SHELF HELP: Stylizing Your Shelves

Shelf Help Cover GraphicWe have to admit, one of our pet peeves as commercial interior designers is working with a client to incorporate beautiful custom millwork or casework shelving into their project, only to visit the site months later to find that the shelves are empty. This is a missed opportunity to create a positive first impression, add visual interest, reinforce your brand, and ultimately define the personality of your space.

This type of accessorizing, to add the finishing touches and pull everything together, is a service RLPS Interiors offers, but sometimes clients opt to handle this in-house. We understand that it can be difficult to know where to start, so we’ve pulled together a few guidelines that apply to both commercial and residential spaces.

Be Deliberate In Your Approach: Avoid a haphazard arrangement of found items. There are a lot of options for creating an intentional statement that complements the overall design style in the space. To create a unified look, group objects by color, theme, shape or type. A simple approach with high impact is sticking to a monochromatic color scheme. This highly disciplined method can be challenging if you intend to utilize objects you already have or wish to have a “working” bookshelf, so a mixed palette that emphasizes accent colors in the room can also be effective. For many of our retirement community clients, we have found on-site thrift shops to be a great resource for economically obtaining books that coincide with a selected color scheme or theme.

The bookshelves in the clubroom at Falcons Landing in Potomac Falls, VA feature carefully selected items reflecting the overall color scheme.

The bookshelves in the clubroom at Falcons Landing in Potomac Falls, VA feature carefully selected items reflecting the overall color scheme.

Cut Down on Clutter: Equally important to choosing a cohesive group of items is maintaining some empty space so the shelves do not end up looking cluttered. As a starting point, focus on larger, bolder accessories, such as tall vases, art pieces or substantial pottery. Use matching baskets or other attractive containers to keep small objects together and out of sight. For areas where a television or other technology is part of the mix, we’ve found boxes made to look like antique books from the outside that can be used to store remotes and other collateral clutter. Alternatively, if there are smaller items you wish to display, enhance their visual presence by collecting them in an attractive container such as a bowl of seashells or a glass jar filled with antique marbles. While layering accessories works well for traditional settings, a streamlined approach is more appropriate for contemporary spaces. Consider a single statement piece of artwork or sculpture on at least some of the shelves.

Illuminating the shelves was a priority to highlight the canning jars in The Harvest Table café. The result is visual interest and vibrant color while reinforcing the focus on locally-sourced, made to order selections. Garden Spot Village; New Holland, PA

Illuminating the shelves was a priority to highlight the canning jars in The Harvest Table café. The result is visual interest and vibrant color while reinforcing the focus on locally-sourced, healthy selections. Garden Spot Village; New Holland, PA

Go Beyond Books: In some commercial applications, books may not be used at all. However, books related to your industry and/or of potential interest to your clients are often appropriate to include, but also mix in other items to add personality. A horizontal stack of books provides a pedestal for smaller objects. Consider removing the dust jackets on hardcover books to create an appealing “face” for your bookshelf.

Add Visual Interest: In most cases, the goal is to create a noteworthy design feature, so consider items of varying heights and layering some items to add depth to your shelves. Decorative plates or artwork pieces can achieve both functions when placed at the back of the shelf with a couple of carefully chosen smaller objects placed in front of them. Avoid a straight line of books extending across the entire width of the shelves. Changing the orientation of books, stacking some horizontally, is another way to create visual interest. Rather than symmetrical arrangements, focus on achieving balance by varying the placement and number of articles on each shelf. Odd numbers of items, placed in off center positions, are more eye-catching than pairs of evenly spaced articles. Applying paint or wallcovering to the back or painting the entire shelf a bold color that contrasts with surrounding finishes draws the eye and makes a strong statement.

The vibrant pink on the back of the shelves draws attention to carefully selected nostalgic items in a memory care residence at The Osborn in Rye, NY.

The vibrant pink on the back of the shelves draws attention to carefully selected nostalgic items in a memory care residence at The Osborn in Rye, NY.

Shelving can provide much needed storage, define a setting or even serve as a division between spaces, however, this functionality should not be at the expense of aesthetic appeal. When appropriately accessorized, shelving adds visual interest and makes spaces that much more inviting.

Vicki Moyer has 8 years of experience as a commercial interior designer who strives to focus on timeless style rather than the latest trends which can quickly date a space. Her advice: “Classic colors that complement the rest of the design are the way to go. And if it’s a really colorful space, keeping the accessories primarily neutral and metallic is a good option.”

Some additional resources that may be of interest:

For more great ideas for successfully styling shelves, visit the Art & Accessories board on our Pinterest page.

This Houzz feature article, provides suggestions to De-clutter Your Bookshelves.

Take a look at the photos from the Dot & Bo blog featuring The Thompson Chicago illustrating an innovative use of shelves to give the lobby a distinctive personality.

RLPS Interiors Blog Editor – Jodi Kreider, LEED AP