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How to have open shelving in your kitchen (without daily staging)

by | Oct 29, 2009 | Decorating Inspiration, Kitchens, Organization

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How to have open shelving in your kitchen (without daily staging)Coastal Living

If you would like open shelving for everyday dishes or pantry items in your kitchen, but are afraid you’ll spend the better part of everyday fussing with staging your shelves, I have good news for you. You do not need to stage your shelves beyond the first initial set up and they will NOT get messy looking! Scouts honor. You can use your items every day  and they’ll look as good next week as they do today. And you don’t have to spend a fortune for fancy dishes or pantry organizers, either.

How is that possible, you ask? You just have to follow a few basic steps to set things up initially and I promise, staging will be unnecessary from that point forward! Your open cabinets can look magazine photo ready (but in a real life sort of way) without even trying.

How to have open shelving in your kitchen (without daily staging)
Kitchen & Bath Ideas

Here are four basic open shelving tips:

1 Group like things together. I love an eclectic mix of pieces on my shelves, but a safe styling tip is to group like items together. For an organized look, group plates, bowls and cups on own shelf, organize baking supplies in attractive containers on another.

2 Confine the open shelving to featuring things that are attractive to you. Let’s consider the idea of open shelving for dishes. I happen to have all different shades of white dishes that cannot look messy if they tried. They look magazine ready not because I fuss around with them every day, but because they all are all white. I do not worry about perfection in how they are arranged, I like the look of naturally piled dishes. No special stacking techniques are needed. I just group them: dinner plates, salad or dessert plates, bowls, serving dishes and mugs.

This concept will work as long as your dishes coordinate in some way and you like the look of them. It doesn’t matter if they are blue and white, red, yellow, patterned, a rainbow of colors, clear or whatever, just make sure they coordinate with your room and that you like seeing them all together out in the open.

If you have any odd ball pieces that don’t look right or don’t fit, put them in a closed cabinet.

Note: If everything you own is oddball and you hate it all, either buy new pieces you love (over time or all at once, your budget will decide that!) or keep them behind a cabinet door.

My feeling is that life is too short to dislike your dishes. Why eat off of something that makes you gag a little when you look at it? You can love your dishes and not spend a fortune on them.

I love my dishes but they are nothing fancy. I buy white dishes for CHEAP! $2-$3 a piece at HomeGoods or garage sales, and sometimes less. Tops I think I have paid $20 for a large white serving bowl at Target. I look for interesting shapes, and sizes and just add to my collection as I find good deals. Building a collection is half the fun! I might start collecting some other color of dishes someday, but for now (and the last 25 years!) white is what I have. You can build a collection in any color you like.

How to have open shelving in your kitchen (without daily staging)
Country Living

3 Only stage your shelves once. I attach a few strictly decorative (but inexpensive) plates to the back wall of some of the shelves with sticky tack (or a plate stand) and then in front of the plates I pile up our every day dishes (and they go in and out every day, no staging required). With the “decorative” plates stuck to the back of the cabinet,  if the every day dishes are all in the dishwasher, there are a few decorative pieces that remain in the cabinet all the time. Yep, magazine photo ready always with NO EFFORT.

For food products in the open pantry concept, use a few baskets or canisters instead of showing packaging that may or may not be attractive. The baskets are always there looking all fancy (and less than $10 a piece if you bargain shop), and it doesn’t matter what the stuff looks like inside of it! If you don’t like to see something, hide it in a basket or find a closed storage option for it. Again, magazine cover ready at all times without the daily foofing.

One day of staging for many years of beauty? I’d say that is worth it. It really is that EASY to have attractive shelves. I’ve done open cabinets or shelves in every house I’ve lived in, big or small. Would I do something complicated or impossible? Would I spend a few hours a day arranging my cabinets to look all fancy to impress everyone? Um, no. I’m too busy for that. You can come over and surprise me any day of the week and my open cabinets will look just fine. Always. The rest of my house? Not so much.

How to have open shelving in your kitchen (without daily staging)
Updated photo, from my new pantry!

4For food or baking pantry items, use open shelves for things that can’t look messy like baking pans or things that can be confined to baskets or canisters. I use attractive jars on shelves for flour, sugar, dried beans and grains, and baskets to contain small items. I also use my open kitchen island shelves for metal or glass baking tins, jars and baskets that always appear tidy even with that “working kitchen” look.

