open shelving - love it or leave it?

chitownkatAugust 14, 2013

I am early in my planning stages of the kitchen reno and am seriously considering a small corner of open shelving. I think it would be more functional and visually more interesting than sticking a cabinet in that space.

I know we are early in the "open shelving" era , but can anyone share their experience with this? Is dust an issue?

I plan to use the space for everyday dishes, glasses, tea, often-used spices, ie, things that are touched often.
The area is in the corner between my oven and my sink, so it is prime workspace, which to me supports the open shelving idea.

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I love the look. Makes the kitchen so much more interesting when compared to all closed cabinets.

I put IKEA stainless shelves in my own kitchen to ease cleaning because the shelves do need to get wiped down from time to time. Here are a few examples of some kitchens with shelves. Thought if open shelves worked for the Barefoot Contessa, then it was a concept I wanted to consider for my kitchen.

This concept has been used for years by creative designers working on small kitchen designs, but I don't think it's been widely promoted my KDs in general.

Maybe one of them can tell us why we don't see more new kitchens with open shelving.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2013 at 11:46AM
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Is dust an issue? Of course! So is cooking grease. And cat foot prints.

If you don't cook, have a dust filter on your HVAC, and always turn on the exhaust when you cook anything, you might be OK.

I like the look, but the practicality of fighting with the cats for shelf space, the astoundingly dusty town, and my love of stir-frying means I'm better off with wooden or maybe glass doors.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2013 at 11:50AM
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I have 2 open shelves that hold the mw, cookbooks, tea canisters, baskets holding various items, some decor items.

In my house it would not make sense to put dishes or glasses as we have pets and dust.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2013 at 11:54AM
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In our soon-to-be-demo'd kitchen, we have an Ikea cart with open shelves, plus a pantry (whose door we never close) with open shelves. Major dust problem with the cart, minor one with the pantry, but enough to add to cleaning duties. We're planning open shelving on part of the island, for cookbooks, and maybe a corner of open shelving instead of that always-tricky blind upper corner cabinet, but everything else will be behind solid or glass cabinet doors.

I love the look of open shelves but don't like the cleanup.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2013 at 12:04PM
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When you said a "small corner of open shelving," I was thinking a few often used mugs, a tea pot, that sort of thing. When you got to everyday dishes, that "small corner" just got a lot bigger. So I agree, the scope of what you're thinking about sounds like a major dust magnet to me. Sorry.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2013 at 12:05PM
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I think they can be pretty and interesting but not practical...mainly for the dust/cleaning issue. Also, they also have to always look neat and "staged" or they just look like shelves with junk on them.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2013 at 12:23PM
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Open shelving can look nice if kept very neat and organized; otherwise, it just looks like clutter.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2013 at 12:25PM
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As long as you are honest with yourself concerning your organization skills and cleaning routine I guess it could work. We have a couple shelves in this house and they just get cluttered and look bad. Of we had more, they would certainly fall victim to dust and pet hair. We are not the most organized people though.

To each their own, but I don't find them attractive...

    Bookmark   August 14, 2013 at 12:27PM
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I'm considering some open shelving, too. I like the look, but think moderation and thought to what you'd use the open shelving for is key.

I'm the kind of person who NEVER remembers to close the upper cabinet doors, driving others nuts, so having some of the items I use daily out on open shelves in pretty containers probably would work well. For me, that means coffee, tea and cinnamon, flours, sugars, other baking supplies, pasta/rice, a very few mugs, plates and maybe some cookware. Open shelves or racks seem to win for convenience there.

I would never use open shelves for a pantry area or for most cooking supplies, because I'm never going to keep the pantry organized enough and I'm never going to spend the money to buy matching/display worthy sets of cookware. Even display worthy everyday dishes would be a long shot.

The openness shelves give a room appeals to me, but I hate visual clutter, and shelves seem to invite that. Look at the pictures posted above: all the items on display match visually and are spaced well apart from each other, providing texture in the room, but not the crazy quilt of crammed together clashing color that lies behind many closed kitchen cabinet doors.

