How to decorate your kitchen counter — without sacrificing space

Beautiful and functional? Yes, it’s possible

Published July 6, 2022 8:30PM (EDT)

 (Ekaterina Rabcanuk / EyeEm / Getty Images)
(Ekaterina Rabcanuk / EyeEm / Getty Images)

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Ah, the kitchen counter — the final decor frontier. 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 home, intended for chopping things, holding drippy dishes, and dough-rolling. Bits of decor that make it to the counter often feel superfluous — or run the risk of getting splattered with cooking oil. How then, does one make the counters as intentional as the rest of your home, and without losing precious space?

First, ask yourself what you can get off the counter and into a different storage zone. The sides of the fridge, inside the cabinets, and above the stove are just begging to be used. Second, corral the rest of the clutter into trays and baskets to keep it as contained (and hidden) as possible. Finally, add a few decorative elements in here and there (having good-looking and functional objects like crocks, cutting boards, and dish racks also helps)

Here's how to get it all done:

1. Get things off the counter

Before you reorganize or go on a spending spree, try to get every unnecessary item off the counter. A pile of mail, the giant air fryer, and loose pill bottles simply don't belong out on the counter. Even that bowl of fruit might look better 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 things in a pantry or cabinet, countertops benefit greatly from racks and risers to elevate existing canisters, utensil holders, and dishes. In most kitchens, there's over a foot of space between the countertop 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 at hand over the stove

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

3. Put things on the walls and fridge

Another hidden storage area that no one thinks about? The sides of the fridge. An unused surface such as this is the perfect place for a magnetic storage rack, which holds everything from tea towels to measuring spoons. Use the walls, too, to get items off the counter (and make room for more decorative pieces).

4. Stick to a theme

Pare down all the neon cookware you still have hanging around from college (or, make neon the theme if that's your thing!) and find a color scheme to stick with. 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 everything on the counter hangs better together, and looks styled as opposed to cluttered.

5. Invest in storage you really love

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

6. Repackage store-bought items

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

7. Make use of trays

We've already detailed our love of trays for corralling clutter at length, so we don't need to get into it again. Suffice it to say: a roomy tray or lazy Susan are perfect for holding all manner of things (plants, olive oil, salt cellars, utensils, etc.) and smaller trays catch keys, sunglasses, and other small bits.

8. Display cutting boards

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

9. Lean small pieces of art against the wall

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

10. Style with plants

Don't be afraid of styling with plants in the kitchen . . . think: droopy vines trailing from 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 lesser-used canister, or even hanging it from the bottom of the cabinet with a hook.

11. Make fruit a display item

Your bananas can totally function as a display item (think about how many fruit bowl still lifes you've seen in museums!) or keep lemons in a visible bowl — fresh fruit always makes a kitchen feel more vibrant and lived-in.

12. Opt for a countertop lamp

Sure, your counter space is limited, but is there anything that replaces the glow of a table lamp? (The answer is no.) "There's nothing like a soft, slightly-yellowed glow to make your home — and any room in it — feel totally welcoming and warm," writes Home52 contributor, Alyssa Longobucco, "And in no place is it more difficult to achieve that vibe than in your kitchen, where harsh top lighting or single pendants over the island reign supreme." The answer, of course, is to place a petite table lamp on your counter, adding both ambience and convenient task lighting. Just be sure to place it away from the stove where it risks being splattered.

13. Choose Statement-Making Appliances

This one is a bit controversial, since there are firm camps on either side of the aesthetics vs. function debate when it comes to kitchen gear and appliances. But we say: Why pick one? There are so many brands that make subtle-hued and luxuriously-finished appliances, like this retro-styled Smeg espresso machine, this copper-toned electric kettle, and this sleek, minimal coffee grinder.

There's no need to buy them all at once, either. In fact, we'd recommend purchasing your most sought-after pieces over time, since your taste and color preferences will continue to evolve, and variances in colors will add to a collected feel.

14. Keep Seasonal Florals And Greens Stocked

Just like your dining table or bedside stand, kitchen counters (and your kitchen in general) can be brought to life with some seasonal florals and greens. Fall and winter branches are ridiculously easy to maintain, but spring tulips and summer daisies will keep the space feeling fresh.

By Caroline Mullen

MORE FROM Caroline Mullen

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