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Paraphrased Reader Question: What do you think of open shelves?

Open shelving (replacing wall-hung cabinets) has become very popular over the past few years, and I’m curious as to your opinion.

The ever tasteful and hilarious Raina Cox from If the Lampshade Fits posed that question to me last night. Before I answer it though, I need to crank out some effusive praise for the work of La Cox. If the Lampshade Fits is one of my daily must-reads. Poke around on her site and you’ll see why.

Anyhow, onto Raina’s question. I see these magazine spreads too and there’s no doubt that there’s a trend afoot.

Mt. Baker traditional kitchen Open shelving

Done and styled correctly, open shelves in a kitchen photo spread look terrific. But there are a couple of things at work here.

Noe Valley Three contemporary kitchen Open shelving

The photos you see in magazines are styled and propped extensively. They are also lit perfectly and professionally. Styling and photographers’ lighting then gets enhanced further by our pals at PhotoShop so by the time it’s all said and done, what’s left is a cartoon of a kitchen, it’s not real.

Cabinets have doors on them for a couple of reasons. One of those reasons is that they keep dust and airborne cooking goo off your stuff. The other thing cabinet doors do is hide your stuff. Stuff stowed behind a door doesn’t have to be pretty or arranged.

When you replace wall cabinets with shelves you seriously limit your storage capacity and you set yourself up for the additional chore of arranging and dusting your magazine-perfect kitchen shelves.

However, all is not lost.

I love the idea of limiting the number of wall cabinets in a kitchen design and I love the idea of white space in any room, kitchens particularly. In my own designs I lobby tirelessly to go easy on the wall cabinets and instead rely on tall cabinets and efficiency-minded base cabinet inserts for storage. The kitchen in the photo below illustrates the concept perfectly.

:: nicolehollis :: contemporary kitchen Open shelving

The only wall cabinets in that photo are very short and they’re probably where glassware goes. All other dish storage has been shifted to the two-drawer base cabinet on the rear left and into the tall cabinet between the wall ovens and the refrigerator on the back wall. Once all the storage needs were met, there was ample room for two display shelves on the left side of the rear wall. The next photo shows a variation on the same theme.

Palo Alto Kitchen traditional kitchen Open shelving

The two stainless shelves are for display only, the storage heavy lifting gets done by the wall cabinets to the left.

So as lovely a fantasy as this may be:

Open shelving

This is closer to reality.

Open shelving
De-Victorianization on Division

Proceed with caution is all I’m saying.

Read Paul Anater’s Design blog, Kitchen and Residential Design, every day.
  • http://www.papillonlinens.com Leigh Chandler

    Congratulations on your wonderful blog and upcoming website! Love all of your entries and I am also a big fan of Raina Cox at If the Lampshade Fits! She brightens up my days with her hilarious and charming blog. Best of luck for your venture!

  • http://moretimauraondesign.blogspot.com/ Isabel de Yzaguirre

    Very useful tips and wise reflexions. My congratulations to you!


  • http://ifthelampshadefits.blogspot.com/2009/12/peas-bedroom-reveal.html Raina Cox

    Hello and thanks so much for including If the Lamp Shade Fits on the Modenus blogroll.

    Best of luck with your new launch!

  • admin

    You’re so very welcome. Paul at http://www.kitchenandresidentialdesign.com kept talking about how great your blog is, until I had to look for myself. And, of course, he’s right.
    Let me know if you want to submit a piece here and there as a guest blogger.
    All the best to you,

  • http://www.abcddesign.com ABC Dragoo


    I have been moaning about this for what feels like years since the open shelf trend started. Nothing makes me crankier than when you’re watching an HGTV kitchen re-do and they say “First, we are going to take the doors off your cabinets”

    Anyway, you’re so right. No one lives in a way that open shelving looks good, and if they do … you have to be a slave to dusting your stuff.

    I do have to admit however, that first shot, of the shelf between the two sets of windows is quite nice…


  • admin

    But of course, if we didn’t like it how could we expect you to?
    It is in fact written by one of our guest bloggers at http://www.kitchenandresidentialdesign.com


  • http://www.cupboardsonline.com Nick

    As I was scrolling down it really was a very pleasing set of photos, until that last one.

    I scared the dogs laughing so hard.

    It’s unfortunate, but you are absolutely right.

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