HOT TREND: Open Shelves Everywhere

Written by Adrienne Morgan

On April 7, 2020

You may have noticed that one of the most common new trends in home interiors is the open shelf. Built-ins have always been a mainstay of better homes. But they were either cabinets or bookcases. And people typically used those bookcases for, well, books. 

Nowadays, you see open shelves in kitchens, bathrooms, home offices, living rooms…pretty much everywhere. It’s something that my clients always want in a remodel. 

The first thing I ask them is “what are you going to put on the shelves?”  This is critical. Because when your storage space is out in the open, you are going to need it to look neat. Nobody wants to see an old box of band-aids on a shelf in your bathroom. 

So just be prepared. To pull off this trend requires discipline and good organizational skills. And you may need to open a line of credit at The Container Store. 



This is my number one request from homeowners. The look of open shelves holding neat stacks of dishes and fancy serving platters is just irresistible. But what if your stuff just isn’t that photogenic?  A cabinet with a door may be better for you. 

With open shelves, you have to be committed. Figure out exactly what goes where, take a pic of the arrangement, and keep it handy. You will need to put things back where they belong. Hint: put sippy cups in a drawer. 

Among open shelves in kitchens, the trendiest look is the raw unfinished wood shelf. It has that modern farmhouses flair. 

There is a common condition in kitchens where you want open shelves, but they will be too close to a corner. 

This example shows a good way to design the solution. Notice the thickness of the shelves. Make them around 2” thick or they will look cheap and flimsy. 



I don’t know about you but, my home office is a functional area so therefore it’s a big mess. Open shelves are great in offices because you can see everything, so having lots of open shelves means searching through a dark closet for a stack of post it notes will not be necessary. 

As with the kitchen, you must create a neat organizational system with baskets, magazine holders, etc so that practical items can be stored neatly. I like to vary my books, baskets filled with supplies, and boxes with decorative touches like a framed photo or a small plant.

In your office, it’s especially helpful to use labels on storage boxes or baskets. Tip: don’t be afraid to spice up the color combo on your accessories. This pic is a good example of using many colors, in groups. 



The shower niche is nothing new. But today’s niche is much larger and fancier. It is common to have 2 or 3 niches. I have also seen showers with one giant horizontal niche. What is modern with today’s niche is that it blends in with the surroundings. No more do you want a contrasting tile in your niche. And I have even seen the LED lighted shower niche. In case it gets dark and you can’t find your shampoo. 

Seeing open shelves in the bathroom was a bit of a surprise for me at first. Bathrooms store all kinds of unattractive and even embarrassing items. You don’t want your nosy neighbor to know what prescription you’re taking right?  So if you opt for bathroom open shelves, be sure you also have some closed cabinets too.   This pic shows a cool use of space, with the shelves above the toilet, in place if those odd “over toilet” cabinets of  yesterday. 



Here you need to be careful to create an aesthetically pleasing arrangement of items on display. You’re probably not going to store functional items here. Just pretty things. Be warned: arranging things attractively on a shelf or bookcase is a talent which few people possess. 

Arranging your typical living room bookcase can take an entire day, especially when you have to make two runs to Pottery Barn for those perfect baskets. I advise you to hire a designer to arrange these areas, just to retain your sanity. 



Built ins can get expensive. But there are tons of premade shelf units out there that you can install yourself. I love these metal and glass pieces shown here. On Wayfair, for example, you’ll find these plus every type of single, or floating shelf, in many materials you can imagine. Tip: when the instructions call for you to secure a shelf into a wood stud, they aren’t joking. You can really pack a lot of weight on to a shelf so be sure it is secure. 



Investing in the trend of open shelving is not as easy as it looks. It requires dedication, organization, and discipline. Oh, and that line of credit at The Container Store. 

Do you have an open shelf dilemma?  Need an expert to arrange things for you?  I would love to help!  Email me with pictures and let’s get started!

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