseball stadiums? NO! But do we still have these items hidden in our cabinet? Yes! Would I have chosen open shelves if I didn’t have alternative spaces for these not-so-pretty items? No. Do I now love having dishes to grab and go on display? So much!

Don’t Be Afraid to Evolvekitchen shelves in a kitchen with lowe's cabinets

Open shelves definitely add a light, airy, and stylish moment in a kitchen. If they work in your kitchen, know that your shelves will always be evolving. Even since our shelves were hung, we have tweaked what’s on display more times than I can count. We’re constantly assessing whether the items on display are ones we use often enough to keep them out. Just like our kitchen cabinets, we continue to work and rework these shelves to ensure they are as functional (and stylish!) as possible. And I’m sure this will continue for a long time…. and that’s perfectly okay with me!


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The Year of Casey

Hey there!

I’m Casey Finn, the voice behind The DIY Playbook. I’m a Chicago gal teaching you how to design, DIY, and maintain your home…by yourself! Learn more about me right here.

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