The key to using this system effectively is to fill the baskets or jars with items that are used at similar times, like a snack basket for easy to grab snacks or a baking basket with vanilla, baking powder, and chocolate chips or perhaps cookie cutters and frosting bags and tips, so that you could grab an entire basket in order to bake. You don’t have to rifle through all the baskets every time because items are grouped according to use. You could label the basket with a hanging tag if you wanted to. When I bake, I take the appropriate basket down, set it on the kitchen table and take what I need. When I am done, everything is tossed back in the basket and up on the shelf it goes. Easy peasy. 

How to have open shelving in your kitchen (without daily staging)

This Old House

Of course, I have a closed cabinets for all the messy and non-attractive kitchen essentials…not everything is worth displaying!

Do you have a small kitchen?

If you have a small kitchen, put things you do not need every day in the basement, garage, under a bed or in an extra closet. I’ve often had my extra items on basement shelves before, just so I could keep pretty things I used every day in my kitchen. You don’t have to keep things handy if you only use them occasionally–write down where you put your bread machine (or juicer or whatever) and tape it inside a cabinet door. Then you won’t lose track of it!  Save your cabinet space for things you use every day and make them pretty!

If you pick even a small cabinet or shelf and fill it with attractive things you use every day, you too can have open shelving without all the fuss! Open storage offers a decorative purpose to every day items. And if you still don’t like open shelving, there is NOTHING wrong with all closed storage. Do what makes YOU happy!

Reader question: So how do you hide the holes left from the hardware if you remove a cabinet door? Answer: If your cabinets are painted, you just fill with spackle, prime and paint again. If you have natural wood, fill with wood fill in the right shade or tone. Or if you are like me, you leave the holes because you are probably the only one who will ever notice them. I’ll fill mine when I get around to painting the cabinets. If they bother you or are too obvious to leave, filling them will be worth the effort.
Reader question: So how do you deal with the dust and grime if you remove a cabinet door? Answer: I ONLY use open cabinets for things I use frequently. I know this is the opposite approach to the “china cabinet” idea where you put all the fancy stuff out for show and it just sits and collects dust. My stuff gets used so it is washed ALL THE TIME. If it gets a little dusty on the upper shelves where things aren’t used as much, I dust or rinse things off prior to use (l will often run the upper shelf items through the dishwasher before a party so they are ready for use. I would do that even if I had cupboard doors on.) If you don’t use many dishes, I’d suggest having just one small open cabinet for your everyday dishes so they get used more often and keep clean. Adding glass doors can cut down on some of the dust as well.
Reader question: Do you have to balance everything? Answer: If you enjoy puttering and making things look pretty (like I do) it will not feel like a chore, however it is completely unnecessary. I actually do not balance my dishes very often because the minute I get them in the cupboard, someone takes one out to use it. No use in trying to be perfect. It is a losing battle.

How to have open shelving in your kitchen (without daily staging)

How to have open shelving in your kitchen (without daily staging)

Related posts: Keeping Things Simple with Real Life Accessories


The Inspired Room’s kitchen reveal!


  1. Kim

    Great ideas for open shelving! I have two glass doors in my kitchen, so it gives it an open feeling and also breaks up the cabinets.

    I also want to put a plug in for white dishes! I love them! And I love that I don’t need to have different dishes for the holidays. Just add some red napkins and accessories and I’m all ready for Christmas.
    .-= Kim´s last blog ..Canning is Done! =-.

  2. Sara

    OMG, the next time a hinge breaks, down they come!
    .-= Sara´s last blog ..O Bliss! O Joy! =-.

  3. Charlene

    I’ve toyed with the idea of making some of my cabinets open…but have been scared because my husband on rare occasion will unload the dishwasher, and I swear, he has to do this on purpose – every single time he puts stuff in a different place, and if I reorganize based on where he put something the last time – the next time the item will be somewhere else…the man lives to torment me and my OCD organizing ways! Someday, perhaps not in this kitchen since we may be moving soon, I will have some open shelves, I just love the look too much…and maybe, just maybe, if it is open he will put stuff back where it belongs…I know, I’m dreaming. Actually, maybe he does it thinking someday I’ll say “honey, please don’t unload the dishwasher anymore, I’ll do it.” HA, so not going to happen!
    .-= Charlene´s last blog ..Sometimes We Stay Home, Sweet Home…Our Fall Home Tour =-.

