Columbus: 614-545-6888

Free Consultation
Columbus: 614-545-6888

7 1/2 key questions to decide between open shelving or closed cabinets

My wife Rose HATES clutter and with 3 kids this can be a major challenge if you know what I mean! When I think about open shelving or closed cabinetry for our closets, laundry room and garage storage it’s a slam dunk for me to know what Rose would want (OK – I’m going a bit out on a limb here thinking I know what my wife wants – ha! ha!). She wants stuff behind closed doors and clean countertops (but that’s another conversation).

Although that is what she wants – that’s not what we have in every room in our house. Why – you might ask? It’s because there are multiple factors to look at (and questions to ask) to decide between open shelving and closed cabinets. Today – our master closet is mostly open except for one set of drawers I use (that’s because Rose has the entire bedroom dresser to herself). In the garage, we have all open shelving (we’d like closed garage cabinetry but it is lower on the list than paying my two son’s tuitions at Baldwin Wallace and University of Akron – can you ouch to 2 tuition payments!). In the laundry room, we do have finished cabinetry. This helps the room look “pretty neat” (except when our sons are home doing their laundry this room can look like a bomb went off).

The question becomes how do you (and I) get our arms around when to use open shelving or closed cabinetry in our closets, laundry room, garage – or any room for that matter? I say the right answer begins with asking the right 7 ½ questions below. After reading these questions let me know if this debate has become clearer to you – and what option you feel is best for your next project.

Download Ultimate Garage Storage Solutions Now!

Question #1 – What’s your budget for closet, laundry room and garage storage?

Ah – the old budget question. Isn’t it bad we can’t always get what we want – but sometimes (as the Rolling Stones once said) we get what we need. I still would love a 2-seater Mercedes convertible (my ultimate dream car) – but I need an SUV (to transport products between my 2 business locations and for family time tooling around on the weekend – although I have to admit I have a nice SUV). In any home improvement project, it makes sense to have a rough budget in mind before you waste time exploring a project which you want, but isn’t affordable yet.

If your budget is tight open shelving is significantly less expensive than closed cabinetry.

'If budget is tight, open #shelving is better than cabinets.' Click To TweetYou simply have the shelf and support system. With closed cabinetry, you’ve got shelves, the 4 sides of the cabinet box, possibly a back panel and a cabinet front. There is significantly more material in a cabinet than a simple shelf. If your budget is razor thin you may need to go with shelves initially, then remove them down the road and convert to a finished cabinet if you want a more finished look.

Take away – If your budget is tight use open shelves vs. closed cabinetry.  

Question #2 – How much space do you have? Is there room to open cabinet doors?

While my wife and I do have a walk-in closet it only measures 11’ x 7’ and the idea of putting all our hanging clothes inside cabinet doors is simply not practical (note – since clothes on a hanger take 22” of depth most cabinets for clothing are 24” deep – so if we chose cabinets they would literally eat the room!).  

Now in our laundry room (which is also not too big) 14” deep upper cabinets work well because they can be fully opened since they are above the washer and dryer.

Open shelving and closed cabinetry laundry room in Columbus Ohio | Innovate Home Org

If you look at garage cabinetry a key question to ask if you want to use a deep cabinet is will you be able to open the doors and have room to stand behind the cabinets when the cars are parked inside in the winter.

Take away – Before you choose cabinetry not only see how deep the cabinet is, but also look at how much room you’ll have to stand behind the cabinet once the doors are open.

Question #3 – Will all members of your family have “equal access” to use the space?

Designing a storage solution needs to be about more than the here and now. The question becomes what might your needs be in the future, and will this storage space work for you down the road.

A good friend of mine (Rosemarie Rossetti) never saw the accident coming. On a bright sunny Columbus day in 1998 Rosemarie was riding her bike in a public park when a 3-ton tree fell on her and cracked her back. This was nothing she could have predicted. This accident caused Rosemarie to be paralyzed from the waist down. You may be wondering why I’m telling you this story?

Well – Rosemarie now needs a wheelchair to get around her closet. Since it’s not practical to roll a wheelchair up to (and into) a finished bedroom closet cabinet, her open shelving and hanging closet system is the only type which works for her. The roll around island with pull our drawers is also nice.

Rosemarie Rossetti roll around universal closet design with open shelving and hanging sections designed for a wheelchair | Innovate Home Org Columbus Ohio

Rosemarie Rossetti in the Universal Design Living Laboratory (also her home)

Take away – When considering between open shelving and closed cabinetry keep in mind how it will work if your mobility isn’t as good as you age.

