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Rules for Having Open Shelving in Your Home

Because you can't just throw everything into drawers or behind curtains, opening shelving has become a very popular form of home organization. They're perfect for storing movies, books, and trinkets that you want to show off but keep organized. 

Photography by: Francois Dischinger

"I love open cabinets!" says Kat VanCleave, an interior design instructor at Fluent City in New York. "They are a wonderful way to add depth and personality to a space—like having a built in art wall."


Shelves aren't only a functional way to keep yourself organized in your home, but they can add a lot of personal touch to your home, especially when it comes to open shelving.


"One of the easiest ways to give your home a refresh is to restyle your shelves," VanCleave says. "This can even be done seasonally, so your home feels fresh and vibrant year-round without having to completely redesign your space."


She also says that open shelving can be a good thing in smaller spaces because they "can create a lighter, airier vibe than if you were to close all cabinets with a solid wood or glass panel."


But, having open shelving in your home does have some rules you should follow if you want to keep it aesthetically pleasing and not ending up creating more clutter.


1. They're not for everyone

Open shelving isn't a good idea for every home and you need to have a realistic idea about your space. "A good rule of thumb that I use with clients is if the closet in your bedroom is a total disaster, open cabinets might not be for you," VanCleave says.


She adds, "They do require a little bit of upkeep. If you only have one set of cabinets in your entire home, opt to keep some of them (like the lower cabinets) closed and have fun with the upper cabinets by opening them up and styling them."


2. They need to be functional, first.

"Your cabinets should first and foremost be functional, so make sure to keep the most frequently used items in easy reach," advices VanCleave. "If you do this, you won't find yourself frantically moving everything in sight to grab that one serving dish before your guests arrive."


[KITCHEN TRENDS: 3 Reasons You Should Consider Open Shelving]


3. Style the contents of your shelves.

"Really all styling is, is grouping objects in your home together to create mini still life moments," she says. "To keep your items visually pleasing and tidy, consider grouping like items together like bowls that will nest or all your candle sticks in one area. Go for balance instead of symmetry, and when in doubt, throw in a plant to keep things lively."


4. Minimal is sometimes better

When it comes to how much you have on your open shelves, there's no one-sized fits all in terms of how much is too much. "It's more important to create focal points with objects that have an interesting shape or bright color," VanCleave says. "These focal points will give your eye a place to rest and make your shelves instantly look more pulled together. Depending on your aesthetic, open shelves might look better with less items than you think. If you are more minimal, give your things a little breathing room. More Boho? Layer with reckless abandon."


5. Keep things clean

One of the downsides of open shelving means you have to constantly fight with dust, but it's not as hard of an upkeep as you may think. "I typically dust with a slightly damp microfiber cloth and, believe it or not, I've even used old dryer sheets (dry not damp)," shares VanCleave. "If you have central air, make sure to change your air filter every six months. Not only will you be healthier, your space will have less dust!"


Really though, the only rule you have to follow all the time when it comes to having open shelving in your home is to make sure it's you. "Your home should be an extension of your personality, so make the space work for you, not the other way around," says VanCleave. "Don't be afraid to have fun and experiment."


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