How to Transition from Cabinets to Open Shelves in Your Kitchen

Don't make this jump unless you're willing to streamline your dinnerware collection.

Over the last decade, modern kitchen design has veered away from traditional cabinetry, replacing it with casual, open storage that allows for easily accessible and prettily displayed collections. The challenge? Figuring out how to make the switch to open shelving in a way that optimizes both beauty and function. To help you do just that, we asked several professional organizers for their best advice on trading in cabinets for exposed storage. The secret? It all starts with streamlining your current collection.

Pare your collection down to the best, most essential items.

If you have amassed a broad collection of mismatched knick-knacks—a branded water bottle here, an incomplete mug set there—now is the perfect time to pare down the clutter. Sarah Giller Nelson, a professional organizer and the owner of Less Is More Organizing Services, says to "think of an open shelf as the Ivy League: only the items that meet your highest standards make the cut. This gives you the opportunity to display the best your kitchen has to offer—not just in terms of function, but of beauty."

And while the process of sorting through your current pieces might seem overwhelming, Nelson has a solution: "The simplest way to decide what to keep is to gather items by category (spatulas, mixing bowls, etc.) and then compare them. Only keep the cooking tools or serving pieces that are in the best condition or the most useful," she shares.

Curate a color palette.

After taking stock of what you currently have, consider curating your collections even further by selecting a restrained palette composed of a color, a texture, and a metallic to keep the shelving from feeling too chaotic or haphazard. "A reduced palette will keep your display of disparate shapes and materials feeling cohesive," notes Nelson.

lost creek farm wisconsin white kitchen shelves
Christopher Churchill

Choose stackable dishes and cookware that nests well.

If you find that you need to replace dishes or cookware, organization expert and the owner of The Organized Style Sherilee Pate recommends selecting dishes that stack well and cookware collections that nest easily together. This method "will relieve storage challenges and make use of the vertical height in between shelves," she adds.

Decant and label.

In order to properly store and display dry goods, Nelson recommends decanting pantry items into coordinating canisters, like Hawkins New York's Small Maple Lid Glass Storage Container ($35, "Use baskets and opaque bins to add some texture and camouflage unsightly packaging," she shares. When it comes to maintaining your cleverly organized system, Nelson recommends labeling each basket and bin accordingly, making sure that the labels face outward. This way, everyone who uses the space can easily see where each item goes.

Embrace negative space.

According to Nelson, just because you have extra space on your shelves doesn't mean you should fill them end-to-end. "Leaving some breathing room between categories of items will balance out the elements, calm the visual clutter, and enhance the beauty of your kitchen collections," she explains.

Define the purpose of each piece.

From a functional standpoint, Pate notes that it's important to have easy access to the items that are most frequently used. "Decide which collections are decorative elements or keepsakes, which are for special occasions, and which items are for regular use. Infrequently used or decorative elements can typically be stored higher up, while regularly used items should remain in the most easily accessed locations on the shelves," she adds.

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