no upper cabs-- open shelving instead?

louisa_smith03January 17, 2008

I just returned from Expo where I checked out the cabinetry. Totally underwhelmed. the idea that I'm going to spend thousands of dollars on cabinetry that could be spent on AGA or blue star range and induction cooktops, adding windows, and the best soapstone is killing me. I'm suddenly considering reusing the white melamine bottom cabs and replacing my uppers with open shelving. I can imagine white shelving with cream paint background-- I imagine I would save enough money to purchase a cream AGA instead of a basic range I would afford otherwise. I live in a 1920 townhouse on Capitol Hill (DC) and I think the idea works for the time and place.

any pictures that will help me convince my GC and kitchen designer? I'm sure they think I'm nuts. Am I? please tell me if I am-- I'd love criticism of this possibly hare brained idea!


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I really wanted a section of simple open shelves. My KD talked me out of it. Well, duh, it would have cut her cabinet commission. I still wish I had done it. It would have opened up my smallish kitchen even more. What I have instead are heavy looking cabinets with glass fronts that don't show my stuff nearly as well.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2008 at 2:09PM
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thanks janwad for the feedback-- I don't think the KD or GC are going to try to talk me out of it because of a lost commission-- I'm paying a set fee for design and they told me that whatever professional discount they get from Expo would go directly to me. I think they have an idea that I will be really disappointed and that the kitchen will lack a "WOW!" factor if it doesn't have upper cabinets. they want this, understandably, to be a showcase kitchen that will convince other potential customers to sign with them. A customer like myself that starts saying things like-- "couldn't we just paint this and pick up what ever is missing from IKEA?" causes them concern!

janwad, maybe you dogged a bullet thanks to your KD-- maybe there would be a lot of dust to deal with if you had gone with open shelves?

hopefully someone with open shelves will chime in and let us both know whether we should listen to the professionals on this matter and avoid open shelves!

    Bookmark   January 17, 2008 at 2:22PM
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The problem with open shelving is the amount of dusting and wiping you will have to do. The shelves themselves, and each dish/bowl/glass, etc. on them, will be open for any grime or grease or dust floating in the air to land. Hope you will have a really great exhaust hood, cause any grease from cooking will be ready to settle on those open shelves. Also, do you have pets? If so, for certain you will find pet hair in that bowl when you take it down from that open shelf.

Open shelving is a traditional look though. But perhaps there is a reason why upper cabinets have overtaken the old-fashioned open-shelf tradition....namely, the cleaning!

    Bookmark   January 17, 2008 at 2:23PM
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You don't have to go with EXPO cabinets. You can get a design and then order cabinets elsewhere...a local custom cabinetmaker, online, independent kitchen cabinet shop, even Ikea!

I shudder to think of all the cleaning that will constantly have to be done. Every time you take down a plate, bowl, glass, etc. you'll have to check to make sure it's clean before you use it. If you like cleaning...and I acknowledge that some people do...perhaps you'll be OK with it, but I would think you'd regret all the open shelving very quickly.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2008 at 3:04PM
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Hi Louisa. I like open shelving. You may like it, but you could try it first. I took the doors off of several upper and lower cabinets to strip paint last summer. The cabinets hold things I use quite often, so being dusty is not a factor. It is a powerful incentive to keep things uncluttered, and the items are more accessible than doors or drawers!

    Bookmark   January 17, 2008 at 3:19PM
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You could compromise with just a couple of open shelves, to have that traditional look, and perhaps put items there that are mainly display (I am thinking creamware pitchers, antique platters, and the like), and then also have practical upper cabinetry for your everyday dishes and glassware.

Regarding the Aga, please peruse the Gardenweb's Appliances Forum before yearning for one so much. Yes, they're beautiful, but there are pros and cons, and you may, after all, end up that the Aga isn't for you. If I wanted a showstopper range, and had the budget, I'd get a Lacanche Cluny. In black.

Here are two Gardenweb kitchens that are on my all-time faves list. They may have the wow factor you are looking for, but with a traditional bent: Momto4kids' kitchen , and Orchidluvr's kitchen

    Bookmark   January 17, 2008 at 3:25PM
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I have open shelving on either side of my Lacanche Cluny, and I absolutely love it. By the way, we're neighbors, I live in Mclean.

