With the advent of the open floor plan, we’ve taken our kitchens out of the closet and put them on display. They're the hearth of the home and where most guests end up at the end of a party. Pretty mixers adorn our countertops, but beyond that, people often struggle with how to decorate their kitchen counters.
With the farmhouse kitchen so en vogue, well worn cutting boards are the perfect adornment, as well as having a utilitarian purpose. But even the most modern space will look good with some delightful round shapes gracing its counters.
Our kitchens are now designed to be extensions of our dining and family rooms, and often the families eat at the island or kitchen counters for a quick snack. If you’re like my family, all the meals happen in your kitchen.
As a designer who loves making a kitchen a show stopper as well as ergonomic for the end user, I like to use functional everyday kitchen tools to decorate. This puts those poppy colored bowls at your fingertips as well as eye candy for you and your visitors.
I love to gift my clients, as well as friends, a cutting board for their housewarmings. There are so many stunning wood species being used, and some really remarkable designs.
Everyone can use a cutting board even if they aren't a big cook, and it's a great way to support local artisans as well as upcycling a board that's been loved by someone else.
Here are a few designer tips on how to integrate cutting boards into your kitchen or dining room decor. That’s right, we can even add these beauties to our dining rooms.
Mix and Match Materials and Shapes
By now, you’ve guessed I’m not using plastic cutting boards for display. I certainly love my plastic and bamboo for their lightweight ease, but don’t want them out at all times. I do want that cheese board that you inherited from your aunt out! It has history and tells a story.
Maple, teak, walnut, and bamboo are some of the best woods for cutting boards. And let's not forget marble boards. With all that variety out there, it's easy to acquire a diverse collection for your display. PRO-TIP: Grouping like-things together in your home makes a stronger statement.
Look for hard woods when buying cutting boards, as these will last a lifetime and give you that gorgeous patina as they age. Don’t be afraid of the patina. It’s a well worn sign of love on a much used piece.
Not only can you mix woods, but a variety of shapes will give the collection a stronger and more cohesive look. A live edge board or natural edge is a piece of wood that shows the untouched edge and retains the natural beauty of the tree your board came from. This will look great next to a perfect square.
If you're pressed for countertop space, one of my favorite options is a wall display of those pretty boards. It’s definitely helpful to use boards that have handles or holes to hang them. Look for unexpected hooks or nails to add interest to your wall. I love this hammered nail from Amazon for a rustic inspiration.
A collection of brass hooks that needs a home can finally be used to create your cutting board wall. These hooks or nails are a fun thing to be on the lookout for at flea markets or garage sales. While the hooks or nails can all be different, try to keep them the same metal finish for a more cohesive look.
Remember, those boards are going to be very different, and they should be the star of the show.
What would Julia Child be without that peg board holding and displaying all her copper pots? Probably still the legend she is today, but I bet that the organizing system of her precious pots made life in her kitchen much easier, and it certainly made that kitchen cozier. A peg board painted in a fun color is the perfect backdrop for any collection.
If you don’t feel like you have enough cutting boards to fill your space, you can mix in a few smaller pieces of art. I love small oil paintings, especially still lifes of food or a landscape.
If you have large or heavy pieces, make sure you find a stud to get that hook in to support the weight. Treat the wall like a gallery art wall and plan the space with templates of your boards. Tape them up and stand back to assess and start hammering.
Countertop Displays: Large and Small
Two or more similar items are considered a display. If you only own two boards that you’re proud to show off, then start there. You can also add a wooden bowl or a favorite ceramic vase holding wooden utensils to round out the look.
Find a place on your counters that looks a bit bare and could use some love. Start to layer your cutting boards. Layering means you can lean one shape on top of the other. Some can go upright, while others can be set on the side.
If you don't feel like your boards are stable, you can always use display stands to keep them in place. They come in all sizes, so you can accommodate those thicker pieces.
PRO-TIP: If you’re starting fresh with new counters, ask the stone fabricator if they can put a grove at the back of the counter material that can be used to prop up your displays—either dishes or cutting boards!
Open shelving is a hot trend in kitchens now. As a designer, I love them, but I really want to make sure my clients have the right personality to keep those shelves looking good. If you find organizing isn’t your best quality, you may want to opt for closed cabinets. Open shelving is not the place for cereal boxes and canned foods.
