Plus, tips on how to make it work in your home

By Mary Tomlinson
August 13, 2018
Photo by J. Savage Gibson; Styling by Liz Strong

Chances are, if you’ve scrolled through any #kitcheninspiration in the last few years, you’ve seen bold backsplashes, white marble detail…and a whole lot of open shelving. One more place you can see this airy, minimalist trend? Our 2018 Idea House!

Idea House designer Jenny Keenan loves open shelving, and has even brought the trend to her own home.

“I find it so practical,” says the Charleston-based interior designer. “The key is using it for things you grab every day.”  

Photo by J. Savage Gibson; Styling by Liz Strong

Keenan sees the draw towards open shelving—seen above in our Habersham, South Carolina Idea House—as a direct reflection of homeowners leaning away from kitchens that are heavy with upper cabinetry and appliances. By rethinking what sits at eye level, Keenen turned what could have been a visually heavy section to a slimmed down space that’s easy on the eyes.

The space feels even airier with backsplash tiles that reflect natural light, graphic aqua tiles above to conceal the hood, and one simple open shelf that matches the wood of the island and chairs.

Photo by J. Savage Gibson; Styling by Liz Strong

In the separate prep space right off the kitchen, Keenan continues the open shelving trend. This does wonders in a small space like a butler’s pantry and keeps it from feeling crowded. Display a mix of practical (extra juice glasses in fun shades) and decorative (hello, woven details) for a well-balanced space showcasing design without clutter.

Here, 5 more reasons to adopt the open shelving trend in your own home:

Related: Step Into Our 2018 Idea House in Habersham, South Carolina

Maximize small spaces

Photo by David Tsay; Styling by Rachael Burrow

In a 750-square-foot beach shack, keeping things streamlined and minimal is key—that’s why designer Tim Clarke chose open shelving in a natural, light oak for this Maui home. Our favorite part? The small continuation of the shelving past the hood for a teensy bit of extra space—every bit counts!

Show off details

Photo by Max Kim-Bee; Styling by Lindsey Ellis Beatty

With exquisite details like the chevron-patterned pecky cypress wall (made from wood the homeowner salvaged from an old Long Beach Island hotel), it would be a shame to cover it up with heavy cabinetry. Opt for white open shelving instead, which also helps the kitchen ceiling—eight feet before sloping up to 13 feet in the living room—feel higher.

Embrace a traditional interpretation

2017 Annie Schlechter
Photo: Annie Schlechter; styling: Liz Strong

For open shelving that doesn’t feel overly modern, take notes from this Harbour Island kitchen. The mounted shelving is in line with the home’s late 1800s origins, while the porthole map decorations and all-white paint (save for the Dominican crafted îpe counters) plant it firmly in the 21st century.

Encourage guests to grab-and-go


Photo: David A. Land; styling: Lindsey Ellis Beatty and Rachael Burrow

In our stunning 2016 Idea House in Bridgehampton, designer Meg Braff loved the open shelving as a chance to show off the graphic blue subway tiles. As a bonus, it’s also a tool to keep your kitchen guest-friendly, making it easier for beach house visitors to grab what they need (and not open every kitchen cabinet door until they find a bowl).

Let statement colors shine

Photo: David A. Land; Styling: Martha Bernabe

When you choose a statement color for your kitchen—like this Bright Yellow by Benjamin Moore on the cabinets and stools—the key is balance for the rest of the space. That’s why we love the white-on-white floating shelves and backsplash (not to mention the white bowls and cups): It lets the show-stopping shade be the star.