Unexpected Shelving Ideas

I’ve spent a lot of time helping friends and family pick out new pieces of furniture for their homes, but I can’t say that anyone has asked for my help when selecting new shelves. In fact, I think most people forget the strong impact that unusual and unique shelving can have on a space, even though it’s the perfect marriage of storage and art! Let’s take a look at some unique but modern types of shelving that you may not have considered before:


The Room Divider Shelf

Possibly the most multi-functional pieces of shelving out there is the room divider shelf, which stores objects, divides up spaces, and can have a profound aesthetic impact on a room. Remember the other week when we talked about creating “zones” in a room to break up the space into different areas? This type of shelving is perfect for just that -- separating a living space from a sleeping area in a studio apartment, for example. Some room divider shelving consists of built-in shelves that are custom-made for the space, but there are tons of options out there for a range of styles and sizes to fit every space. I love the texture and color that shelves of natural wood provide, like the walnut room divider below.


Brazil-based FCstudio designed the geometric walnut shelved room divider that accommodates personal items as well as filtration of sunlight. Via dwell.com


The Shadow Box Shelf

What’s the most elegant way of highlighting something you love on your wall? A shadow box acts as a display box and a shelf at the same time, hoisting three-dimensional items up into the air while framing them and projecting out from the wall. They can also do double duty, housing objects inside the box as well as on top. I’m a huge fan of using display box shelves that come with painted backboards, like the gabled ones by Danish brand Fern Living/Clever Spaces -- they add just the right amount of contrast from the wall behind, and come in beautiful, subtle tones of blue, green, pink and gray. Another easy DIY option is to buy a basic shadow box from craft supplies stores like Michael’s and then just paint the wall behind a backless shadow box in whatever color you like to give it a personal touch!


Subtle shades of blue, gray, and pink, along with different sizes and shapes, create a focal point on the wall. Via stylecaster.com


The Floating Shelf (With a Twist)

Can objects float in midair? With floating shelves like our own Noli shelf here at Furniture Maison, items seem to defy gravity when traditional under-shelf brackets are swapped out for hidden supports or unusual bracketing techniques. The look is streamlined and clean, perfect for a minimalist interior, but definitely has more personality than a basic floating shelf from your local hardware store. Because of the asymmetric nature of the shelf, you want to make sure you arrange your books or knick knacks thoughtfully to create a sense of balance.


Staggered arrangements of the Noli shelf highlight its asymmetrical nature and create a composition on the wall. Via Furniture Maison


The Bedside Shelf

When you live in a city like New York, space is always at a premium, and I’ve had to make-do with bedrooms that fit the bed and… that’s pretty much it. But I wear glasses, and read before bed, and need a spot to place them within easy reach when I wake up. When there’s no room for a real bedside table, a bedside shelf is a great option (plus it make for easier cleaning too!). I also need my bedside shelf to accommodate some kind of lamp or light, so I’m particularly appreciative of designs that are detail-oriented to the point where they incorporate light fixtures into the shelves themselves. So functional for such a small piece!


The Light Board by Germany-based retailer BYRK incorporates a hanging lightbulb that doesn’t use any real estate on the top side of the shelf. Via BYRK


 While most people think that furniture is the strongest way to convey style, interests, and aesthetics in a space, it is often in fact what you put on the walls -- shelving and the objects placed on them -- that best conveys a sense of home and style. Don’t be afraid to be a little bold and make unusual choices when shopping for shelves; whether it’s for a small space, a minimalist and modern interior, or the focal point on a wall, they can do so much more than just hold a few books!


Kate R.

Kate is a New York-based architect and preservationist, with a love for all things design! 


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