3 Cute Small Kitchen Designs & How to Style Open Shelving

Kim Lewis
by Kim Lewis

Today we are going to talk about small kitchen design and my very favorite thing to do in a small kitchen, which is open shelving. Open shelving is one of those small kitchen design ideas that has stayed on trend for quite a while now.


We have it in our tiny home kitchen, and honestly, I love the fact that it keeps us so organized. So if you’re currently designing a small kitchen, check out these small space kitchen design ideas to get you started.


While discussing kitchen design ideas for small kitchens, I want to go through three examples of open-shelving kitchen designs that I've done personally in three different tiny homes with tiny kitchen spaces.

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Joshua Tree tiny house kitchen

Joshua Tree

I'll start with our own home, which I call the Joshua Tree house.

Old barn ceiling joists

We used old ceiling joists from a barn that Joey and I picked out ourselves. The material is almost two inches thick, so it’s thicker than I would normally do. We were kind of going for that rustic barn wood look, so this is a nice solid wood.

How to measure the height of shelves

When you're thinking about the height of your shelves, two inches is kind of a max.

How to measure the depth of shelves

Our shelves are nine and a half inches deep as well. Now this is the front-to-back dimension. You can go up to twelve inches deep, but I have found that nine and a half inches fits everything we need.

Open shelves in a small space with glasses

I didn't want the shelves any deeper in our home because we're in such a small space. I'm also really little, so I can't reach much further than that anyway. Plus, it fits two to three rows of glasses nicely, and that is enough for what we have.

How to measure the height of shelves

The height of these shelves is set at twenty-two inches above the counter. Our second shelf is twelve inches higher than the first. That twelve inches is plenty of space to fit vases, pitchers, and other things that we need to store on that first shelf.

Sloped ceiling in a tiny kitchen

Because our tiny home slopes from eight-foot ceilings to ten-foot ceilings, we only have two shelves.

Stacked dishes on open shelves

I love the design of an open-shelf kitchen because it helps us stay organized. You have a space for everything, and you can stack dishes one on top of each other.

How to style open shelves

If you're thinking about how to style open shelves, here are a few tips:


1. First, I would say stay neutral. Pick one or two colors and stick to that with your dishware.

Glass jars and containers for a small kitchen

2. Go somewhere like The Container Store and get some nice glass jars or canisters so your ingredients become a decoration.

Placing art on open shelving

3. You can also put some art and paintings up there.

Adding plants to open shelving

4. Add plants as well.

Spices and olive oil on display

5. You can even let your spices and olive oil be out. It's kind of nice to see it.

Cookbooks covered in butcher paper

6. We have cookbooks out but I didn't want to see all the color and clutter from the different spines, so I took white butcher paper and wrapped the books, putting the titles on the side.

Copper Cottage tiny kitchen with open shelving

Copper Cottage

This is called the Copper Cottage, and I did this small space tiny home design for Kohler. We used copper piping for the Copper Cottage just like we did in our home.

Open shelving with hooks

In this design, you'll see that I wanted a very specific place to hang coffee mugs. A lot of us have a ritual of coffee in the morning, and it's fun to have different coffee mugs out on display.

Hanging coffee mugs on the shelves

So we have an extra bar that scales across the bottom shelf, and that is a perfect place to hang coffee mugs.

Mint green plywood shelves with copper piping

Also on this one, you're going to notice the boards of the shelves are much thinner. Now this is a three-quarter-inch plywood shelf. We painted it a really beautiful pale mint green. I love the combination of colors in this kitchen. I get a ton of compliments on it.

Open shelving with copper pipes

You'll notice that we positioned the open shelving in front of a window in this design. It keeps the space open and brings light onto those shelves.

Mid-century Marfa kitchen with open shelving

Mid-century Marfa

The third tiny home kitchen design with open shelving that I've personally designed is the Mid-century Marfa house. This is the very first design that kind of put me on the map with tiny homes. I love this house, and I designed it for Tiny House Nation.

White plywood shelves with vintage leather belt brackets

We did three-quarter-inch plywood white shelves and I used vintage leather belts to hang the shelving on as brackets, so there are a lot of different options you can do.

Open shelving with belts as brackets

I literally went to South Congress Street, dug through a box of belts, and got three or four belts for eighteen dollars.


Small kitchen design

We then attached the leather to the wall. It was a really fun way to bring some character into this open shelving design.


There are a lot of different brackets that you can use for your open shelves too. I've found that Rejuvenation is a great source for brackets, in terms of different designs. West Elm has some cool ones too.


There are also a lot of vendors on Etsy that make custom steel brackets in different colors, so if you want wood shelves with a pop of color, there are some really fun options. Just be sure to check the depth of the bracket versus the depth of your shelf to make sure they match.


Small kitchen design

I would love to hear if you've done open shelving in your kitchen. I have found that no matter what size home you have, this is still a great idea for your kitchen.


You can mix and match open shelves as well, creating a unique small kitchen design that works for you and your family. There's no reason why you can't have an area that has upper cabinets that you can hide stuff away in, like Tupperware, and then an area where you have open shelving to have more on display.


There really are no rules, so if you've done this before, share your best tips for designing a small kitchen down below.

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  • Hope Hope on Feb 28, 2024
    I personally liked the Cottage and the Joshua Tree shelves with the copper piping. I especially liked the bar, at the bottom, that ran the length of the shelves in the Cottage…that was a nice touch and very useful. And the thick barn-wood shelves in the Joshua Tree are gorgeous!
  • Jlbs Jlbs on Feb 28, 2024
    How do you wash the window if shelving is in front of it?
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