How to Decorate a Kitchen Shelf: Tips for Open Shelving

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Don’t let open shelves intimidate you!  Keep reading for easy and practical tips for shelf decor in a dining room or kitchen.  See how I use vintage decor and thrifted decorative objects for beautiful and budget-friendly styling.

Do you have open shelving in your home?  When I think of open shelves, I automatically think of open kitchen shelves, which I do not have.  However, the same decorating principles for kitchen shelf decor also applies in connected spaces, such as a dining room or breakfast nook.  Even though decorative kitchen shelves and open shelving are great for a cozy home, they can feel a bit overwhelming!

Today, let’s chat about some go-to ideas you can use for beautiful home decor and kitchen storage on open shelves!  You’ll see how kitchen shelf decor and thrifting go hand-in-hand once you see the open shelving in our dining room.  Literally, almost every single thing there was thrifted. However, all of it works to create a cohesive style with our combined kitchen and dining space.

You can use thrifted and vintage elements, even mixed with your everyday kitchen essentials, to create a kitchen and dining space that is perfectly YOU!

a wooden shelf styled with a small decorative tree and vintage pharmaceutical bottles

Thrifting with the Gals

Of course, it’s also Thrifting with the Gals day!  It is the perfect opportunity to show you some of my favorite decorative objects for kitchen decor because most of them are thrifted!  Small decor items are one of my very favorite things to look for, whether it’s at a thrift store, flea market, antique mall, or vintage market.  Carefully curated, these thrifted pieces are a great way to get beautiful, budget-friendly kitchen decor!

First, though, let me introduce you to my co-hosts for Thrifting with the Gals!  Every month, I join with these friends and a guest host to share our thrifted finds, DIY projects, home decor tips, and styling ideas.

Since we are spread out across the country, it is always fun and interesting to see what each one has found.  At the same time, these friends all inspire me in different ways with their beautiful home decor.  I know you will love seeing what they are sharing this month too!

I will share a picture and link for each of them at the end of this post so you can hop over and get more thrift store decorating ideas for your own cozy home!

Is open shelving going out of style?

It is a fair question, especially since open shelving has been a popular kitchen design trend for quite a few years now.  However, I think open shelves of some kind have been a timeless kitchen design, dating back to log cabins!  Haha!  Also, open shelving is truly a personal preference and depends upon your own storage space, kitchen layout, and even living style.

For me, I found it easier to add upper cabinets in our kitchen renovation and have less permanent open shelves in the adjoining dining room space.  This allows me to enjoy display shelves while having very practical upper cabinetry in the main kitchen space.  Also, the layout of our kitchen did not allow for a lot of upper cabinetry.  In fact, even using all of the available space, I only have four upper cabinets!

However, if you have a kitchen with a lot of wall space or you do not need upper cabinetry in the whole space, open kitchen shelves may be the perfect design choice for your space!  Plus, they can be really budget-friendly too!

Regardless, both upper cabinets and open kitchen shelving are design choices that you can safely make without worrying about the rise and fall of design trends!

shelves on an apothecary styled for winter with mirrors, mortar and pestles, greenery, and ironstone

How to Decorate a Kitchen Shelf: Tips for Open Shelving

shelving styled with a medium-sized decorative tree, a gold mirror, several mortar and pestles with decorative accents inside, and ironstone

How do you space open shelving in a kitchen?

Congratulations!  You’ve made a great design choice and now you need to figure out the details of your open shelving.  When spacing out open kitchen shelving, the rule of thumb is 12 inches between each shelf.  Make sure you allow for the thickness of the shelves too.

However, if I were putting an open kitchen shelf in my space, I would bump the space up to 15-18 inches.  This would allow for a greater variety of decorative items and kitchen essentials.  Also, it would allow for easy access, especially if items were layered.

pharmaceutical bottles next to a small decorative tree on an apothecary shelf

What should I put on my kitchen floating shelves?

In a kitchen, I think that everyday items make the best kitchen decor!  When you invest in pretty dishes, glasses, serving dishes, and utensils that you love and have a cohesive look with your home, you can optimize the kitchen storage by displaying your everyday items in plain sight.

At the same time, they will double as beautiful home decor.  Then, you can mix pops of color and character with small decor items, accessories, or even art and flowers.

Here are some of my favorite practical open shelving kitchen ideas:

Pro Tip: Place the items used on a daily basis or most often on the bottom shelf for quick access.

two different mortar and pestles next to each other, one on a small stack of small ironstone dishes

How do you make open kitchen shelves look good?