It is simply not true that you'll have to wipe down every glass or plate every time you use it. It IS true that you must get an excellent hood. It is also true that you will have to dust the shelves on a regular basis. But I dust often anyway, so it's no skin off my nose. If you're smart, you'll do what I did and only keep things on the open shelves that you use almost every day. That helps keep every thing cleaner since you're using it and cleaning it anyway. It also does wonders for making the kitchen brighter, and appear bigger.

Here's a link to some pics of my kitchen. It only shows one set of shelves. The other side is where I keep the dinner dishes we use everyday, wine glasses (used WAY too often, LOL) and mixing bowls used almost daily.

Good luck,

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   January 17, 2008 at 3:44PM
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Ivette, thank you so much for your link-- actually I've enjoyed several of your previous postings too! Seems everyone here on the Hill eventually moves out to McLean, so I may be an even closer neighbor someday.

Anyway, it's a great look and I really appreciate your honest advice regarding cleaning. it may be worth it to me to have the "brighter, bigger" effect that you mention!

cotehele, that is great advice-- I'll take off the doors pronto. hopefully that will help DH et al get on board.

akchicage, it's actually the GC and KD that really want a "WOW!!" effect. I just want a usable kitchen that people are comfortable in. If people say WOW, that's fine, but I'm not doing all this to try to impress other people. I know that sounds totally selfish, but I keep hearing on the forum that you should get what you really want-- what I really want in the kitchen is radiant floor heating and distressed wood floors. The warm tootsies rather than cold tile floor is sufficient WOW for me!

BTW, If I had a kitchen like Orchidluver's I would treat it like a museum and not want my kids to touch anything! I'm not saying it is ostentatious of course-- it is soooo classy and lovely. True craftsmenship. IT's hard to say exactly what it is, but trust me, that look just would not translate well in my neck of the woods. Momto4kids kitchen is flat out impossible in my neighborhood-- don't even dare to dream that kind of space! Glad someone out there gets to live in these dream kitchens!

    Bookmark   January 17, 2008 at 5:11PM
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I think having fewer upper cabinets really makes a kitchen look more spacious. The thing I wanted most in my remodel was a big walk in pantry to store not only food, but most of my dishes. I hope to have a some open shelves to keep just a few dishes and glasses for daily use. Lower drawers are great for storing things previously put in uppers, too.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2008 at 6:04PM
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YEs, Lightlystarched, I should have mentioned that! I will have a walk-in pantry. That will make the concept MUCH easier. the pantry will only be 6' wide and 3'deep, so really more like a step in pantry-- but the shelves can be quite deep and go all the way up the 9' ceiling. I'm thinking of having food on one side and non-day to day serving pieces, etc. on the other.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2008 at 10:15AM
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here's an open shelf kitchen that I really love:

    Bookmark   January 18, 2008 at 11:33AM
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Unfortunately, this is not my kitchen, but I saved this photo as an inspiration pic a while back:

    Bookmark   January 18, 2008 at 11:35AM
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OMG!! Thank you so much!!! My mouth just dropped open when I saw those pictures! Thank you decodilly and starwitness. WOW!!

    Bookmark   January 18, 2008 at 11:55AM
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Hey, I just noticed the photoshopping with the "Kitche Style and Storage shot-- add beadboard to the ceiling, take out the recessed can light.

Beadboard on the ceiling-- hmmm . . . Maybe the one starwitness provided is similarly doctored? So even the fabulous kitchens you see on the covers aren't really that perfect in real life. i never see beadboard on the ceiling of new kitchens.

Even so, these are both my new inspiration kitchens. My floorplan is very similar to the one starwitness posted. Just imagine a door replacing the window.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2008 at 12:13PM
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I have open shelves and there is no problem keeping things clean. I use almost all of the items daily. Also I have a fantastic hood and that does make a huge difference as was already mentioned. I also have glass doors as uppers.

