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Posted by Linda Merrill | Apr 03, 2011

Solutions for Open Shelving

Three designers dish on the best ways to use open shelving.

cx ed/stock.xchngAnn Marie Williams, a professional organizer and owner of Atmosphere Consulting in Massachusetts, has worked with many clients to create well-organized homes that are easy to maintain and keep efficient. “The best part of open shelving is the ease of access and endless design possibilities. From truly functional to decorative and functional-there are no limitations”, says Willams. She continues “Any sort of wall shelving is a great space saver by using vertical space. Open shelving can be used in almost any room, based on your organizing needs.”

Williams, along with closet designer Tricia LeVangie of California Closets, weigh in on the best uses of open shelving throughout the home.

Kitchen, Pantry & Mudroom

  • In the kitchen or pantry, open shelving can make it easy to access items quickly as needed. Remember to take advantage of the vertical wall space and store like items with like items from floor to ceiling. Adjustable shelves are especially handy for flexible storage needs. Regularly used items should be at arm or eye level, with lesser-used items sitting lower or higher, depending on weight. 
  • Display a beautiful collection of glass and dishware as part of the decoration in the room.  Items that are used frequently do not gather dust, as they are washed regularly.
  • Mudrooms benefit greatly from open storage plans. For families with kids, dogs and more, assigning a shelf, or group of shelves to each family member will help keep their items separate and accounted for. Easy access makes it easier for even younger children to be in charge of their coats, boots and shoes.

Home Offices and Workshops

  • Home offices are generally fairly small in size and will benefit greatly from an open shelf concept. If the office is in a bedroom space, outfit the closet with open shelves for storage of paper products and supplies. This makes them easy to get to and keep stocked, but still hidden from view. Open shelving, as opposed to cabinetry, in the office itself can make a small room feel larger as well.  “Many times, it can make the space look more open and larger because there are no cabinet doors taking up physical and visual space,” says Williams. Smaller or less attractive items can be stored in decorative containers such as baskets or bins on the shelves. But, as Williams says, don’t use too many containers as they do take up valuable space.
  • Workrooms, such as wood shops or craft rooms, are excellent candidates for open shelving storage. There is nothing worse than working on a project and not being able to locate all the needed tools.  Open shelving is particularly helpful when used as the staging area for projects. You can lay out what you need and it will be ready to go when you need it. Longer term project supplies may be stored away, but current project supplies can be ready at hand, easy to inventory and yet still apart from the direct work area.

Kid’s Rooms and Play Rooms


  • Open storage works particularly well in kid’s rooms as it can make for easy storage and retrieval of toys and games. Store like items with like and use bins to hide away smaller, more cluttered looking items. Adjustable shelving will be able to “grow” up with the child.

Bedroom Closets

  • Open shelving is an excellent way to store shoes, as it keeps them organized and well aired out. It’s important to take the size of the shoes into consideration when planning the shelf installations. For instance, most men’s shoes today are much bulkier than they once were and closet designers find that they require 20”of space for every two pairs of shoes.  
  • Sweaters and other flat fold clothing are easy to store on open shelving, however, it is recommended that smaller shelves are easier to keep organized than longer shelves and items shouldn’t be stacked more than two or three high.
  • Shelf depth should be based on the items stored. Sweaters may require 24” deep shelves, large purses may require 18-20” shelves and t-shirts or thinner tops may work well with 16” shelves. Overly deep shelves are a waste of space and can be clutter magnets. Shelves that are adjustable make the most sense as needs change.
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