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How to Create and Decorate Open Shelves in a Kitchen

Today we will explore several ways to easily create and decorate open shelves in a kitchen and why you want them.

I’m sharing all the different types of open shelves and how you can easily add them to your kitchen. Plus, decorating options that you can easily do yourself.

As we explore, I’ll share why I’m a fan and how I’ve incorporated them into our farmhouse, guest cottage and beach cottage.

We just remodeled our tiny beach cottage and removed all the upper cabinets to make the 7′ x 12′ space feel larger.

In addition, we replaced the lower cabinets with open shelves. This was not only a very budget friendly option, but the space feels so much larger and all of our kitchen tools are visible and at our finger tips. You can see How to Build An Open Kitchen Cabinet here.

Believe it or not, open shelves have been popular since the early 1900’s.

Before custom cabinets were affordable, most homes utilized open shelves to store pots, pans and dishes for quick access.

Kitchen Open Shelves

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A Rise In Popularity

However, there was a rise in popularity in mid-century homes between the 30’s – 60’s as a design aesthetic.

New kitchen appliances and gadgets were quickly filling the shelves and homemakers were displaying their new kitchen toys with pride.

Although open shelving has never gone out of style, a rise in custom cabinets in the 80’s and 90’s slowed the trend. Most open shelves were being reserved for the butler pantries instead.

More recently the popularity has boomed again with the farmhouse and cottage style boom.

In addition, open shelving provides an open, airy feel which is very popular for a modern kitchen.

How to Create and Decorate Open Shelves in Kitchen

What are the types of open shelving?

There are several options for open shelves for the kitchen or other areas within your home.

  • Decorative Brackets or Simple Brackets- The most common and most affordable style for farmhouse and cottage style homes.
  • Floating Shelves – This clean looks is especially popular for modern homes but is seen in farmhouse and traditional style homes as well.
  • Plate Rack – A popular open shelving concept especially for farmhouse and cottage style homes.
  • Cubby Shelves – This style can be custom built or can be achieved from a custom cabinet. I’ll explain more later.
  • Free Standing – From Shelving Units or Baker’s Racks to Hutches and Cupboards, the options are unlimited. I’ll be sharing how to make this concept work.

Why Should You Want Open Shelves?

  1. First, they are popular in design and give you home a fresh new look.
  2. They make access to your dishes, pots and pan, etc. easy.
  3. It’s a great way to display collectible items or a special set of dishes.
  4. Creates an open, airy feel in any kitchen.
  5. Makes small kitchen feel larger.
  6. They can easily add additional storage to odd spaces within your kitchen and can be built to fit any area large or small.
  7. Budget Friendly Option to increase storage.

How to Create Open Shelves in Kitchen

There are some easy and inexpensive ways to create open shelves for your kitchen

Decorative Brackets

First, adding decorative bracket with a piece of wood or prefabricated board attached to the top is probably the easiest option.

You can customize the size of your shelves to fit even a small open area.

Open Shelves in Kitchen

All you need is an opening on a wall and you can add one shelve or many.

You also have so many options for brackets. Using corbels or simple metal brackets can totally change the feel of open shelves.

Due to the industrial feel of our farmhouse and to not compete with the texture of the brick wall, we opted for simple forged iron brackets.

Open Shelves with iron brackets

However, these chippy corbels make a statement in Liz Marie’s Farmhouse and speak to my vintage loving heart.

Make Open Shelves with Corbels

Shaker Style Peg Rail Shelving

A shaker style peg rail shelve has gained in popularity recently and we transformed an existing shelve for our beach cottage. You can see the tutorial here.

DIY Peg Rail Shelf in Kitchen

This lovely peg rail shelf belongs to Wendy at Winterberry and Thyme

Shaker style peg rail shelf
Photo Credit: Winterberry and Thyme

The peg rail can be attached or added underneath the shelf as in Micki’s kitchen from Cottage on Main St.

Add a peg rail under shelves.
Photo Credit: Cottage on Main St.

Floating Shelves

The clean lines of floating shelves are very popular for minimalist or modern look.

They are no fuss option.

Ashley from Modernly You shared these beautifully styled floating shelves on Instagram.

Floating Shelves for a clean look
Photo Credit: Modernly You

You can purchase floating shelving or there are some great DIY tutorials such as this one. They are slightly more detailed than a decorative shelf option but very doable.

DIY Floating Shelf
Photo Credit: Itty Bitty Farmhouse

Plate Rack

Adding a plate rack to an open wall area is another form of open shelving.

I built my plate rack to allow for layering plates, bread boards and more. You can see the tutorial here.

Plate Rack Open Shelf Option

This type of shelving can even be added to the side of an existing cabinet or hutch.

This fun display of pig cutting boards is by Jenn at Down Shiloh Road.

You can also see more about decorating Plates Racks on this post.

Plate Rack to display pig cutting board collection.

Cubby Open Shelves

Cubby Open Shelves is another easy to create option for open kitchen shelves.

When we updated our guest cottage, we wanted the space to feel open and airy.

You are not going to believe how easy this is to achieve.

Wait for it…..

Just take the door off an existing cabinet in your kitchen. It’s that easy!

