Our Top Stylish Shelving Options

We all have moments when we want to buy something and channel the saying “you can never have too many…” books, artworks, or whatever it is we covet. But after working with clients who have remarkable—and robust—collections of everything mentioned above (and more!), we know that the one thing they truly “never have” enough of is stylish shelving. Since we’ve helped virtually every client we’ve ever worked with find utilitarian yet also stylish shelving, we think this is a universal truth.

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These custom built-ins in a Gold Coast library designed by David Adler utilize dado shelf supports to allow for complete personalization and accomodates a collection of contemporary American literature. Photo: JLI Astor St. Residence

Given all our experience with shelving, we also have lots of thoughts to share on this topic—starting with our favorite versions of this workhorse. Hands down, shelving is the most indispensible yet underrated furnishing in a home, given that it can house nearly every item we own. Out in the open, shelving can be home to books, objects, artworks and the functional items of everyday life, from tech to toys. And behind closed doors—or not, depending on homeowners’ preferences—shelves hold every necessity imaginable, from pedestrian supplies to niceties like the stylish handbags or shoes we may collect. Without it, disorganization reigns supreme!

Dream Home Duo

Freestanding shelving units can add function and style to a room, and come in endless options. One of our favorite strategies is to use étagères in pairs, as we did in our DreamHome study with these Bradley Hughes Jonathan Shelving Units. Photo: JLI Dreamhome 2014

Yet choosing what kind of shelving to use is harder than picking paint colors. Well, not quite—both are incredibly tough decisions, given their unlimited options. And both require major commitments; good paint and quality shelving are both expensive items, and changing up either of these elements after they’re in place is a major pain. But choosing which shelving to use is much more analytical than emotional because it’s all about finding hardcore solutions to fulfill homeowners’ wants and needs.

Matz Duo

Shelving can become a site-specific solution, such as this custom system developed to showcase art and conceal a TV when it’s not in use. Photo: JLI Streeterville Residence

Those ‘wants and needs’ dictate size, scope and style. For instance, should shelves be adjustable or fixed; freestanding or built-in; and span a wall or two, or wrap around an entire room? As if those aren’t enough decisions to make, aesthetics are also a critical consideration. When shelves are out in the open, looks count. And while shelving doesn’t necessarily have to be stylish when it’s out of sight, we wouldn’t have it any other way. The very purpose of our profession is to seamlessly blend substance and style.

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We developed an entirely different site-specific custom shelving unit to combine functions in the living area of a loft. Photo: JLI Urban Loft

Yet stylish shelving isn’t necessarily an exercise in outrageously expensive options. They can be executed in a wide range of materials and every decorative style in existence. We’ve done great looking yet utilitarian custom-built shelves using everything from plain plywood and Ikea components to edgy commercial-quality aluminum and sumptuously polished brass. Ikea’s basic Billy bookcase has gone from plain to impressive with the help of our staff architect, David Huggins, when we used it to build an entire, exquisitely detailed wall-to-wall system for a non-profit client. The beauty of this system is that it can be customized in different styles; the trick is in the architectural details we employ.

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We’ve used Rakks aluminum components in our own office for our library, as well as for clients who want a clean-lined, contemporary aesthetic.

So what to use? That’s where interior design counsel is critical, and every situation calls for a singular solution that is customized to each homeowner’s special situation. It may call for custom-built shelving—or not; all of the options shown here are tried and true solutions we’ve used in the past. But every shelving option we do create or find for our clients will have three things in common: they’ll be effective, functional and stylish whether they’re out in the open or behind closed doors.

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Freestanding shelves such as those shown here from (L to R: Richard Shapiro, Ironies at Holly Hunt and Dessin Fournir) can be used alone, or in multiples, to create whole systems. (Photos: Richard Shapiro at Viyet; Ironies at Holly Hunt; and Dessin Fournir

14 Oct 2015

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