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A kitchen without traditional cabinets-thought?

We are planning a small remodelling project at our cottage that includes a new kitchen. Nothing in the exisitng kitchen can be saved or reused and we are starting with raw space. The layout will be like a galley kitchen.

My thought is that I don't want traditional kitchen cabinets. I want open shelving under the counter tops where I will store plates, dishes, pots, pans, etc. I would have few, if any wall-mounted cabinets as one side is open to the living area and the other wall will be mostly windows.

I want shelving for two reasons.

The first is cost. We can get local craftsman to buid out my idea for a very reasonable cost, less than the cheapest of the cheap cabinets from big box home improvement stores.

The second is easy of use. I think if I have everything right at hand, it will be easier to cook and get food the table as well as easier to put clean dishes away if it is all out in the open.

For food storages, I will have a pantry area with sufficient shelving to store non-perishables, spices and such.

I haven't figured out a home for glasses yet, maybe shelving close to the fridge. Maybe glasses will require a cabinet of some sort.

The architect drawing the plans loves the idea, my husband is less than thrilled as he can't shake the idea of traditional kitchen cabinets out of his mind.

Does anyone have a similar, shelving/no door set-up in their kitchen? Any downside to the idea? All my stuff matches or is nice enough to look at that I don't feel a need to "hide" it away. This is cottage with a very casual vibe.

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  1. If this is a place you only go to periodically, a lot of dust/dirt can accumulate on things sitting on open sheves. That said, I have as few cabinets as possible.

    2 Replies
    1. re: escondido123

      We are there three out of four weekends a month.

      Another part of my no cabinet thinking is the current cabinets seem damp-ish at times.

      1. re: cleobeach

        I fall into the dust and grime avoidance camp, I need doors for that reason. But if you have a dampness issue, you could put up doors with fabric centers where panels would otherwise be, to allow for lower moisture. I'd also take steps to mitigate the moisture problem, after assessing where it's coming from, because darkness and damp make for nasty mold allergies, IME.

    2. I got rid of the cabinets on the wall above my stove when I remodeled my kitchen. It's also a galley kitchen. It provides (among other things) a LOT more light in the room! Things DO get dustier, though. and some of that dust is mixed with grease. So everything needs to be washed more often.

      My personal preference would be for a combination of shelves and doorless cabinets. I'm still thinking about that for my kitchen.

      1. A cabinet with a door tends to hide the common problem of shelf sag which happens over time. Overall, I am not a fan of the idea of going without doors.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Steve

          If local carpenters are going to build the shelves, by putting front pieces of wood on the shelves, that will reduce a lot of sag potential. Or use a thicker plywood.
          Or design in a way to flip the shelf surfaces once a year (a sort of odd 4th of July celebration) or some such easily remembered date.)

        2. I like doors to hide everything and for the dust/cleanliness factor. Would you consider a large pantry, with sliding doors? IKEA has nice sliding doors that would be both functional and give you a more modern look. I'm thinking something along these lines (first picture on the left):


          Or from IKEA:


          1 Reply
          1. re: chowser

            The pantry area is already taken care of and I will have a door to that area, probably a pocket door. (We are working with a very small footprint.)

            I hate these types of projects and decisions!

          2. My kitchen has no upper cabinets. Still, going with just shelves poses two problems: dust/grease and lack of easy access to items at the back of the shelf. (This is particularly tough if the shelves are below waist level.) For that reason all of my cabinetry is either drawers--these hold our dishes, pots, glassware, cups, baking pans, strainers/measuring cups, etc. in addition to the usual things like silverware and utensils--or cabinets with shelves that slide out. There are only two cabinets, which hold big things like my standing mixer, food processor, etc. Since the shelves in the cabinets slide out, it is easy to get to everything.

            Drawers are even more expensive to build than cabinets, but they work wonderfully. I first saw the concept on the "kitchen remodel" set of episodes of New Yankee Workshop, and I was immediately hooked on the idea. When we built our new kitchen we went with them for as many items as possible.

