Confession: I silently cringe whenever people hang out in my kitchen because, after investing in several beloved glass-front cabinets, everyone can see what’s inside—and let’s just say they’re a far cry from those artfully curated cabinets I see when poring over Instagram and Pinterest.
At first, I tried to create a similarly calm landscape of dinner plates here, wine glasses there—but it soon devolved into a hodgepodge of flea market finds, altogether too many coffee mugs, and even a squirrel figurine (how that got there is anyone’s guess).
So now that the holidays are almost upon us, I decided to get my kitchen cabinet mojo on again! I spoke to a couple of design experts and learned the principles of cabinets that are worth showing off on Instagram. Here are the guiding principles that we can all follow so that a cabinet close-up won’t make us cringe.
This principle is top priority! You know the saying “less is more”? Well, it really resonates when it comes to your kitchen cabinets.
“Embrace empty space,” stylist Frances Bailey advises. “Edit down what you display, and be ruthless.”
It’s a good thing if the results of your purge leave your cabinets looking a tad bare—it will give the eye a little room to rest.
This minimalist approach will improve your kitchen life.
“If you have to move three things out of the way to get to a favorite bowl, you probably won’t use that favorite bowl very much,” notes San Francisco–based interior designer Maria Haidamus.
As you pare down what’s on display, keep the mundane (plastic bowls the kids use for popcorn, mismatched glasses) behind solid cabinet doors. (No one wants to see your class of ’93 commemorative coffee cup.) Better yet, help some of your excess items find new homes.
“A family of four probably doesn’t need 80 mugs. Offload ones you don’t use,” says Bailey.
How to organize kitchen cabinets
“Keep ‘friends with friends’ is my favorite style tip for all over the house, and the kitchen is no exception,” says Bailey. “Group all your wine glasses together in one area and juice glasses in another. Group all the colored glassware together and another for all the clear glassware. Just grouping similar items together immediately organizes the space visually better. And while you’d think this is the most obvious point, I can’t tell you how many people don’t do that.”
It’s OK to show some of your everyday staples, too, as long as you give them a unifying element.
“Don’t be afraid to display what you use on a daily basis,” says Haidamus. “It forces you to be organized and see what you have, what you’re running low on.” She uses glass canisters inside her cabinets to organize her pantry ingredients—you don’t want to shove a ripped box of raisins in there.
“I cook a lot, so I wanted all my grains and rice there in reach, in glass canisters—the colors and textures are interesting,” Haidamus adds.
Settle on a color scheme
The items on display need a color scheme. Monochromatic is foolproof. If you’re not that much of a minimalist, heed this advice from Bailey: “Balance the palette all over the kitchen. If you have green glassware on the left, have something green on the right.”
The idea is to have some rhyme or reason on where color is placed.
Show off objects you love
Give favorite vases, pitchers, teapots, and other sculptural pieces a starring role. A bud vase can go on a lower shelf, in between two stacks of dishes. You’re more likely to use it often when it’s lower down as well. And it doesn’t have to be something precious.
“You should only display objects you love,” says Haidamus. “This is about what you want to see in your kitchen every day. Just because it was a wedding gift, was expensive, or is by a certain designer doesn’t mean it deserves to be seen—unless you really adore it.”
Mix it up
The unexpected touches are what give a kitchen personality, so of course allow yourself a few. A friend of mine has a small bowl filled with Champagne corks from New Year’s Eves past next to her cereal bowls inside her glass-front cabinets—a sweet reminder of her and her husband’s shared history.
I may not use it often, but I love having my late father’s Peugeot coffee grinder on display. Go ahead and add a framed print or a favorite cookbook or two, especially if you have an open shelving section. As long as you exercise a bit of restraint, you’ll have kitchen cabinets that are ready for prime time.