Shelving Style

After I defeated the beast that was the box room, I was feeling energized. I turned toward the shelves off the living room. Even from day 1, I was never happy with how it looked. Sadly for me, the styling faires never arrived to do the work for me.

So I got to work pulling everything out so I could ruthlessly edit out the uglies and arrange what went back. A little animation for your viewing enjoyment:
Did you watch a it a couple of times? Ok, now we can discuss.

Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Yep, it looks pretty much the same. Meh. Double meh for spending my morning on something fruitless.

So I need some help. What do I do to give it some oomph? Any professional merchandisers out there? I'm pretty pleased with how the vignettes look close up.
Bookshelf Cameras 2Bookshelf Tiny Busts
BookshelfWeddingShelfBookshelf Underwood Typewriter

But when I step back, Im just not at all happy. Suggestions?


  1. I would eliminate the books altogether. I know some people love displaying their books, but I think it makes the shelf look cluttered and distracts from the other beautiful things you have displayed. Just not a fan of displaying books (other than maybe just one on a coffee table).

  2. I think part of your challenge is the wallpaper on one side. It makes the balance really hard to acheive. Is there any way to add that to the glass cabinet area as well? I think breaking up some of the collections and scattering them around would make more of an impact. Mix the milk glass in throughout and even the cameras. They will still show as a collection being all together on the shelves but will actually be more interesting to the eye moved around. Maybe even try something funky like turning the books around backwards so you see the pages instead of the bindings...

    I am the same way it takes a couple of times with me "playing" with it to get it right. Good luck and have fun!!

  3. I think your shelves look great! The only thing I see that maybe the background paper (although I LOVE it!) might be competing with your tchotchkes. I am totally NOT a professional merchandiser, though! Love your blog!

  4. Honestly this is a beautiful cabinet- and you have a lot of wonderful items! But, If you were hoping for this to be more of a fancy display cabinet I would keep to the wall paper you have lining the back of the shelf- which looks like black and white damask? Stick with the monotone of the paper and try to organize your shelves accordingly. I would take out some of the colored items I had – the red books, the goldish picture frame. Let the beauty of your collections shine through by emphasizing them with out the clutter of distracting colors. Heres some better ideas to show you what I mean… hope this helps. –From one organizer to another- V

  5. Christie11:46 AM

    Hi, I love your style; Your style is the closest to my own that I've seen online, which is a clean take on European elegance with some modern chic thrown in. Though your space is much neater than mine:-) I do some print styling work, though photographs are a different animal than real life, so take my input with a grain of salt!

    I think the collection items are too small for the bg paper shelves, which makes it look more cluttered than collected. I would edit the smaller collections and leave more empty space to showcase the bg paper.

    I would TRY (not saying it will work!) putting the books in the center, maybe with some of the smaller photographs if it works, and put larger showcase items like the old typewriter in front of the bg paper, maybe even centered and by itself. I feel like empty space gives impact and breathing room. Another shelf for the old cameras and MAYBE one old black and white print behind them, they would be sort of scattered on the shelf, not in a row or anything. Then the large white piece, with maybe two other white pieces on the next bg paper shelf, etc.

    Basically, I think you need to find a way to use the BG paper to effect. I love it, and I know it will be gorgeous when you're done. Good luck!

  6. My only experience comes from putting together displays at Banana Rep in grad school. Which means I can replicate a picture I'm given. That means you can completely ignore that I'm going to write.

    What if you removed one of the shelves from the middle section? Maybe there's just too much in there and it's distracting?

    I agree that the vignettes look wonderful...but maybe there are just too many of them?

  7. Christie11:52 AM

    PS I should have commented on the glass door side as well. I think your challenge is that these items are all beautiful on their own, but get lost in a group. Behind glass doors, it's hard to get the impact of some of the items. I love the way the white pieces look on that side. I would NOT put paper on that side, as it would compete with the glass door design. I like the mixture you have going on of old and new elegance.

    Is an area where people pass by, like a Butler's Pantry? If so, the groupings need to work from a quick glance standpoint, and not a sit around and and take it all in standpoint - hence the smaller items getting lost.

