Bookcases and storage shelves can be the perfect backdrop to many areas in your home. Although shelves often contain books, others simply store or display favourite keepsakes. A good “design eye” enables you to arrange all of your items and create a pleasing view. But let those shelves get overcrowded, and you end up creating the look of a going-out-of-business knick-knack shop. These design ideas and styling tricks will help prevent your favourite things from looking like they’re on salvage-shop shelves. Instead, they’ll shine brightly in the spotlight, just as they were meant to when you collected them.
Style and height
When choosing shelving or bookcases, consider that they’ll be the backdrop for the items they’ll hold. With that in mind, choose a colour or finish that matches an existing element in the room. This will integrate the shelving into the decor and give it longevity. Consider matching the wood from the floors, or the colour of the trim or walls in order to ensure the new shelves blend in. Alternately, match shelves to your furniture, keeping in mind that when your wood furniture goes out of style (remember golden oak?), so will the shelves.
Also consider the height of your shelves. In small spaces, I like shelves lower than 48 inches high. Low and long, they offer display and storage space without overwhelming a room. The top of the shelf can be adorned with a fashionable piece of stone and used as a narrow display surface for vases, books, or to lean artwork.
When integrating tall shelves into a room, treat them like a focal wall. Balance and scale of items are of utmost importance and the simplest rule to follow is largest items on bottom shelves and smallest items on top shelves. Or, if displaying a collection, put your largest collectible in the centre and build out gradually, with smaller and smaller items towards the edges.
Most often, we use shelves to display books and keepsakes, and to store items. But it can be helpful to decide the primary purpose of a particular shelving unit and match that purpose to the setting. For instance, if shelves are primarily for books, decide which books go on which shelving unit. Leather-bound or vintage books suit a wood-panelled library, but your three-year-old’s favourite nursery rhymes would be better on shelves in a family room or children’s room. Similarly, shelves that display particular keepsakes should be located appropriately, such as silverware in the dining room and trophies in a den or office. If used for storage, consider using decorative boxes along the bottom shelves to hide things that could create visual clutter.
A basic 12-inch-deep bookcase or shelving unit can serve multiple purposes and be integrated into almost any room in the house. In a dining room, a slim wall of cabinetry can replace a bulky china cabinet to display useful and decorative items. In a bedroom, a wall of slim shelving behind the bed can act as decorative display space, as well as hold reading material and an alarm clock. In a mud room, shelves outfitted with storage boxes can hold scarves, hats, dog leashes and other small everyday items. You can even outfit a doorway with a hinged bookshelf to create a hidden-room effect.
Tips to improve your shelving habits
— If your shelves look overcrowded, divide the good from the bad. The good stuff gets displayed, the bad stuff gets stored out of sight (or thrown away). If you really need access to the “bad” stuff, hide it in decorative storage bins. Edit out 30 per cent of what’s on the shelves so the good stuff can breathe.
— Hire a stylist. A stylist (or even a friend) will give you new perspective on the overall look. Just imagine: a stylist arrives, you leave, three hours later you come back to your own little TV makeover show — make sure to capture the big reveal on camera!
— Invest in one or two decorative anchor pieces to redefine the look of your shelves. For instance, if you have a large vintage silver collection, add a few large-scale modern silver pieces to make the collection current.
Do you have a decor dilemma or want to give feedback? You can contact Karl Lohnes on Facebook or Instagram at Karl Lohnes Designer, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Karl has worked as a home decor expert and product designer for 25 years. He appears Thursdays during the 8 a.m. hour on Global News Morning Montreal.