Why You Need to Always Avoid Open Shelving in the Kitchen

Why You Need to Always Avoid Open Shelving in the Kitchen

I want to get real for a minute. We need to have a heart-to-heart. I care about all of you, and more specifically I care that you have a functional home.

Because I care I have to tell you this: Don’t put open shelving in your kitchen.

There, I said it.

I can hear you saying back to me: “But I LOVE the look of open shelving!” “It saved me so much money!” and ”I want to show off my knickknacks!” I get it, you have been told that open shelving an amazing replacement for upper cabinets but unfortunately friends, you have been deceived.

Why You Need to Always Avoid Open Shelving in the Kitchen

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Open shelving has problems with the most important thing you MUST have in your kitchen: functional design! Without that, you are in BIG trouble. As far as I am concerned, you could have open shelving absolutely anywhere else in your home. Really, go ahead and put it in every other room!

Why would I say such a terrible thing about your kitchen’s open shelving? I’ll elaborate:

1. Open Shelving Has Less Functional Storage Space

What is the purpose of a kitchen? In my opinion, it is a place to store and prepare food and other items needed to serve and/or eat that food. Cabinetry is a tool we use to have a place to store those items we need for that process. Since we spend a lot of time in the kitchen, of course we want it to look great too, but function should always be the priority!

If you consider the average cabinet that is 42” tall usually has 3 shelves about 12” deep each, you may assume that replacing that cabinet with similar sizes of floating or open shelving would be an equal trade for storage space, but unfortunately your assumption would be wrong.

In an enclosed cabinet you’re able to more tightly stack and store your dishes safely due to the sides and front acting as additional support to keep things from falling off the shelf.

A 24” wide x 12” deep standard kitchen cabinet will have roughly 2 square feet of storage space on each shelf. With an identical size floating shelf, to avoid items falling off you will conservatively need to have the items back from each side and the front by a minimum of 1 inch. This reduces the square footage of storage space available on the floating shelf by 1/6th as compared to the cabinet.

That would be an average of losing half of an entire shelf worth of storage for each cabinet you replace with open shelving.

On a larger scale, if an average kitchen has 6 upper cabinets, you would be losing out on an entire cabinet worth of storage!

Most clients we speak with are looking for ways to improve their storage capacity, and I assume that is goal is the same for most people who are motivated to remodel their kitchens. Losing an entire cabinet worth of storage is the first mark against open shelving in our books.

2. Open Shelving Looks Messy

When you invite guests over to your home do you make sure to pile up your folded laundry out in the open or do you neatly put it away? When you want to show off your clothing you put it on, you don’t display it on the floor or your dresser. Similarly, open shelving can look messy, even if everything on it is technically clean and somewhat organized.

Even with the best of intentions, having a perfectly organized home is rarely possible for the majority of us, that is why we have closets to store things! Think of cabinetry as little closets for your dishes. You can take out the pieces you love to serve guests instead of showing off every dish in your collection at all times.

Not many people have an entirely matching set of dishes, cups, and mugs, which means that not only will the open shelving look cluttered it will also look mismatched.

Ultimately, it is really difficult to make things look organized on open shelving unless you plan to use it simply for decorative purposes and not functional reasons.

In my opinion, cabinetry offers a more clean and classic look for a kitchen. It allows you to have more control over the focal point of the space. No one wants the view of their dishes to detract from their beautiful cabinets, backsplash or countertop, do they?

3. Open Shelving Gets Dirty

Let’s go back to what we discussed earlier: the kitchen is a place to store and prepare food and other items needed to serve and/or eat that food. With that in mind, it seems logical that keeping the kitchen as clean and sanitary as possible is super important. To keep plates, cups, bowls and other serving items in pristine condition, it is helpful to have them in an enclosed space where they are protected.

Consider this, the dust in your home is 70 - 80% dead skin cells.

Open shelving exposes everything on them to the air, which means whatever is floating through the air can travel to your clean dishes and settle on and in them.


Think about the cooking you do, I am sure you have noticed that when oil heats up and the oil droplets go into the air it ends up everywhere.

Even if you have a vented range hood, grease is sticky and particles will attach to whatever surface they come in contact with. Unfortunately, that includes items on your open shelving.

Another gross, but realistic example: imagine someone walks through your kitchen and coughs or sneezes… enough said!

Cabinet doors offer an additional layer of protection for your clean kitchen items. They can help prevent dust, grease, germs, insects and other vermin from getting on and in your plates, cups, bowls and serving pieces.

When you really think about it, open shelves are just another surface that needs to be cleaned often and if we are realistic, who needs one more thing to clean?


If you love open shelving I encourage you to use it for a wet bar, in a bedroom, to decorate your living room, or anywhere in your home that is not your kitchen! When designing your kitchen, aim to maximize functional storage, hide the messes so it looks organized, and keep your clean dishes clean. Although the trend is really popular right now, you will thank me in the long run.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree? Share your opinion below!