  8. First, let me say that the shelves are absolutely beautiful. What is slightly off for me is that the right side is heavier because of the doors. So you have more wood on the right, than on the left.

    The one thing I think you could do (which is loved by some, hated by others) is to hang a picture fram between the shelves on the left.
    You could paint the frame the same colour as your shelves, and add a pop of colour in the artwork.

    An example of this was recently shown in Canadian House + Home magazine and I scanned it in for you...

  9. I'm on the way to a dentist appt and will take another look later. But, I love your shelving. Wish I had something like it.
    First, try taking out the small items. Seems like there are a lot of them throughout. Larger books only. No paperback size (or at least minimize them). You need a unifying color that can be placed throughout. Like in pottery or a color that is within the room. think about how you want your eye to move when looking at the shelf. Less is always more.

  10. There are so many great suggestions above from people who sound like they have a clue. I really don't. But my gut reaction was: too many small items. Beautiful shelves no matter what:)

  11. A decorator once told me 2 simple things that have helped me. Like things together create more drama, and less is more. You have several wonderful suggestions above! Please show us what you end up doing!! Love your home.

  12. Ok, I am really curious how people on blogs do that animation thing. Can you tell me how?

  13. Have you thought about covering your books with brown or white paper for a more cohesive effect? You could write the name and author on the binding for reference.

  14. I would definitely start by trying to find a place for the typwriter on a higher shelf - I really love it, it's large, and pretty, and deserves a spot where it will be more noticed.

    I also really like the look you have with the second shelf on the left with the books all aligned on the left, then that gold clock. I'm thinking next to those items that white vase/bowl (I'm sorry I don't know the right word for it) would look great - and for special occasions filled with flowers.

    I really love the vignette with your wedding photos, I think it looks beautiful - especially in the close up.

    What I think is a cake stand? On the top shelf in the middle column, I think would look great on one of the shelves lined with wallpaper since it is so simple.

    Finally, I agree with some of the other comments to maybe get rid of some of the smaller items (lots of little frames) and see if you can find some larger more substantial items to use less of. Lots of large white pieces or pieces of one color would probably look great behind the glass shelves. Or lots of taller glasses (just to fill the height of the shelves)

    Either way I absolutely love these shelves and I know it will look great once you've got it to your liking.

    And completely unrelated to this post - I just noticed today that you have left two comments on my blog - I want to let you know I really appreciate it - Its great to know someone actually reads it. I was pathetically excited. Thanks again!

  15. Anonymous1:00 PM

    I think it looks great! I do have a question for you, though. Did you adhere the wallpaper with a regular wallpapering medium. Or did you use something else that would allow you to change it in the future if you wanted. Not that I don't love the wallpaper that you used! I absolutely do! But I want to achieve the same look in my bookshelves in my LR, but I am a commitment phobe when it comes to wallpaper and I want the opportunity to change it w/o the tediousness of stripping wallpaper. Do you have any solutions?

  16. Okay Here is what I think and it may not be perfect but it should help... I would try wrapping the books- white butcher paper might be good- just something clean and simple and you can write on the spines to id them this will unify them and make them less distracting. You also may need to eliminate some of the smaller items. Second I would place all of your largest items first- similar to the 12:44 picture giving yourself a base to start with then add the smaller pieces to fill in the gaps. You can use the books to add height and interest for the smaller pieces by placing small items on top of them. I would keep the typewriter to the left as it is a heavy grounding piece. The other thing that my eye is drawn to is the blue box in the glass cabinet- can that fit on the bottom of the shelves? Can it be changed in any way? - Display shelving is one of the hardest things that I do. You have to take your time for sure and keep looking and moving pieces until it is just right and then when you buy something new that can set it all off again! Best of luck!


  17. They're lovely shelves but what's throwing it off a bit for me is that there is more color on the left than on the right because of the glasses behind the glass doors. So from a distance the left side of that section of the cabinet looks like there's nothing in it.

  18. Anonymous1:17 PM

    Love you black and white pieces....not loving the smaller nic-naks....looks cluttered.I think you should use some black boxes and some white layering them together. Your books need to be laying down so we can see the spine on some. If they don't have any weight to them...out they go! Good luck...I know you will make it work! Shelves are the worst to style, but you have some good stuff.

