an okotoks kitchen with open shelving and custom cabinets

Open Shelving vs. Cabinets: Pros and Cons for Small Kitchens

Open shelving has seen increasing popularity in recent years. Which is better for small kitchens—open shelving or conventional cabinets with doors? Both options have merits, but they also come with drawbacks. In this blog post, we’ll explore the pros and cons of open shelving and cabinets to help you make an informed choice that suits your space, style, and storage needs. 

Pros of Open Shelving

With so many advantages of open shelving, its trending status is no surprise. 

1. Visual Openness

Open shelves can help you highlight visual elements in your small kitchen, like brickwork, wallpaper, backsplash tile, or an accent paint colour. Turn your shelving into art by displaying your spices in clear glass jars, showcasing seasonal dishes, or featuring a stunning vase with flowers. 

Additionally, open shelving can make a small kitchen feel more spacious by creating a sense of airiness. 

2. Accessibility

With open shelving, everything is within easy reach. You can quickly grab what you need without opening and closing cabinet doors, making it a practical choice for daily-use items.

3. Cost-Efficiency

Installing open shelves is often more budget-friendly than custom cabinets. You can even repurpose existing shelves or brackets to save on costs.

4. Customization

Open shelves are highly customizable. You can adjust the height and spacing to accommodate different-sized items and create a unique look.

5. On-Trend

Open shelves suit a minimalist lifestyle, especially if you hold back on the number of items you display. A well-designed floating shelf becomes a lovely, understated focal point in any small kitchen. 

Cons of Open Shelving

Open shelving may not be the best option for everyone. It has disadvantages too.

1. Dust and Maintenance 

Open shelves tend to collect dust and require more frequent cleaning. Dishes and cookware stored on open shelving require regular cleaning due to exposure to cooking-related grease and splatters. 

2. Clutter Potential 

Without cabinet doors to hide clutter, open shelving can make your kitchen look messy if items are not neatly organized and styled. 

3. Limited Storage

Open shelves provide limited concealed storage compared to closed cabinets. This proves especially challenging in small kitchens where limited storage is an ongoing problem.

4. Prettiness Pressure

Typically, open shelves house matching mugs or coordinating dishes. Unless the contents of your kitchen look like something from a design magazine, your open shelving display might disappoint you. 

5. Lighting Issues

Open shelving for upper kitchen cabinets poses lighting challenges. Large pots or oddly shaped items can cast strange shadows and reduce the efficacy of your light fixtures. Find out How to Choose the Best Lighting for Your Kitchen.

Pros of Cabinets

Cabinets with doors are the classic choice for good reasons.

1. Concealed Clutter

Cabinets offer ample concealed storage, helping you keep your kitchen organized and clutter-free. You can hide away items you don’t want on display and you can incorporate custom organizational features like pull-out shelves or dividers.

2. Increased Storage

Storage is usually the primary issue in a small kitchen, so the increased storage capacity provided by closed cabinetry makes it an easy choice for most homeowners. 

2. Protection and Easy Care

Cabinet doors protect your dishes and cookware, shielding them from dust, grease, and potential damage. Items stored in cabinets rarely need cleaning unless you use them. 

3. Versatility

Cabinets come in limitless styles, sizes, hardware, and finishes, allowing you to choose options that complement your kitchen’s design and meet your storage needs. Custom cabinetry allows you to design a kitchen layout and style to fit your space and your style preferences. Find out How to Choose the Perfect Kitchen Design Style for You.

Cons of Cabinets

Despite their positive qualities, cabinets do have drawbacks.

1. Visual Bulk

Cabinets can make a small kitchen feel more closed off and crowded. They may not be the best choice if you want an open and airy aesthetic.

2. Accessibility

No one enjoys digging into the back of a deep, dark cabinet to find a single item. Corner cabinets, in particular, can be tricky to use efficiently, although a custom cabinet design can offer cost-effective solutions for the awkward kitchen corner.  

3. Cost

Custom cabinets cost more than open shelves, especially if you opt for high-end materials and features. However, they do provide a greater return on your investment when it comes to the resale value of your home. 

4. Visible Dirt or Wear & Tear

Cabinets can get scratches and stains, and some wear and tear is natural over time. Ongoing maintenance may be necessary to realign sagging doors, sticky drawers, or squeaky hinges. That said, high-quality cabinetry is durable and can withstand the test of time. 

Making Your Decision: Open Shelving or Cabinets

The choice between open shelving and cabinets in your small kitchen must align with your needs and style preferences. Another option is to combine both options, using open shelving for display and frequently used items and cabinets for concealed storage.

Consult a kitchen design expert at Riverstone Kitchens & Renovations to help you determine the best solution for your specific kitchen layout and needs. We can provide valuable insights and design options to optimize your space and create a functional and visually appealing kitchen. Whether you choose open shelving, cabinets, or a mix of both, your small kitchen can be a stylish and efficient space that suits your lifestyle.

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