Bring your shelves to life

Carefully chosen in terms of design, location and display, shelves can also become a striking focal point in your home.

Storage and display are two sides of the same coin: the sensible, tidy side that longs for order, and the flamboyant, show-it-off side that loves everything out where it can be seen.

A close fit

You’ll be amazed at how much space around the home is suitable for shelving.

  • Create extra storage by installing shelves and cubbies beneath windows, in corners, above doorways and along hallways.
  • A room’s existing architecture frequently offers unexpected opportunities for imaginative storage and display. A simple alcove, too shallow to accommodate a seating arrangement, might make a perfect self-contained library or compact gallery displayed on floating ledges.
  • Narrow spaces between windows can be fitted with shelves to display your favourite ornaments.
  • An unused corner of the room can be profitably reclaimed for storage with the addition of a slender cabinet or a vertical series of floating shelves arranged from floor to ceiling.

Material matters

Wood is the most common material used in cabinetry but storage, shelves and niches can also be built in with bricks and lintels, or cast in with concrete as part of the structure.

  • Materials such as composite moulded resin, stainless steel and moulded plastics also have great effect.
  • Finishing wood is important and the more traditional oil-based finishes are most durable because they are flexible.
  • Another popular finish is spray-on cellulose paint applied with spray guns, such as in the motor industry; a clear layer gives a much more uniform and contemporary look.
  • Don’t feel restricted; opt for in situ cast concrete or built-in shelving. But remember that it should be well planned in advance, as it is a permanent fixture. Installing concrete in situ shelves that cantilever is a specialist job and you should also have suitable reinforcement built in. A structural engineer should specify the construction method and reinforcing detail.

Clever display

It’s not just a matter of putting down a few items on a shelf. You can be so much more creative.

  • Displaying items in multiples, or repeating basic shapes, creates more interest and elevates everyday objects to the status of artwork. A single-coloured glass bottle may not catch the eye, but a shelf full of them is bound to be admired.
  • Think about connecting pieces in a display with colour and material as well as provenance. All-white displays can contain an eclectic assortment of treasures and still look clean and unified.
  • If a calming effect is your goal, arrange objects symmetrically in bookcases or on opposite sides of a window or fireplace.
  • If you prefer the unexpected, try an asymmetrical arrangement: a pair of shelves or ledges on one side of a sofa and a single one on the other side.
  • Floor-to-ceiling bookcases are ideal for large collections, and they can also help define a seating area or mark the break between a room’s active and passive zones.


Organising books offers a chance to combine storage with décor at every level of the room.

  • Paint shelf interiors in a rich colour to draw attention to your collection and add depth and visual interest to the room.
  • Sorting books according to their hue can make a colourful impact. It’s an approach that offers a clean overall presentation and some interesting, and often unlikely, subject pairings.
  • You can mix and match shapes, too. Rocks and other organic objects from nature are a nice way to break up the geometric repetition of books on a shelf. Try topping horizontal stacks of books with a rock, a shell, or a fossil.
  • Make special books focal points by placing them face out so the jacket is on display, or fill an entire shelf with oversize books stacked flat.
  • By stacking books vertically as well as horizontally, you can reclaim space in shelving units with adjustable shelves.
  • Hardcover books should be loosely packed on shelves, with large books stored flat, to avoid overcrowding. Use bookends for even support to prevent covers from warping. Keep all books away from humidity, and leave dust jackets on to protect the inside covers.


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