Pottery Barn open shelves:

Glass cabs over baking center:

    Bookmark   January 18, 2008 at 12:15PM
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thanks trailrunner! It's amazing how much those little Pottery Barn shelves can hold. May I ask what hood you have? thanks!

    Bookmark   January 18, 2008 at 12:21PM
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Magazine photos of pristine kitchens are one thing...Living with it is another. I've had open shelving in our temporary quarters while we build for 22 months. I would never have them again.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2008 at 1:28PM
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louisa: thanks. It is amazing the shelves are very sturdy and hold a lot of weight. The ones on the left are longer than the ones on the right. I wanted my cab guy to build shelves but he and I had a parting of the ways at the end and I went for months looking for an alternative idea. I saw these and am so glad. They are very easy to install also.

About the hood. I have a Tradewind liner. I will post pics and a link. It is 1400 cfm as I have the Caldera gas 36" cooktop and a Miele builtin deep fat fryer. You will not see anyone else with this hoodliner and I don't know why. I have posted about it for over a year and yet folks still go with VAH which has numerous problems , according to posts, and is not as efficient or quiet. I have a remote blower and inline silencer. The whole outfit is much less cost than the brands others have and it gets every singls bit of odor and grease etc when we stirfry on the 18K burner. I have never yet had to wipe down the wooden hood covering except to dust in over a year ! We cook with oil and high heat several times a week so I think that is a good test. Also we have baffles which are much quieter and easier to clean and also last forever.

If you haven't decided on a cooktop you might want to look at the Caldera. It is absolutely wonderful. There are threads on it on Appliance Forum. Good luck and I hope this helps. Would love to see pics of your space and plans. Caroline

Here is a link that might be useful: Tradewind Hood liner

    Bookmark   January 18, 2008 at 1:38PM
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(They didn't photoshop the beadboard, I can still see it in the second pic. On the cover they did take out the can light as well as the pendant light over the sink, though, so it wouldn't interfere with the typography.)

I love open shelving as well, and to me it seems like a great way to save money on a remodel, as long as you have enough space to store the things you are used to storing in a wall cabinet. I'd love to have a few open shelves for often-used items, and leave the rest of my walls free and clear. We took the doors off our upper cabinets last year to see if we could deal with open shelves, and my daily dishes and glass ware don't seem to be any dustier or dirtier than before, and we have no vent hood at all. The stuff I never use on the tippy top shelf might be a different story, though. :)

Here is one of my favorite open-shelf kitchens, although it looks a little bit sterile and un-used. I like the symmetry and the tile.

Here is a link that might be useful: There are a few more open shelf kitchens on this site...

    Bookmark   January 18, 2008 at 2:19PM
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Our kitchen reno starts 1/28. There will be one wall that is all tile with open shelves on either side of the vent hood chimney (3 on each side). We asked for no upper cabs and are really excited about this change. I plan on putting items I use often on the lower 2 shelves and lesser used items on the top ones. Probably my small collections of tea pots. We chose a Viking hood because I too think a good hood is essential for this set up. Our kitchen is not large and upper cabs feel claustrophobic to me.


    Bookmark   January 18, 2008 at 3:00PM
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Oh, I love this look. Too bad we're not neat enough to pull it off!

    Bookmark   January 18, 2008 at 3:07PM
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OK, I had to learn how to post a pic to do this...but how about something like this?

    Bookmark   January 18, 2008 at 4:07PM
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I find the look of upper cabinets to be very heavy, so I love the look of open shelving. I took off all my cupboard doors several years ago (started with only a few to see if I liked it, then removed them all). I'm about to start a kitchen reno, and plan no upper cupboards. In fact, since I'm opening up one wall and have 1 and 1 1/2 walls of windows, I have very little space for upper shelves in my new kitchen except for where my dishes and glasses will go, and above my coffee area.

There's a house near where I live that was built 3 years ago, and they went with open shelves. I've never been inside their kitchen, but when they leave their curtains open at night I can see the kitchen and it looks beautiful -- wood upper shelves and wood beams on the ceiling.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2008 at 4:57PM
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Open shelves is a really, really common thing in Europe. Go down to your local big chain bookstore, grab a big pile of European home magazines (World of Interiors, British Home and Garden, English Home, etc.) and look at all the examples.

