Display Shelf Ideas

Shelving is so often an afterthought when it comes to room design. Many of us merrily set about painting walls and choosing furniture without giving much consideration to storage, only to realise at the very end of a project that there’s nowhere for our books, vases and other treasured items. But, with a bit of effort, shelving can become an eye-catching and practical feature in any space.

Consider the room as a whole

The key to lust-worthy shelving is choosing a unit that works in the space available. There’s no point buying a hulking ceiling-height bookcase for a small room, as it will instantly overpower it; instead, consider compact lean-to shelving units such as ‘Jessie’, or try a wall-mounted system. A design which allows some of the wall colour to show through will also lessen the risk of the unit dominating the scheme.

White shelving and storage unit


Conversely, smaller units will get lost in large rooms, so search for designs with striking shapes which grab attention – the curved ‘Atlas’ bookcase is a great example. If you have an open-plan space, you can also play around with positioning the unit away from walls and using it as a room divider. Two-way bookcases are ideal for this, as display items can be seen from both sides – and, unlike traditional partition screens, they won’t block light and detract from the airy feel.


Black Atlas bookshelf

Dining room table and benches

If you have a particularly awkward space to contend with, both Atlas and Aspen have extension options so you can create a bespoke fit for the space you have available.

Dress with care

When it comes to styling your shelves, there are a few easy tricks to use. Start with larger items such as books, which often look best when stacked horizontally as well as vertically, then gradually add smaller decorative objects around them. Make sure you vary heights, shapes and textures to give visual balance, and bear in mind that taller items tend to look best at the end of shelves rather than in the middle.

Habitat glass dining table and chairs

For additional impact, try experimenting with clusters of items (for example a group of vases of different heights), or layering smaller items in front of photo frames or art prints to create depth.


Yellow mom sofa and teal armchair

Living room with bookshelf


Avoid clutter

However, you arrange your shelves, it’s important not to over-clutter them. Leaving some of the surface area clear will create a sleeker, more striking look, as will sticking to a limited colour palette. If you need to use the shelving to store lots of less-than-pretty or mismatching items, you can always hide them inside boxes or baskets.


Home office


(photo: Homey Oh My)


Let there be light

Once you’ve created the perfect shelving display, you need to make sure people can see it. If it sits in a badly lit corner of the room, then consider placing a lamp on the unit. Clamp-on options such as ‘Tommy’, and ‘Dex’ work particularly well as they don’t take up much surface space and can be repositioned as needed; you can even point them at a particular item that you want to show off.

Click lamps

Change things around

Finally, remember that shelving displays needn’t be static. I often rearrange the shelves in my home, adding seasonal touches such as plants, candles and Christmas decorations, and rotating items according to my mood. It’s an easy and cost-effective way to vary the look of a room, and it creates instant interest for visitors.

Shelving unit and chair

Feeling inspired? Check out our other shelf ideas to transform your living room.

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