  4. Franki Parde

    We ARE “soul mates” – I have used this very same method for 25 years , yes, count them, 25 years. IT WORKS!

  5. Meg

    I LOVE the idea of open shelves.. but, I just must be a terrible housekeeper… because I have so much dust flying around this house.. it is everywhere… Do you have to dust your shelves and contents off?? Maybe it is my dust mop of a bearded collie bringing in too much dust, but I swear I have dust EVERYWHERE, except what is behind a cabinet door…

    How do you deal with that?
    .-= Meg´s last blog ..Best Bean Dip Ever =-.

  6. Suzann from The Olive Cottage

    I love open shelving and glass front cabinets. But my concern about the open shelving is not keeping it pretty, it’s keeping it clean from all the icky grime in the kitchen.

    GREAT ideas!!!
    .-= Suzann from The Olive Cottage´s last blog ..Half Full or Half Empty? =-.

    • Melissa

      Yes, that can be a problem in some kitchens especially if you do not have a good exhaust fan or if you cook a lot! Just consider where your open cabinet goes, how protected it is from grime, and how often you use the dishes, etc. to keep them continually clean.

  7. Lu Anne

    Oh Wow! Now THAT was helpful. I pray every day that God will expand my pitiful attempts at organizing and decorating. You blessed my feeble decorating heart today!! Thank you!

    Lu Anne
    .-= Lu Anne´s last blog ..Pride and Prejudice- I Heart It So! =-.

  8. Sheri

    We’ve thought, time and time again, about pulled a few doors off our cabinets, but truly I don’t know if I have to have them balanced?? Do I? Oh and I want the coffee cups and bowls from the first photo!!
    .-= Sheri´s last blog ..Kreativ Blogger =-.

  9. Cheryl

    Great post ! I love white dishes and am on the hunt for some good quality ones to start up my own collection. If we ever move again I am so doing an open shelving concept in the kitchen. I would love to have everyday things out on a shelf like the dinner plates, bowls, glasses, etc. This way they are readily available and when guests come over they know where everything is….but for now, it’s just a dream.
    .-= Cheryl´s last blog ..The gift revealed =-.

  10. Kathy

    I like the look of open cabinets, but having to deal with cleaning/dusting it because it is open is a con for me personally. I have been thinking of doing glass in one cabinet’s doors though so I can put my more decorative glassware in it and show them off that way.

  11. Shelia

    Oh, you make this sound easy! Now if I could just get those screws out…! :)
    Be a sweetie,
    Shelia ;)
    .-= Shelia´s last blog ..No Spooky At My House… =-.

  12. Kristen

    I love open shelves and you make it seem so easy here! One more post to tuck away in my things to try/inspiration folder, which I’ll excitedly pull out when we finally have a house of our own!
    .-= Kristen @ Beautifully Imperfect´s last blog ..In Which I Make a Risky Statement =-.

  13. Melissa

    PS. I’ve answered some of the above questions by adding the answers to the bottom of the post :-) for convenience.

  14. Michelle "Chaos Caretaker"

    This is a fabulous post. It allows EVERYONE to feel like they could have one of those magazine ready areas of their kitchen without too much fuss. Organization is key and you make exposure look organized.
    .-= Michelle “Chaos Caretaker”´s last blog ..Falling for Autumn =-.

  15. black eyed susans kitchen

    About the dishes, I agree completely. Some of our dish sets were started by great yard sale finds. The fun was scouring the antique shops and ebay to add to the collection. Marshalls and Home Goods is a favorite haunt.
    ♥, Susan
    .-= black eyed susans kitchen´s last blog ..DINNER FIT FOR A WITCH =-.

  16. Abbie

    I just realized I have things I want and like to see, but don’t use regularly on my top, out-of-reach shelves in the cupboards anyway. So it really wouldn’t be a stretch to open shelving. I wonder if that could be a part of the “new” cabinets my hubby wants eventually – just take the doors off the old ones and paint!! Yay for cheap and easy!
    .-= Abbie´s last blog ..The new bench =-.

  17. Lynda

    Beautiful photos! Love your practical tips too.
    ~ Lynda
    .-= Lynda´s last blog ..From the heart =-.

  18. janice

    Lovely photos, as always, and another inspiring post. Thanks! I’ve found the balance between open shelves, glass doors and one freestanding glass door cabinet for special stuff works best.