But, hold on a minute…

You may need to paint the inside of your cabinet and you will definitely need to mend the holes where the door was attached.

This is easily done with some wood filler and touch up paint or stain stick.

These cabinets were originally stained so they were painted white inside and out for a cohesive uncluttered look. It’s amazing how much larger the kitchen feels with open shelves.

Here is another example from Hillary at Hillary HA and only one door was removed to create an open cubby shelf leaving the remaining cabinetry intact.

Remove cabinet doors for a cubby open shelve.
Photo Credit: Hillary HA

Free Standing

For free standing open shelves, you can purchase or maybe already have a bakers rack or shelving unit to use in your kitchen.

These vintage baker’s racks are a stunning free standing open shelving option.

Karina from Magnolia Tree Farmhouse has a vintage bakers rack filled kitchen supplies as well as vintage treasures. While Julie at Little Farmstead takes a more minimal approach with basic kitchen needs stored for easy access.

However, there are other options such as cupboards or a hutch.

Some styles of cupboards are open shelving at the top already such as this one shared by Exceeding Joy on Instagram.

Open cabinet filled with collectibles
Photo Credit: Exceeding Joy

Others have doors that cover the shelves in the top of the cabinet. If so, you can do one of two things.

Either remove the doors as we did with the cubby style shelving or just throw them open.

Vintage hutch filled with ironstone

Note: If you remove doors from either your hutch or custom cabinets, don’t dispose of them. You may at some point want to return them to their original position.

How to Decorate Open Shelves in Kitchen

Now for the fun part, let’s decorate those open shelves.

There are unlimited possibilities for decorating open kitchen shelves.

The functional design will keep often used kitchen utensils at your finger tips.

In the guest cottage cubby style shelving, you can reach cups, glasses, dishes, cooking utensils, coffee and tea supplies all without taking a step.

Easy Access to Kitchen Utensils with open shelves.

The bright dishes from Bico Ceramics are displayed above the stove with a plate rack for both a decorative styled shelf and convenience.

I have several of these plate display racks which instantly turn a shelf into a plate rack. They make you dishes easily accessible and beautifully displayed at the same time.

If you don’t care for the original bamboo finish, they are easy to paint to match your shelving.

Open Cubby Shelves in Kitchen

The decor on the two open shelves in the farmhouse kitchen is constantly revolving with vintage collections.

Open Shelf Style

Here I’m displaying my collection of pig cutting boards and vintage rolling pins.

Open Shelving with Vintage Wood cutting Boards & Rolling Pins

The same shelves look very different when styled with different collections.

All white ironstone and wooden bread boards vs. handy new colorful dishes from Bico Ceramics.

Open Shelving with all whites and woods.

See their latest collection Summer Provence here. A introduction discount code 10RACHELSUMM is in effect until 5/10.

Open Shelf with dinnerware in festive colors.

Notice I’m using another plate rack on this shelf to display the new dishes.


The hutch doors, which are rarely closed, are thrown open to showcase my white ironstone collection.

All white dishes in open shelf cabinet

The DIY Plate Rack shelving is filled with more ironstone platters, bread boards and the lower bar holds vintage copper pieces hanging from my favorite brass S hooks.

How to Decorate Open Shelves in Kitchen

Why I’m A Fan

As you can tell, I’m a fan of open shelving and would actually like to have more in my kitchen.

I love the convenience of grabbing a plate off the shelve instead of digging through a cabinet to retrieve what I need.

In addition, I tend to use my dishes more frequently. I don’t automatically reach for a paper plate when I can see my beautiful dishes are ready for use.

Decorating and moving my decor around is a favorite hobby of mine and therefore, open shelves give me plenty of options for restyling my decor.

The Downside

However, there are some downsides to open shelving and you should ask yourself if these issues will diminish the appeal for you.

  • You need to keep the shelves tidy whereas a closed cabinet door hides a multitude of sins. LOL
  • Utensils and dishes may need washing before use.
  • The items on open shelves will get dusty and require more time to clean.
  • They may be dangerous for small children if shelves of filled with breakables or heavy objects at lower levels.

In Conclusion

If you love the look of open shelving, I say go for it.

If you find it doesn’t work in your household, you can always replace with custom cabinets or add the doors back if necessary.

I hope you found this post informative and helpful.

Thanks so much for stopping by today and I look forward to sharing my next adventure with you.

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Kim | Shiplap and Shells

Thursday 5th of May 2022

I love open shelving and yours are styled beautifully.

Rachel

Saturday 7th of May 2022

Kim, I really appreciate this.

Suzanne

Thursday 5th of May 2022

I know you make a living from the ads, but I have just ploughed my way through your blog with three and sometimes for ads bouncing and flashing around on the screen. At one time I had two ads for your OWN SITE. That's a bit too much for me. Sorry. Nicked your pig boards, though. My husband made me a beauty.

Rachel

Thursday 5th of May 2022

Suzanne, I’m sorry there were so many ads popping up today. I bet your pig cutting board is cute.

stacy

Thursday 5th of May 2022

What a great idea! I was thinking about doing this in our new kitchen.

Rachel

Thursday 5th of May 2022

Stacy, I think you will love it.

Rachel

Thursday 5th of May 2022

Stacy, thank you. I think you would like it.