Because I get asked about them a lot, today I’m sharing my honest thoughts on open shelving in the kitchen!
I’ve long been fascinated by open shelving, but always preferring to keep my kitchen a little more stream-lined and uncluttered than open shelving usually affords. In the lakehouse kitchen though, the upper cabinetry was small and incredibly awkward: the corner shelves couldn’t fit two glasses side by side, part of the cabinet to the right of the window was unreachable because the doors and counter got in the way, and the cabinet above the range hood was fake! I also didn’t love the cathedral style door profile or the jumble of sizes. Open shelving was an inexpensive, easy solution and it definitely increased our storage (although some people dispute this, I know this for a fact because I couldn’t fit half of what’s on the shelves now in the former cabinets). While most people have been so positive about the makeover, there have been those who have been…insensitive (I so badly want to use a different word). These folks haven’t popped up here, but some websites where the kitchen has been featured have yielded some weirdly personal criticisms. Apparently either I don’t cook, or I’m not a good cook, or else I’m totally slovenly and live in a grime-filled home. Never mind that apparently I’m hoarding the world’s Pyrex so a person can’t even find a set of mixing bowls. People have also had weirdly specific concerns, like how I should have a single sink and not two (I guess what I prefer is irrelevant). Le Sigh. Some questions are legitimate and non-accusatory (“is it easy to keep open shelves clean?”), so I’m going to tackle them today. It’s been about six months since we finished the kitchen update, and I’m feeling chatty about it.
Would I Recommend Open Shelving? Would I Choose it Again?
My Mom is currently pondering a kitchen makeover (torn between a full reno or spit + polish) and recently she asked for my honest thoughts on open shelving. Would I do it again? Would I recommend them to others? Would I recommend them to her?
Yes, definitely. Maybe. No.
I still love our open shelves. I love the storage we gained and how easy it is to grab something or put it away. I know that sounds silly (how hard is it to open a door?), but I have totally been clocked in the head – more than once – by an open cupboard door when Hubby and I were both bustling around in the townhouse kitchen. Open shelves are safer when there are two cooks in a relatively petite kitchen. I enjoy sitting at the counter and admiring my Pyrex and pretty Iittala glassware while I crunch my cereal. I’ve never been one for clutter and I think my aesthetic is pretty spartan (sometimes a little too spartan?), but this is the one area where I’ve got a lot of pretty stuff to look at.
BUT! I’d never replace my Mom’s perfectly fitted, ceiling-height cabinetry with open shelves. Her melamine door fronts have bubbled up in the last twenty years and while the style she chose still looks current, they look a bit shabby (which is such a shame). For her, I’d suggest new cabinet fronts – or a sand and paint. For someone like me, who couldn’t make use of the existing upper cabinetry (and that’s highly subjective), open shelving was perfect: cheap, easy, and it’s fun for the interim. The kitchen feels happy and casual. When we do our real-deal reno, though, I’d like cabinets again, although I’d probably still go with a few shelves (maybe to the right of the window, for Pyrex?). My desire for having cabinetry again is partly because the kitchen is so open to the house, so I’m dreaming of a stream-lined kitchen that doesn’t look “kitcheny”. However, I’m seriously thinking about keeping a more stylish version of our DIY open pantry for the reno. I’ve ended up really enjoying those canisters.
They are so easy to grab and filling them is deliciously satisfying. I enjoy the look of the uniform shelves and jars with the differently textured contents. Is that weird? People have wondered where I keep food with open shelves. The pantry holds twelve jars – I usually even have empty ones! Smaller ingredients (baking soda, canned goods, crackers, etc.) are stored in the lower cabinets. I often decant into smaller mason jars and then things take up less room so I can cram more in. This winter we’re also going to set up some shelves in the basement for our apocalypse over flow of canned goods.
For anyone with dismal cabinets like mine were, I’d definitely give my vote for shelves. For someone with salvageable cabinetry, I might suggest a mix of open shelves and cabinets, like Mandi Johnson’s kitchen makeover (featured on A Beautiful Mess). I’m actually totally smitten with her makeover and have pinned it a zillion times to every board:
|A Beautiful Mess|
Is Open Shelving a Dusty, Greasy Mess?
Before I had open shelving, I read a few reviews of open shelving and people who had them (like Sherry and John from YHL) swore they didn’t get really messy. I didn’t believe them, because my bookshelves get plenty dusty. I figured kitchen grime would be ten times grimier than bookshelves. I can now join the ranks of people who swear that open shelving isn’t a pain to keep clean! I didn’t believe them, but now I do.
