How to Make or Break Open Shelving

Private Residence, Denver

Private Residence, Denver

Open shelves are a hot trend right now, and it’s not just limited to residential kitchens. Built ins and bookshelves are popping up in bathrooms, living rooms, libraries, offices, bars, restaurants, hotels, and elsewhere. When styled well they add personality and the a chic decorative touch, but when the display isn’t thoughtfully crafted, it can lead to a space feeling chaotic and disorganized. When styling open areas, the end goal is synchronicity and balance. It’s okay if you don’t know what that means for your space quite yet, ultimately you’ll feel it. I typically arrange and rearrange my displays 200x before landing on a layout I like… so be fearless with your experimentation!

Here are a few tips and examples to help guide you as you go…

1) If the shelves you’re starting with are empty, great. If they’re not, empty them and start fresh.

2) Begin by thinking about context - what is the purpose of this shelf (or shelving unit) within this space? Are there certain items you need close at hand because they’ll be frequently used? And if there were items on the shelf previously, which of them don’t you need?

3) Next, think about the look you’re going for - monochromatic or minimalist? More densely packed with fun things? Check out my open shelving pinterest page for additional inspo. Ask yourself how it will flow with the rest of the space.

4) Now survey your belongings - and use your imagination… sometimes the best pieces come from the most unexpected, forgotten places. Collect things of varying sizes, shapes, textures, patterns, heights and weights. Play with color contrasts and natural vs synthetic materials. Consider the purpose and look of each piece individually and how it will blend together as a whole.

Example: In a kitchen, consider pairing quality cookbooks, mixing bowls, cutting boards, cooking utensils and a vase or serving platters. In a bathroom, try Q-tips, cotton balls, bubble bath and scrubs, folded hand towels, perfume or cologne, room spray and/or a candle.

5) When deciding which items to showcase, go with prettier high quality items, and tuck your other necessities nearby for convenient access.

Example: Instead of displaying food storage containers or a blender, how about more elegant champagne flutes? And instead of your cable box, how about a combination of hardback books? And, what are you putting those Q-tips and cotton balls in? I love repurposing old candle jars and empty liquor bottles (for bath salts or flowers).

6) Placement… play with symmetrical AND asymmetrical styling as one may speak to you more than the other. Balance larger or heavier pieces with lighter, smaller ones. Stack books or magazines vertically or horizontally by size and/or color. Note: family photos can be loud - meaning, they add visual complexity, so less is more if you’re aiming for a tranquil look… And remember, the shelves themselves play a role in the design, so if the unit feels heavy, consider choosing lighter pieces to counterbalance the weight, and vice versa.

Trust your inner designer - you got this.

A few statement pieces I’m loving right now…

Until next time!