STYLING YOUR SHELVES 101
Updated: Jul 29, 2019
How to decorate your built-ins, boiled down to a science.
Easy as 1.2.3.(4.5.)
Older homes are a dying breed. They just don't build them like they used to. At some point, the built-in was eliminated, a cost saving measure. Ornate molding was replaced with contractor grade. Even fireplaces are a thing of the past. *sniff sniff*
When we were first house hunting, we didn't have very high standards. Basically, just something that wasn't horrendously ugly and was in our price range (which completely ruled out new builds anyway). We ended up falling in love with a little 50s house--built like a tank, 2 massive fireplaces, wainscoting, all the molding you could ever wish for, with original built-ins as a cherry on top. We saw so much potential underneath layers of bad paint choices, heavily lacquered molding, and the harsh glow of awful, blue LED lights.
One of my first tasks as a designer (after repainting everything), was to decorate the built-in we fell in love with. Visible from the entryway, I wanted this built-in to make a statement, but also not detract from the beautiful fireplace, located on the opposing wall. Sophisticated. Understated. Put together. That's what I was looking for. So, I went to my honey hole, gathered my supplies, and set off blindly--trying to channel my inner designer.
After fumbling through the process, I decided to assemble a list of tips and boil down my design to a science--easy as 1.2.3. (4.5.)
Choose a color palette and stick to it! That light, airy, easy breezy feel can be achieved by maintaining the same color palette throughout the space. Or maybe you're going for a more rustic, mountain vibe. Whatever style you're trying to convey, color plays a huge part and really brings cohesiveness to the design.
In my space, I chose to use many shades of white, grays, rust tones, and, of course, greenery. Pieces that incorporate multiple colors (within your palette) are my personal favorites--the white and gray throw, the greenery that also has white blooms, the pillow with many shades of white. These are the pieces that draw in the palette's colors flawlessly, linking them without even trying.
If you scan across each shelf, you'll notice that the height remains pretty consistent. I wanted this built-in to look balanced and calming, and the shelves are relatively small, so I didn't have tons of room for dramatic height changes anyway. You can see that the throw is fluffed to achieve a similar height to the chest. The books prop up the potted plant to match the height of the corbel. Multiple pots are used to mimic the height of the pillows. Everything is coexisting peacefully and nothing is overpowering another. And really, you don't want your design fighting itself.
I made use of many different shapes to create a kind of eclectic style. There's the more rigid shapes of the books, pottery, toolbox juxtaposed against the more organic shapes created by the throw, greenery, and even the pillows. I like to think of the rigid shapes as my anchors. I usually place those first. The next step is incorporating the organic shapes to soften the design. They create a kind of movement and texture and prevent it from feeling stark and cold. You can also create texture by placement and patterns of the rigid shapes. The chips and cracks on the pottery and the irregularly stacked books also create warmth and visual interest.
Whether we're talking about color, shapes, height, or texture, distribution is key. Notice how all the rust-colored items are on different shelves, and the pottery is placed on the left while the books are on the right. Also, you can see how the throw on the top shelf drapes to the right while the greenery in the tool box overflows to the left. This creates a balance, even between organic shapes. Sometimes creating balance in design is difficult, because you're working with odd shapes and textures. Always take a step back and try to find any obvious holes in the distribution of colors, heights, textures.
Food always tastes better when you're not the one to make it. Design is the same way. Chances are, because you designed and styled your space, you're second guessing yourself and wondering if you should rearrange things. If there's a hole somewhere. If it actually looks good.
Ready? B R E A T H E.
Once you've designed your space, just leave it be. Take a step back. Take a break. Let your mind focus on something else and revisit it later. More than likely, your design is a winner. Remember, there's no right or wrong way. Design is self expression, and you get to paint your own canvas.