Open Shelving Is the Budget-Friendly Secret to Completing Your Kitchen Now

Open shelves are having a moment—here’s everything you need to know.

Gray and White Kitchen
Photo: Chris Edwards; Styling: Kendra Surface

The kitchen might be the hero of every house, but after spending an unprecedented amount of time cooking over the past two years, it might be in desperate need of a room refresh. Problem is, you may not have the time, energy, or funds to invest in new appliances or replace your backsplash. But, if you're looking for a budget-conscious way to make a maximum visual impact, you might want to consider adding some open shelving to your space.

Clare Paint, Greige grey kitchen cabinets white tile backsplash open shelves
Madeline Harper Photography

Why Open Shelving?

According to Clint Johnson, principal of a Houston-based firm called Newberry Architecture, all shelves started out as open-concept. Though dwellers began adding proper cabinets in the 20th century, its original form is coming back in a big way.

"Open shelving became a renewed trend about ten or so years ago when reclaimed materials became so popular," he shares. "It allows you to bring more colors and patterns into the space. It makes what you are trying to store more accessible, and it allows you to break up the monotony of the cabinets."

White Cottage Kitchen with Farmhouse Sink and Butcherblock Countertops
Laurey W. Glenn; styling: Lizzie Cox

Dos and Don'ts of Open Shelving

While Johnson says the open shelving comeback offers visual intrigue and easy access to your dining essentials, he does point out that this kitchen comeback isn't necessarily for everyone. Open shelves look best when they're cleaned and organized, so they do require a considerable amount of upkeep. (Translation? If you don't want to put your mismatched plates on full display, this probably isn't the right trend to bring into your space.) Plus, your kitchen's footprint may not be conducive with the remerging fad.

"Open shelving does not work in every space because sometimes, open shelving becomes the focal point," he says. "Not every space needs a focal point."

In Johnson's opinion, open shelves work best when you can view them from a distance. While an open-concept kitchen might be the ideal scenario, you might want to rethink this trend for tighter layouts.

Small Modern White Kitchen
Alexandra Rowley

How to DIY Like a Pro

The good news? If open shelving does work with your layout, they're a relatively affordable DIY project. Though prices can vary, research suggests that open shelving can cost as little as $60. (Of course, that cost will increase should you choose to enlist a professional.) But, no matter which route you choose, Johnson says the key to cutting costs is to strategically select your materials.

"You can use new materials versus antiques to recreate this look on a budget," Johnson says. "If you are trying to have open shelving, use prefabricated units. Stay away from metal and glass for cost savings."

But, the one thing you shouldn't skimp is the anchors and attachments. (Simply put, you want all of your belongings to stay suspended for years to come.) "The best open shelving will have concealed attachments," Johnson adds. "They will need to be anchored to the wall to ensure the attachment points can support the shelving and what you intend to put on it."

Open Kitchen Shelving with Sliding Ladder
Laurey W. Glenn; Styling: Buffy Hargett Miller

Tips for Styling Open Shelves

Picked out your materials? Check? Installed your open shelving to last? Check. Now it's the fun part: decking out your shelves with your favorite pieces. Though Johnson says finding that happy medium of accesories is easier said than done, it's important to create a setup that speaks to your style. Because, if spending the past two years primarily at home has taught us anything, it's that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder.

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