Hidden Gem # 2 – Open Shelves

Happy Friday everyone!   Hope you had a great week!  I’m back again with another Hidden Gem that you could easily do over the weekend with minimal time, effort and money – the perfect trifecta of project criteria, in my opinion!  

This week’s project is one that we landed on due to affordability AND the aesthetic that it added to our space.  In the house that we are flipping, lovingly referred to as the 17th Street Project around here, we completely gutted the tiny 1982-ish kitchen and changed the floor plan to essentially take over the empty, awkward space that was the dining room. (I’ll share that full remodel in a future post or 2!)  Anyway, with the expansion, we added about 12 linear feet of cabinet and counter space – which was a huge win for this storage-sparse house!  However, that meant that the end of the run of cabinets would end with the corresponding wall and when you were walking in the hallway and turned the corner – you could potentially run smack into the upper cabinet – not exactly the welcoming entrance into our kitchen that we were hoping for! 

And so, this week’s project emerged —instead of a wall of 15 inch deep upper cabinets, we opted to install open shelving.  Yes, the shelving that is flooding Pinterest boards everywhere – the modern farmhouse/industrial-esque shelving that elicits polarizing views of either love or hatred, depending on your take.  For many, this concept is terrifying.  The thought of all your stuff out in the open, all willy-nilly for all to see and judge!  Not to mention the hassle of trying to keep it organized and pretty!  No.  Thank.  You.  I felt the same way and had the same concerns, but it turns out that they’ve been a fantastic addition to our space!  Here’s why:  

Compared to the cost of upper cabinets, open shelves are a fraction of the price.  We actually went the more affordable route on the 17th Street project and built an IKEA kitchen, but, even still, open shelves are still SIGNIFICANTLY less expensive.  For this project, you need the following:

Lumber – the size will depend on your space and what you are planning to use them for.  In my case, I decided that I would be using them to house our dinnerware.  I measured the width of our widest item, our dinner plates, to make sure that the shelf would be wide enough.  Our plates were just shy of 11 inches in diameter, so I opted for a 2” x 12” x 8’ length of general purpose Douglas Fir lumber from Home Depot.  Conveniently, the ideal length for our shelves was 4 feet, so we only needed one board and it cost us about $25.  If you wanted to make these shelves even cheaper, you could salvage a piece of wood from your backyard, attic or garage and make it out of “reclaimed wood” or, the reverse, purchase beautiful hardwood in varying thicknesses and make it more expensive – but this option got the job done and was an affordable option for us.  We had the nice folks at Home Depot cut the piece in half for us before we left – easier to pack home and less work for us!  #winning!

Brackets -the sky is the limit here!  There are tons of beautiful options out there – looking at you, Etsy! – and this is a great way to make a statement and add some flair to your space.  The prices run the gamut, but for our purposes, we went with a basic option from Amazon.  Since we are flipping this house, we are always looking for ways to keep our costs in check AND make sure that our design choices appeal to the masses.   These brackets did just that – and left us another set for another shelf that we have planned for the other side of the kitchen.  This would probably be a good time to mention that the promoted (nominal) sizes of lumber are not their actual (dressed) sizes.  The “nominal” cross-section dimensions of a piece of lumber, such as 2 X 4 or 1 X 6, are always somewhat larger than the actual, or dressed, dimensions. The reason is that dressed lumber has been surfaced or planed smooth on four sides. The nominal measurement is made BEFORE the lumber is surfaced.  Annoying, but true.  So, when you are looking for brackets, make sure that you look for brackets that fit what you are working with.  In our case, our common size was 2” x 12” x 8’, so we needed brackets that would fit 11.25” width.  We managed to snag ours on sale and only spent $25 on a package of 6 (3 sets).  

Wood Stain – we used Minwax Wood Finish in Golden Pecan (245) and Natural (209). I started with Golden Pecan but thought it was too orange, so sanded it down again and added the Natural.  

You’ll also need sand paper, screws and anchors (I’d recommend using 100 lb weighted anchors to make sure that your shelves will hold the weight of your “stuff”).  

So, if you’ve been tallying the cost, we’re only in for around $25 a shelf.  Even the most basic, ready-to-assemble upper cabinet can cost you close to $300 and that doesn’t include the labor!  

That brings us to the second reason that we love having these shelves – the ease of installation!  In comparison to the hanging of a kitchen cabinet, hanging open shelves is a walk in the park on the perfect 72 degree day with the sun on your face and your hair effortlessly blowing in the breeze, making you look like one of those sun kissed models with long flowing hair being blown back by an industrial-sized fan.  It’s that easy!  The hardest part is finding a stud –  lucky for me, I’m a pro at that – have you seen Mike???  Hey-o!  But, seriously, hanging shelves is incredibly easy with the right tools and a second set of hands.  

To hang the shelves, you’ll need a level (or if you fancy, a laser level like this one – we love ours!), a tape measure and a pencil.  In a perfect world both brackets would be drilled into a stud in the wall, but if that placement won’t look right, try to get at least one of the brackets into a stud to help support the weight of your shelves.  Using your level and your extra set of hands, mark where you’ll need to drill holes using the brackets as guides.  Next, drill the holes using a drill bit the same width as your anchors or screws.  Screw in  your anchors, if using. Place your brackets and install your screws.  Lay your board across your brackets evenly, attach them to the bracket if necessary and voila!  Installed!  

So, if I haven’t convinced you yet to give it a try, I’m guessing it’s because you are still concerned about having all your prized possessions out on display and the assumed work it will take to keep them neat and organized.  I have good news on this front —this is literally a “set it and forget it” type of situation!  I placed the actual plates and bowls that we use on the bottom shelf and even with teenage boys, we’ve not had any issues with our shelves getting messy or things being out of place.  Much like putting your plates in the exact same cupboard after washing them – we all just put them back where they go.  

If you are worried that your dishes won’t work or that you won’t have a “pretty enough” display – don’t!  The appeal to this type of shelving is that you have the opportunity to flaunt Grandma’s Corning ware from decades ago, the dishes that you picked up in Mexico or the cool serving tray that your sister gave you for your wedding.  It can all work if you spend some time setting up the display. Here are a few tips:  

To help make sure that it’s not flat and boring, make sure that you vary the heights of your arrangement.  You can use things that you use in the kitchen like I did with the cookbooks, cake stands or really anything to give you some height.  I also find that leaning some items vertically instead of laying them horizontally will add dimension while also giving you more storage space.  

If you have all kinds of treasures and are worried that your display will be too chaotic, try to find something that connects each of them.  It might be a specific color or two that can be found in each piece, the material they are made out of or even the type of item (i.e. all kinds of plates or coffee mugs etc.)   Perhaps sadly, all of my dishes have been white for years so the palette was easy for me.  But once I placed everything that I needed to store out of necessity, it felt a little boring and bland.  To help spice it up, I added a few plants,  the cookbooks and then various cutting boards —but you could just easily literally add spices!  Or a picture of Grandma with her precious Corning ware!  Or your quirky, cool collection of salt shakers!  The more interesting the items, the more interesting the display!  

And that conveniently brings me to my last reason for loving the open shelves —the display options!  If you are like me and love to change out your decor with the seasons, a holiday or just because it’s Tuesday, open shelves give you a whole new horizontal space to add decor to – making them one of the best Hidden Gems that we’ve made!  

Thanks for stopping by and hope you find or make your own Hidden Gem this weekend!  Let me know if I can help!