Cookies on the Kitchen Compare website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you continue without changing your settings, we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies on the Kitchen Compare website.

Flexible design ideas – open shelving

Following last month’s flexible design idea blog featuring the pocket door, this month we focus on open shelving. Often controversial, open shelving is loved by some and hated by others. Are open shelves a great way to house favourite things and an easy way to introduce colour and texture, or a place that easily turns into a dumping ground and harbours dust?

The open shelf concept in your kitchen can create a stunning focal point providing an open, airy feel as well as showcasing either a minimalist, rustic lifestyle, or a modern, contemporary sophistication thanks to clean lines. There are quite a few benefits to having your kitchen items on display, but it’s not necessarily for everyone.

In the same way that homeowners are buying fewer matching bathroom suites or dinner sets today, similarly UK kitchens are less likely to include fully coordinating base and wall units compared to five or ten years ago. More and more often nowadays kitchen designs incorporate open shelving.

Shelves make sense – in short, they cost less, make smaller spaces feel less claustrophobic and can add personality by having favourite items on view. However, there’s more to open shelving than simply replacing a wall cabinet with a bit of wood. An open shelf needs a purpose or a key role for it to work well in any kitchen.


Open shelving provides easy access to everyday items such as glasses, dishes, and cookware. Unloading the dishwasher is a little easier without having to open cupboards every time you put something away. However, with dishes and glasses now on display it is important to ensure that they are pleasing to look at - no mis-matching sets, no badly chipped items. Dishes and glasses need to be well organised and laid out rather than simply dumped.


Open shelving can help a smaller kitchen feel more open and airy just by removing cabinet doors. Shelves can be sleek and contemporary or rustic and unfinished but should fit in with the overall aesthetics of the kitchen design. Open shelving is a great way to get everyday aesthetic out of dishes, jugs, and vases even if you don’t use them regularly. Install LED lights on the shelving to help create a displayed feel while adding additional light to the space at the same time. Consider displaying a few books, decorative pieces, or greenery - all of which add colour and texture.


The challenge with open shelving is keeping them clear of dust and debris – especially those items which sit there for some time unused such as larger serving platters and jugs. Lower shelves are particularly susceptible to dust and if you have untreated wooden shelves then these will need to be treated with oil from time to time to prevent them from drying and cracking.

Make sure you know how much weight the shelf can hold before you start loading with crockery and glassware and take care to choose the correct quality material when purchasing both shelves and brackets – the last thing you want is for your shelves to warp or to come crashing down due to poor quality brackets or fixings!

Finally, while open shelving can cost the fraction of the price of traditional wall units, the minimalist look with items on display is not for everyone. A good compromise for those that love the look but don’t want to fully commit is to choose built-in open shelves flanked on either side by wall units. Alternatively, wall units with glass doors can also give kitchens a lighter, airier look and feel while protecting dishes and glasses from dust. A flexible design idea worth looking into.

10th Oct 2022