Kitchen Cabinetry Design: Drawers or Shelves?

When fine-tuning your kitchen cabinetry design, you’ll inevitably pause to ask yourself: should I go with drawers or shelves?

As the kitchen is the busiest room in the home, it’s essential to get your storage strategy right. We’re here you help you do just that with this go-to kitchen cabinetry guide. 

Kitchen Drawers

The classic kitchen drawer has a multitude of benefits and drawbacks (pardon the pun) to consider.  


Maximise space: As the cabinet can be divided into multiple sections with individual drawers, this solution can provide more storage space for smaller items. Of course, this concept only applies when you’ve got numerous drawers within one cabinet.

Optimal organisation: Drawers let you segregate specific kitchen utensil types into sections to find what you need quickly. No more rummaging around through a deep, hard-to-navigate cupboard. 

Slick aesthetics: With the right finish and handles, the humble drawer can enhance the look of your kitchen. 


More expensive: Drawers require a sophisticated rolling mechanism and precision carpentry to pull off. You might be up to the challenge if you’re an avid DIYer. But most people will need a skilled cabinet maker to get the job done right. We use top of the range heavy-duty smooth-close runners fit for purpose.

Not suitable up high: We’d hazard a guess you’ve never seen drawers installed above waist height. That’s because it’s too hard to see inside a high-up drawer, not to mention access the items inside. Cupboards and shelves are the only viable option for elevated kitchen cabinets. 

Size limitations: Most kitchen drawers are relatively small, typically about 15cm high. That petite stature doesn’t provide enough space to store oversized items like pots and pans. However, custom-built deep drawers can overcome the dilemma. 

Weight limitations: Drawers are only designed to withstand a specific amount of weight. Should you stash a selection of bulky cast-iron skillets in a standard kitchen draw, you could end up busting the slide-out mechanism. Our drawers offer a 38kg weight capacity, regardless of the size of the drawer. 

Tricky to repair:  If you do damage the sliding mechanism, you might find it challenging to fix. You’ll need to find an appropriate replacement part and contract a cabinet maker with the skills to undo the damage. 

Kitchen Shelves

The humble kitchen shelf also comes with a plethora of pros and cons. 


Easy access: No need to open a drawer or a cupboard door. All your essentials are right there within arm’s reach. 

Optimal visibility: With open shelving, you can instantly see where everything is without having to rummage through drawers or cupboard doors. That makes life easier for forgetful householders and guests unfamiliar with the kitchen layout.

Easy to clean: You won’t need to work around partitions and doors while cleaning. Even though open shelves leave the contents susceptible to dust, you’ll typically use these high-use items enough to keep them clean. 

Cheap to install: As you won’t need fancy sliding mechanisms or cupboards, shelves are the most affordable kitchen storage solution. But don’t go too cheap—you get what you pay for. 


Too much visibility: While the ability to see everything is a plus, it can also work against you. Mismatched dinnerware, raggedy old pots, and unsightly appliances can harm your kitchen aesthetic. 

The dust will settle: By design, drawers and cupboards protect their contents from unhygienic airborne particles. But with open shelves, your kitchenware remains perpetually susceptible to dust. You’ll have to ramp up your cleaning regime for lesser-used items to compensate.

Excessive depth: Deeper shelves can be tricky to navigate, especially when installed up high. Most kitchen designers recommend installing shelves that are narrower than your lower cabinets.

Hit-and-miss aesthetics: Tacky shelves made from low-grade materials will stand out like a sore thumb. It’s worth investing in high-quality shelving from a trusted supplier to tie your kitchen together. Our light-weight shelving comes in a large range of finishes and custom sizing, fit for purpose.

Mixing both styles

So should you opt for drawers or shelves with your kitchen cabinetry design?

Most people are better off using a combination of the two. You could install pull-out drawers in sub-waist-height cupboards to stash smaller stuff like cutlery, placemats, and assorted cooking utensils. 

Then, you could throw in some shelves to store high-use yet aesthetically-pleasing items like dinnerware and glassware. 

And don’t neglect the classic kitchen cupboard. These simple storage solutions safely hide large, unattractive items like pots and pans.  

Seniors should consider installing more drawers than cupboards. As you age, bending down and rummaging through a small space becomes burdensome. The slide-out drawer helps reduce back strain and makes retrieving your gear more manageable. 

MKN: Your Go-To Kitchen Renovation Experts in Brisbane?

Both storage solutions offer a myriad of pros and cons. 

Drawers work better in some situations, while shelving is preferable in others. With that in mind, there’s no harm in incorporating both. 

Need help turning your dream kitchen renovation into reality? 

Then get in touch with the team at Modern Kitchens Northside. With over 20 years of experience in the industry, we’ve become one of Brisbane’s leading cabinet makers and kitchen design service providers. 

No matter where you are with your kitchen renovation, our expert team can give you a much-needed helping hand. Come see our handiwork at our Lawnton showroom or contact the team today. 

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