Of Kitchen Cabinets & Open Shelves

Of Kitchen Cabinets & Open Shelves

Investigating the pros and cons of each

You’re second-guessing the standard choice of upper cabinets for your new kitchen. You’re considering options like open shelves or, of even minimal ambition, nothing at all! Perhaps we can help you narrow the playing field with an analysis of the advantages and drawbacks of each.


Standard upper cabinets are known for providing plenty of storage within an elegant symmetrical design. The design options are so plentiful you are almost assured you’ll find the perfect set to match any theme you have established or are pursuing, right down to the hardware. When they are desired, upper cabinets portray a very nice sterile organized aesthetic.

For homeowners who prefer the feeling of an open inviting room, some believe that upper cabinets take up too much space, leaving a cramped tight feeling. Cost-wise they are higher than most options. You may not wish to spend the extra money for what may be considered a generic setup.

So, what about open shelves? You can replace cabinets or forgo them from the beginning with this popular option. It portrays an open rustic feel that is both inviting and homey. It has the same storage capacity as cabinets, only exposed. All manner of kitchenware are easily accessible.

For those who prefer an easy-going atmosphere, the potential crowding upon the shelves may convey a ‘busier’ vibe than they are comfortable portraying. Plus, not everyone is comfortable placing items on the shelves and organizing them to appear on display. Also, not every item should be seen. With little room elsewhere, items typically found in the back of a cabinet may soak some limelight.

If cabinets are currently installed, remove their doors and get a feel for what replacing them with shelves will do for you. A little imagination required.

For an image of much greater space, install neither shelves nor cabinets. It’s a bit of a popular trend, currently, appealing to people’s desire to feel like they’re in a free and open room, with plenty of elbow space. With all of that upper free space, you can have an artistic tapestry to work with, using tiles, lighting, even works of art to hang. Of course, you may prefer the pureness of a clear wall.

If storage is a valid issue or concern, the lack of upper shelves or cabinets wouldn’t be practical. For those who take their cooking seriously, being limited to lower cabinets only probably won’t suffice. If you’re not going to install upper cabinets and plan to live in your home for a substantial period of time, there’s no issue. However, if you intend to sell your home relatively soon, the absence of traditional upper cabinets will likely work against you.

Options are plentiful, but not always obvious. For instance you could employ simplicity at its finest with but a single floating shelf. You can store your immediate cooking necessities on top and it may also double as a cap to your oven backsplash. Or you can hang the shelf high, out of average range of sight whereupon you may install under mount lighting or even conceal an electrical outlet above it.


If you need the storage but want an open airier feel, you may install cabinets with frosted glass doors. Or you may simply replace the doors on your existing cabinets with them. Then, from within you can push your more attractive items such as nice dishes to the forefront, and items you wish to be anonymous to the back.

You can even choose a stand-alone floating cabinet. It takes up less space and can provide a varying amount of storage depending on the configuration you choose. It’s ultra-modern and relatively inexpensive. You can elect to hang the uppers high (typically, they’re at 18” above the counter) from 21” to 24” + opening up the area below to be much more spacious. It may not be easy to reach, but it provides plenty of storage for items you don’t use often anyway.

You may also increase open space by using shallower cabinets. The less they stick out, the the greater the perception of room. Plus, cabinets deeper than the size of a large dinner plate may be bigger than necessary. Slim cabinets are a great option, and if you’re just storing cans, spices and other small items you can go as low as 5”.

I hope these suggestions help provide some insight into the world of possibilities available. You are not stuck with a single option or idea, you can mix and match and personalize your kitchen to your hearts delight. And that’s the point, your kitchen should be a delight for yourself – and others – to enjoy.  


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