Cabinets vs. Open Shelving: Which is Best?

When you're immersed in the world of interior design, you'll often find yourself scratching your head at the great debate: cabinets vs. open shelving? 

Cabinets conceal clutter and offer protection, while open shelving provides an airy feel and displays items.

Each has its passionate proponents and its fervent detractors. So, the choice depends on aesthetic preference and functional needs; some opt for a mix.

As home remodel experts that offer kitchen remodel services, we explore every nook and cranny of this debate...

A Brief History of Home Storage

The Evolution of Cabinets

Back in the day, kitchen cabinets were a sign of luxury. Having the means to hide away your possessions not only gave an air of mystery but was also a status symbol.

Over time, kitchen cabinets evolved from bulky, standalone pieces to sleek, built-in features of the modern home.

The Rise of Open Shelving

Open shelving, on the other hand, can trace its roots to industrial and commercial spaces. It was all about accessibility.

Over time, this functional aspect blended with aesthetics, leading to the modern-day love for open, airy spaces in homes.

Enclosed storage vs. Exposed racks

Cabinets vs. Open Shelving in Modern Homes

It's no secret that kitchens are evolving. Gone are the days when the choice was simple and straightforward. 

With modern homes emphasizing minimalism and functionality, the dilemma between cabinets and open shelving takes center stage.

Cupboards vs. Display shelves

Kitchen Cabinets Reign Supreme

Throughout history, cabinets have been the go-to choice for many homeowners.

Their ability to hide clutter, protect items from dust, and offer a sense of completeness to a kitchen's design made them an obvious choice.

But as Bob Dylan once said, "The times are a-changin'."

Advantages of Cabinets

  • Privacy and Clutter Management: Have a few dishes you're not too proud of? Cabinets come to the rescue, ensuring that not every aspect of your life is on display. They hide the chaos, presenting a refined facade.
  • Durability and Protection: Cabinets, especially when well-made, can last ages. They protect your belongings from dust, spills, and curious toddlers. A door can make all the difference!

Drawbacks of Cabinets

  • However, they aren't without their downsides. They can make spaces feel confined, and reaching the back of deep cabinets can feel like exploring Narnia!
Closed cabinetry vs. Open display units

Open Shelving: A Breath of Fresh Air

With an air of openness, they challenge the traditional kitchen cabinet. Open shelves invite homeowners to display their cherished items, encourage regular decluttering, and introduce a dynamic visual appeal.

Benefits of Open Shelving

  • Aesthetic Appeal: Ever seen a kitchen where dishes, plants, and books coexist in harmony on open shelves? It’s pure magic, turning everyday items into decor elements.
  • Easy Accessibility: With open shelves, what you see is what you get. No more door handles or knobs. Just reach out and grab it!

The Challenges with Open Shelving

  • Of course, it's not all rosy. Open shelving demands organization. And, let's not forget the dust that decides to settle!
laundry room open shelves

Functionality Face-off: Practicality in the Limelight

It's no piece of cake denying the practicality of cabinets. Close the door, and voila! Mess be gone. 

But hold your horses, folks. While open shelving may seem like a housekeeper's nightmare, it forces a level of organization that's hard to beat.

Aesthetics and Ambiance: Which One Takes the Cake?

Every homeowner has a unique taste, much like a fingerprint. While cabinets offer a neat, streamlined look, open shelves are akin to an open book, telling a story of the homeowner's journey.

Boxed cabinets vs. Airy shelves

The Flexibility Factor: Mixing and Matching in Modern Designs

Who said you have to pick sides? A growing trend in modern homes is a combination of both, offering the best of both worlds.

Material Matters: From Wood to Metal

Different materials bring different vibes. While wooden cabinets exude warmth, metal open shelves add a touch of industrial chic to the table.

Care and Maintenance: A Balancing Act

A bit of elbow grease goes a long way. While cabinets might be forgiving to occasional neglect, open shelves need a tad more TLC.

The Space Situation: Making the Most of It

Not all homes are created equal. Smaller spaces might benefit from the illusion of space that open shelves provide, while expansive kitchens might lean towards the majesty of cabinets.

The Cost Conundrum: Budgeting for Your Dream Kitchen

Time to talk turkey! Open shelves might seem easier on the wallet initially, but factor in the quality and design, and you might be in for a surprise.

Encased units vs. Wall-mounted racks

Trends and Transformations: The Future of Kitchen Design

The crystal ball of design suggests an ever-evolving space. As lifestyles change, so will preferences, ensuring the debate rages on.

Global Perspectives: What's Cooking Worldwide?

From the minimalistic designs in Japan to the rustic charm in Italy, global trends showcase a myriad of preferences.

The Environmental Angle: Sustainability in Design

Eco-friendly materials, recycling, and upcycling - modern design trends are leaning towards a greener tomorrow.

Safety and Accessibility: Designing for All

From child-proofing to ensuring easy access for all age groups, design is not just about looks.

Why are open shelves gaining popularity in modern homes?

Open shelves offer versatility in design, showcase personality, and provide easy access to frequently used items.

Cabinets Vs. Open Shelving

FAQs on Cabinets vs. Open Shelving

Are cabinets going out of style?

Not necessarily. While open shelves are trendy, cabinets remain a timeless choice, offering a classic touch to kitchens.

Which is more budget-friendly: cabinets or open shelving?

It varies based on design, material, and installation costs. Typically, basic open shelving can be more budget-friendly, but high-end designs might tip the scales.

How do I decide between the two for my home?

Consider your lifestyle, aesthetic preferences, and budget. It's also essential to factor in the space available and the overall design theme of your home.

Is it possible to combine both in a kitchen design?

Absolutely! Many modern homes are opting for a hybrid approach, blending the functionality of cabinets with the visual appeal of open shelving.

What are the maintenance challenges with open shelving?

Open shelves require regular dusting and cleaning. Additionally, items displayed are exposed to the environment, necessitating frequent cleaning.

Concluding remarks

Cabinets vs. Open Shelving is more than just a design debate. It's a reflection of personal preferences, lifestyles, and the ever-evolving world of interior design.

Whether you're team cabinet or rooting for open shelving, there's no right or wrong choice. After all, the heart of the home deserves nothing but the best!

Video of this Info:

PDF version:

You may also be interested in these topics about Kitchen cabinet guide...

Do you live in Ahwatukee, Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa, Tempe,  Sun Lakes, Laveen, or South Phoenix?

Ready to talk about your remodeling needs?

Take the next step...

About the author

Hi my name is Jeremy Maher. My wife, 2 kids and I went through Contractor Nightmares for 3 years straight.

Ben, Mark, and I teamed up to start Phoenix Home Remodeling to help homeowners remodel without the common contractor nightmares.

Learn more about Jeremy's expertise and topics he likes to write about on his author page.

Skip to content