            1 Reply
            1. re: travelmad478

              Another vote for drawer storage. I wish I had put in more when I re-did my kitchen. One of my neighbors replaced ALL base cabinets with deep drawers.

            2. Unless the items stored on the shelves get used very frequently there is going to be dust/grease build up.

              I love the open look of shelves but the gook factor would keep me from ever choosing to go that route. I don't want to add more cleaning to my life than is necessary.

              1 Reply
              1. re: meatn3

                My thoughts, too. It's not just a matter of dust; it's that greasy grime that's inevitable even if you don't deep-fry. I have one upper cabinet door that refuses to stay shut, and more often than not, if I have to get a dish from the upper part of that cabinet, I have to wash the dish before using it.
                Imagine having to do that to EVERY dish you have!

              2. If, and I say only if dust is a problem, you could always cover the exposed items with a sheet when you leave and then take it off when you come back. Would take only a minute and might solve the problem, if you think it's a problem.

                1 Reply
                1. re: escondido123

                  down that aisle of though -- how about go with the open shelves, but then hang short curtains? then you could open them when you're there -- close them for protection when you're not (and when you're cooking to avoid grease buildup, and won't trap humidity (which I agree needs to be hunted down -- kitchen cabinets should not be attracting or holding moisture, and there's something amiss here.) they could add a lot of color for very little money, too.

                  I deepfry maybe once or twice a year and I'm amazed by how much grease builds up on the tops of my cabinets and my refrigerator.

                2. Aside from dust and dirt, if you are in an earthquake prone area, I would strongly suggest you forget about open shelves.

                  1. One of our apartments had glass-fronted kitchen cabinets. I hated them, but it was mostly the tidiness factor; for one thing, we didn't have the kind of pantry area you're talking about, so all of our food was on display. More than that, though, was the organization factor. Most of my stuff matched at that point, too - we'd just moved in together and were on our first sets of dishes, glasses, etc. - but it still had to be arranged. I never had the patience to stand there and point all of my coffee mug handles in the same direction, or line my glasses up into nice tidy rows. You might be a more patient person than I am, though. :)

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: darklyglimmer

                      I've always wondered about people who keep clean shelves with glass fronts. I'm with you. I'm not patient enough (or I don't care enough) and I need them all covered.

                      1. re: chowser

                        I have a couple of glass-front cabinets -- but they're frosted glass.

                        1. re: chowser

                          I have two glass cabinets, and I keep my dishes there. I like the way it looks.

                      2. Just know that there *will* be extra cleaning. I have lovely handmade open shelving on one wall of my kitchen (but cabinets below), and I love it. The shelves have been up for three years, and they're not sagging at all, but my landlord constructed them more as cabinets without doors, rather than just shelves, so there is quite a bit of extra support, and a bit more protection from light and dust. The pantry has a similar design, and there I did choose to hang a curtain to keep out light. The pantry (closer to the stove, and on the same wall) is the only place that I notice the presence of grease. If I keep a bag of rice or beans too long, the plastic starts to get that tacky feel.

                        Also, it's more irritating to clean the glasses in the cupboard than the other stuff. Mainly because they take up so much room on the counter as I'm working, whereas the rest of the stuff can be stacked to air-dry a bit. If you've a dishwasher, no worries, but I suspect you don't. I'd go with a cabinet of some sort for the glasses.

                        1. As far as placement goes, I like to keep the dishes and glasses near the sink or dishwasher, easily put away.
                          I think everyone else has addressed the dust and grime issue.

                          1. I recently remodeled my kitchen with the same idea. I actually started thinking about it because in Louisiana a lot of people have "fishing camps" - essentially cottages on a bayou or lake, and I always loved the rustic simplicity of the kitchen design, which often included open shelving.

                            I don't find dust or grease an issue with the stuff I use daily, and if I have to wash a less frequently used platter or whatever on the more rare occasion I use it - it's not that big a deal to me. I also don't obsess above things looking all "Martha" - though I did pare down down to a single set of china, and a couple of sets of inexpensive glasses to keep things uncluttered.