First, a little more information: we don’t have a range hood so when we cook, we sometimes pop open the kitchen window and sometimes even the half bath window, for a nice cross breeze. I air the house out routinely, anyway (even in the winter – doggie smells!), so this doesn’t seem weird to me. I’ve mentioned before that we’ve never had a working range hood, so we’re used to it. We cook about three times a week, often relying on our slow cooker or cooking in big batches. This way, we coast on leftovers and have more time for not-cooking. More of our recipes require browning meat, sauteing onions, etc. Sometimes though, we’ll toss a meatloaf in the oven or use our grill pan for grilled chicken, so we’re not cooking with oil every time. Maybe if we cooked every single day and used oil for cooking every single time, we might have more of a mess on our hands? I’m not sure, but the dust on the shelves has been minimal – far less than what my bookshelves in the office accumulate, but with a slightly different texture. Not sticky, really, but not as fluffy as bookshelf dust (so no dust bunnies skittering around, if that makes sense, the dust stays put).
Funny story: when we moved into the townhouse, the former owners – who had lived there for two years – had turned the kitchen into a horribly, greasy mess. In fact, all of the walls – from the kitchen to the living room right up to the front door – were greasy and sticky. It was terrible to get it clean in preparation for paint. The stove (and range hood) was so horrifying that I actually hired a professional cleaner to tackle it because it was seriously a job for a pro. She bustled around a bit but after she saw the oven – I kid you not – she “left for more oven cleaner” and literally never returned. I called and called and called and eventually she wearily answered and offered to clean something else, but not the stove. It was THAT gross. After fours years of us living there, the kitchen wasn’t greasy at all. So maybe it’s cooking styles? Cooking frequency? Maybe the open window is pure magic?
Full disclosure: I’m fairly fastidious. I’m not saying this in a smug, humble-brag way. It’s actually kind of a problem in my life and it makes it difficult for me to be productive in a meaningful way (or really relax), because I’m always tidying, scrubbing, washing. I have nervous energy, I think. But it’s not like I ever need to wash the walls in the kitchen, so I think that we just don’t produce as much of a mess as others (like the former townhouse owners). There’s no shame in that, I think the biggest messes produce the best meals. I don’t mean to imply that people who get grease everywhere don’t cook as well, I’m just saying that some people seem to produce more grime when they cook, and others don’t.
To make this post a bit more objective, I did a little experiment. About a month ago, I took everything off of the shelves for the first time since we completed the kitchen. I washed/wiped things if necessary, re-assessed and re-organized (and this was “down time” for me, so you can see that I have issues). I took a good long look at the shelves. There was a bit of dust on the top shelf (as in, I could see a faint outline of the shapes when I removed items) but it wasn’t horrific and wasn’t greasy. The second and first shelves had a little less dust but the dust was less fluffy (a bit greasy). The first two shelves are constantly in use and the contents are run through the dishwasher a lot. When a pile or stack is emptied, I’ll wipe the shelf down quickly with a dishrag so the minimal amount of dust wasn’t surprising. I was surprised however, with how little dust had settled on the top shelf. It took me a few hours to rearrange and clean everything but a simple wipe-down would have taken an hour – even less if Hubby would have been around to hand stuff to. After that big clean, I left it for about a month and resisted the urge to do any wiping or dusting (I suffer for my blog). Yesterday I wiped down the first level of shelves with a paper towel to objectively present the evidence. This is the amount of dust/grease that settled on one shelf (on the left), after four weeks:
And the other shelf, the one to the right of the stove:
I couldn’t see it on the shelf until I wiped it up with the paper towel. In real life I often use a cloth I’ve fashioned from cut up clothes (often they’ve got patterns, etc), so I used a fresh piece of paper
towel so you could clearly see the dust. By the way, I can’t believe I just shared my grime on the internet, but I figured it was the only way to quantitatively demonstrate the amount of dust on the shelves. And there’s more, so if the above photos grossed you out, scroll down a bit – quickly!
Although I purposefully didn’t touch the shelves for a month, prior to my study I’ve found the swiffer duster to be useful. It’s great for getting in between the dry goods canisters and plates and glasses, plus I can easily reach the top shelf with it. Yesterday I also dusted the pantry shelves and the upper two shelves and this is the amount of dust (again, after a month):
That’s not so bad! The bookcase in my office had way more dust and dirt on it when I cleaned it for the photos for my DIY magazine files. I think that because there’s more activity in our kitchen, things being removed/cleaned/replaced, that the dust doesn’t settle as much? Using a glossier paint finish, like people typically choose for trim and baseboards, really makes it a snap to wipe down or dust. I wouldn’t choose a matte finish for open shelves.
