Modern Design Blog

Modern kitchen with open shelves

Ideas to incorporate high-end open shelving in the kitchen

It’s becoming more and more popular to have open shelving in the kitchen. In fact, most contemporary kitchen cabinetry systems now include open shelves to customize to your liking. The possibilities are endless.


  • By substituting some of the upper cabinets, open shelves lighten up the design where you need it most: at eye level. As a result, your kitchen won’t feel so stuffed and the design will offer more visual variety.
  • Open shelves are a chance to display high-end kitchen tools, accessories and decorative elements. Nowadays, most kitchen objects come in cool designs that are well worth showing off at all times.
  • A kitchen with open shelves feels more like a living space than just a cooking lab (which is why open shelving is a great solution for open plan kitchens).


Since open shelving leaves objects in plain sight, all this open space needs to be designed carefully so that it doesn’t turn into an unsightly cluttered mess. This means, you shouldn’t use the shelves as storage for every little thing you don’t know where to place! When you see a kitchen with open shelves, it might look like the presence of fewer upper cabinets reduces the storage capacity of the kitchen. However, this is not necessarily the case. It is all about organization and planning ahead for your design.


The idea of incorporating shelves should be part of the design plan from the beginning. This will help you figure out:

  • Which items you would like to display on the open shelves, to determine how many shelves you will need and their layout (for both aesthetic and practical reasons);
  • All the items that will go inside the cabinets, so that you know which types of cabinets must be included in the design to accommodate all your storage needs.

Here are some ideas to get you thinking about how you can add open shelves to your kitchen design.

1) One option is to start small, especially if you are not completely sold on the idea of open shelving. For example, consider adding just one shelf running along the backsplash, where you can place a mix of important accessories (which should be kept within easy reach) and décor accents.


Kitchen with a single backsplash shelf


2) Choose shelves that have an "architectural presence" and display a variety of objects, creating some repeating patterns as well as variations and leaving some empty spaces to let the composition “breathe”.


Elegant kitchen shelf composition


3) Break up a large wall unit by adding a couple of shelves. This will also give you the chance to carve out an extra countertop surface, which can always come in handy for informal buffet dinners or to use as a support.


Kitchen pantry with open shelves


4) Add a series of shelves to an empty wall and use under shelving lights and an interesting wall finish or color to create a unique ambiance and draw attention to that particular area.


Open shelves for kitchen wall


5) Use modular shelves in different heights, widths and colors to complement the wall units of the kitchen and create an unexpected visual pattern.


Kitchen with colorful open shelving systems


6) Use a shelving system to occupy an entire wall separated by the rest of the kitchen.


Kitchen with wall of open shelves


7) Integrate the open shelving into the island design, with the shelves facing the living room (in open plan layouts) and housing books and nice decorative objects to visually facilitate the transition between the two spaces.


Kitchen island with open shelves


8) Make open shelving a big part of the design, almost planning the rest of the kitchen around it and turning it into the focal point of the space. Use streamlined, minimalistic shelves so that they are not too imposing as to cause visual imbalance.


Minimalist open shelves integrated into the kitchen


9) Use the same style of shelves in the kitchen and the living room, to create a continuum between the two. 


Living room and kitchen with same style shelves 

Whatever your preferences, approach open shelving in the kitchen from both a functional and aesthetic point of view and have fun exploring ways in which you can use this element to enrich your design. Some parting shots:

  • Remember that the objects you place on the shelves are as much a part of the design as the shelves!
  • Have your kitchen designer or interior designer help you choose what should be displayed and how.
  • Value the negative (empty) space an open shelving system creates; it is just as important as any other element.

Do you have other suggestions to incorporate open shelving in the kitchen?