After placing your everyday items for each access, it is time to add character to your shelf decor.  Since I love vintage items, my open shelving in the adjoining dining room is the perfect shelf space for me to display some favorite items.

You can give your kitchen personality and a cozy feeling by adding your own favorite items.  Even if you have a small kitchen with a single open shelf, consider adding some layers and including a decorative element or two!

On my open shelves in the dining room, I enjoy displaying some of my vintage collections.  Often, I’ll tuck in a piece of art or seasonal decor accent as well.

Basically all of my vintage collections have been thrifted.  Recently, I picked up a few more antique clear glass apothecary bottles at an antique mall to add to my collection.  I added several of my thrifted mortars and pestles to the shelves.

Then, I finished it up with some thrifted ironstone lion’s head soup bowls.  It took me awhile to collect that many but one day at my local thrift store, I hit the jack pot with a whole set of six of them for only a $1.99 each!

Here are some of my favorite kinds of vintage and thrifted home decor to style on my open shelves:

small pestles in an ironstone bowl

Choose a color scheme for kitchen shelf decor

Whether you are styling a shelf in a kitchen, dining room, or living room, it is a good idea to choose a color palette for your decor.  There are no hard and fast rules about a color scheme.  However, generally speaking, choosing a color scheme with 3 different colors is an easy way to get a cohesive look.  

Keep in mind, your 3 different colors may be similar colors.  By choosing 3 different tones of similar colors, you still get some depth to the shelf style.

For my shelves, I chose white, gold, and wood tones.  Next, I added some winter greenery to break up the straight lines of the shelves and add a little life to the shelving units.

Combined, I feel like the entire wall gives off the “winter white” vibe with the reflections of the gold and glass to bounce around some light.  Since I love vintage, the natural wood tones are a simple way to give a touch of a rustic look to this shelf style.

Here are a few other color palette combinations that can be fun in a kitchen:

  • Blue and white (think elegant china!)
  • Green and gold (the deep green is trending now!)
  • Mix of blue shades (perfect for a coastal cottage style!)
  • Yellow (think lemon theme!) can be fun, especially as an accent color
  • Simple black and white for a clean, minimal style
  • Red and yellow are a classic vintage color scheme for kitchens
gold vintage figs in a white mortar and pestle

Consider following the rule of threes for kitchen shelf decor

In the design or decor world, you may often hear about the rule of threes.  Over on THIS blog post, I go into detail with pictures and examples about the decor triangle and how to utilize it as a simple way to create vignettes in your home decor.

The rule of threes is not a hard and fast rule.  However, it is a basic design principle that can help guide your decorating.

On the open shelves in my dining room, I used the rule of threes in my shelf decor by choosing 3 colors.  At the same time, I also chose 3 kinds of material.  Ironstone, clear glass, and solid wood vintage accents are always a go-to combination in my decorating.  I love how they worked together for a cohesive shelf style in the dining room also!

On these 3 images below, you can see how all of my elements ended up forming a triangle.  Mortars and pestles, mirrors, ironstone, and glass bottles are all styled with an overall triangular pattern.

Believe it or not, though, I started with a blank slate.  Clearing all the decor is always the first thing I do before starting to decorate.  Afterward,  I wasn’t really thinking about my decor triangle.  Then, when I went to write the blog post, I realized how many decor triangles I had actually created.  It makes sense why I felt like this shelf decor had good balance and the pieces were in the right place.

three mirrors styled on shelves to follow the decorative triangle rule
ironstone styled on shelves to follow the decorative triangle rule
green glass vessels styled on shelves to follow the decorative triangle rule
mortar and pestles styled on shelves to follow the decorative triangle rule

Consider different heights for kitchen shelf decor

If you follow my Simple Decor series here on the blog, you already know what I am going to say about varied heights, don’t you?!

​Almost anytime I am working with decorative objects, I am eyeing color, material/texture, and height.  One way to make your shelves feel curated rather than decorated is by adding some height variation.

​Whenever possible, I like to use decorative elements that could actually be used in the space.  If they are vintage items, I may not actually use them.  However, they offer the feeling that they could have been used in the space at some time.

When looking to vary heights of items on open kitchen shelves, I often pull out a cake pedestal or antique bread board.  In fact, you’ll almost always find at least one or more of these throughout my kitchen and dining room decorations!

