This Is the New, Retro-Inspired Way to Do Open Shelving in the Kitchen and Beyond

published Dec 20, 2022
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Credit: Photo: Kaitlin Green; Design: Emily Henderson, ARCIFORM

Both a hot kitchen trend and a hot topic of debate, open shelving has been the name of the home design game for, well, a really long time.

Not only does open shelving optimize space for storing (and easily accessing) display-worthy dinnerware, cooking essentials, and decorative objects, but this layout choice also establishes a clean, airy allure overall — especially so for smaller kitchens. More recently, this trend has even trickled over into kitchen fixtures themselves, like open-concept islands. That’s all to say this look likely isn’t going away any time soon (sorry, open-shelving haters), but it is seemingly evolving a bit, at least, if what I’m noticing in more homes nowadays is any indicator. Say hello to open shelving 2.0: open shelving with gallery rails.

That’s right: Polished metal rods have begun redefining this longstanding kitchen and pantry feature — and in a somewhat old-school finish at that — beautiful brass. Acting almost like a low decorative guardrail, these pieces can pair with your current exposed shelving setup (no kitchen re-do needed, if you have open shelves!) and line the outer edges for a slightly more refined take on the open trend. That’s especially true for multi-level shelving, since these rails add a cohesive touch throughout and effectively make everything styled on them seem instantly more put-together.

Credit: Photo: Kaitlin Green; Design: Emily Henderson, ARCIFORM

Gallery rails can also help tie open shelving units into a space overall. Designer Emily Henderson, for example, introduced this look into her own kitchen as well as an adjacent bar nook (both pictured above). Here, the brass finishes neatly play off nearby matching hardware and decor — most notably with Henderson’s kitchen cabinet knobs, wall-mounted pot filler, and hanging framed artwork.

You’ll notice, too, that the kitchen rods specifically have corner end pieces while the bar shelf versions do not, allowing for flexibility and customization from space to space. Less can certainly be more, as seen with the single-tiered shelf-and-rod combos flanking Henderson’s range, which look equally high-end and minimal. Make note, small kitchen dwellers!

Take a cue from North Carolina-based blogger and designer Natalie Papier’s home, as well, where a trio of shorter, thicker rods double as eye-catching focal points — even styled in a tighter space and bookended by cabinetry. Papier’s own gallery rail display makes the case for incorporating extra flair into a predominantly white (or light-colored) room, but the shiny metallic has potential to pair with any kitchen or shelf color palette, especially as shades have been skewing more colorfully on the whole recently. Not to mention, dark wood or black open shelving would create a super-alluring contrast to brass rods as well.

Henderson and Papier sourced their kitchen fixtures from decor and lighting brand Pepe & Carols, where you can bring home your own version of this designer-approved look, starting at just $13. Note that Pepe & Carols sells each individual gallery railing segment separately, from the end posts to the rods themselves, but there’s flexibility to essentially custom design the full piece based on length, finish, and trim style.

Installing also requires drilling a small hole into your shelves, so if you’re looking for a workaround, or want to get this kitchen style entirely from scratch, West Elm and Wayfair sell their own versions of ready-made shelves with built-in brass rails (albeit, these styles are much more modern-leaning in style). Regardless, consider this trend a smart safeguard against potential falling objects (looking at you, cat parents!) as well as a simple way of adding more personality to a room that can be overlooked decorating-wise.