Those are my two cents. Now, just because you've asked for opinions, don't let that fact keep you from going ahead and doing just what you like, just because.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2013 at 12:53PM
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It simply is not practical for a residential kitchen in a house.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2013 at 1:06PM
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We're putting in a small bit of open shelving at the end of a bank of uppper cabinets - it is a look that I like. We have a few decor items that we would like to use it to display, and we'll keep a couple of cookbooks there. Maybe some pieces of the blue Emile Henry ceramic cookware that we don't really use, like the too-small butter dish and the salt pig.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2013 at 1:26PM
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We live in a dusty climate. Three open glass shelves in a small wet bar have taught me that open shelves aren't very practical for my region, or for the way I keep house. I can always find countless things I'd rather do with my time than dust...but that's just me.

I think it's a very individual thing. I honestly love the fresh spacious look, when nicely staged. I just don't have the self-discipline to do the frequent dusting, but you might!

When I win the lottery, and hire a full time housekeeper, I'm definitely gonna add open shelving! Until then, nope.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2013 at 1:27PM
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Thanks for all the valuable input. I probably have been looking at too many pictures on Houzz.
I am still in the early stages of planning, so have some time to decide. I am pretty tidy about displaying things. Our everyday dishes are plain white (Crate and Barrel Cafeware II -- had it since we got married 11 years ago and still looks great!). Shelves would not hold all of it, but I envision it being a good "resting spot" for things we use daily.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2013 at 1:31PM
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Fori is not pleased

Love it in your kitchen. Leave it out of mine. :)

We get too much dust. I have cast iron pans hanging on a wall, face in, and they still get dusty inside between uses. And spiders. I should find out what they're eating...

    Bookmark   August 14, 2013 at 1:36PM
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I love the look, love it. But my cats would be camped there. "Hey, look at me up here!!!"

    Bookmark   August 14, 2013 at 1:40PM
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We have a cat. She could not get up there at this stage in her life. If I came home one day and found here there, it probably would make me more happy than upset ;)

    Bookmark   August 14, 2013 at 1:46PM
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We have some open shelving and 2 cats. They have shown no interest.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2013 at 1:49PM
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Circus Peanut

This topic has come often over the years, and it's as unanswerable as the question "which countertop material is the most durable?" It all depends on YOU - your visual comfort level (perception of "clutter"), your cooking frequency, your climate, and the rest of the furniture/cabinetry design in the kitchen.

We have open shelves and love them; wouldn't want anything other for our drinking glassware. Glasses are stored upside down and used so frequently that dusting is virtually never necessary - the shelves are lined with cork so are silent and don't show any dust. They're also away from the stove across the room next to the sink where they're most used. When we remodel, we're keeping them, and adding smaller open shelves by the stove for often-used items like mise-en-scene bowls, crock of stirring spoons, etc.

But we cook, largely and messily, every day -- and we have an older house in which the kitchen is the kitchen and we don't eat or socialize with guests much in there. Of course your needs will be different if you have an open concept house or want your kitchen to function more as an extension of the living or dining room.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2013 at 1:50PM
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I love my large 4 ft. wide wall cabinet without doors which I use for my everyday dishes, bowls, misc jars, glass measuring cups. The top shelf holds casserole dishes and platters which are used once or twice a month. It is not near the stove so cooking grease is not an issue. The dishes are used so frequently that they never get dusty. I wipe down the shelves from time to time.

I have a smaller one near the sink for glasses and coffee cups. I have some vases on the top shelf which is my only "display only" shelf.

My kitchen is not for's for cooking. I find it much more convenient to pull often used items out of (or put them in after washing) this cabinet without having to open and close doors. I don't mind that the items are mismatched. Much of it is colorful (fiestaware, handmade pottery items) though so it looks nice in a casual way. That said, I'm glad my pantry items area all behind closed doors.

