Floating shelves in a kitchen have become a very popular alternative to exclusively using upper enclosed cabinets.

They are often made of painted wood, stained wood (rustic or modern looking), or metal.

One of the reasons floating shelves are so popular is because they are cheaper than cabinets.  They also break up the monotony of several identical cabinets in a row. 

Many people prefer the mixture of upper cabinets and floating shelves because the items on the shelves can add some color to a somewhat sterile looking kitchen.

Some people use floating shelves above their lower cabinets and don't use upper cabinets at all.

Here are a few tips and tricks for how to decorate floating shelves in your kitchen.




How to decorate floating shelves in a kitchenphoto courtesy of Brent Eckley flickr.com/photos/96831183@N08/33361229345/

Make sure whatever you put on your floating shelves can be easily cleaned.

Open shelving allows for more dust to settle on items than enclosed shelving.

This is especially a problem in a kitchen where grease gets everywhere, even though you may not see it.  The grease lands on items and creates almost a glue where dust is attracted and sticks.

Many people like to store their everyday dishes on floating shelves to ensure they are cleaned regularly and do not collect a layer of dust.

Keeping floating shelves clean typically requires weekly removal of all of the items on the shelves, cleaning the shelves, then cleaning the items that were on the shelves, and finally returning the items to the shelves.

To reduce the amount of dust in your kitchen, make sure to change your air conditioner's air filters regularly.

To reduce the amount of grease in your kitchen, make sure to use your range hood or downdraft vent every time you cook.


Not Too Much Color
Overly colorful items can be an overload to the eye.

Try to decorate your shelves using several neutral colors with a little bit of decorative color in minimal amounts.

If you are someone who loves an abundance of color, then select 3 to 5 colors for items on your floating shelves and only decorate with items in those colors.  These colors can be repeated in your artwork, rug, and other accessories throughout your kitchen to create a cohesive design.

Avoid decorating with the primary colors of red, yellow, and blue that tend to look juvenile.  Instead opt for more unique designer colors like apple green, turquoise, burgundy, navy blue, coral, orchid, rust, sage green, teal, cobalt, plum, magenta, or emerald green.


Texture, Shape, and Pattern
Many successfully decorated floating shelves use shape, texture, and pattern to decorate their shelves.

You can use simple white everyday dishes, however the way they are stacked creates a shape or pattern.  A stack of plates creates a different yet similar pattern than a stack of bowls or coffee cups arranged neatly in a row.

You can use different textures to create interest, such as a rough wicker basket, a shiny glass pitcher, a bumpy hobnail glass, and a mirrored candlestick.


Try to decorate your floating shelves with items that repeat the architecture in your kitchen. 

You can repeat the glossy white color in your subway tile backsplash by decorating your shelves with shiny white dishes or a shiny white pitcher. 

Consider decorating with a stainless steel item to repeat the stainless steel in your appliances.

Repeating the color or material of your flooring, countertops, cabinet knobs, sink faucet, and other items in your kitchen will make your kitchen look well designed and pulled together.


If you would like to add a bit of bling to your kitchen, feel free to show off a few crystal wine glasses or a pretty vase on your floating shelves.

You can also add a shiny silver platter propped upright and/or a sparkly decorative candlestick.


Many floating shelves do not have lighting underneath, however lighting should be added if possible.

Down lights can be incorporated inside a hollow floating shelf so it shines light on either the shelf below or the countertop below.

You can even add an uplight to the top of your upper floating shelf to illuminate the wall above.

Another option is to put a pendant light or wall sconce above the top shelf to illuminate it and the items on it.

Make sure to plan for all of your electrical requirements before installing your floating shelves.


Common Decorative Items
Common decorative items found on floating shelves in a kitchen include a collection of cookbooks (make sure that your shelf can hold the weight of books because they tend to be heavy), everyday dishes, vintage/antique silver cup trophies, small plants or flowers (preferably live instead of faux), small artwork either attached to the wall behind the shelves or propped against the wall while sitting on the shelf, glassware, coffee mugs, bottles, milk glass, candlesticks, cake plates and other serving pieces, a collection of vintage/antique kitchen items that are just for decoration, liquor bottles, a decorative tray propped up against the back wall, a wire basket, a bowl of fruit, a cutting board, a bamboo salad bowl, a decorative box, decorative salt & pepper shakers/mills, copper pots & pans, spices or ingredients (flour, sugar, dried pasta, rice, etc) in decorative jars, a decorative kitchen scale,  interesting canisters, a small sculpture, coffee or tea accessories, a basket hiding not-so-pretty kitchen necessities, a clock, a pretty colander, kitchen utensils in a container, a picture frame, a stack of neatly folded kitchen towels, and any other items typically found in a kitchen.



Tips and Tricks
Some people hang pans or coffee mugs from the bottom of the lowest shelf for extra storage.

You can run your kitchen backsplash up from the countertop to the bottom of your floating shelves, or you can run it up from the countertop to the ceiling for a more dramatic effect.

Consider your reach when deciding on the location of your shelves.  Do not put everyday items out of reach and make sure you have a plan for how to reach other items, such as having a step stool nearby.

Don't over decorate your floating shelves.  Allow some space between for the items to "breathe".  This is especially important in homes with a contemporary or modern aesthetic since those styles tend to look more streamlined and less collected.


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