Pro Tip:  A pedestal, stack of ironstone platters, or old wooden boards can give some variation to the height of items while still feeling organic to the kitchen space.

variously labeled vintage pharmaceutical glass bottles styled on an apothecary shelf

Where to start with kitchen shelf decor

I have alluded to all of these steps in my own process, but let’s break it down into specific steps you can use for kitchen shelf decor in your own home!

  • First of all, take everything off of the open shelves.  This is the perfect way to get a blank slate for your decorating.  Plus, if your shelves are like mine, they are ready for a good cleaning anyway…especially up on that top shelf!
  • Second, I gather all of the items that I think I might like to use for my decor.  Just because you gather an item doesn’t mean you HAVE to use it.  However, it helps me to have things gathered in one spot at eye level on the table top.

Pro Tip:  Usually, I group similar items together on the table top

This can help me divide items to choose my 3 materials and my 3 colors for a cohesive color scheme and shelf style.

  • Third, I place my larger items.  I find it helpful to create balance by spacing out the larger items.  For example, with my dining room open shelves, I place the mirrors first and then the greenery.  It was easier to start layering in my favorite items once the larger pieces were placed.
  • Lastly, allow for trial and error.  There have been many times that I’ve cleared the shelf and started all over with a blank slate again.  After you decorate your shelving, live with it for a day.  You will get a better perspective when you walk past it in different angles and with varied views.

Remember, it is your own home and you set the rules and shelf style that YOU love!

view of apothecary styled for neutral winter decor

Don’t forget to include the kitchen countertop with kitchen shelf decor.

​As you are styling your open kitchen shelves, keep in mind the kitchen countertop underneath.  Essentially, the kitchen countertop is your bottom shelf.  You will want to include this countertop space as you consider your spacing, color scheme, and use of the decor triangle.

Since the kitchen countertop becomes your bottom shelf, this is a great place to keep things you want quick access to on a daily basis.  Since casual-style cottage or farmhouse kitchen spaces are known for using kitchen essentials as part of the decorative items, this will be easy to style.

However, make sure this bottom shelf space doesn’t become the dumping ground for everything that doesn’t get put away properly in the kitchen cabinets!

In fact, THIS blog post may come in handy too!  I shared my favorite tips and ideas for kitchen countertop decor, storage, and organization.  Since function and beauty go hand in hand, especially in a kitchen space, you may find some inspiration from THIS post helpful for your kitchen refresh!

What is hidden in the kitchen cabinets?

You may say, hey, wait!  This post is supposed to help me with my open shelves!

​My answer has to be that, for me, what is BEHIND closed doors also affects what is out on my kitchen countertops and open shelves.  The good news is that when my kitchen cabinets are decluttered, clean, and organized, it is that much easier for my open shelving and countertops to stay clean and tidy also.

Why?  Because everything has a place and it’s just more fun to put things away when the cabinets, drawers, and shelves are organized.  Okay, that is personal opinion.  However, if it has been a long time since you’ve cleaned out every single shelf, drawer, and cabinet in your kitchen, give it a try!  You may find it helpful.

​I’ll be the first to admit that even though my kitchen cabinets and drawers are not horribly cluttered or disorganized, it still feels like an overwhelming task.  However, Rome wasn’t built in a day and your kitchen probably won’t achieve greatness in a day either!  Set aside a full week, if need be, to give this hard-working room (the heart of your home!) some extra love and attention!

These blog posts may help if you need a full kitchen refresh:

side view of winter dining room shelves on a beautiful chippy white apothecary

Okay, how are you feeling?  Hopefully this post simplifies the kitchen shelf decor styling process for you or at least provides some inspiration!

If you don’t even have open shelving in your kitchen, consider the adjoining spaces, like I did, and create cohesive style from room to room.  On the other hand, you may find ways to incorporate some of these open shelving ideas into your regular kitchen decor or even shelf styling in other rooms in your home.

You can shop my kitchen decor, storage, and organization storefront, conveniently curated for you HERE!

Most of all, I hope it inspires you to continue combining function and beauty to create the coziest retreat in your very own home! 

Now, head over and check out the other thrifting inspiration today:

Now, head over and check out the other thrifting inspiration today:

Rachel – Ponds Farmhouse

Now, head over and check out the other thrifting inspiration today:

Kristin – White Arrows Home

I’d love for you to follow me on social media!  You can find my home decor inspiration on Instagram, Pinterestand Facebook!  











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