Some of the Euro-style cabinet lines, like Poggenpolh, and Plain English (not available here, but look at their site, show shelves, or nothing upper at all.

Long shelves, short shelves, cabinets without doors, single high shelves, rows of shelves to the ceiling, cluttered shelves, austere shelves, they can all look amazing, and there's designer precedence for each one. You just have to decide what you want and have the courage to defend your choice. Your enthusiasm and a couple of photos can win them over, even if they think you're a little cracked.

I'm planning a completely unfitted kitchen re-do this year. (Well, the cabinets over the stove will be screwed to the wall. Everything else is furniture. Furniture I can move around and paint myself when I get bored or when tastes change. And cheaper!)

In the meantime, I took all the doors off my cabinets 3 years ago and painted them, inside and out, just to see if I liked it. You could do the same, tonight. See if the sky falls in. (You can always screw them back on if you hate it.) I love it. I have also built a couple of little shelves near the sink and I love them and use them constantly.

I don't get any dust. I, personally, like a jumbly look of color and shape on the shelf. But only you can decide if that's for you.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2008 at 5:47PM
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We recently installed our cabinets and the two corner cabs are waiting for glass in the doors. I have been using them without the doors and I like it. I would have definately had some open shelves but DH didn't like that idea.

Also you mentioned the beadboard ceiling. We have a tongue & groove ceiling that I pickled so the grain and the knots show through. I love the way it turned out.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2008 at 6:37PM
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You're definitely not nuts. Not only will you save some dollars with the open shelving but it will open up your space from a design perpective if that is an issue (not all those glorious town homes on the Hill are huge).

I would also be looking at some custom quotes. I had a quote from a cabinet builder (since retired) for some custom solid wood cabinets that was a lot less than buying from the big name cabinet lines. And why can't you reface and put new doors on your existing cabinets if they are in good shape? There is also a company that make custom doors for Ikea cabinets. You have lots of economical and fashion conscious choices beyond what Expo provides.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2008 at 8:42PM
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I did open shelves in my last kitchen - actually, had no uppers at all in the main kitchen and then had open shelves in the scullery kitchen. In my current kitchen (remodel just completed at Thanksgiving), I again went with no uppers and did open shelves for my pantry area. Here are some pics:

    Bookmark   January 18, 2008 at 10:16PM
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mnhockeymom - OT, but...where was this scullery kitchen in relation to your kitchen? Do you have the dimensions? How did you use that smaller kitchen? What function did it serve for you? Did you use it on a daily basis? Thanks so much...

    Bookmark   January 19, 2008 at 10:36AM
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    Bookmark   January 20, 2008 at 11:47AM
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    Bookmark   January 21, 2008 at 11:23AM
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I ADORE the look of open shelves for the uppers, and it sounds like it would be perfect in your kitchen. It sounds like you know what you want, and if you don't mind my asking, why do you even need a KD?

    Bookmark   January 21, 2008 at 2:03PM
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I have to chime in here. I agree that all of these kitches look pretty and have a minimalistic approach. I could easily live with no upper cabinets or shelving as long as I had great lower drawers!

Being a reality queen, I have to tell you that after living without doors on my cabinets for two years, I think it is downright nasty. I am a very good housekeeper and am ready for visitors on a dime the majority of time. I am constantly cleaning and keeping things maintained. So, once a month when I clean my light fixtures by hand, I also ended up taking down the majority of "things" in my cabinets and on the shelves to not only dust the shelves that were open, but to clean all of the glass ware that had gotten dusty, too.

Of course everything always looked clean, but I KNOW how much effort and time it took to keep things cleaned. And yes, I know things get dusty even if they are in cabinets, but I can guarantee you that more dust and grease gets on your dishes than you may want. I couldn't imagine havine open shelving if I had animals in the house. Yikes!

I also can attest that guests or teens helping with dishes don't want to keep shelves as orderly as shown above.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2008 at 5:29PM
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Sorry Mahlgold - I just answered on your other post - I can get dimensions if you want, just let me know!!