  19. I think you have too many collections. You'v got the busts and the portrait, the vintage machines (I'm lumping together the typewriter and the cameras), the white ceramics, and the picture frames and the travel stuff, and the wedding stuff. If you really want to to add oomph, you've got to ruthlessly edit and acquire, so that one collection really dominates (I personally would go with the white ceramics and some books for color, though maybe you could add in the photographs). Or at least have one collection dominate in each vertical section (though I always like symmetry). I'd get more white ceramics and glass pieces and really try to fill the left open shelves -- they'd be a nice contrast to the wallpaper. The center you can crowd with picture frames (and maybe squeeze in the cameras to keep a "photo" theme). Find someplace else to put the other things or get rid of them. Because what you've got now is a collector of knickknacks rather than a unified style, and that's not really your style in the rest of the house.

  20. I have no sense of style, so I can only say that I think you did a great job and you have some good suggestions for little tweaks.

    I do have a genuine question. I noticed one person mentioned that she is not a fan of displaying books. Where should someone who has a lot of books and not a lot of space keep them?

  21. I suck at this stuff, honestly. I think it looks nice!

  22. Ummmm, I LOVE this. It's totally fine if I just come to NY and just move in with you, right?!

  23. Anonymous2:03 PM

    less stuff, let's see more of the paper. put only one large item in each of the middle shelves.

  24. Anonymous2:17 PM

    Watching the animation cemented two thoughts in my head:

    1. The books need to go - they "clutter" the space and their color is too much of a pop against all the great muted tones you have with the vignettes.

    2. The wallpaper on one side only distracts the eye and instead of it being a gorgeous decorative element, it creates an unbalance.

    I *do* love those closeups of the vignettes though, especially the cameras.

  25. Thanks so much for the suggestions.

    The typewriter is too big to put on any of the high shelves (it sticks out) so it must be on the bottom shelf or out entirely.

    While losing the books might make it look better, it has to be functional too so I need to save some space for the books. Covering might help though.

    The cabinet on the right side (with the doors) serves as functional space for liquor and wine glasses.

  26. Anon - I used blue adhesive gum (the kind teachers use) to adhere the wallpaper. I couldn't commit either. Whenever I get sick of it, I can just pull it off.

    Newburgh - The animation is just layers in photoshop saved as an animated gif. Nothing fancy.

  27. Here are my thoughts and they are just that, thoughts. I would put the pretty paper backing in the right hand cabinet as well to give it some balance. Then find some baskets to go in the center section. Ones that really fill it up, sort of like drawers almost. They could be cream or black. With all of the stuff the shelves have a very busy, high energy feel and you totally miss the beautiful old camera and pictures. If you don't want to add baskets or fill the whole center with them try removing a shelf or two and hanging one of your beautiful frames black and white photographs on the back with a couple of things in front. You will have to just keep playing with it until you come up with a layout that makes you smile. Good luck. Can't wait to see what you end up with.

    Good luck.

  28. I have the same frustration with my shelves, so I have no insight. I do appreciate the suggestions your readers posted. I don't think it looks too bad right now, but please post what you ended up with if changed.

  29. maybe a few too many small items and the wallpaper should carry through to the other side of the built-in.

    you could also consider painting the insides, instead of the paper, so the pattern does not compete so much with your lovely things.

  30. Doris3:33 PM

    Not that I'm qualified at all to give any opinions... but heregoes anyway. :)

    I would move your books to the middle shelf section where there is no wallpaper. Will they fit? While the few books on the left shelf look a bit distracting, when you cluster a bunch of books together then all the different colors from the spines form a rather beautiful mosaic IMO (but ahem I'm a bibliophile.)

    I love all the different metallic shades you have going on. I consider them all neutrals and I find that they look really sophisticated against the b/w damask wallpaper. While the smaller objects might not pop in a small photo, IRL the effects might be totally charming so I think you should stick to them if you like them.

    Can I just say that I'm not really a fan of using only 2 or 3 colors in a room or a collection? They look good in a magazine or ad but when you are actually IN a room versus looking at a photo, a room with only 2 colors can often look contrived and lacking wit or charm. So don't be afraid of peppering your home with colors!!! That's what makes your home unique IMO.

