A kitchen with both open shelving and kitchen cabinets

Which is best, upper custom kitchen cabinets or open shelves? If you are embarking on an Ottawa kitchen remodel journey, a time will come when you ponder this question and start searching for answers.

To address the long-standing open shelving vs. cabinets debate, we have delved into the pros and cons of each and offer some creative options if you want the best of both worlds.

Pros of Open Shelving

3 open shelves in a beautiful white kitchen

It’s On-Trend

Minimalism is “in” these days. Incorporating a floating shelf or two can help make your kitchen feel more open and airy, especially if you pare down the number and type of items you plan to display. If done right, open shelves can be a beautiful yet understated focal point in the room. For instance, imagine a gorgeous raw wood shelf in a rustic farmhouse kitchen.

Improve Kitchen Functionality

When everything is within reach, life is easier—you can just grab and go. If you store your most-used items on accessible shelving, you eliminate the need to open cupboards and search for items. Keeping what you need at your fingertips optimizes kitchen workflow and saves precious time.

Less Expensive

If costs are a concern and driving your interior design decisions, consider adding shelves into the mix. Installing shelves is an economical and creative way to help you stay on budget.

Showcases Wall Colours and Special Items

Do you have brickwork you’d like to leave exposed? Would you like to use wallpaper or different paint colour on one wall of your kitchen? How about continuing your backsplash tile up all the way up to the ceiling? All of these ideas add visual interest to a room and are great reasons to include standard or floating kitchen shelves in your design plan.

Additionally, shelves and more wall space provide the perfect opportunity to decorate. Consider displaying that stunning vase you don’t want to tuck away or utilize shelves to house matching glass spice jars or a variety of wooden cutting boards for a charming yet functional effect. Shelves are also the perfect place to celebrate; simply add and remove items like pumpkins, flowers, or evergreen clippings as the seasons change.

Cons of Open Shelving

Less Storage Space

Most open or floating shelves hold far less than closed cabinets can. And, if you are remodelling a small kitchen, you are likely already dealing with a lack of storage. Unfortunately, lower cabinets alone probably won’t provide the storage you need.

More Cleaning Required

To keep shelves clean, frequent upkeep is a must. Kitchens are prone to dust and grease, and a combination of the two is no fun to remove from long-neglected dishes or decor. If you aren’t willing to put in the extra work, opt for closed cabinetry.

Can Look Unorganized

If you aren’t careful, shelves can look busy and cluttered. To avoid this, it’s best to create a theme for the items you display and remember the “less is more” rule (edit down so that you don’t include too many pieces). Then, take time to thoughtfully place each item on the shelf so that it adds to the design aesthetic you’re going for vs. distracting from it.

Everything Must Be Display-Worthy

Not all of us have a set of matching mugs or dishes in perfect condition.

Do you mind if things are mismatched or imperfect? If you do, you may end up with two homes for the same type of item; for example, the perfect dishes on display and everyday dishes behind closed doors. This redundancy is a waste of space, so steer clear of open shelves and stick with closed cabinets if they better suit your lifestyle.

Pros of Kitchen Cabinets

Beautiful kitchen cabinet design

Various Cabinet Design Choices

Upper kitchen cabinets help to define your design style. From traditional to modern and everything in between, there are endless cabinet door styles to choose from. You can further personalize your doors with unique handles, knobs and hardware and extend your preferred look to the kitchen island or nearby mudroom.

Unsure whether to go with custom, semi or prefab kitchen cabinets? Speak with a designer to learn about the latest cabinet door trends, colours and materials available.

Increased Storage Space

Extra storage space is always welcome. In fact, many people underestimate how much closed-storage they actually need. Remember, you not only store dishes in your kitchen but food, cookbooks, linens, utensils, baking items, cleaning products, etc. as well!

Small appliances and large pots take up an incredible amount of space and, to keep the room from feeling messy, should be kept in closed cabinets or a pantry.

Easier To Clean

Kitchen cabinet doors protect the items inside from dust and contaminants. So, if you‘re looking for an easy-care option, upper cabinetry might be right for you.

Hides Excessive Clutter

Along the same lines, the ability to close a door also means you can hide clutter. And there are some ingenious ways to use small spaces and store oddly shaped items. A new organizational kitchen design trend includes smartly designed dividers, pull-out shelves and narrow cabinets that ensure no space is wasted.

Cons of Kitchen Cabinets

More Expensive

Upper cabinets are more expensive than open shelves, especially if you’ve decided to maximize your storage space and install upper cabinets that reach the ceiling. But, on the other hand, they’re a very safe investment as ample storage is great for resale purposes.

Wear And Tear Over Time

Your kitchen cabinets will show wear and tear over the years. We’ve all seen misaligned or sagging cabinet doors, crooked drawers and bokeh hinges. You won’t encounter issues like these if you purchase high-quality, sturdy cabinetry. The material used and how a cabinet is constructed make a big difference!

Show Dirt And Stains

With all the use it gets, a cabinet door will get dinged and knicked from time to time. You might also see water damage or stains appear.

To balance the appearance you desire with practicality, take a look at the newer textured melamine cabinet doors. (They resist scratches and fading and are a breeze to clean!)

Undecided? Combine the Looks or Go With Glass

Kitchen design combined with open shelving and cabinets

If you are drawn to both styles, that’s great! Mixing things up will add personality to your kitchen.

Once you’ve established how many cabinets you need, there are many creative ways to add floating shelves as well. A few ideas include examining tucked-away corners, looking at the space above a window or adding shelves to the side of an upper cabinet.

Incorporating cabinets with glass front doors is another way to achieve a combined look. Your kitchen will feel bright and open, you’ll be able to display your favourite items, and you’ll forgo the constant cleaning that open shelves require. And, you aren’t limited to traditional clear glass, either. Depending on your taste, you can choose from seeded, textured, frosted, leaded, and other types of glass as well.

Beauty Meets Function: A Designer Will Help Tie It All Together

Interior designers are a wealth of information; they are renovation specialists and great at spatial organization. Our designers will listen to your cabinetry and shelving wish list and share new ideas. Ultimately, they’ll help you make the best choices for your dream kitchen.

For expert advice about custom cabinetry, kitchen design and renovation services in the Ottawa area, connect with Laurysen’s team of professional designers.