    Bookmark   January 21, 2008 at 9:50PM
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Like Sherilynn, years ago in the throes of the current fashion I took the doors off all my uppers--this in the dry dusty Southwest with a hole in the ceiling above the stove in my old bungalow as a ventilation system. Yeah, I was young and it was a learning experience. As Sherilyn says, not good. The build-up of greasy dust over time was unacceptable, even more so my new housekeeping task of having to wash my canned good stores.

A good hood above the stove makes keeping the kitchen clean a much easier job these days, but I still wouldn't take the doors off full-sized uppers. It'll take longer, but those top shelves and the seldom-used items on them are going to get gucky. And the inside vertical surfaces of the cabinets.

However, a few lowish open shelves holding frequently used items are a totally different matter. This is an excellent functional setup. It's also easier to keep truly clean over the long run than even closed cabinets with back corners and surfaces that are seldom (never?) cleaned.

BTW, we've always had pets and there was never a problem with pet hair in above-counter storage. People sensitive to the very idea probably should avoid it, but the reality is a nonissue.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2008 at 8:02AM
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Pets and open shelving. My daughter has two cats that climb like monkeys and the tiniest little gey terrier with the finest hair that you've ever seen. I let her bring that little terrier over to our house two times. He's such a good little thing! Anyway, Jackson, the dog, also got a bath the last time he was here. He only stayed in his crate in my salon room with tile floors and the adjacent bath, where he got bathed and blown dry in the bathroom with a closed door. I vacuumed immediately after the blow dry, too.

He was here on Thanksgiving weekend. I have found his hair on the light fixture in the bath, on the wall paper, on the glass shower door, in the hall, on the hall light fixtures that look like metal antlers and on my back desk counter about 12 feet away, and on the white 2" window blinds, and window sill. I have changed my AC 4" air filter and can still find some of his hair, that is as fine as fuzz, when I dust.

I also see cat hair on my daughter's clothes when she comes over. I am horrifically allergic to cats and have literally taped her down and asked her to leave her sweaters outside or let me launder them when she arrives because she just doesn't 'see it' or get it.

I am a hairdresser by trade and go ape*hit if I have hair on me when I am in my home. I do not want to find hair in my food or in my cups. I KNOW my daughter's cats could climb on those shelves ... and would, if she had them. She's told me of how they've climbed up her entertainment center. I've not see them in action because I don't visit because of my allergies. (Yes, she thinks I'm anal and got the cats to keep me away! Her housekeepping standards pale mine, too.)

My point: I can only imagine how bad it could be with my daughter's animals and open shelving. I am assuming that there are some people that may not see what I see or may be oblivious to animal hair. Those of us without animals 'see it everywhere'.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2008 at 9:01AM
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Thanks for all the feedback!

It looks like I will be going with a mix-- plate racks and open shelves and wine glass racks on the lower parts of the cabinets and one run of cabinets just above with glass doors. The open space above that could be used for hanging paintings or displaying artwork.

This is a very different concept than the "upper cabs all the way up to the 9' tall ceiling" as I had originally planned, but also a step back from the "only open shelving" that I was considering last week. Hope it's a happy medium. I'll post a schematic when my GC and KD send it to me.

I have a KD because she "came with" the GC. They are married and I've worked with both of them before with satisfactory results. YEs, I love to do my own research, but I admit it is also great to get "professional" feedback-- the KD also knows where all the good stores are. It's so funny you ask because in my neighborhood it seems everyone gets a KD even if it is a small job and the person already knows what they want. I'm always saying-- "why are you asking for referrals for a KD-- you don't need a KD!" And here is someone turning the question on me!

anyway, thanks again all!

    Bookmark   January 22, 2008 at 9:16AM
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I have some open wall shelves, and love them. Everything is so handy. As you can see, I don't really use them for decorative storage (I have a tiny kitchen, so not much room for anything that's only decorative)--so everything up there gets used and washed pretty frequently. I do have upper cabinets elsewhere in my kitchen--but all with glass fronts, so obviously I have adopted a "my kitchen has no secrets" approach, which might not be to everyone's tastes. My condo is in a 1920's building, and I agree that the look works in that era of home.

