An excellent way to open up the look of a kitchen is to design a layout that combines cabinetry with open shelving. Such designs look fabulous in small or large kitchens and with traditional or contemporary styles.

Small Kitchen Design

In a kitchen without a lot of square footage, you can make the overall area feel more spacious with light-colored cabinetry and open shelving. For a trendy look, you can design open, wooden shelves that hang from the ceiling over a peninsula, while choosing a pale neutral color for any upper and lower cabinetry. Alternatively, instead of using upper cabinets at all, you can install open shelving along the top and then standard cabinets on the bottom. Match the shelving with the color of the cabinets for a clean, seamless look or opt for stainless steel shelving to add interest and help reflect the light.

Large Kitchen Design

In a large kitchen, you can create a distinctive look by selecting one entire wall for open shelving. The wall can hold short or long shelves from floor to ceiling. Another great choice is to use the wall where you want to install a pantry. Instead of one large pantry, design two sets of closed cabinets and place open shelving between them. Stay with the same wood stain or paint color for the combination to create a sophisticated and classy appearance. If your kitchen design includes a sideboard not connected to the rest of the counters, use open shelving on top for an elegant look.

Traditional Kitchen Design

A great look when combing cabinetry and open shelving in a traditionally styled kitchen is to use beadboard on the wall between your cabinets and then mount the open shelving to the beadboard. Opt for thick wooden shelves with decorative wrought iron brackets for a beautiful, European look. You can also use open shelving in place of an upper corner cabinet and then install a slim cabinet with a glass front on each side of the shelves to create a lovely display area. Another option that looks quite stylish is to design open shelving into one end of a kitchen island.

Contemporary Kitchen Design

When combining open shelving with cabinetry in a modern kitchen, try floating shelves for a chic look. Use under-shelf lighting to give the design extra flair. Another fabulous look in a contemporary kitchen is to combine white cabinetry with multi-colored open shelving. Choose a different pastel or bold color for each shelf to create an interesting focal point in the kitchen. You can also combine bracketed shelves with all white cabinetry, and then use one or more colors for the shelf brackets as well as for the cabinet knobs and pulls to create a dynamic look.


When you mix open shelving with cabinetry in a kitchen, you can create a distinctive design that will make the area feel spacious, airy, and updated. Because the size, number, color, and style of the shelves can vary, the design options are practically unlimited when used in combination with standard cabinetry. As such, you can create a custom look that any client will love.