10 Tips On How To Style Your Open Kitchen Shelving Like a Pro

We’ve all admired pictures of perfectly styled open kitchen shelving — those neat stacks of dishes are so appealing, and going without upper cabinets promises to bring an airy feel to small spaces. But how practical are open shelves to maintain? What are you supposed to put on them? And where do you put everything else? As you know I live in a rental, so installing a new kitchen is out of the question – and it has build-in upper cabinets. Not the prettiest, but I deal. I found a metal set of vintage shelves for extra shelving, and I think it is just perfect to revamp my otherwise quite boring all-white kitchen. If you would love to try open shelving in your own kitchen but are not sure where to start, here’s help.


1. Start on empty.

It is simply impossible to see what you are doing if you try to style your shelves when stuff is already on them. Yes, it’s a project to completely empty shelves, but it will be worth it. And if it seems overwhelming, just work on one shelf at a time. Remove everything and wipe down the shelf before you go on.

2. Borrow goods from the pantry for graphic appeal.

Anything with a cool label (like bottles of alcohol as shown here) can work as a decorative element in a group — but also think cans of imported tomatoes, pretty tea tins and jars of jam. You can also go with a group of similar see-through jars, add flour, rice or so for fun colours and textures.

Bungalow5_Skagerak_Open Shelves_Kitchen_1

3. Think about what you use daily.

As for the lower shelves, be practical about what you choose to place there. This is a good spot for favourite coffee mugs, everyday plates and bowls, and basic water glasses and wineglasses. If you find that not all of your everyday stuff fits on your shelves, put some away. Do you really use 30 mugs or wineglasses daily?

4. Cookbooks everywhere.

As it is the kitchen you should display all your cookbooks, the more the merrier if you ask me. Stack them in piles; rank them by height, colour or region (Nordic, Italian, Mexican cuisine).

Another good think by having them out, you are more likely to actually use them. Spend a few hours flipping through then and mark out dishes you actually would like to make with a post-it. That will have you cooking in no time.

5. Edit what you put on display.

Ideally you will have a mix of open shelves and closed cabinets, so not everything you own will need to be on display. Remember that as you are filling those shelves.

Stick with a matched set of dishes and glassware, or at least keep your choices to coordinating colours. Remove one-offs that look out of place, freebie cups, cluttered-looking kitchen tools and anything with dangling cords — those things should go into cupboards and drawers, not be out in the open.

6. Make stations.

Consider kitchen tasks, like baking or making coffee, when filling your open shelves and group items accordingly. It’s convenient to have all of the necessary items in one spot, and grouping things this way usually works well visually, too. For instance, stack cake stands, pie dishes, ramekins and mixing bowls on the shelf above where you store your mixer.

7. Stack ’em up.

Keep your arrangements visually interesting by stacking and piling small items together. Teacups and saucers look more appealing in slightly tipsy stacks than in regimented rows. Stack bowls atop plates, and smaller platters on large; stick utensils upright in a glass or vase.

There are no hard and fast rules to styling; just play around and see what looks right to you. I stacked my growing selection of Skagerak’s all-white Nordic collection.

8. Focus on one or two materials.

Wood, ceramics, glass, metal — too many materials in one arrangement can look cluttered and unfocused. Stick with mainly one or two for a sleek, chic look.

9. Use decorative details judiciously.

Open shelves are a natural place for injecting some personality into your kitchen; just don’t go overboard. A few framed art prints tucked behind the dishes or a framed bug in front as seen here or perhaps one or two decorative objects are all you need.

Not sure if you’ve gone too far? Use this rule of thumb: If you cannot easily get to something you need because your decor is in the way, it’s too much.

10. Add plants

Choose a plant that is either aromatic, like a Rose Geranium as I have displayed, as it will send out its fragrant every time you touch it, or plant a selection of nice herbs that will keep you stocked for all those meals you will be cooking.

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  • Reply
    May 27, 2016 at 10:37

    What company makes the shelf you used? I

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