You can definitely save some money by choosing open shelves over new upper cabinets--but I would think twice about keeping the old lower cabinets. Are you going to be happy installing your soapstone on top of the old cabinets? Plus--my new (lower) cabinets are SO much more efficient and nice to use than my old cabinets--unless your existing cabinets are really nice, you might be getting improved space and functionality with new lower cabinets. Ah--its so easy to spend someone else's money....! :)

Here is a picture of my shelves, plus a picture of my little ivory Lacanche Cormatin, in case I can tempt you away from that Aga you are considering.... (again with the spending other people's money thing....!)

(oh, and ignore the index card backsplash--I've been a little slow actually getting the tile version installed...but its coming, I swear! :) )

Good luck with your decisions!

    Bookmark   January 22, 2008 at 11:26PM
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wow, KLB! I love your kitchen! the range is sooo sweet! Alas, I am feeling the love for induction cooktop, so I'm probably not going to also have room for a range. Most likely a convection oven under the counter.

Sorry I left you all hanging on the "will she reuse the base cabs?" question. Absolutely not. Even as frugal minded as I am, I just cannot justify keeping the base cabs-- they are old and they are white melamine. yuck.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2008 at 9:37AM
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Sorry to do this, but I've changed my mind! The picture starwitness provided has positively haunted me and i asked/begged my KD to show me a design of only open shelves. I LOVE, Love, LOVE the look-- and I'm so happy she will go along with it, even though it is not her choice. I can't describe how happy I am!

Now i get to figure out what wall oven to install below the countertop . . .

    Bookmark   January 24, 2008 at 5:14PM
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klb, that Cormatin is SWEET....

I love open shelves, although next best to me would just to do glass doors on the cabinets. We have 100+ pound Labrador that sheds NONSTOP...LOL The hair drives me nuts sometimes.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2008 at 6:48PM
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Great choice. I'm guessing losing upper cabinets where it can be done is probably a new trend that's revving up, judging from what's being talked about here. Only think, a being in fashion and saving mongo bucks while making your kitchen feel beautifully airy and spacious. Can't beat that. Just watch out for those must-have decorator shelves sure to be popping up...

    Bookmark   January 24, 2008 at 8:21PM
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Yeah, Loiusa! You'll be so much happier that you went with what you REALLY want--and trust me, you won't have too many situations in your kitchen project where what you REALLY want is also the cheaper alternative!

Can't wait to see some pictures as your project starts to come together--keep us posted!

    Bookmark   January 24, 2008 at 9:28PM
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KLB - your kitchen is so sweet! Totally OT -- can you tell me about the cool grooves in your sink cabinet? Do they go all the way through the cabinet front? How wide are they? Thanks!

    Bookmark   February 28, 2008 at 1:28AM
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I think everyone has pretty much covered this, but I thought I would add my experience. My kitchen has original (1920) cabinets and no upper cabinets. When we moved in we added some inexpensive shelving. I really like it. It's really easy to just grab a plate or bowl or whatever. The only advice I would have for you is to try to keep the color of the things on the shelves all in the same shade. It helps it look less cluttered.

You can follow the link to pictures of my kitchen.

Here is a link that might be useful: Kitchen Pictures

    Bookmark   February 28, 2008 at 8:17AM
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Thanks geokid!

I'm trying to decide right now between iron or wood for the brackets. I'm leaning towards very simple wood. i actually have Fiestaware plates, so things will be plenty busy already on my shelves! Very high likelihood of looking cluttered. thanks for your input---it reminds me to value simplicity over ornateness in my other choices.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2008 at 12:37PM
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I think Fiestaware could look really cute. Are they a mix of different colors? Maybe you could experiment by stacking them and arranging them and find an arrangement that looks put together. It might be a little more upkeep to keep them arranged nicely though.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2008 at 12:45PM
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thedinos--thanks! The grooves in my sink cabinet do go all the way thru--like old fashioned vents. I just measured, and they are 3/8 inches thick. Hope that helps!

    Bookmark   February 28, 2008 at 10:26PM
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