    Now I want to wallpaper my den shelves again. Your blog is dangerous. :)

  31. I am just in awe of the gorgeous shelves!

  32. Have you seen Lauren's recent post about styling shelves? I'm sure someone else has already suggested this, so sorry if I'm redundant: See her ideas at

    I'm just fascinated with your Photoshop-animation skills! ;)

  33. My biggest advice: Less is more.

    Sometimes it is hard to follow through with this concept when you have a lot of fabulous items to play with. But I think that is the biggest problem in your shelves (they are so pretty). Try limiting the number of items...get rid of what you don't 100% love. Also play with shelve with a few items, one with only one statement piece.

    I know you can do it!

    { Lindsey }

  34. You have some great items and cabinetry to work with, it will just take a bit of moving around until you find the right visual balance.

    My first instinct would be to place your cameras, typewriter and darker toned items in the centre shelves, with adequate space between them. Let their outlines pop against the light background.

    The wallpaper is great, just looks a little overwhelming with the smaller items placed in front of it. Try setting up your white glassware on the left side, with some of your 'darker' toned items on the bottom shelf.

    Place all of your other items behind the cabinet doors, puttng the books on the bottom shelf. Wouldn't they look wonderful camouflaged in darker toned coordinating scrapbook or wrapping paper?

    Let us know how it turns out...

  35. Anonymous5:34 PM

    I love your style, but the bookcase could use some help. I think one of the major problems is balance. One thing you could do is take off the doors, or add doors to the opposite side. Also back everything in the pretty paper to create some cohesion, or take it off altogether. One last thing is to make all the shelving the same height, so it creates one nice clean cohesive line that is pleasing to the eye.

    Center shelves: I suggest taking out all the shelves in the center and finding a fabulous vase and putting some twigs in it so they almost touch the top of the bookcase, or finding another large sculptural object to fill the whole center space.

    Side shelves: I would ground the bottom shelves with groupings of books standing vertically and horizontally just like you have done. If you have a horizontal set of books, place one of your cameras on top. One the top 3 shelves, add you groupings of items, but keep it clean and simple so it doesn't compete with the backing paper. Also, balance the 2 sides by adding similar/like items.

    Hopefully this helps you some!

    Good luck,

  36. OK, I just skimmed the previous responses so forgive me if this has already been mentioned.

    I am a sucker for symmetry so I also agree w/ adding wallpaper to the glass-doored cabinet on the right BUT I don't think it's totally necessary. Plus it might compete w/ those beautiful doors. I also think this right side should only house stemware & functional items, but you know what works for you....

    The middle shelving section: could you relegate the books to this section to sort of "anchor" the whole display? And I like that you put the vintage typewriter in the middle section as well (books + typewriter = a "pratical" vignette).

    The left shelf: I think your milkglass collection really would pop against the gorge wallpaper. Perhaps space the pieces out (3-5 per shelf)? If that throws the whole balance off, my other thought was to display the milkglass on both the left & right shelves but limit them to the just the top 2 shelves....

    Maybe edit the frames/other small collections and see how they look displayed on the bottom shelf or mix them in w/ the books in the center unit.

    Yeesh, I wrote a damn novel.....

    (Thank you for finding me that lovely molding!!)

  37. I may be the lone woman out here, but I would add lots more books (standing up and lying down) and place all the milk glass on the open shelves--not behind the doors. The typewriter and cameras would definitely stay, but most of the smaller other stuff would find new homes. I also would add some greenery. I love the glass doors, but if the space is needed for storage and what's behind them is not all that interesting, I would consider adding sheer fabric behind the glass.

    Can't wait to see what you decide, and love the animation. You are so clever!

  38. Let me just begin by saying that I'm totally in love with those shelves, specially the glass doors. Why don't you display some green accents, I think it will make the grey pop, I hope this helps.

