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Bookcases and Shelves

So many homes have bookcases or shelving built in, and clients are overwhelmed with what to do with those spaces. Hopefully a few tips can help you achieve the look you want. Of course, you can always call Nelson Designs to figure out the perfect placement of items from our showroom and your special pieces.

The styles are changing from very full shelves to a cleaner look, but, I always tell clients it is their home and they need to be happy with the results. The important thing to keep in mind is the balance of items from shelf to shelf.

It basically comes down to four guidelines:



I like to have shelves at different heights so you have a statement piece area. One shelf might be 20 inches high, another 16 and another 13. This immediately makes the tallest one the important statement piece area because of the height. I really like to start with that piece on the shelves. Fewer pieces in the right size is the way to go.


Keep in mind the background color. If it is dark you need metals, glass, and lighter colors. If it is light you need darker or brighter colors and metals for the contrast.


Shelves are basically rectangular boxes so you need round or curved shapes and some taller pieces to break up the rectangle. Having just books or just pictures frames means you have all rectangular shapes and that is not appealing to the eye.


If you have a large statement piece on one shelf in the center, then you want the shelf below it to have more pieces that are not placed dead center, but rather more on the sides. By alternating placement of the pieces it is far more interesting as a whole. You don’t want everything in the center of the shelf just as you don’t want everything on the side.

Here the top shelf on each side holds a statement piece. It is gold, reflects the light and fills the space well. On each of the shelves below are pieces that fill the space vertically and horizontally. The color story of the room, black, cream and gold is carried through on the shelves.

These shelves were built in and not movable.. The objective is the same, carry the color story, place properly sized items and have various shapes to add interest. Some shelves have one item and others have multiples.

At this house a shelf was eliminated to open up the space for a statement piece. This shelving area is simple and clean but interesting.

This close up shows the addition of a tray ,books, vase and art object on a shelf. The different heights, shapes and colors make it interesting

Try our tips and see if your shelves become areas of interest without being overly busy. Good luck and have fun!


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