Open Kitchen Cabinets

Learn about the advantages and disadvantages of open kitchen cabinets as well as different options for creating an open cabinet look in your kitchen.


A classical style kitchen cabinets with open cabinets.

Photo by: Olga Koronevska

Olga Koronevska

Open kitchen cabinets are a new trend in kitchens that want to feel at ease and casual yet modern at the same time. Open kitchen cabinets take the doors off and expose shelves and supplies within cabinets.

Crave-Worthy Kitchen Cabinets

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Form and Function

This kitchen was designed to accommodate an enthusiastic cook and entertainer who wanted a contemporary feel that would not be at odds with her colonial townhouse. To create this look, NVS Remodeling & Design used frameless Dura Supreme Cabinetry in maple, painting the perimeter units in a creamy white and the island in a surprising splash of yellow (Sherwin Williams Butterfield with Espresso glaze). "To maximize storage, we stacked the cabinets to the ceiling, and specified deep drawers and tall pantries," say the designers. "The open corner and ribbed glass doors prevent that wall-to-wall cabinetry look."

Young At Heart

"Creating a hip, young kitchen while respecting the architectural heritage of an old house can be a challenge," says designer Jason Ball. To meet the twin needs of this particular project, Ball chose cabinets in a traditional raised-panel style, but gave them a fresh look with a trendy color: Behr's Dark Granite, in a rich semi-gloss finish. Hidden storage features complete the clever design. Deep drawers under the range keep pots and pans handy; cabinets extend to the ceiling for maximum stow-away space; and a pullout on one side of the kitchen keeps dog food easily accessible.

Real Steel

For a client who owns a company that manufacturers steel scales, Hufft Projects designed cabinetry that would reflect his business and his life. "We used metal panels throughout the house," says the designer. "The kitchen cabinets are one example. The gunmetal cabinets are made from galvanized hot-rolled steel with a clear-coat finish over an MDF substrate. They have integrated edge pulls to maintain a clean, seamless appearance."

Classic Cottage Charm

For a homeowner with a deep love of gardening and a fondness for English cottage style, Wright-Ryan Millwork created custom cabinets of white pine finished with a specially mixed stain of brown and yellow hues. "Concealed storage was important in this highly functional space," say the cabinetmakers. "Flat panel cabinets have adjustable, roll-out shelving inside, and concealed European hinges and soft-close drawers." Decorative feet beneath the sink adds cottage flavor.

Light Effects

In this open-plan kitchen, a combination of glistening white lacquered upper units and a striated wood style below creates a tailored, contemporary look. "Storage and functionality were both key to the design, so we optimized storage space by continuing cabinets along the bottom and into the adjacent dining room," says the designer. Design by DKOR Interiors.

Summerhouse Sophistication

In this luxurious Hamptons-style kitchen, designer Jamie Herzlinger created an updated traditional look that's long on luxury. Acres of white marble top the dual islands, complementing the custom millwork's graphic interlocking diamonds, a motif repeated on the upper cabinets that line the long walls. Panels cover the built-in refrigerators, for a sleek, integrated look.

Contemporary Cabin Style

Set on a wooded waterfront property on Lake Superior, this contemporary cabin shows a close connection to its natural setting. Architect Nils Finne used eco-friendly materials throughout the design, including in the kitchen. "We used PLYBOO, an FSC-certified bamboo product, for the cabinets," he says. "The end panels are mahogany, as is the dining table."

European Elegance

Inspired by the homeowner's love of Old World design, Ron and Martha Wolford created a rich, traditional look with frameless, raised-panel cabinets painted steel blue and accented with a creamy glaze. Important extras include in-cabinet puck lighting, under-cabinet lighting, mirrored glass mullioned doors (not pictured), and marble countertops. For a cohesive look, "the kitchen's cream, gold, and blue palette flows into the family room and covered porch," say the builders.

Bright Idea

In this long, narrow house, Kariouk Associates Architects used walls of glass to usher in light and designed sleek custom cabinets in bold yellow to help to capture and reflect the sunshine. Walnut paneling and accent cabinets offer a warm contrast to the splash of color, keeping the kitchen grounded within the open plan.

Fresh Outlook

For the heart-of-the home kitchen in this traditional Massachussetts home, designer Maqued Barsoum created custom cabinets with rich detailing: inset doors and drawers; deep, stepped crown moldings and a custom range hood canopy. The soft, sage finish lends softness to the look, and helps to highlight the island's dramatic Via Lattea granite.

Alternatively, open cabinets may employ stand-alone shelves that are mounted onto the walls of your kitchen where upper cabinetry usually exists. Open shelving in kitchens can serve many purposes in terms of both design and function.

Functionally speaking, open upper cabinets provide easier access to storage and make your cherished collections of kitchen goodies more visible. Plate slats and/or wine cubbies can be added to open cabinets in order to more easily store these frequently used kitchen items.

From a design standpoint, many homeowners choose open kitchen cabinets in order to incorporate additional and unique materials into their kitchens. One example common in a rustic kitchen is to use refurbished wood beams as upper cabinet shelves, giving your kitchen a unique, cozy-casual look. Concrete or high-gloss wood or synthetic wood alternatives are other materials that can be used to create open kitchen cabinets in a more modern style kitchen.

The range of materials that can be used to create open kitchen cabinets is one of the major advantages to this look. Another advantage is the ability you have to customize your actual storage space. Expert home chefs may design upper cabinets to store favorite cooking pots or gadgets. China collectors may choose open kitchen cabinets to carefully display prized teapots, dishes or tureens. Open kitchen cabinets also cut down on the cost of your kitchen cabinets; without cabinet doors, less material is required to create your cabinets.

One disadvantage to consider with open kitchen cabinets is their definitive openness. If you are a homeowner that tends to have a cluttered kitchen or a mismatched glassware set, you may not want your inner shelf contents to be on display. If your favorite cast iron skillets and pots and pans are well-worn, they may be best kept behind closed doors rather than on top of a very visible open cabinet shelf.

No matter what type of custom kitchen you are creating, if you are hoping for an open and airy look that gives off a casual yet modern vibe, consider open cabinets as an option. They are a cost-effective way to show off your individual style while creating a functional dream kitchen.

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