Design Room Swoon:

How I Style My Open Kitchen Shelves

When Athena Calderone approached the design of her Brooklyn kitchen there was one key style decision she needed to make during the renovation: how to affix the free-floating marble shelf. Inspired by a similar version in Joseph Dirand’s Parisian kitchen, Calderone knew she wanted to replicate the open kitchen shelves in her own townhouse, too. But this bracket-free floating marble look would need to be supported with braced walls which meant addressing the stone application early in the process.

Today, the heavily veined marble floating shelf is a striking feature in Calderone’s kitchen allowing for her signature curation of vintage objects, sculptures, and eras to be on display. It’s in this juxtaposition of old and new, modern and antique, soft and harsh that brings your visual language to life, allowing the viewer’s eye to joyfully dance around the space. 

If you’re wondering how to style open kitchen shelves that fuse the practical (bowls, plates, wooden spoons) with the pretty (carvings, lamps, mirrors), then keep reading for our top five tips to get started. But remember, experimentation is key, let your curiosity guide you, and above all, enjoy the process—you never know where it will take you next and that’s the exciting part!

How I Style My Open Kitchen Shelves
How I Style My Open Kitchen Shelves

#1: Create visual vignettes. 

Approach your open kitchen shelves in the same way you would a bookshelf and consider them to be curiosity cabinets filled with meaningful objects that catch your eye and add a hint of sentiment to your style.

#2: Consider scale and verticality.

Pair objects in various heights and shapes to encourage the eye to travel along the open shelf. Stack plates in uneven piles next to an abstract art piece that’s leaning against the wall followed by a vintage vessel with branches that add height and a statuesque quality. Keep moving things around until the right combination sticks.

#3: Orient each shelf differently.

If you have more than one shelf, style them in slightly different ways to create a subtle offbeat design that allows for a perfectly imperfect finish. If it’s feeling too perfect, adjust your pieces so they are slightly uneven, and ditch the symmetry for irregularity. Just like the aged patina of an old clay vessel, there is always beauty in the blemishes. 

#4: Take photos to assess and reassess your progress. 

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a step back and photograph your open kitchen shelves on your iPhone. The gaps or flat spots will be immediately visible when you can assess the open shelf design as an entire tableau. Then you can make adjustments, tweak the styling, and add that finishing touch you were missing. 

#5: Don’t forget your focal point. 

Fusing aesthetic eras and styles will enliven your open-shelf design just as it does a room, but you will lose your vision without a focal point or anchor. Setting the scene with a neutral foundation helps to bring much-needed cohesion to the space. On Calderone’s marble shelves, a trifecta of 1950s Italian wall lamps can live alongside a curvy wrought-iron lamp with a rattan shade because the shelves are grounded in similar shades, hues, and tones that unify them. 

How I Style My Open Kitchen Shelves
How I Style My Open Kitchen Shelves

Shop Athena Calderone's Open Kitchen Shelves

Set of 6 Wicker Chandelier Lamp Shades

Add a mini lamp to a sculptural curvy iron base like Athena. It doesn't even need to work as long as it adds aesthetic pleasure and texture to the shelves and lets the eye dance around.

Rare clay vessel-twins.

These vintage twin vessel pots are the perfect option for storing wooden spoons and make easy access when cooking.

Montana Labelle Surfside Spoon Set

Hand-carved from beautiful beech hardwood, this set of 13 wooden spoons are all unique, one-offs that will only get better with age.

Victorian Style Wood Mirror

Rest a vintage wall mirror on your shelves to open it up even more not to mention add a touch of old-world flair with the gilded frame.

Ferm Living Flow Mug

This hand-thrown mug is just as practical as it is pretty with its oversized handle. A stylish addition to any open shelf.

Stoneware Carrie Pitcher

This stoneware pitcher with its ruggedly organic surface is a stylish complement to any open shelf design.

Mid Century LaGardo Tackett Forma Series Creamer Pitcher

Unique shapes break up the visual plane and engage the eye.

Jayson Home Brass Spoons

Hammered by hand, these striking servers will be a dynamic duo paired with your wooden spoons in the twin pot vessel we shared earlier.

Sobremesa Hand-Carved Olivewood Salad Servers

Handcrafted by Tunisian artisans from air-aged olive wood, these one-of-a-kind servers were made for being on display.

Argiles Handmade Ceramic Dinner plate

These ceramic plates deserve to be on display with their natural sandy tones and organic shape.

Vintage 3-Inch Onyx Mortar & Pestle

Ground your spices or peppercorns fresh for each meal in this mini onyx mortar and pestle. And it looks like a decorative object when not in use.

1910s Antique Italian Marble Stone Mortar

The aged patina and timeworn wear of this antique mortar is a thing of beauty. What an honor to display this on your open shelf and continue the tradition in your own kitchen.

