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How to Install Open Shelving in the Kitchen and Make It Look Good

Floating wood shelves on brick backsplash in a kitchen

Open shelving is one kitchen trend that doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. And for good reason. Open shelves allow you to show off cool pieces that you’d otherwise tuck behind a cupboard, add budget-friendly decor to a cooking space, and in some cases, can make your kitchen far more functional.


Knowing when, where and how to install them, however, is key. Read on to learn more about how to have open shelving become the showpiece of your cooking space.

Related: The Most Costly Kitchen Renovation Mistakes to Avoid in 2024

Where is the Best Place in the Kitchen to Install Open Shelves?

Your kitchen is your unique space, which means there is no universal place to install open shelves. Open shelving varies in size and style, so you can approach your design in different ways. Some people like open shelves on the windows for plants, while others want to rig them over kitchen islands.

A common place to install open shelving is above counters in place of upper cabinets. It can be a clean and elegant look, but you’ll need to ask yourself a few questions before proceeding: Are you okay with giving up that much storage space? Or do you have a lot of cooking and baking gear to tuck away? One way to tell how open shelving may look where cabinets currently sit is to remove the doors and step back.

Meanwhile, open shelves can also be a great storage solution for smaller kitchen nooks and crannies. Think of floating shelves around door frames, open shelves in a corner, or a small shelf below a slanted ceiling.

Wherever you’re thinking of installing open shelves, take a picture of your space and use Photoshop, a design app, or an AI room generator to get an idea of what your kitchen will look like with open shelving first.

Related: How to Organize Kitchen Cupboards to Optimize Your Storage Space


Will Open Shelving Work With Your Lifestyle?

Modern white kitchen with brass-detailed hood vent and open shelving

Another consideration before installing open shelves is your overall lifestyle. Are you a minimalist or someone who doesn’t do well with clutter? Ensure you have proper storage elsewhere to hold all of your kitchen necessities. Otherwise, you could end up with exposed piles of stuff.

Cleaning is another consideration. Items on open shelves need dusting more regularly than items stored in a cupboard. So, if you decide on open shelves, get ready to clean them every week or so.

Related: The Biggest Must-Haves All Dream Kitchens Need in 2024

What Should Be Placed On Open Shelves?

Wood open shelving in kitchen with white backsplash

Sturdy open shelves can take a good amount of weight, but that doesn’t mean you should load them up with all your things. To make open shelves look purposeful, you’ll need to think about what goes on them. Below is a list of kitchen items that generally work with this type of storage:

  • Collector items
  • Glassware or mugs
  • Coffee and tea canisters
  • Plants
  • Cookbooks
  • Framed art or vases
  • Baskets
  • Small plates or bowls
  • Serving platters
  • Mason jars

When styling your open shelving, opt for functional and decorative items, and group like items together. Stick with a cohesive colour palette that doesn’t look too busy, and if you use jars, ensure they’re complementary or the same type.

Related: 15 Small Apartment Kitchens That Will Inspire You to Renovate

How to Install Open Shelves

The first step in installing open shelves is to remove any cupboards and ceiling trim, then clean up the walls where the cabinets used to be. You may need to add paint, wallpaper or a new backsplash during this step. Then, you’re ready to go!

Your installation method may change depending on the types of shelves you’re installing, where you purchased them from, and any included mounting equipment. Where you’re mounting these shelves also matters, but below is a general guide.

  1. Plan and measure. Consider the height, width and depth of your shelves and whether you want floating shelves or exposed brackets.
  2. Locate studs using a stud finder. If you don’t mount your shelves on studs, they won’t be able to take any real weight.
  3. Use a pencil and a level to mark the placement of your shelves. Never drill without measuring, levelling and marking first!
  4. Install brackets or supports using a drill and bits.
  5. Mount your shelves and secure them by tightening the screws. You may also want to screw your shelves onto the brackets for extra stability.
  6. Decorate!

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