Open shelving: All you need to know

In a small kitchen, open shelving can make use of every last bit of space that might otherwise have been wasted.
JANE USSHER

In a small kitchen, open shelving can make use of every last bit of space that might otherwise have been wasted.

Country kitchens have traditionally been big on open shelving, and they're a striking feature of many sharp industrial kitchens too. But it's a look that's worth considering even in a slick modern kitchen. Having everything on show is not for everyone – perhaps shelve this idea if you're messy or dread polishing the family silver. 

WHY IT'S APPEALING 

Open shelving creates an inviting feel and adds warmth and variety to a kitchen, as well as offering more storage options. 

Storing different kinds of items in similar jars works well, as does displaying items in colours that are repeated in ...
JANE USSHER

Storing different kinds of items in similar jars works well, as does displaying items in colours that are repeated in the rest of the kitchen.

Award-winning Wellington kitchen designer Damian Hannah says open shelving breaks up the monotony of walls of cupboards and whiteware. 

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"It provides depth," he says. "And functionality-wise, open shelves can be easy to use – you don't have to open up cupboard doors to access items."

It's best to site open shelving where you do most of your food preparation and cooking. "Between your cooktop and sink would be preferable," Damian says.

HOW WIDE?

This simple open shelving design works well because the material echoes the benchtop and table.
PAUL MCCREDIE

This simple open shelving design works well because the material echoes the benchtop and table.

Shelves should be at least 300mm deep for useful storage, says Damian. At that depth, you will need solid fixings on the wall to support the shelves and if you plan to load the shelves with heavy objects then fixings on both sides will be needed, he says.

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LIGHTEN UP

Well-planned lighting will make the most of displays on open shelving and enhance the atmosphere of your kitchen. Good options for kitchen shelves include strip lighting on the underside of the shelves and task lights. 

Floating shelves have the advantage of lightness and simplicity, but professional installation may be advisable if they ...
JANE USSHER

Floating shelves have the advantage of lightness and simplicity, but professional installation may be advisable if they will be holding heavy items.

"Display shelving can be backlit or illuminated with some gorgeous pieces on show," Damian says. 

MIX IN DECORATIVE ITEMS 

Making open shelving look great is all about arrangement. "Vary the heights of the items on the shelf and a mix of old and new is always appealing," suggests NZ House & Garden stylist Sarah Lods. "It looks as if you are constantly adding something new or interesting," she says.

To keep things engaging, consider adding small artworks and collectables to your kitchenware. Sarah also likes to add books (cookbooks or even favourite novels) as well as flowers or plants.

Take a critical look at your kitchenware and hide away less attractive items. Even if you love your old kitchen mixer, it may be better behind cupboard doors.

BIRDS OF A FEATHER 

It's a good idea to group items by colour, shape or function, but it's not necessary to have a completely uniform look on each shelf. "Mix it up," Sarah says. "You do need to organise similar types of containers or items together, though, or visually it gets too haphazard." For example, you could display an array of herbs and spices in the same containers, but in varying sizes.

It's not always about the 

'GOOD STUFF'

Open shelving should not just be reserved for valuable pieces of your grandmother's china. Even inexpensive pieces can be effective, if they're an interesting colour or shape, says Sarah. 

A TRIAL RUN

Before you tear out all your cabinets, it may pay to give this look a trial run on existing open shelving (or buy a low cost shelving unit and see how your kitchen items look on it first). 

If you're worried you won't be able to keep things tidy, experiment behind closed doors, suggests professional organiser Natalie Jane of Be Organised

"Arrange your items inside a cupboard in a way that is functional and visually pleasing. Give yourself a few weeks and see if you are able to maintain your new look," she says. "If it's all too hard, or if others in your household don't play ball, open shelving may not be for you." 

 - NZ House & Garden

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