image: How to Style Open Kitchen Shelves

Open shelving in a small kitchen can be both pretty and practical. (Alice Gao)

Open shelves in the kitchen always seem to look amazing in magazine spreads, and they can go a long way toward making a small NYC-apartment kitchen feel airier and more open. But they can be a bit of a head-scratcher when it comes to actual execution. For example, how do you make them both artful and functional? And how do you prevent them from looking cluttered or disorganized? We asked prop stylist Kira Corbin, known for turning simple settings into the most stylish vignettes, for her top tips on how to style open kitchen shelves successfully. Here’s her advice:

How to Style Open Kitchen Shelves: 5 Key Things to Think About

There are five crucial criteria to keep in mind when styling open shelves, Corbin says. Take all of the following into consideration when choosing the items you want to display:

  • shape
  • color
  • texture
  • height
  • layering

First, Lay the Foundation

Essentially, variety is the key to adding visual interest to your shelf display, so be sure to display a range of items, Corbin recommends. “A shelf of all glassware, or 50 wine glasses in a row, gets boring,” she says. “As a foundation, you want to have a good mix of glasses, mugs, ceramic bowls and plates, perhaps a vase or two, cutting boards—maybe even a Dutch oven.”

image - how to style open kitchen shelves

A mix of stacked ceramics, glassware, and wood gives depth and texture to this open-shelf display. (Jason Varney)

Then Add the Finishing Touches

Once you have your foundation in place, you can layer in other elements for a softer, more organic feel. Sprinkle in beautiful tools with great design, like a teapot or a French press, or a textural stone mortar and pestle. But Corbin cautions, “stay away from displaying things that, while pragmatic, don’t offer much in the way of beauty, like a set of weathered plastic measuring cups.” She recommends candles (either in a glass jars or beeswax tapers), incense and a burner, a houseplant that drapes down or grows vines behind other items, or a vase of dried branches. “You can also add decorative objects and small art in frames, for depth of layering and scale variation,” she suggests.

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How to Maintain the Look

Congrats, your open shelving looks beautiful! They’re a great way to show off treasured kitchen items, in addition to making your kitchen feel more open. But here’s a dose of reality for you: It can get dusty up there! “And in the kitchen, sometimes a little greasy, too,” Corbin adds. To keep things neat and clean, she says, “I recommend mostly displaying items that get used often. When you’re constantly reaching for those glasses, mugs, or cereal bowls, it doesn’t give the dust and grime time to settle and keeps your items fresh.” Plus, as an added bonus, the things you use most often are now the most easily accessible. Enjoy!

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