                            I love it - and having everything right on hand is one of the biggest reasons why. :-)

                            3 Replies
                              1. re: dearcallie

                                It's so nice to see a nice, decorated and obviously well-loved kitchen that isn't all granite, stainless and built-ins :) I wish more decor magazines would feature these ideas... but I know their job is to sell high-end finishings...

                                1. re: dearcallie

                                  re: dearcallie,

                                  This picture of your kitchen is EXACTLY what I am looking to do with my kitchen remodel I am about to embark on. I LOVE it. Thank you for putting an image to the thoughts I've had floating around in my head. I would love to hear and see more, if possible!

                                2. If you're into the commercial / industrial look you can do NSF chrome shelving units. It's how I store my collection of pots etc.

                                  1. I would enjoy some open shelving in a kitchen, but I visualized dusty dishes and pots stored open-style under and over your counter. If you don't stay in the cottage year 'round, then I think you'd have to rewash your stuff before you used it in the first hours of your stay.

                                    1. I have lots of open shelving in my kitchen, along with cabinets with doors, which to me is ideal. I get to look at the stuff I like looking at, have the ease of getting to pots and pans that I keep in the shelves under the island, but also can hide a lot of the clutter. I think a lot of it has to do with your personal style. (My mother and one of my sisters, for example, prefer a sleek/clean look, with nothing on the counters or anything showing but cabinetry and countertops.)
                                      For the cottage you describe and the casual vibe and frequent use, I'd definitely be happy w/open shelving.

                                      1. We are at our cottage 3 out of 4 weekends per month, all year round. The damp issue is because we keep the heat at 50 degrees in the winter (during the week when we aren't there) and no AC during the summer months, it is close to the creek and in the woods.

                                        Dearcallie's fishing camp description fits our place and the picture is similar to the architect's concept. I mentioned to the architect that I was worried about sagging and he assured me the shelving would be built very sturdy.

                                        Now we are struggling with countertops........

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: cleobeach

                                          A friend of mine wanted "cool" looking counters without spending a lot of money. She went with Formica with a "solidcore" of color so there were no black lines where edges met. the cost was more than standard Formica, but the dark grey she chose was quite modern looking, they also had a "concrete" color that I really liked for a less black and white look.

                                        2. I love my open shelves, and yes, more frequent cleaning is required. I have a combination of open shelves, lower cabinets, a few upper ones, and a great glass-fronted one for glassware. I've gotten used to seeing most of my tools and ingredients while I cook - if I could afford a glass-fronted fridge, I'd have that too! (If it weren't for IKEA, I wouldn't have much of a kitchen at all!) One smart thing my contractor did was to mount the open shelves on steel rods which he had pounded into the studs - there's a lot of weight riding on those shelves, which hold almost all my dishes in addition to many jars of spices, condiments, etc. It also makes the shelves "float" from the wall, so there are no end panels - it's a very clean look.

                                          1. I have cabinets below and an open shelf above. I like the open shelf, but it does accumulate dust.

                                            1. A thought about those shelves: my contractor "built" mine out of IKEA cabinet end-panels, cut to size; the foil finish is incredibly easy to clean, and it turned out to be quicker and cheaper than having him build the shelves out of wood. I slapped on a Home Depot trim, painted white - looks great!

                                              1. in my last condo i had open shelving for all my china and glassware. it looked beautiful, but stuff i used infrequently got very grimy.

                                                now i have a combo of cabinets and drawers under the counters. the drawers are AWESOME! they are such an incredibly efficient use of space.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                  Someone mentioned above the option of pull out shelves which I think could work with open shelving designs. That would give the advantage of drawers and the open shelving look. It really is more convenient to be able to easily access things at the back of a shelf. I have lots of pull out shelves inside cabinets and think they are great.

                                                2. I appreciate all the feedback.

                                                  We are doing a major evaluation of all our kitchen stuff this weekend. I have no time for infrequently used things so if I haven't used it in the past year, out the door it will go.

