How to decorate your kitchen counter without sacrificing space

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Ah, the kitchen counter – the final frontier of decor. Even after the walls, windows, and cabinets have been updated, it seems daunting to decorate a space that seems so strictly functional. It’s a decidedly utilitarian part of the house, meant for chopping things, holding dripping dishes and rolling dough. Decor items that come up to the counter often seem superfluous — or risk getting splattered with cooking oil. So how do you make meters as intentional as the rest of your home, and without wasting valuable space?

First, ask yourself what you can get off the counter and into another storage area. The sides of the refrigerator, inside cabinets and above the stove are just begging use. Second, store the rest of the clutter in trays and baskets to keep it as contained (and hidden) as possible. Finally, add some decorative elements here and there (having nice and functional items like pots, cutting boards and dish racks also help)

Here’s how to do it all:

1. Get things off the counter

Before you reorganize or go on a spending spree, try to remove all unnecessary items from the counter. A pile of mail, the giant air fryer, and loose pill bottles just don’t belong on the counter. Even this bowl of fruit might look best as a focal point (more on that later) or on the kitchen table. Once that’s done, you can start rearranging what you already have.

Similar to storing items in a pantry or cabinet, countertops benefit greatly from shelving and risers to elevate existing canisters, utensil holders, and dishes. In most kitchens, there’s over a foot of space between the counter and the bottom of the upper cabinet, and it’s easy to take advantage of that space by adding height to your countertop items.

2. Keep essentials handy above the stove

Did you know that the space above your stove is a storage goldmine? It makes sense, especially when you think about all the different items you end up reaching for while cooking. A simple rack that fits just above the stovetop keeps essentials like salt and pepper, measuring cups, and olive oil right at your fingertips.

3. Put things on the walls and the refrigerator

Another hidden storage area no one thinks of? The sides of the refrigerator. An unused surface like this is the perfect spot for a magnetic storage rack, which holds everything from dishcloths to measuring spoons. Also use the walls to remove items from the counter (and make room for more decorative pieces).

4. Stick to a theme

Cut down all the neon kitchenware you still have lying around from college (or make neon the theme if that’s your thing!) and find a color scheme to stick to. All utensils, tools and accessories could fit into the color scheme. Try all wood, black and white, a single metallic finish, or do a deliberate mix ‘n’ match. . . making this simple change will ensure that everything on the counter comes together better and looks stylish rather than cluttered.

5. Invest in storage you really love

If you’re going to keep the flour, sugar, and salt on the counter, put them in nice canisters. Even things like a dish drainer or a knife block don’t have to be eyesores. When the pieces are color-coordinated and more fashion-forward, your counter will look a lot less cluttered in practice.

6. Repackage store-bought items

Anything from the store with a label (dish soap, pepper grinder, bags of coffee, etc.) is transferred to a container that coordinates with the rest of the kitchen. . . unless, of course, the packaging is already beautiful.

7. Use Trays

We’ve already detailed our love of trays for cluttering up clutter at length, so we don’t need to go over it again. Suffice it to say: a spacious tray or turntable is great for holding all sorts of things (plants, olive oil, salt shakers, utensils, etc.) and smaller trays hold keys, sunglasses and other small items.

8. Show Cutting Boards

Instead of hiding oiled acacia and expertly assembled bamboo, display your cutting boards by leaning them against the wall.

9. Lean small works of art against the wall

Similar to cutting boards, small works of art leaning against the wall and on floating shelves elevate the kitchen from strictly functional to fashion-forward. If you’re worried about cooking splatters, be sure to use a frame that’s easy to clean, like painted wood or metal.

10. Style with Plants

Do not be afraid of style with plants in the kitchen. . . think: drooping vines trailing open shelving and sturdy succulents by the sink. It’s no secret that plants bring life to any room, and kitchens are no exception. Try perching a plant on top of a less used box, or even hanging it from the bottom of the cabinet with a hook.

11. Make fruit a presentation object

Your bananas can totally work as a display item (think how many still lifes of fruit bowls you’ve seen in museums!) or keep lemons in a visible bowl – fresh fruit always makes a kitchen livelier and more alive.

12. Opt for a counter lamp

Sure, your counter space is limited, but is there anything to replace the glow of a table lamp? (The answer is no.) “There’s nothing quite like a soft, slightly yellowed glow to make your home — and any room in it — feel utterly welcoming and warm,” Alyssa writes. Longobucco, Home52 contributor, “And nowhere is it harder to achieve that vibe than in your kitchen, where overhead lighting or simple pendant lights above the island reign supreme.” The answer, of course, is to place a small table lamp on your counter, adding both ambiance and practical task lighting. Just be sure to place it away from the stove where it might get splashed.

13. Choose devices that make a difference

This one is a bit controversial, as there are strong camps on either side of the aesthetics versus function debate when it comes to kitchen fixtures and appliances. But we say: why choose one? There are so much brands that make appliances in subtle hues and luxurious finishes, like this retro-styled Smeg espresso machine, copper-clad electric kettle and sleek, minimal coffee grinder.

Nor is it necessary to buy them all at once. In fact, we recommend buying your most wanted pieces over time, as your tastes and color preferences will continue to evolve and color variations will add to a collectible feel.

14. Keep Seasonal Flowers and Greens Stocked Up

Just like your dining table or bedside table, kitchen counters (and your kitchen in general) can come alive with seasonal flowers and greens. Fall and winter branches are ridiculously easy to maintain, but spring tulips and summer daisies will keep the space cool.

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