    I often use bits of lace to trim the edges of shelves in glass door cabinets to give a Mediterranean feel. In the past, I’ve also attached narrow wooden decorative rail across shelves to either act as a plate rack or to stop kids pulling things off open shelves.

    Like you, I also have decorative plates hanging at the back, but I use handpainted plates from my own collection that have developed hairline cracks or tiny chips. That way, even if I don’t use them any more, I still get to enjoy them.

    Something else I do is recycle chipped cups and mugs by planting herbs in them and keeping them on the dresser or the window ledge. I also cut the tops off decorative olive oil tins, make the edges safe and plant red geraniums or herbs in them.

    Like some of your readers above, it’s the cooking grime, not dust, that gets to me most with open shelves.
    .-= janice | Sharing the Journey´s last blog ..Does anxiety make you over-explain? =-.

  19. teresa

    Love open shelves- in the Hamlet I have open shelves for the first time and I had some fears at first….but it is truly amazing how easy they are to keep up using many of the steps you stated.
    I also like white dishes =)
    .-= teresa´s last blog ..Getting ready for Lunch =-.

  20. Gina

    More great ideas-thanks Melissa-I never thought of putting something decorative up in the back. We’ve covered ours with burlap and that works okay too. I love those inspiration photos, thanks for sharing!
    .-= Gina´s last blog ..Fast Forward =-.

  21. Amber

    Ah…I’m now thinking of the money we could have saved on our cabinets by having some open shelving! This is the perfect follow-up post to yesterday’s pantry post! LOVE IT!

  22. jodi

    Great ideas! So may I put in a request to see your white dishes on your open shelving??? I’m thinking about switching to white dishes and I really like your idea of mismatching them, but I’d love to see it first. Thanks for the great post!
    .-= jodi´s last blog ..Majesty =-.

    • Melissa

      Yes, I JUST took the cupboard doors off yesterday so that is why I don’t have pics of it all… I had a glass front cabinet in my old kitchen too, with all of my mismatched dishes, but I cannot for the life of me find a picture of it!

      I’ll look some more and get some new pictures up soon!!

  23. Tracy

    Great suggestions and excellent pics, Melissa. I especially like that you have a little lamp on your countertop. I have two areas of open shelving in my kitchen and don’t think I’d ever go back to all closed up. Yes, I have to wipe the shelves now and then and make sure there’s no dust in the bowl I’m about to build a salad in, but those things have just become part of my routine. Not a big deal when you consider how much enjoyment I get from seeing all my pretty bowls out in the open.
    .-= Tracy´s last blog ..Unexpected Warmth =-.

  24. Lorrie

    Great tips, Melissa. I love open shelves and my husband recently installed some in my kitchen. They are easier to care for than I had thought because of grouping and knowing just where things go.

    Thanks for sharing,

  25. Abbey G.


    Sorry for yelling at you, I’m just so happy to read this! I think I’ll print out this post and hang it in my kitchen so I can build up the courage to take the cabinet doors off the upper cabinets in my kitchen.

    Anyway, I have a question, too. Do I have to take ALL the upper doors off in my kitchen or will it be okay to take the doors off on one wall and leave the ones on another wall? Or should I just start with the ones I want to take off and see how it looks?
    .-= Abbey G.´s last blog ..How I Almost Went Crazy Taking a Picture of a Wreath =-.

  26. Flower Patch Farmgirl

    Love these tips! (And I love my open shelving. I did the same thing with cheap-o white Target dishes. So easy!)
    .-= Flower Patch Farmgirl´s last blog ..Dr. Lee =-.

  27. julie

    I really love the idea of open shelving. I’m just a little afraid to attempt it in our kitchen. I worry that removing one of our cabinet doors will look like it broke off and we just need to replace/repair it.

  28. b.ellen

    Great ideas-all the same reasons I gave my hubby when I was sharing this idea for our kitchen. Can’t wait to start utilizing my handy everyday dish shelves ( we move in next week!!!)
    .-= b.ellen´s last blog .. =-.

  29. Passementerie

    So far as kitchens are concerned then it’s function all the way for me – if it doesn’t get used, it is put far far away (like in the garden shed or attic, in extreme cases!) and the only things on open shelves are the things in constant use – the Denby pottery (I have practically everything from the Imperial Blue range and LOVE it – stylish and very sensible) and so on.
    .-= Passementerie´s last blog ..Looking for something to covet today? =-.