This post was edited by itsallaboutthefood on Wed, Aug 14, 13 at 14:18

    Bookmark   August 14, 2013 at 1:52PM
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Also, if I had a cat, I doubt that it could get up on my open cabinets...too many dishes, glasses room for a cat at all. Plus it has sides so the cat would have to jump in the front...

    Bookmark   August 14, 2013 at 1:56PM
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The age/sealing of your windows and doors might also be a factor regarding dust. I have older windows and we get a ton of dust in the house. I feel like I am constantly trying to keep up with dusting, though it's probably also that cleaning is such a low priority for me that when I get to it there's already a big layer of dust on everything. So consider the amount of dust normally in your home and what kind of a house keeper you are. If you're like me, open shelving is probably not a good idea, even it if looks great.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2013 at 2:07PM
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I've posted this pic before, but here are mine. We do not have any pets. No problem with dust on the items we use daily.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2013 at 4:59PM
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I like ours a lot, but we also don't have pets who can reach the shelves. We have two long shelves that we put in partly for cost and partly for aesthetics/function (repeatedly hit my head on the old cabinet that was there pre-remodel!) No dust problems on the bottom shelf, which is daily use dishes and other supplies (we keep coffee making supplies, etc. there). We do store cups upside down as someone else suggested.

Lots of dust on the top shelf but we keep infrequently used things there plus a stereo, so I just wash things when we use them (2-3x a year on average). And periodically dust the stereo if I think of it (2-3x a year on average... ;) Not sure if the lack of dust on the bottom shelf is just because it's the lower shelf and covered, or because those things are in frequent circulation, but we were pleasantly surprised by that. Our shelves are adjacent to our stove, but we do use our vent fan regularly when cooking and I haven't noticed any evidence of grease on either shelf. We're also not particular about what the kitchen looks like as far as being pretty as long as it functions well, though--not sure shelves are a great fit if you are!

    Bookmark   August 14, 2013 at 5:40PM
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I've had them for several years now. If you are relatively well organised and tidy they are very practical for residential kitchens in my view, particularly for items you use on a daily basis. We have plates, bowls, etc., up there, and glasses stored upside down. Dust is not an issue and our cats don't go up there. If you like the look, have sufficient closed cabs for more unsightly items I think open shelves are fabulous, functional and they really lighten up the kitchen.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2013 at 5:59PM
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Wow, it's good I didn't read how impractical my open shelves would be before I did the kitchen :-) I actually agree with circuspeanut that it is a very personal decision with a lot of factors going into it. I'm really happy with ours. I cook every day, and having all the mis en place stuff at my fingertips is hugely helpful. The top shelf is purely decorative. I get up there and dust about once a month, which doesn't seem prohibitive to me, and the rest of the stuff gets used so often it doesn't gather dust. YMMV. (I should probably add, it's just DH and me, no pets.)

    Bookmark   August 14, 2013 at 6:07PM
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This discussion comes up often. Don't let the naysayers discourage you. We have been in our well used kitchen with open shleving for 3 years. We don't have pets. We store our everyday dishes and coffee mugs and glasses on the sleves and these run through the dishwasher at least once every week so dust is not an issue. The rest of the stuff is decorative and gets cleaned once in a while. Really no different than display items and books in the rest of the house. I love the look and our kitchen would feel completely different if we had gone with cabinets instead.

Everthing does have a spot and gets put where it should. The only time it look a bit odd is when the dishwasher is running that part of the shelf is empty.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2013 at 6:25PM
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Connie K

It wouldn't work for me, because my shelves don't look that neat and orderly BEHIND the cabinets. I couldn't keep my SS mixing bowls on the shelves, because they don't shine and sparkle like justmakeit's does. I have enough trouble keeping the countertops clean without introducing other trouble makers.

But if YOU like it, you should do it.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2013 at 7:21PM
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I've had open shelves for decades.

It would be fine if I used all the items every 24-48 hrs. Longer than that and they need to be cleaned, again before use. (I deliberately don't think about what dust, pet dander, etc., that I just don't see in 24 hrs, but I know some of is there. It doesn't just magically happen once 48 hours have passed!)