  39. Anonymous11:02 PM

    I think the books over the smaller frames look "heavy". If I kept the books on display, I'd put them lengthwise instead of standing, hope that makes sense and put them nearer the bottom, or near other "heavy items". Also, the cameras are great, but what about move those a shelf down, and put those pictures/frames above them in the center....also, I think you need a green plant of some sort....a shorter wider green plant, not a tall green plant, and put that perhaps upper left shelf or lower right in front of the glass doors. Just suggestions, your house is lovely. When I work or rework my shelves, I redo them many times...Isn't that the joy? Reshuffling? I think it's fun and somehow when you know a shelf is right, it will tell you loud and clear...Also, perhaps I'd also try all the books behind the glass doors and take the white collection on the top shelf right, and move that to the top shelf left.

  40. Anonymous11:44 PM

    I am a little late to post but first - wow the shelf is beautiful - love the cabinetry and wallpaper. wish I had something like this in my house.

    I think there are too many small things and like things grouped together. While I like showing collections, if all the items are the same (Size wise), nothing stands out. I would mix and match more. I love the use of the cake stand to elevate some items but the two busts on it look odd. I also love your white pieces, but since they are smaller they look cluttered on that top shelf. Spread them around.

    There are some great ideas posted here - keep playing with it and don't be afraid to not use everything you have (hard when you probably put lots of thought into what you acquired and love it all)!

    Good luck and let us see how it ends up.

    -Elizabeth in Georgia

  41. There is a great freelance prop guy in brooklyn - logan -
    I will send you his info, perhaps he can help. Play around with the collections and balance of scale.

  42. Everything about that area is symetrical except for the glazed doors, could you get rid of them? The background needs to be the same for all of the shelf interiors.

  43. I think in each grouping you need to edit (remove) items. I like your basic layout and the merchandising you are going for, I think each section just has too many pieces so when you step back it still looks cluttered instead of showcased. Good luck - i love the cabinet!

  44. I feel that everything is competing with everywhere else. The wallpaper is busy enough that to compliment it you need big solid pieces as to not compete. Too many little things makes the eye flit from object to object. As you know less is more. Please keep the bigger books, and don't cover them as they are to read. I love the typewriter as well.
    I know you will find the correct balance.

  45. I didn't read above comments, so forgive any repetition!

    Looks like you have a lot a great stuff, I think the problem is that most of it is so small. Maybe you could fill in with some larger frames propped against the back or stacks of books? I can always find pretty ones at flea/antiques places. Or if you have a stash of paperbacks you could turn them so that the pages are facing out -- Lauren of Pure Style Home did a post on displays this week and that was a suggestion.

    You'll get there! I agree this is tricky. I'm rearranging mine all the time trying to get it right. Actually my problem is that I have too many books and big things and not enought small items to fill in -- maybe we should do some trading :)

  46. First, let me say, I love the crown moulding and glass on that cabinet. LOVE. And the wallpaper makes me swoon. And I was mesmerized by your animation. Must copy Mrs. Limestone.

    Your challenge is balance. I would maybe group all of your lovely whites in the center. I like when decorative objects are grouped by color. And perhaps remove a few of the smaller items. Include some larger statement pieces, like that amazing typewriter. Overall, it's quite lovely the way it is.

    You're fabulous !

  47. without reading any of the above comments (as not to be influenced and to go with my initial reaction) i'm going to leave my suggestion - i'm certain it is perhaps echoed above though...

    - i would eliminate most (if not all) of the books. i LOVE decorating with books but i think the lines compete with the lines of your shelves, of the glass doors etc.

    - next i think there's too much layering (as in one photo in front of the other in front of the other) i'd try and simplify the layering and not make it so 'deep'

    - i'd put the white ceramics on the shelves with the wallpaper backing and move the photos to the shelves in the centre (without the wallpaper). i think the wallpaper patter is competing with the photos while the white ceramics would stand out better against it.

    - more 'dead' space. with nothing in give the eyes a break from the wallpaper (which i love)

    overall, i think you're almost there but i hear what you're saying about it not being quite there yet :)

  48. okay, i just skimmed the responses below and think there are some wonderful suggestions (covering the books since it has to be practical too as you stated)...

    i'm interested in what you'll decided to do and look forward to your update :)

  49. i would put all the photos and cameras in the center section.

    on the left side all the white/ironstone pretty things

    on the right - all the books and other items.