  30. laney

    …about the holes from the now taken down cabinet doors…i just took antique looking tacks for upholestery and stuck them in the holes…use a tiny bit of school glue if they are loose…

  31. Kristi

    I would absolutely love to have open shelves in my kitchen, but I can’t because of this:

    (the last pic is my kitchen)

    I would love to know how people with open cabinets/shelves AND cats deal with this in their kitchen? (Or is my cat just very strange?) She’ll do that whether the cabinet is full or not. I’m in the process of painting the cabinet doors, which is why they’re off right now, and I’ve just decided the cabinet can’t be used until the doors are put back on. It’s disappointing, because I really did want to use open shelves in my kitchen.
    .-= Kristi @ Addicted 2 Decorating´s last blog ..Take A Stroll Down Memory Lane With Me =-.

  32. Traci Hutcherson

    I have to tell you that I just love this post! Such great information. I am getting new cabinets in my kitchen with glass doors, so I am already thinking about how I want to display my dishes now that everyone can see them. I also have open black cabinets in my guest house, and I was trying to get ideas of the best way to place items in them as well. Thank you for taking the time to write this post. I love your blog and all your great ideas!
    Blessings to you,
    .-= Traci Hutcherson´s last blog ..Wednesdays with Wanda =-.

  33. Courtney

    Hi Melissa! I’ve loved catching up on your blog, especially the last couple of days about pantries. I recently did a huge cleaning/reorganizing of my pantry and it felt SO good. I totally agree with you about baskets…they hide a multitude of sins. I also switched to white dishes a couple of years ago and haven’t regretted it for a moment. Thanks for the great tips!
    .-= Courtney @ nesting instincts´s last blog ..before and after: the five dollar chandelier =-.

  34. Michelle, Home Staging Pro

    Melissa: I feel like you wrote this post just for me! I love all your ideas for “staging” open shelving and pantries in kitchens. For professional home staging purposes, its important that no open shelves look cluttered or disorderly. Harmony with the surroundings is key. You’ve given great step by step instructions to do just that.

    I have simple white dinner plates, but I give them some pizazz with eclectic, but harmonious (there’s that word again) salad plates and bowls I got at Anthropologie.

    Thanks again for the great pantry staging tips!
    .-= Michelle, Home Staging Pro´s last blog ..Holiday Greenery Sale – Ballard Designs =-.

  35. Richella

    Boy, I like those last sentences. . . “No use in trying to be perfect. It is a losing battle.” You are right! Thank you for reiterating this point!!
    .-= Richella´s last blog ..An autumn heart tour =-.

  36. Jessica at Lavender and Lilies

    I love open shelving! These are great tips for making it manageable.
    .-= Jessica at Lavender and Lilies´s last blog ..Cute Things from Fontaine Maury =-.

  37. Lisa

    This is an AWESOME post!! And that photo at the top?…to.die.for.

    Thank you a million times for writing those…I want to go take my cabinet doors off right now. ;)
    .-= Lisa´s last blog ..CandyCorn Sunshine =-.

  38. Abbie

    Thank you so much for answering the questions at the bottom of this post! And for posting this post after yesterdays. I guess what I’m saying is thanks for caring about us, your readers, who need a bit more help getting the idea and executing it!
    .-= Abbie´s last blog ..The new bench =-.

    • Melissa

      You are MOST welcome. I enjoy talking about this sort of stuff. :-)

  39. Rakisha

    This post is has definitely been inspiring. I am on a budget, but desperately need to remodel my kitchen. I am considering open shelves but have not been able to find a picture that has the same layout as my kitchen. I would like to replace a large upper cabinet that is between my fridge and kitchen window; this will allow for me to shorten the counter top and install a wider fridge. Problem is on the other side of the window is a cabinet which is attached to other cabinets…I really don’t want to replace them. Would it look ok to have open shelving on one side of the window, but a regular cabinet on the other side? I really have a difficult time visioning these things.

  40. glenda

    I have to differ with your comment “one day of staging for many years of beauty” After a weekend or week with college students or grown kids back in the home nothing is in the right place. I appreciate the help in the kitchen but can never find anything after the kids leave. LOL. Love Love Love having them home though. Hey I can redo shelves and rearrange drawers anytime. And the linen closet ~ that’s another story :)



  1. Do you have a maid? And other Q & A’s about open shelving - [...] I’ve received quite a few questions about the open cabinets. I already wrote a post about open shelves last…

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