I use my mine for books (don't eat them) and ingredients in large closed glass canisters, and baskets of spice jars, a couple of crocks of utensils, only enough dishes for a day or two. The rest of the sets, and lesser-used items like egg cups, are all safely stowed so when put away clean I can just reach for them.

We are a family of two, so this means just a handful of plates and bowls are out. We don't drink coffee or tea, so no cups or mugs are needed daily.

I don't even keeep colanders, or mixing bowls out because I can't predict whether I'll use the item or not. it really chaps my hide to have to stop and re-clean something in mid prep, takes all the fun out of cooking for me!

I also have a hanging pot rack ...::sigh::.. Let's just say that it's the driving force behind my reno plans. I don't even like pot racks that stow the pots with the lids on. Those babies better not be afraid of the dark 'cause they are going to live shut up in drawers if I have my way.

Now I have no problem with display shelves in a kitchen of items that are rarely used.



    Bookmark   August 14, 2013 at 8:27PM
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Love the looks of open shelves, but the decision to have them or not rests on pet hair. I am 100% certain that if I had open shelves, then the day my MIL comes over to help with some meal would be the day she'd pull a bowl down off the open shelf and find a nice black cat hair in it. Or two.

Pet hair and dander is always floating around looking to land. Remember that.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2013 at 10:14PM
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I have two cabinets that are supposed to have glass doors but we've haven't gotten around to getting the glass for them (yes, it's been five years!) - so in essence, they're open shelves (just with sides).

The shelves & decorative items on them get dusty very quickly and we don't live in a dusty climate. It's kind of irritating, actually. I don't like having to dust the shelves and the few items on them every I don't...and more often than not, they're dusty! Rather surprisingly, there's no grease on them even though they're near the cooktop - but - we use our hood every time we cook - even if we're only boiling water. (I love that hood!)

    Bookmark   August 14, 2013 at 11:20PM
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I agree with pps7 we just remodeled our kitchen and was told by our KD and contractor that open shelves were not a good idea. after much thought and debate with myself we put them in and I couldn't be happier. I used the floating shelves from Pottery Barn.We put them in by the sink I keep coffee mugs, drinking glasses and a few other things on them. These things are used often so dust is not an issue. If you really want them just do it.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2013 at 7:40AM
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I think the most practical open shelf is a low open shelf ..maybe under the cabinet.. Not too deep and used for frequently used things. Easy reach..easy to keep clean, optimum accessibility.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2013 at 12:29PM
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    Bookmark   August 19, 2013 at 2:44PM
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I actually think it is funny you say

"I know we are early in the "open shelving" era"

I am going to have open shelves to complete a more retro look in our kitchen. That being said we are 2 years into a full house DIY remodel with an addition. While we have been doing this, I have been living with ALL open shelves in my gutted kitchen. Even with all the dust that flies around here on any given day (and that can be quite a lot depending on what we are tearing into that week) I still have no plans to change my kitchen design. I have adjusted in my head slightly what will go on some of these shelves as other posters have said the most used stuff like drinking glasses and every day dishes get used so regularly that you never need to dust or clean them, but even with the less used stuff I have had no issues.

circuspeanut - I love the idea of cork on the shelves for the dishes. I think I will use that. Thanks!

    Bookmark   August 19, 2013 at 4:10PM
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I have no upper cabinets. I have ikea's open stainless gruntals, some spice shelves and some shelves for everyday dishes and glasses. No pets.

I only have out that which we use frequently. So, a few cookbooks, almost every pot, about 10 mugs, a few glasses and service for 6 - 3 sizes of plates, 3 sizes of bowls. Surprisingly, neither the dishes or the pots ever stay put long enough to collect much in the way of dust.

I wipe off the shelves about twice a year. I live in a very dusty place.

