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Real Solutions: Open Spice Wall Shelves

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Every home is filled with unique design puzzles, from figuring out how to make do with a tiny room (or fill a giant one) to finding that rug, wall-hanging, or piece of furniture to bring it all together. Here's where we share real solutions, through design success stories in the homes of Food52 team members.

Today: Erin McDowell is one of our Test Kitchen Managers, so when she mentioned a better spice storage solution, we dropped everything to listen.

When it comes to decorating, I’ve always erred on the side of being completely (and possibly boringly) utilitarian. By this I mean I do my very best to stay organized, but I also like to see my stuff. I build a lot of Ikea bookcases and metal shelving units. Someday, given the power, I will build one of those fabulous kitchens with open shelving. Sure, I know it’s a pain to dust and keep clean, but I don’t care. I want to see those pretty plates I found; I want to admire my ever-growing cake pan collection; and most importantly, I want to know what I have on hand.

Open Spice Rack Shelving Erin McDowell

Let me rewind. I chose my current apartment almost entirely for its large (by big city standards) kitchen. The kitchen itself isn’t so hot -- the wooden cabinets are dated with a weirdly orange tint to the stain. The stove, though terribly reliable and hot-spot free, looks like it might have been here for 40 some years. But the size, oh the size. Not only was I able to squeeze a second (compact) refrigerator in, but we also fit our butcher block island and two sets of open metal shelves. 

Most importantly, the kitchen has an open wall between its two windows, which begged for even more open shelving. I held off putting anything here, knowing that as I unpacked the perfect solution would make itself apparent. One day, I was searching for smoked paprika in one of those tall skinny shelves everyone has in their kitchen. You know the one -- it’s meant to be for spices but it’s strangely deep so you have to pull half of the contents out to get to what’s hiding in the back. I’d already searched for tiered mini shelves to stuff inside, but everything was either a tad too big or small.  

So I applied my desire to see things to that empty wall. We installed four sets of wall shelves, three of which were for dried herbs, spices, chiles, and so on. The top shelf was nearly out of reach, so I included some of my favorite kitchen knick-knacks and art up top. All the spices were transferred to Mason jars, which stack easily. Best of all, I can see when something is getting low and never spend longer than a few seconds fetching the spice I need. 

In the end, it’s become the centerpiece of the kitchen; everyone loves to scan and see what we have (and often, what’s missing) from our increasingly massive collection. So I learned my lesson: Utilitarian can be more than useful -- it can be awfully pretty, too.