14/03/2023  •  , ,

Open Cabinets vs. Floating Shelves: What's Right For Your Kitchen?

Estimated Read Time: 7 Minutes 

Are you looking at unique storage solutions that will help accentuate your kitchen design? 


Open cabinets and floating shelves are two of the best ways to incorporate display and presentation in your kitchen while simultaneously offering key storage space. 


At Deslaurier Custom Cabinets, we’re experts in all things custom cabinetry and kitchen design. With that in mind, we know how important it is to creatively utilize various storage solutions within your kitchen.

Deslaurier design consultant, Amelia Mathieson, offers her expertise in this article that compares open cabinets with floating shelves. This will give you the knowledge to best implement them in your kitchen design.

Table of Contents

What Are Open Cabinets?

What Are Floating Shelves?

Open Cabinets vs. Floating Shelves: Strength

Open Cabinets vs. Floating Shelves: Design Flexibility 

Open Cabinets vs. Floating Shelves: Storage & Display

Open Cabinets vs. Floating Shelves: Cost

Design with Deslaurier Custom Cabinets

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What are Open Cabinets? 


Open cabinets are essentially kitchen cabinets without doors. The concept isn’t as strange as it sounds. 


However, the inside of open cabinet boxes is far different than closed-door cabinets. Unlike most closed-door cabinets, the interior of open cabinets is fully finished – including the shelves – to match the cabinet’s exterior appearance.


Open kitchen cabinets provide easy access to items while retaining the functionality of conventional cabinets.


What Are Floating Shelves?


Floating kitchen shelves are an increasingly popular design technique that adds creativity to traditional kitchen storage. 


A floating shelf is a type of shelf that is mounted on a wall without any visible means of support, such as screws or brackets. Instead, the shelf appears to be floating against the wall, creating a clean and minimalist look. 


Take a look:


Floating shelves can be used in a kitchen for convenient storage, to display attractive kitchen items, or simply as a decorative accent. 


While floating shelves are popularly used to replace an upper cabinet or two, you would not use strictly floating shelves instead of cabinets for all of your kitchen storage




There’s a reason why cabinets are the default option when it comes to kitchen storage, they provide the most weight-bearing support. 


Depending on the quality of screws used for installation – each screw used should provide roughly 75 pounds of support – cabinets have the strength to support up to a few hundred pounds once properly situated.  


Not to mention, upper cabinet boxes are not only screwed into the wall but also screwed together to the cabinet next to it. This increases the structural support of the cabinets and the amount of weight they can sustain. 


Floating shelves, on the other hand, aren’t as supportive.

Open cabinets will take more weight than floating shelves. There’s just more storage and stability from the cabinet box” – Amelia Mathieson


The strength of floating shelves depends on their installation method and positioning in relation  to their surroundings. When constructed and installed properly, they can be extremely sturdy .


Floating shelves that rely on one side of a wall for support typically cannot offer as much weight-bearing capacity as an open cabinet.


Alternatively, when installed between two cabinets or a wall and a cabinet, floating shelves can have additional support that rivals the strength of cabinets.


Design Flexibility


Both open cabinets and floating shelves provide a distinctive opportunity to showcase and present kitchen items while also serving as decorative accent pieces themselves.


Both cabinets and shelves offer numerous stains and paints in various wood species and alternative materials, such as thermofoil.


However, open cabinets have the upper hand as they can blend seamlessly with the rest of your kitchen cabinetry. 

I like the flexibility of open cabinets and the fact you also have the full finish on them” - Mathieson


Open cabinets provide the flexibility to add decorative trim and ornamentation, such as frames that match the style of your existing cabinets. 


For instance, you can add an arch to the front of open cabinets to harmonize with traditional cabinet styles. 


However, floating shelves also offer design versatility. A kitchen with only closed cabinets can look less custom and visually uninteresting. If you want a more visually interesting kitchen design, then going with shelving is a good way to incorporate some distinct inventiveness within the space


Incorporating floating wood shelves in a kitchen with painted cabinets is a great way to add distinctiveness. By placing multiple shelves between two cabinets, you can break up the continuity of your kitchen's upper walls and create an eye-catching design.


Storage and Decoration


When it comes to storage space, open cabinets are the clear winner. Even if you can’t store as many things as you would in a closed-door cabinet, the use of a cabinet box is still larger and far more functional than floating wall shelves.


The prospect of floating shelves in a smaller kitchen is somewhat of a double-edged sword. 


If you have enough storage space, adding floating shelves can help increase the visual weight of a smaller room and create an illusion of more space.


Conversely, if you want to maximize your kitchen’s storage, floating shelves will take up valuable wall space where a more functional upper cabinet could be. 

You’re not getting nearly as much storage out of floating shelves as you would open cabinets” - Mathieson


Of course, open cabinets and floating shelves aren’t just about kitchen storage. 


One of the most endearing qualities of both methods of storage is the ability to present beautiful kitchen objects and ornamentation. 


If you’re very organized and diligent with your presentation, using these open-storage methods is great! If not, try going with a “less is more” approach and keep the mess hidden away.


Another common issue with open shelving is the accumulation of dust and grime. Dust can collect rapidly onto your shelves, resulting in a need for routine wipe-downs. 

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The cost of kitchen cabinets is a significant factor in the overall expenses of a kitchen design. The primary driving factors in cabinet costs include the material used, the finish applied, and the chosen door style. 


A simple base cabinet can cost around $500, but higher-end options such as MDF with premium paint or cherry wood with an elegant stain can significantly increase the cost. 


Despite the lack of doors on open cabinets, they may not necessarily save you money. The cost typically evens out since the shelves and interior of open cabinets require the same finish as the exterior.


Although floating shelves can provide a cost-effective alternative to cabinets, high-quality options can still be quite expensive, costing hundreds of dollars. This cost is largely determined by the material, finish and thickness of the shelves. 


For example, a thinner shelf in a budget-friendly thermofoil will be significantly less expensive than a thicker shelf made out of solid walnut. 


If you’re looking for cost-effective floating shelves, retailers such as Home Depot, Wal-Mart, or Amazon offer inexpensive – from $30 to $80 – floating shelves that you can install yourself. 


They won’t offer the quality or strength as the same shelves made by cabinet or woodworking manufacturers, but they are a great way to save money while incorporating some light shelving into your kitchen design.


Design with Deslaurier Custom Cabinets 


Open cabinets and floating kitchen shelves uniquely enhance the decoration and storage capabilities of any kitchen design. We hope this side-by-side comparison helps you determine which choice is best suited to you and your home. 


If you have your eye on custom cabinetry for your upcoming kitchen renovation, Deslaurier Custom Cabinets has everything you need. With over 40 years of experience in our name, we provide our clients with a fully customized design process with our talented team of designers


Book a free consultation today with a Deslaurier kitchen expert at our Jupiter, Florida showroom!

Live outside the area? Find a Dealer to connect with a Deslaurier dealer near you! Interested in becoming an authorized Deslaurier dealer? Visit our Become a Dealer page to learn more!

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