                                                  Post-purge, we will make the final decision.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: cleobeach

                                                    i have certain china pieces and platters and punch bowls that i only use a few times per year, even though i cook and entertain frequently. when i did need them, the grime accumulation was dismaying.

                                                  2. We have open shelving and love it! We are away about 6 weeks at a time. I rinse off serving bowls before using when we first return. Glasses are put on shelves upside down, so nothing accumulates inside the glasses.

                                                    My husband started new cabinets from oak. He never put on doors since I loved the open shelves. So much easier and functional without doors. The tableware utensils are in drawers.

                                                    Love it!

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: thymetocook

                                                      As it stands now, the pots and pans will be on open shelving to one side of the stove. The plates, bowels, and serving pieces will be on open shevling in another part of the kitchen, next to the dishwasher.

                                                      My plan is to have the sheet pans, pyrex dishes, muffin tins, etc in a deep drawer (because they are sort of ugly) I will have one set of wide drawers - top for utensils, next for spatulas and such and the bottom, deep drawer for the utilitarian things like the sheets and baking pans.

                                                      The place will sleep six and I can't envision ever cooking for more than 8 so I don't have a lot of "stuff" there.

                                                      I am struggling with the glasses. I don't mind wiping out a frying pan before using it, I won't want to have to look at film on the glasses. I don't like where he placed the glass shelf so husband and I are going to change that.

                                                    2. In a San Francisco apartment I had once, I removed all the doors of the cabinets to make my life easier for access to just shelves.

                                                      I am one of those that organize well and it did look good and was a lot easier when working in the cramped kitchen to not have to swing one's head one direction or another to open large cabinet doors.

                                                      But the dust/dirt factor was also an issue - all plates and glasses had to be washed before being used except those that were getting a lot of constant use. But thinking back on it now, it was a brilliant solution for me and I wouldn't hesitate to do it again.

                                                      1. We have open shelving in our weekend cottage. Since we only use it on weekends, we have a minimal amount of dishware, pots, glassware, etc. All of it is used on the weekends and then washed, so it really doesn't have the time to accumulate dust and grime. We do have cabinets with doors under the sink and cooktop to store paper towels, cleaning products, etc., that aren't pretty to see.

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: Kat

                                                          Since we only use it on weekends, we have a minimal amount of dishware, pots, glassware, etc

                                                          Yes, us too. We have hot water heat so I imagine that somewhat cuts down on the dust issue.

                                                          We ended up with three different areas of open shelving for pots, plates, serving pieces, one large pull out pantry unit and a small cabinet near the dishwasher for glasses.

                                                          1. re: cleobeach

                                                            I live in an old house with hot water heat. It doesn't cut down on dust (if anything it's worse - we had a HEPA air filter in the prior house)

                                                        2. I didn't pick up on your age, but............

                                                          Understand that as you age, bending, stooping, and the like become more challenging.

                                                          So..... Plan accordingly, if you intend to enjoy your "place" for a number of years.
                                                          Speaking from experience.

                                                          1. My kitchen is quite small, and the storage options were paltry.

                                                            There was a small breakfast nook that I felt was just wasted space- it's a tiny house, the dining table is 6 steps away. So, I headed to Costco, bought a metro rack, and I LOVE it. I love that I can see and grab things that I need, and I don't have to open and close doors.

                                                            I cook a lot, so most things don't gather dust, but some that I don't use often need a rinse or wash when I do pull them down. But I would never want conventional cabinets there.

                                                            1. Sounds like you've planed a great cottage setup. (Might even call it a traditional cottage setup.) Seems functional and practical. I've been to a number of cabins or cottages with something similar.

                                                              Best of luck with the remodel.

                                                              1. cleob, our place in CA is open space. A combination of shelves; vertical & horizontal to save space and show off the pretty skylight motif. But, having a well ventilated, dust-free space is key to this arrangement or you wind up wiping down your wares frequently.