Question #4 – Does clutter stress you out?

Clutter and disorganization in a garage, closet or laundry can be a major stressor (especially if your spouse or kids don’t share your same passion for organization – I bet you know what I’m talking about here). The benefit of closed cabinetry is you can’t see the clutter.” If you can’t see the messiness of your partner or kids you will stress less.

'What you don't see behind closed #cabinet doors wont' stress you.' Click To Tweet

Closed cabinetry in and adjustable wardrobe closet Columbus Ohio | Innovate Home Org

You can’t see the clutter behind the doors of this wardrobe closet

With open shelving, the disorganized piles are on display for everyone to see. Yes – it doesn’t solve the clutter problem to jamb junk behind closed doors, but it can make you feel better.

Take away– If clutter causes you stress install closed cabinetry so at least you will “see no evil.”

Question #5 – How is your eyesight?

This may sound like a funny question when talking about open shelving or closed cabinetry but when things are behind closed doors in large cabinets it is darker inside. Any overhead light is blocked by the cabinet box itself. Open shelving makes it easy to see what you have (even if it is a mess) and grab your items quickly.

If you like the idea of closed cabinetry there is a solution to this lighting challenge. The solution is LED lights inside the cabinets. These systems can either be hard wired, motion activated or battery powered. I would recommend staying away from the battery powered lighting because if you’re like me finding AA and AAA batteries in the house is a painful process!

LED lighting on a upper cabinet underside | Innovate Home Org Columbus Ohio

Take away – Open shelving is simple and cost-effective if you need better lighting. With closed cabinets adding LED lighting will be the solution to equalize the “lighting playing field” vs. open shelves.

Question #6 – Are dust and fur on your clothes a pain?  

We have 3 cats (Sashi, Tink, and Sammie – my favorite) and they LOVE to rub up against stuff. We like when they rub up against us but when you must go to a wedding or board meeting getting fur off is not a fun thing. With a closet with open shelving and hanging sections you need to be prepared to take time to de-fur-ify (not a word, but I’ll use it anyway) your suits and dresses. With closed cabinets, you can keep cats and dogs away from your stuff and save time getting ready.  

Take away – If fur and dust drives you nuts – closed cabinets are a must.

Question #7 – Are you worried your grandkids will get into something dangerous?

Do you love when your grandkids visit and are laughing and enjoying playing outside? I’m sure when I get to this stage, I will love having them over but I’ll also worry as well. What if they go into the garage to get a ball to play with, get curious and open a can of paint – or worse yet – gasoline?

In a garage (or laundry room) with open shelving detergents, spray cans and car and truck products can be a big problem if the kids get into them. Consider adding a lock on garage or laundry room cabinets so you won’t have to worry or watch them like a hawk to keep them safe.

Garage cabinetry with a lock can protect kids against dangerouse chemicals | Innovate Home Org Columbus Ohio

Putting a lock on this cabinet is a sound idea

Take away – You will sleep better when your harmful chemicals are locked away behind closed doors.

Question #7 ½ – Is it important for you (and your storage spaces) to look marvelous darling?

Let’s face it, when you see glamour closets on Pinterest you’re bound to see beautiful Shaker door fronts, granite countertops and display areas showing your celebrities favorite handbags and jewelry. If you want a luxury “retail store” or celebrity look, cabinets with glass fronts are the logical choice.

Glass front closet cabinets custom luxury closet | Innovate Home Org Columbus Ohio

Take away – If you want the celebrity closet design, you’ll need to incorporate closed cabinets and drawers.


As you can see with these 7 ½ questions there are more factors than meet the eye to choose between open shelving vs. closed cabinetry for a closet, garage or laundry room storage area. Which type of system do you think is best? Please comment or call us with your opinion or questions.

Can I (or a member of my team) help you?

Are you looking to do an organization project in your Columbus or Cleveland home and aren’t sure where to start? Call us and we will not only help you plan your closet, laundry room or garage, but can give you a Free 3D design as well. We look forward to hearing from you. In Columbus call 614-545-6888 and in Cleveland 216-658-1290.


Follow me @Mike_Foti or our companies’ @InnovateBuild and @InnovateHomeOrg on Twitter.

Mike Foti

Mike Foti is the President of Innovate Home Org, a division of Innovate Building Solutions. You can learn more about Mike here.

Mike Foti

Mike Foti is the President of Innovate Home Org, a division of Innovate Building Solutions. You can learn more about Mike here.

Leave a comment