Interior designers offer the pros and cons of both.

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kitchen with seating and storage
Credit: Kelly Brown

Open shelving is popping up in designer kitchens everywhere. But the popular style, which is made up simple shelves, instead of cabinets with doors that can be closed (and dishes and glassware hidden away), isn't without its downsides. Dust, grease, and grime can all become an issue with this layout. And if your glassware and plates aren't curated or complementary, seeing them every time you enter your kitchen can become a problem. Ahead, we spoke to three interior designers to determine how to choose between these kitchen storage options. Ask yourself the following questions, they say, to find the style best for you.

Do have something to show off?

If you have dishware that you love to show off, interior designer Mark Lavender of M. Lavender Interiors says open shelving can spotlight those treasured sets. "We work with our clients to survey the items that need to be stored or displayed in the kitchen to determine the best option for them," he says. And although he typically recommends traditional kitchen cabinets to provide the most flexibility in terms of functionality (and because he loves the clean look of solid doors instead of the busy look of several displayed items), there are benefits to shelving. "We often utilize open shelves strategically within the layout to display a very special colorful or intriguing item to provide a focal point in the room."

Does your kitchen feel small?

Are you looking for a way to make a tight kitchen space feel more open? If so, interior designer Kate Lester of Kate Lester Interiors says open shelving may be an easy way to do so. "Open shelving is not for everyone, but it is a great way to make a small kitchen feel larger, as well as a perfect way to add storage space on a limited wall with multiple windows that wouldn't be ideal for cabinetry," she says.

Are you (and your family) organized?

Open shelves are, well, open. This means that they are not only more likely to gather dust and grime, but they will always be on full display. You need to keep them clean and neat, or you run the risk of creating an eyesore. "So, if you have a family who loves to shove dishes into a cabinet in no particular order, this may not be the best choice," says Lester.

Do you have a lot to store?

Nina Magon, the founder and principal designer of Contour Interior Design, believes that open shelving is perfect for people who have small collections of special dishes, unique kitchenware, or decorative accessories. However, they aren't that good of a choice if you have a lot of essentials, including pots, pans, dish sets, and more. "Since the shelves are exposed, it creates more surface area that you have to keep tidy and organized, as well as worry about dusting constantly," she says. "I suggest keeping your shelves more on the minimalist and non-cluttered side so it makes it easy to dust in between and keep everything tidy."

Comments (1)

Martha Stewart Member
January 14, 2021
I personally hate open shelving. The reasons for getting open shelving: 1. They are cheaper than cabinets. (But automatically says 'small budget'.) Choose really nice open shelves. 2. If the kitchen really is small--as in efficiency-size--a well-curated and matching or well-blended shelf of objects can trick the eye into thinking the space is larger. 3. Everyone can see on display what you have for kitchen use. It is literally 'at hand.' Reasons for cabinets: 1. They are the best for keeping dust and dirt out of the kitchen items. Unless the kitchen items on the open shelves are used every day or several times per week and cleaned afterwards, what's 'on display' just gets dirtier and dirtier unless we schedule in the time to clean regularly (who has that time on their hands anymore?) 2. A sleek wall or line of cabinets INSTALLED UP TO THE CEILING WITH NO SOFFIT SPACE not only keeps things cleaner without the aforementioned fuss, it looks more restful to the eyes, and no greasy dusty soffits to clean. The closed cabinet doors make the whole kitchen seem tidier without the clutter on the walls. And only the cabinet doors need to be cleaned or wiped down, not every little item on the shelf. 3. If a display is wanted, install cabinet doors with glass. Beautiful things are on display, but kept cleaner with the minimum of upkeep. I've had both types of storage, and I will take the to-the-ceiling cabinets every time, budget permitting.