If you have open shelves with a clean display of matching plates and cups, consider layering a few cutting boards along the back or even adding hooks under the shelves to hang the boards from.
I like to tell my clients that an open shelving design is a great way to change the look of the kitchen. Change out the dishes seasonally. If you’ve inherited your mother's set that she painstakingly collected, put it out during the holiday season. Even better if you plan on hosting the owner who bequeathed them to you.
Glass Cabinet Displays
People are often at a loss as to what to put in those glass cabinets other than white dishes or glassware. Choose a few shelves to layer a couple of cutting boards and use those as a backdrop for a nice bowl or your salt and pepper shaker collection. Even a stack of white plates will pop with a wood background.
Glass cabinets often come with moveable shelves to accommodate display items. They’re often lit from the inside to show off their contents. I love to light displays in cabinets, and your cutting board collection is no exception here.
Serve up on the Board
Using your boards for serving at the daily family meal makes the meal feel special. Why not use that board for the roasted chicken and root veggie meal you slaved over? Sure, a serving dish is also special but change it up and make that meal shine.
A cocktail party can utilize a collection of boards to show off your nibbles. They’ll look just as great grouped together on your table or island as they do on your wall. After all, they aren’t just art, they're also functional.
Instead of pre-slicing the bread and putting it in a basket, use a cutting board and put a slab of room temperature butter so your guests can slice as needed. This lends itself to family-style meals and makes the dining experience more interactive.
I often use a round board to hold all the little condiments for the meal. If you have a bowl of something pickled or herbs to put on that dish, a board makes it easier to pass around at the table.
I keep a small cutting block on my counter to hold my cooking oils, salt wells, and pepper mills. This keeps the pepper grounds and stray salt crystals off your counter.
Also, the obvious—PIZZA. Did I mention PIzza? Whether you’ve made a round or a square deep dish, pizza is the perfect food and should never be served on a metal pan or in a box, for that matter. Break out those boards and show off that pie. UMMM, pie. Keep the apple kind in the pie dish you baked it in.
Never Forget the Pantry
If you’re one of those lucky people with a pantry to store your food stuff, give the inside the love it deserves. Wallpaper it. Paint it a really poppy yellow that makes you smile. Install a small lighting pendant and definitely add some interest with a few of your favorite boards.
I often remind my clients that design details aren’t just for your guests to enjoy. A space that you interact with daily, like a pantry or closet, should also get a design detail that brings you joy every time you open that door. And if a guest does open that door, enjoy the gasp as they revel in your creativity!
If you’ve decided the display thing isn’t for you, you can keep them stored in your pantry. I like the wooden dowel storage system that keeps them upright and separate.
If you're familiar with my work, you'll know I’m a big fan of using art lights to create ambiance in any space. Art lights aren’t just for the living room. Even a small bathroom, hallway, or kitchen benefits from lighting up a piece of art.
If you have recessed lighting that you can angle, get a pin spot bulb and play with the best angle to illuminate the wall.
Treat your wall display as you would a gallery display and add some light to highlight your handy work. If you have a blank wall with a wall sconce, surround the sconce with your collection and enjoy.
If you have under-cabinet lights, this is perfect for the boards hanging out on your countertops.
It also keeps those fingers safe when you’re using that board to do the actual chopping!
Caring for Those Boards
No matter what display you decide on, caring for the boards is essential. Keep them oiled! This not only brings out their color and grain details, it extends the life of the wood and will keep the wood from cracking and becoming brittle.
Food grade mineral oils are readily available at your local box store and online. But in a pinch, you can also use kitchen cooking oil. Don’t use that fancy olive oil that you use to finish your salads.
When you wash the wood, it strips it of its oils, so you’ll want to condition them to keep them at their best. Make sure the board is good and dry before you start to oil it. Use a dye-free paper towel to apply the oil.
Because you are most likely using wood and that wood should be oiled, I don’t suggest keeping them on display behind a stove top or next to an oven. Obvious hazards with heat and wood, but also the heat will dry out the wood
Even though we see them in design magazines right behind that stove, let’s keep these babies in a cooler spot for longevity.
If you're gifting a board, throw in an oil so the recipient can keep that cutting board looking its best. This also clues them in that the board is worthy of regular maintenance and can keep the board healthy for generations to enjoy.
Photo credits: Anaïs Rodgers
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