Kitchen Shelves and Cabinets

Shelf vs. Cabinet: Which Is the Better Option?

In Furniture by Giovanni ValleLeave a Comment

Summary: Shelves are the better option if you are looking for an affordable way to create storage space that is easy to customize. However, if your priority is maximizing space and having streamlined clean-looking storage, go for cabinets instead.

Open shelving, particularly in kitchens, has become a popular design trend in recent years. Planning how to use available space at home can be easier said than done, and choosing between shelves or cabinets can be a tough call.

Both shelves and cabinets have their advantages and disadvantages. Weighing all of these will help you decide which option suits your home best. I’ll cover these pros and cons in the rest of this article.

Advantages of Shelf Storage

There are many advantages to opting for open shelves in any part of your home—especially in the kitchen. You might be surprised at how much space cookware and kitchen appliances can take up.

Having open shelves to store items is not only convenient for storage. Shelves offer many other benefits.

Shelves Are Flexible and Easy To Style

There’s a reason why many design boards and home interiors have open shelves all around them. Open shelves are very flexible—meaning, while they can mainly be used for storage, they can also double as display platforms for your home decor.

If you feel like your home needs a lift aesthetically speaking, you can use open shelves as a focal point for your home’s interior design. Think of putting in decorative pieces like vases, flowers, or pictures. You can style your shelves however you want.

Therefore, whether you wish to achieve a minimalist look or an elaborate design is entirely up to you.

However, if you want to be more practical, you can use shelves for decor and storage at the same time. Organize your plates or other kitchenware on them, and then add in decorative pieces according to the look you’re going for. Shelves are very similar to a clean canvas; you get to use them for whatever style you want.

Shelves Are Convenient and Affordable

Cost is always a huge factor when designing your home, and if money is a major consideration for you, shelves are more likely to fit your budget. Open shelves are definitely much cheaper than cabinets, mainly because they need much less material.

Plus, if you want to stretch your budget further and enjoy DIY projects, you can install them yourself.

Because of how affordable shelves are, you can afford to have more of them, depending on how much stuff you need to organize and what looks good at home. If you have a big family home, you’ll need as much storage space as you can get without overwhelming your house with cabinets!

Shelves Allow Quick Access To Frequently-Used Items

Another advantage to open shelves is that they’re a great way to organize items that you frequently reach for at home. For example, in the kitchen you’ll need your spices and other cookware very accessible, making cooking more convenient and less time-consuming. It’s also a good way to quickly see which items need replacing or refilling.

What usually happens with cabinets and other closed storage is that many things get forgotten. So, when the time comes that you need to use them, they’re either expired or there’s too little left. With shelves, you can avoid this altogether.

Along with being able to reach things that you commonly use, you’ll also be less prone to keeping too many things and do away with those that you don’t need.

To make organizing more fun and pleasing to the eye, plan which items go on which layer so that items are coordinated and add dimension to the design of your kitchen. You can even make it so that they accentuate or complement your home’s interior.

Shelves Make a Room Look Bigger

If you want storage space but you’re worried about the room looking cramped, you can opt for open shelves. Unlike cabinets, they can create the illusion that a room is more spacious.

This is especially true if you have a small room with a low ceiling. Adding cabinets will only accentuate the smallness of the space, making it look cramped. It’s easier to work with shelves as they can fit in whatever space you have available- including corners!

Disadvantages of Shelf Storage

Shelves are a great cost-effective option for creating more storage space while achieving Insta-worthy home designs. However, they do come with some disadvantages. If the following cons don’t particularly bother you, there’s no reason why you should think twice about having shelves installed.

Shelves Need Regular Dusting

Functional and aesthetically pleasing shelves are wonderful, but they can’t stay that way without regular cleaning. As your things stay out in the open, they will need dusting now and then.

If you’re someone with a packed schedule who can’t regularly keep the shelves clean, they may not be the best option for you. Depending on where you live, dust can accumulate pretty quickly. Therefore, dusting can take longer if your shelves are packed full.

Shelves Have Less Storage Space

Perhaps the biggest disadvantage to getting open shelves is that they offer significantly less storage space than cabinets.

In general, floating shelves come in depths of 12 inches (30.48 cm), but most ready-to-install ones can come in depths of only 4 inches (10.16 cm). This is just enough to carry most household items, such as plates and other kitchenware. On the other hand, most cabinets can come with a depth of 24 inches (60.96 cm), making for more storage room.

