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Each week, Mansion Global tackles a topic with an elite group of designers from around the world who work on luxury properties. This week, we look at how to create chic shelving.
Shelves may not be the first thing you think about while furnishing your space, but they can have an important role in rounding out the look and feel of a room. “Shelving presents an excellent opportunity for displaying objects, whether they be personal mementos or curiosities from global travels—especially when appropriate lighting is in place,” said Andrew Bowen, partner and head of staging for design firm ASH NYC.
“Additionally, they can lend a home an overall sense of personality, helping to tell a story about its inhabitants,” Mr. Bowen said. “A massive collection of books proves that an inquisitive mind is in residence; a menagerie of ancient vessels suggests that the dweller dabbles in antiquities.”
And there is an art to choosing the right iterations. For top-shelf tips, follow these ideas from the design pros.
More: Stepping Up Your Staircase
Find the Right Balance
“Simple wall-to-wall shelving that’s flush within the dimensions of a niche is a personal favorite, especially for contemporary spaces. It’s a fairly accessible way to provide a custom, finished feature. Separately, don’t be afraid of freestanding pieces, especially those that are vintage. It doesn’t always have to be built from scratch.
“It’s generally good practice to first consider the relationship of the shelving material with any others that are affixed to the home: flooring, cabinetry, millwork, and the like. If all of those existing elements are the same shade of white oak, for example, and you’re dealing with a newly constructed penthouse, you may want to steer clear of mahogany for the shelving. Cohesion and consistency are often—but not always—ideal. On the other hand, courageously embarking with an otherwise unrepresented material can be exciting and energize the space. As with many things, it may be wise to either maintain consistency or go in a completely new direction; it’s the awkward in-between that is usually less-than-stellar in the end.
“For shape, you may want to echo some of the other features in any given room. For instance, in a properly decorated Rococo villa, consider a similarly styled freestanding bookcase with curves and gilding, rather than a teak Mid-Century modular system that is affixed to a wall.”
— Andrew Bowen, partner and head of staging for ASH NYC
More: Bright Ideas for Outdoor Lighting
Think Beyond the Expected
“Show off the places you have been with collected objects, framed photos of your friends and family, or a collection of literary masterpieces. Remember, bindings are important, so in this case, it is okay to judge a book by its cover. I like to arrange by the color of the spine and heights of the books to make the arrangements look intentional, but not too perfect.
“Built-in bookshelves are an obvious choice because you can control the cost and create exactly what you want and need from the material to the millwork’s details. Paint-grade wood is often the least expensive option, with standard 1-inch thickness and simple flat edges. You can go extra glam with more costly oak or even silky walnut in 1 ¾-inch thickness with some molding and edge details. But consider an etagere as well. Etageres look layered, collected and like a found bookshelf, instead of just a built-in. They offer more flexibility, as they can be moved or even eliminated as tastes or needs change. They come in a wide variety of materials, sizes, and shapes. I love brass with bronze glass—super chic and sophisticated.”
“I recently designed a home with a rustic brick fireplace and no obvious place to add etageres. So, I designed built-in bookcases to match the uneven size and shape of the fireplace. It was cost-effective as paint-grade solid wood, provided ample storage for my client’s book collection and created a vertical focal point within the room.
“Consider a freestanding bookshelf in a beautiful metal like polished brass, hand-rubbed bronze or painted in a lacquered high gloss. The sky is the limit in terms of options. I also love matte plaster or Parsons-style ones wrapped in grasscloth. A fun trick is to use leftover wallpaper and apply it to the back of a built-in bookcase. There are so many possibilities. Forget the obvious choice: wood.
— Isabel Ladd of Isabel Ladd Interiors in Lexington, Kentucky
Consider Form—and Function
“Shelving helps make a house feel like a home. The options are endless when it comes to shelving styles. We design shelving to feel like it makes sense with the design of the home, so it doesn’t feel like an afterthought. We also love using shelving with unusual materials, like faux shagreen shelves with brass detailing.
“Bookshelves that are too short are a pet peeve of ours. Make sure they are tall enough that you can’t see over the top.
“Many people see shelves as something that’s just functional. But just like any other piece of furniture in your home, make sure it’s something you love. Go for something unexpected like shelves on top of a bathtub deck. If you have the space, these are a great way to artfully display rolled towels, bath salts and chic baskets to hide any clutter.”
— Melissa Warner Rothblum, co-owner and principal designer, Massucco Warner in Los Angeles and Seattle
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