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Houzz - Let's Talk About Shelving ... In the Living Room

There is a lot that can be said for shelving done right – this is why we’ve decided to bring you a series on shelving ideas. Over the next few months we’ll be taking you around the house room by room, showing you how shelves can be used not only for functionality and storage, but as aesthetic devices, for art displays and creating feature walls. A dead space can be energised with a simple floating shelving display, or if budget permits you can install some proper cabinetry with shelf space for much-loved objects and ornaments. 

Shelving has its own language, and if you learn how to speak it, there’ll be a fluency and ease to all your interior spaces. To get it right, follow these simple measurements and styling tips, and take inspiration from the ideas below.

1. Stage the fireplace
When you have a symmetrical room, embracing that symmetry helps to create a harmonious layout and to balance the space. Whether in a formal or more informal living room, having floor-to-ceiling encased shelving on either side of a fireplace will not only frame the feature, but will also create a feeling of harmony. It’s an elegant way to add some display storage, and it will feel like the height of the room has increased.

Designer tip: Allow at least 35 centimeters between shelves for styling purposes. Shelves that have less than this in clearance won’t fit larger ornaments or books, and will make the room feel cluttered.

Fabulous shelving solutions to frame your fireplace

2. Diamond display
Criss-cross or diamond shelves are a favorite with designers and architects. There’s something about spinning the axis by 45 degrees that defies the laws of gravity and gives us a challenge to work with. Styling your bookshelf all of a sudden becomes exciting – you know you have to be creative when nothing sits at a right angle. 

In this spacious living room, the eye is drawn to the beautiful outdoor vista as well as to the end-of-room wall display that commands attention.

Designer tip: Make your openings about 32-35 centimeters to a side and 25-28 centimeters deep – this will allow you to fit larger books and give you approximately 45 centimeters diagonally. Leave a few diamonds empty since this can be a visually intense display.

3. Floating wonders
If you have an empty wall that’s in a transitional space or passageway, consider mounting some floating wall fixtures. It will give you some elevated storage to help you keep things off the floor. These cool metal wall boxes inject a pop of colour to this industrial loft as well.

Designer tip: Repetition is key in this case so install at least three wall units and keep the same distance between them. Varying their starting points rather than aligning them all to the left can add interest.

4. Curate your art
When it comes to art, you don’t have to stick to hanging or mounting it to create a gallery wall. Corral and curate like-themed artworks or photographs and proudly show them off on shelves. Here, designer Turner Pocock has continued the monochromatic palette of the room in the art display that takes centre stage as you walk in.

Designer tip: A successful vignette or display will always group things of different heights. Create some high points with some larger pieces on the top shelf and keep the smaller ones for the bottom shelf while playing with portrait versus landscape orientations.

5. Room divider
Display cabinets don’t need to hug a wall – they can just as easily be freestanding room dividers. These not only serve to divide a large room into multi-purpose areas, but by being open they let light stream through from both sides. The floor-to-ceiling open shelving in this room has been left uncluttered and mostly open, which keeps the space bright and airy.

Forget open-plan – try ‘broken plan’

6. Shelves with a view
For a fireplace wall that’s flanked by windows, go with the unexpected and place some floating shelves in front of the glazing, as Martha O’Hara Interiors did in this living room. Instead of having window treatments or curtains that reduce the natural light in the room, the designer utilised the windows as the backdrop to display shelves.

Designer tip: To maximise the light that comes in, keep the shelves wide apart and fairly minimal. Choose objects that are small and slight or transparent.

7. Snake around
Here is a perfect example that shelving doesn’t have to be predictable or boring. This snaking metal bookshelf is a whimsical addition to this fairly minimalist interior. It adds movement and flair to the room, and acts as a sculptural piece of wall art. Shelves can sometimes be clunky and obtrusive, so this provides some good inspiration for those wanting to store books in a more visually interesting manner.

Designer tip: For greater visual impact, try colour coding your book spines and practise some colour blocking.

8. Hide-away safe
For those looking for tidy storage solutions that keep everything out of sight, this one is for you. This secret mantel-door, designed by Chris Dyson Architects, is sneaky and efficient. Items inside are cleverly concealed but easily accessible. All clutter is neatly tucked away, keeping this beautiful English living room orderly and serene.

Designer tip: Before installing hide-away shelves such as these, be aware that the depth of your cabinet can only be as wide as the fireplace wall cavity.

9. Wall expanse
Living rooms often have a dominant or prime-position wall. This is the wall that partners often want to put the TV on, while we try to reason with them why they shouldn’t. You might be able to compromise and settle on having the TV there by disguising it as part of an entire wall of shelving, with lots of display potential. Think of all the styling possibilities to draw attention away from the black box, being sure to play with scale, height, colour and proportion. 

Designer tip: When you have a large area of shelving to work with, you’ll be tempted to put something in every square centimetre. Resist temptation and leave enough negative space so that your eye can take in all the other beautiful things on show.

10. Make it part of the architecture
In this classic living room, cues have been taken from the architectural mouldings and are echoed into the low built-in bookshelves either side. These hold up the colonnades and act as an open divider between the two rooms.

Built-in furniture is quietly unobtrusive and allows you to continue an already defined design style throughout. Built-in shelves such as these ones enable elegant storage and easy access to books or magazines when sitting down with a cup of tea in your favourite chair.

Designer tip: To make this type of shelving look as though it was built at the same time as the original house, follow the architectural detail and mouldings in the fireplace mantel, skirting boards and architraves.

Browse more traditional living rooms

11. Suspended heirlooms
Let’s face it, anything suspended from the ceiling, whether it be a sparkly chandelier, an oversized pendant or a child’s mobile will draw our eye upwards and grab our attention. So if you’re seeking to enliven an otherwise plain room, why not hang some shelves … from the ceiling?!

These quirky suspended heirlooms provide these homeowners with the chance to display their books, magazines, or knick-knacks in an unconventional manner, and they’re bound to be a talking point with guests and visitors.

12. Make it unconventional
Some houses are suited to the unusual and unconventional, just like some of us are more predisposed than others to be daring and bold. This shelving system could be at once a wheel of fortune or a chocolate spinning wheel. It’s fun, it’s quirky and it’s different. 

Perfectly positioned to frame the window and the tree outside in this Brazilian living room, it has been paired with a modern designer chandelier and a natural fibre hanging igloo. Bold colours accentuate this playful room and make it a laid-back but inviting space to chill.