The only thing I regret is the spices. By their nature, spices are dusty and are better off kept in the dark. If I ever find an overgrown first aid cabinet or other shallow cabinet - I'll jump all over that.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2013 at 8:02PM
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bmorepanic, This is the best $15 I ever spent on a product from Amazon. This is not a picture of my spice drawer, but I have this insert and it holds all my spices. My neighbor cut it on his table saw so it would fit in my IKEA drawers. It's the best.

Here is a link that might be useful: Spice Drawer Insert

    Bookmark   August 19, 2013 at 8:20PM
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beverly27 - Thanks for that suggestion. Are you from around here - meaning Maryland? You have old bay!

The issue of dust is really amazing - Buehl and I don't live very far apart but we have different dust levels. So its very localized.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2013 at 7:03AM
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Not a picture of my drawer, though I have a huge bottle of Old Bay. Chi-Town girl now in FLA.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2013 at 8:52AM
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We have a pretty good amount of open shelving in our kitchen. I have found it to be very practical. We'll probably move in a few years and so I am already planning my next kitchen in my head. In that one I think I will have closed uppers because the dust does get on my nerves a bit. Our open shelving contains either very often used or hardly ever used things. The glasses and plates etc don't get dusty for that reason, but the shelves themselves do. I usually wait until most of the glasses and plates are in the dishwasher and then move the remaining stacks to dust the shelves. I'd guess I do this every couple of weeks. The open base cabinet that my partner built is something I will definitely want in a future kitchen. It is incredibly practical for the way we live. It makes unloading the dishwasher and setting the table so darn easy, gives me a convenient spot for the toaster oven and microwave off the counter, and it accumulates the least amount of dust of any of the open shelving.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2013 at 10:21AM
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With all of the discussion about dust here, one cause is probably being overlooked, your attic. Any penetrations (recessed lights, ceiling fans, light fixtures, smoke detectors, piping, vent ducting, flues, wiring, etc.) can cause air leaks into the attic, if not sealed. Those air leaks can help draw dusty air into the home.

Here is a link that might be useful: How to Seal Attic Air Leaks

    Bookmark   August 20, 2013 at 12:13PM
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It is funny you should post this about the need of something for your spices and being from MD. I am also from MD and we were scouring Second Chance in the city this weekend. There is another salvage place not far from there, I forget the name but hubby would know we bought our stove there. But they had this great old spice cabinet in their basement. It was old beadboard wood and in very good shape for the 100 or so years old it was. I was going to buy it myself, but it didn't make sense to buy an antique in great shape and paint it, which I would have to, to work in my kitchen.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2013 at 8:57PM
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Oops. Double post. Stupid phone:(

This post was edited by Kali615 on Tue, Aug 20, 13 at 21:40

    Bookmark   August 20, 2013 at 9:01PM
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I love open shelves! But, I have cats and live on a farm...and don't clean the shelves everyday. For me, open shelves are great for books and large display items (platter, tea pot, glass storage containers), big mixing bowls and large pots, but I would not have plates, bowls and glasses there. I would have to wash the dishes before I used them...and after! LOL

If you can use them enough to keep them from getting dusty, I think it would be very handy! I'd like to have more glass uppers, so people could see where things are, but they don't get so dusty. Have fun with your kitchen planning! :)

    Bookmark   August 20, 2013 at 10:24PM
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I am not someone who is great at keeping things dusted but we are in process of designing/remodeling a new kitchen and I just can't see not having a few open shelves. I think we will end up having at least two horiz upper cabs with doors on each side of the cooktop (from IKEA) and one open shelf below each upper horiz cab - one on each side of the cooktop - for salt/pepper/olive oil/vinegar/commonly used spices, etc. -maybe commonly used cookbooks - whatever. I think I can keep things stacked neatly and keep two shelves from being too cluttered looking and dusty. I'm hoping they will keep the kitchen from looking too "matchy, matchy" which is something I hate a lot more than dust.
Also, the fact that only the lower shelves will be open will hopefully keep the job of keeping them "clean and nice looking" easier. If I had to do an long extended reach to clean or get up on a little step ladder to dust, that is definitely something that wouldn't work for me.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2013 at 11:05PM
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