Because of this, space is very limited. You can’t put too many things on top of each other (as we usually do in cabinets) because shelves with a standard depth can only handle so much weight. If you do need your shelves to carry heavy items, you need to use stronger brackets or install more rods.

However, if you need custom settings for your shelves, you will need to have them specifically made, which typically costs more.

Shelves Expose Clutter

If your house is like any normal person’s, there will be times when you just can’t help but put things on your shelves that don’t belong there or don’t make it look good.

Over time, these things can pile up and create clutter. When that happens, the mess that accumulates is exposed for everyone to see. So be practical about making a choice–if you have kids or don’t particularly enjoy organizing things, for example, shelves may not be a good idea.

Advantages of Cabinet Storage

Before open shelves became all the rage, we thought of storage space synonymous with cabinets. They were everyone’s default choice. Even today, despite the aesthetic merits of open shelves, many still think that cabinets are the better choice. So, let’s get into the advantages of cabinet storage.

Cabinets Allow More Room for Storage

As mentioned earlier, most cabinets come with a depth of at least 24 inches (60.96 cm), making for bigger storage space. So if you are looking to store many items, this is definitely the option to go for.

Storing things in cabinets is typically easier than storing them on shelves, as they need no decorating or styling and are very straightforward when it comes to their function. You can simply put things inside and not think about how the cabinets will look on the outside, which is perfect for those who don’t have an interest or time for decorating.

Cabinets Have No Visible Clutter

Houses can be a mess sometimes, and that’s perfectly normal, especially in big families. That just means they’re lived in! However, one of the ways you can minimize visible clutter is by using cabinets. All you need to do is put your items inside, and the clutter is no longer visible.

If you’re incredibly busy and don’t have time to clean up, you can keep the clutter inside your cabinets and nobody can tell that your house was a mess. (But of course, if you have the time, organizing the inside of your cabinets is ideal).

Don’t underestimate how much clutter the little implements and spice bottles can create in a kitchen. They can quickly pile up and make a kitchen untidy if left out in the open. However, an otherwise messy kitchen can still look neat and organized if fitted with cabinets.

Cabinets Hide Away Things That Are Unpleasant To Look At

What about those rags, cleaning implements, or trash bins? You will hardly be keen on displaying these things in your home. If you have cabinets, however, you’ll have space to keep them where nobody will see them.

Even for less unpleasant items like bags of dog food, canned goods, and other grocery items, cabinets can be a good storage option, as putting these things on open shelves can make your kitchen look cluttered or feel like a stock room.

Disadvantages of Cabinet Storage

Despite being the original choice for home storage space, cabinets also have their downsides. Not everyone may think that maximizing storage space is enough. Here are some of the disadvantages of choosing cabinets for your home storage.

Cabinets May Cramp Small Spaces

If you have little room in your kitchen, the last thing you should do is install both upper cabinets and cabinets under the sink. By themselves, cabinets are already quite bulky. Yes, you can store many items inside of them, but they also take up plenty of room.

Cabinets can make an already small room look smaller, which is typically the opposite of what you want to happen. If you really do want cabinets though, you can do away with upper cabinets to make the room look airier.

Cabinets Are Prone To Hidden Clutter

Because cabinets are able to store so much, they also allow us to hoard things that we don’t really need. They are the perfect place to leave things and forget that they existed. Because of this, it’s easy to accumulate hidden clutter that takes us a long time to clean up and organize again.

Can’t Choose One? Use Both!

If you’re convinced that both have qualities that you need, you don’t have to choose just one. You can use both shelves and cabinets in the same spaces and even together as one functional and aesthetic unit. Here are some options:

Glass Door Cabinets

If you like to open the look of shelves but need the bigger storage space of cabinets, you can go for cabinets with glass doors. This way, you achieve the look of shelves but get the spaciousness of cabinets at the same time.

Shelf-Cabinet Combo

One solution to needing ample storage space in a small room is using both cabinets and open shelves. For example, for a small kitchen, you can install cabinets under the sink and floating open shelves above the backsplash. This way, you are able to maximize space while keeping the area from being cramped.


Cabinets are ideal for those who need lots of storage space and want a clean, streamlined effect. On the other hand, shelves are great for those who need less storage space and prefer the freedom to customize and style.

When deciding between shelves and cabinets, there are three main things that you need to consider:

  • How much storage space you need
  • What function you need them to serve (storage or decor)
  • How frequently you are willing to clean up

Don’t let trends dictate what choice you make, but instead choose what works for you.


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