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Flexible design ideas – open shelving

Following last month’s flexible design idea blog featuring the pocket door, this month we focus on open shelving. Often controversial, open shelving is loved by some and hated by others. Are open shelves a great way to house favourite things and an easy way to introduce colour and texture, or a place that easily turns into a dumping ground and harbours dust?

The open shelf concept in your bathroom can create a stunning focal point providing an open, airy feel as well as showcasing either a minimalist, rustic lifestyle, or a modern, contemporary sophistication thanks to clean lines. There are quite a few benefits to having your items on display, but it’s not necessarily for everyone.

Of course, trends change over time. Homeowners today are buying fewer matching kitchen units and dinner sets and research shows that UK bathrooms are less likely to include fully coordinating units compared to five or ten years ago with many bathrooms incorporate some form of shelving.

Shelves make sense – in short, they cost less, make smaller spaces feel less claustrophobic and can add personality by having favourite items on view. However, there’s more to open shelving than simply replacing a wall cabinet with a bit of wood. An open shelf needs a purpose or a key role for it to work well in a bathroom.


Open shelving, or shelving units, provide easy access to everyday items such as towels and toiletries. However, with these now on display it is important to ensure that they are pleasing to look at - matching towel sets, beautiful bottles – and are well ordered and laid out rather than simply dumped. Think carefully about the positioning of the shelving and make the most out of any space behind the toilet, above the door or in a recess.


Open shelving can help a smaller bathroom feel more open and airier just by removing the cabinet doors of a wall hung unit. Shelves can be sleek and contemporary or rustic and unfinished but should fit in with the overall aesthetics of the bathroom design. Shelves should match their surrounding whether painted in the same colour as the walls or made of the same material as the cabinetry so that they blend to give the feeling of space. Install LED lights on the shelving to help create a displayed feel while adding additional light to the space at the same time. Consider displaying a few books, decorative pieces, or greenery - all of which add colour and texture.


The challenge with both open shelving and shelving units, is keeping them clear of dust and debris – especially those items which sit there for some time unused. Lower shelves are particularly susceptible to dust and if you have untreated wooden shelves then these will need to be treated with oil from time to time to prevent them from drying and cracking.

Make sure you know how much weight the shelf can hold before you start loading and take care to choose the correct quality material when purchasing both shelves and brackets – the last thing you want is for your shelves to warp or to come crashing down due to poor quality brackets or fixings!

Finally, while open shelving can cost the fraction of the price of traditional wall units, the minimalist look with items on display is not for everyone. A good compromise for those that love the look but don’t want to fully commit is to use a series of baskets to house toiletries, bath toys or even loo roll. Open shelving; a flexible design idea worth looking into.

7th Nov 2022