Fox Run Marble Mortar and Pestle,

Add a hint of texture to your neutral layering with natural materials like marble. This is a beautiful piece, fusing function and style.

Montana Labelle Lupini Catchall

You can't go wrong with natural stone, especially travertine. It'll always have a home on our shelves.

Shaped and formed completely by hand from stoneware clay, these earthy and glossy egg holders will bring that modern farmhouse vibe to your kitchen.

The soft matte color wash of these handmade plates makes for the perfect backdrop to every meal and shelfie.

Crate & Barrel Mercer Appetizer Plates, Set of Eight

Add contemporary refinement and rusticity with these organic-shaped plates with a hammered surface.

CB2 ROYAL BROWN MARBLE BOWL

Infuse contrasting surface types from slick and smooth to rough and raw.

Small Wicker Wrapped Bottle with Handles

Bring in touchable texture with woven wicker. Style this French wine jug with a single branch.

Ferm Living Flow Jug

With its semi-matte glaze and oversized handle, this charming jug will bring a perfectly imperfect appeal to your open-shelf design.

CB2 Marta Optic Tasting Glasses, Set of 8

We were already fans of the Marta glass from CB2, now they come with a rippled texture that deserves to be on display.

Amber Interiors Garlic Keeper

Everything can have a purpose and still be visual eye candy.

Vintage Iron Rattan Table Lamp

A little wrought iron with a little rattan... design magic!

Hand forged table lamp

Bring sculptural shapes and unique designs into your shelves that blend fashion and function.

Caroline Adrienne Mini Minimal Beige White Abstract

Need more texture? Add it in the form of artwork like this 3D canvas and rest it amongst your porcelain and stoneware pieces.

You don't need to spend a lot of money to find beautiful abstract art and prints for your home. This was found on Chairish but we are always finding original works at reasonable prices on Etsy. The thrill is in the hunt.

Montana Labelle Mackenzie Stash Pots

Keep your shelves clear with stylish storage like these stoneware-lidded jars in a creamy matte glaze.

Montana Labelle Lincoln Incense Burner

An incense burner that also doubles as a stash pot. Beauty and utility, always!

Pottery Barn Artisan Footed Ceramic Bowl, Large, Grey

Mix your neutral tones to create a richly layered and textural arrangement that engages the eye.

1990s Folded Edge Indian Marble Bowl

Beautiful detailing in neutral tones adds visual interest in a pinch.

Montana Labelle Loki Bowl

Stash salt or pepper in here to pinch and add to cooking or throw some sticks of palo santo in there with matches to strike a ceremonious mood.

Montana Labelle Terracotta Bobble Bowl 2.0

Texture, earthy hues, and sculptural qualities are all the elements you need to spice up a kitchen shelf. Oh, and it's utilitarian too.

old clay pot vessel

You know we have a soft spot for old clay vessels. They just add instant patina and meaning to any space.

Handmade Ceramic Vase

Look for handmade elements to infuse organic shapes and movement into the line-up.

Montana Labelle Sand Vase

This textural beauty looks good anywhere. Just add sculptural branches.

Ferm Living Anse Vase

Crafted from a special rustic clay, the raw design of this sand-colored vase will add texture and contrast to your shelves not to mention sculptural quality thanks to its unique two-handled design.

Ferm Living Vulca Vase

We've never met a hand-shaped vase we didn't like.

Magari Adjustable Wall Lamp

This design is strongly influenced by both French and Italian mid-century modernism and features a distinctive beveled edge along the bottom of the shade. In fact, upon finding this wall lamp, we were chuffed to read that the design was heavily inspired by the vintage sconces found by Athena in this kitchen. So, there you go!

Stilnovo-Style Wall Lamps

Nothing beats the timeless beauty of Italian design. This Stilnovo-style double wall lamp is made of brass and metal shades with adjustable arm.

Ceramic Life Sketch 3 Sculpture

Blur gender lines by juxtaposing the feminine against the masculine with decorative items in varying surface types and texture.

Vintage Pink Marble Statue

Visual interest is key to carving out beauty that renders you speechless while driving new inspiration that beckons you to create and experiment in the kitchen.

Mid-Century American Reproduction Of Michelangelo’s David Head

Bring old-world beauty and a sense of history with sculptures from another place in time.

female bust

This hand-painted and sculpted bust pushes your open shelf design into

Signed Classical Greek Inspired Bust

Always add vintage or antique objects and carvings into the mix like this vintage female sculpture. Such a beauty!

Cook with the seasons, discover new techniques for plating and styling, along with fresh ideas to indulge your tastebuds (and that of your friends!) in the kitchen.

Put your favorite cookbook out on display with this textural wooden stand. It looks good even when you're not cooking.

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