There are so many ways to use open shelving in a space. It may be as simple as the way you decorate built-ins, an object niche, bookshelves or sideboards. You may choose to take the doors off of kitchen cabinetry for a clean, updated look. Whatever type of shelving you’re using, you need to have a design concept in mind so it doesn’t end up looking cluttered, messy and unfinished.
Below, you’ll find some helpful ways to conceptualize the design of your shelving. Take a cue from the rest of the décor — from the home’s architecture or from the way you use the space — to decide which one is right for you.
Whether you are decorating bookshelves or built-ins, or bringing order to open shelving in a kitchen or dining room, consider going with blocks of color.
Go for a rainbow or gradient, or choose two or three dominant colors and color-block like-colored books and objects together. Invest in vintage books in your chosen color scheme or cover existing books in colored cloth or paper.
Alternatively, go completely monochromatic in shades of white, black or your favorite color. This can work especially well in a kitchen or dining room, where displaying all of the dishes and serving pieces in just one color can bring cohesiveness to even the most jumbled collection of crockery.
If you’re decorating built-ins, a minimalist style can work especially well. Choose one object for each niche or shelf, or space out objects at precise, regular intervals, allowing each one to stand on its own.
You may want to add lighting to create additional drama, especially if you are highlighting art pieces like pottery or sculptures.
This is harder to pull off, but it can be especially beautiful, even in a small space. Decorate floor-to-ceiling bookshelves with a jam-packed array of books, artwork and decorative objects for an explosion of color, shape and size.
Differentiate between maximalist and messy by curating only those objects you love and contrasting your fun-filled shelving with a more neutral, peaceful background in the rest of the room.
One way to bring order to shelving is to use it as a place to show off a well-developed collection of like elements. These could be the same item — like French country roosters or primitive pottery — or the same material, like a variety of objects made of silver or marble.
While a collection can look compulsive or repetitive when placed throughout your space, it looks more intentional when you gather everything together and display it on its own shelf or shelves.
Of course, open shelving isn’t just about aesthetics. It’s also about utility in many cases. Create kitchen shelving with labels and matching containers to bring order to an open pantry. Group like items together in a dining room — serving bowls, trays, linens and pitchers — to make entertaining easy.
Use open shelving to organize everything from clothing to kids’ toys in a child’s bedroom or playroom, so that what they need is conveniently within reach and easy to put away later.
For open shelving in the kitchen, consider a gourmet professional look with stainless steel and commercial trays, bakeware and utensils.
Mix with pots and pans in copper, stainless steel, white, black or gray for an upscale and sophisticated look that makes even casual cooks look like experts.
Antoinette Fargo is the co-founder and creative director of DOORA Collective + DOORA Design in Ventura, California.