  50. The cabinet is gorgeous. Did it come with the house?

  51. Anonymous11:12 AM

    I love the look of the cabinet and thought it was fine. What about putting all of your white milk glass in front of the wallpaper that way it stands out more.
    And the shelf with all the small frames- what about removing a few of the frames and adding something taller and darker in the background.
    I'm not a designer or stylist and I always struggle with bookshelves.

  52. I totally want to come over and help you do this. I love styling shelves!

    Everything I was going to suggest has already been said...I like the idea of adding the wallpaper to the entire unit of shelving and making all of the shelves at the same height for a more cohesive look. Also using less of the smaller items. I can't wait to see it completed. It's such a beautiful space!

  53. Anonymous1:36 PM

    I think its visually unsatisfying to you because its extremely eclectic without any items having visual weight. I would use more books on the left side because the books can keep up with paper..and please dont cover them..its plastic surgery for books and is not right IMO. I agree there are too many small things that are beautiful but lost.

  54. You have done a great job and have some good ideas from the others. For what it's worth, I USED to be a commercial display artist, but when it comes to my own bookshelves, I freeze! The only suggestion I have for you would to be to put most of your books on the bottom left next to the electronics and move the white dish up from where you took the books. I like that you moved the typewriter - what a treasure! Now on the right side...if you could paper with the same as the other side that would be great, but you don't HAVE to! Put all the liquor on the base shelf and move up the other. Bring in more drinking glassware, perhaps a pitcher or two and integrate your milk glass in with it grouped in 3's. I like to add flat objects behind my glasses such as pictures, plates, trays, etc for interest and a contrast. I would also pull the cake plate from the top center and integrate it amongst the glasses as well and replace it with a pot of ivy with some danglers!

    I am more of a naturalist and don't like my home to look like a museum, so for my taste, I wouldn't wrap the books.

    Overall, you did a great job!

    Blessings to ya!

  55. Would you consider using a toned-down wallpaper across the back of all 3 shelves (left with wallpaper, narrow middle, and right with glass doors)? Or painting the backs of all 3 shelves the same color to make them more cohesive and work together? I love the wallpaper back but perhaps it is competing with all of your lovely things, and it is somehow separating that section of shelving from the other two. If you used a smaller more subtle pattern perhaps it would add some pizzaz without taking away from the lovely things you want to display? Love your house - thanks for sharing it with us all!

  56. Anonymous5:02 PM

    I changed my mind - I would suggest using the wallpaper across the backs of all three shelving sections instead of just using it on the one on the left. I don't think it competes at all. That will make a more cohesive presentation. I think that would really help make them all work together. And I also agree about taking out most of the books - just keep the ones you love or one small stack. I love all of the cameras together but maybe try them on a larger shelf and give them more room to show of their differences. But maybe don't group everything into like categories and consider interspersing some of the knick-knacks like all of the items that ended up on the top left shelf, framed photos, and some of the smaller knick knacks - try mixing those up together. It will be gorgeous however you do it!

  57. I love what you did. clever. I am concerned that I have some of the same sort of areas. vintage camera, books...

  58. shelves shmelves! how did you do that animated gif thingy?
    but..i agree about the wallpaper and balance being the issue.

  59. WOW! How did you make the picture move like that? Is it a movie? Magic? WOW! Styling a bookcase can be a lot of fun! Using similar items, or a theme... for example antique books and items, or just a few colors and shapes repeated throughout, seems to look good when I see others arrange their bookcases and shelves.... like the way yours turned out! You did a beautiful job!!!

  60. Anonymous2:05 PM

    OK, I am late to this, but I have an idea that I don't see in the previous comments.

    What about filling the middle section's shelves with the books, so that it provides a more of a visual break. I think that the problem is that the three sections are too similar. They have a a lot going on and and it is different, yet not different enough to visually separate the sections so the whole is detracting from the design of each of the three. You need contrast and a section of just books would provide it as well as allow the books to look less busy in that they would create pleasing vertical lines.

    I teach graphic design and this reminds me of when fonts clash because they are not different enough. Too similar in size and weight.

    I hope that I just made sense... and I do love your blog and your house!


  61. Anonymous9:34 PM

    Have another set of leaded glass doors made. There is a stained glass guy in Park Slope who can do it for a few hundred bucks. His name is Peter Romano 718-768-7964.


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