There is one spot that is super dusty, though: the bottom shelf of the pantry. Now that shelf gets really dusty – just an insane amount of dust gets in there, likely because it’s so low to the ground and near the front door. That’s where the microwave was going to go but after living without one for awhile we realized we don’t need it. A cooler, on the other hand, is essential for getting food home on our hour long drive and when I got my hands on a vintage blue cooler that belonged to my great-aunt (who passed away), it seemed like the perfect spot. I think about her every time I see it, which is nice.
Do I Get Tired of Looking at My Open Shelving?
I’ve spent a good 10-15 years collecting vintage glassware, Pyrex and other goodies and it’s nice to have them out in the open, finally fully appreciated. I’m not bored yet (although reorganizing was fun and I might do it again in another six months). I know that the kitchen looks like it has an insane amount of turquoise, and like the shelves, the colour is polarizing. In person, everyone who sees it thinks it’s great, but online there are people who think it’s fabulous and a few who think it’s way too much. I think pictures are misleading (I blame my skills and my camera. I almost bought a DSLR for Black Friday but I think there might be better sales in January and February, so I’ll step up my photo game soon, I promise). The kitchen definitely has a hefty dose of colour in real life, but it’s not so dramatic because the kitchen is more open and airy than it seems – it’s also larger than it appears. The white to aqua ratio is different. As well, in real life there’s nice variation in the colours, from minty greens to blues. The sheen and pattern varies – plus the clear glassware is more noticeable, lending a bit more visual interest. Really, the content of the shelves seems more muted and nuanced in real life – not so bright and not so repetitive. I don’t love the kitchen in photos, but when I’m in it, it looks so beautiful and I can’t help but smile. It’s a bold look, to be sure, even in that elusive third dimension.
I did purposefully opt for a stream-lined palette because I think it helps the shelves from looking too cluttered. If there was a jumble of colour with that many shelves, I think it would drive me nuts. There is a lot of bakeware and glassware crammed on these shelves – plus lots of sizes of plates and bowls. Having everything white, clear glass, or some shade of turquoise/blue, soothes me. Also, it’s just my cup of tea. My super ordered brain likes to see this kind of uniformity. And this kitchen was meant to be personal and fun. One day I’ll have a serious kitchen (right now I’m loving this one), and I’ll look back on these days and say, “hey, remember when we were young and crazy and had a totally insane turquoise kitchen?” For someone tackling a more permanent spruce, I might suggest a more neutral colour like Emily Henderson’s kitchen, which can easily be made more wild, or more subdued and elegant, with accessories and art.
But I wanted to go bright – it might be a once in a lifetime opportunity!
|Better Homes & Gardens|
I know that it’s visually pleasing to mix some orange or red with aqua so that it’s not so AQUAAQUAAQUA, but I just love the whites and blues and grey together. The heart wants what the heart wants (but I added some seasonal red for you!). You’ll notice that I did move my photo turned into an oil painting to the kitchen (I’m testing it out and weighing my options), so between that and the enamel paintings from Hungary above the stove, the eye can rest a little before it’s assaulted by more turquoise 😉
Have I Made Peace with the Brackets?
Nope, I still don’t love the brackets. If you recall, Hubby was adamant that we get industrial-strength brackets and wood shelves. I wanted thicker shelves, but these were pre-fab and easy, plus the thickness matches that of the open pantry, so maybe I like the thickness after all. I still pine for thick, floating shelves. But in the kitchen they would look weird butted up against the pantry, and they’d compete with the gloriously thick wood counters Hubby and his Dad made. Still, look how pretty:
|A Beautiful Mess|
BUT, the Pyrex has not come crashing down, so maybe I’ll grow to love the monster brackets. The wood shelves are similarly holding strong (knock on wood), with no signs or warping or buckling. Maybe with our forever kitchen, if I do a bit of open shelving I’ll finally get the floating shelves I want. It’s Hubby’s kitchen too and I catch him checking the brackets from time to time, pleased with their performance.
I think that’s all I have to say about open shelving. I’ve been jotting down some thoughts on the entire kitchen makeover: what we love, what we regret, what we’d do differently, and what I’ve realized about what I need/want from a kitchen. I’ll share those thoughts at some point, but I want to live with some things (like the wood counters and painted cabinetry) so I can get a better sense of how they wear. In the meantime, feel free to ask me questions about any aspect of the kitchen update.
And please, weigh in on open shelving – especially if you have it! For people considering it, it’s always nice to hear different opinions. I’m sure that location, weather, heating systems, pets, kids, cooking styles, ventilation, etc., all impact how dusty these bad boys get, so my experience is very limited.