Design Room Swoon:

Room Swoon: The Bar Shelves in My Brooklyn Family Room

Words by Sacha Strebe.

At first glance, this doesn’t appear to be bar shelves but therein lies the design magic. Nothing about this looks like a traditional bar and yet that’s the point. This quiet vignette lives in the family room of Athena’s Brooklyn townhouse. Yes, the navy, ochre, and gold tones are a complete departure from the rest of her home but this is yet another reminder that taking a bold color risk, even in a singular space, can still work in an otherwise neutral environment. That is clearly evident in this stunning visual.

While the initial vision for this room was to align with the layered neutral on neutral aesthetic of the rest of the home, something wasn’t working. The room felt incomplete, so Athena enveloped the walls and ceiling in deeply saturated navy plaster—this offered a suede-like quality. Once transformed, the room became the cozy nook she always wanted it to be.

When designing the bar shelves, Athena approached them in the same way she would any other shelf in her home—like curiosity cabinets. Yes, the bar essentials are still there, but she’s surrounded them with artifacts, vessels, and meaningful objects to engage and trick the eye as it scans the room. Why should practicality have precedence over visual appeal?

As you style your own bar shelves, here are a few simple guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Create vignettes by pairing various heights and shapes.
  • Group objects in similar tones and patina.
  • Orient each shelf differently from the one adjacent to it, and add the offbeat (like something found in nature that does not “belong”) to move your eye about the bookcase.
  • If you get overwhelmed, step back and take a photo to assess it as an entire tableau.

As always, let curiosity be your guide and push yourself beyond your design boundaries to take a chance, a risk on something—you might be surprised at what happens next!

Shop My Bar Shelves:

Vintage Ukrainian Vessel

We've never met a vintage vessel we didn't like. This one is the perfect shape and patina to add soul to any space.

Vintage Terracotta Jug

Pair your vessels to dial up the style factor and bring much-needed warmth and depth to your space.

Authentic Pre-Columbian Chavin

Look for interesting shapes and textures to bring visual variety.

Vintage clay vessel

Pair short with tall to play with heights and engage the eye.

Vintage Ribbed Vessel Vase

Always add touchable texture.

tall marble vase

Bring in patterns via natural materials like marble.


Vintage coupes are having a moment with their sleek, modern shape.

REED & BARTON THOMAS O'BRIEN New Vintage™ Hanson 2-piece Champagne Flute Set

Diversify your glassware by introducing unique vintage shapes, textures, and patterns.


Look outside the typical glass shapes for non-traditional styles that will engage the eye when on display.

Summer Bistro Glasses, Set of 6

Keep practical glassware on hand for water and soda.

Vintage Cezanne Self Portrait Painting Framed Print

Bar shelves can be practical and pretty. Incorporate design elements like artwork in among the glassware.

Vintage Portrait Painting of a Scholar, Signed and Framed

Vintage portraits and paintings bring history and visual interest.

Early 19th Century Portrait of a Young Boy Oil Painting, Framed

Search resale sites by price or garage sales for interesting paintings that are also affordable.

Vintage Paper Mache Bowl

When in doubt, choose vintage to create unique arrangements that feel personal and intentional.

Paper Mache Bowl

Handmade elements make a space feel warm and soulful.

NC Naturals Organic California White Sage Smudge Bundles, Pack of 3

Scent is critical for making a space feel like home. Sage is also great for clearing and cleansing.

St. Agrestis Amaro

Look for an aperitif bottle that tastes good but also doubles as décor.

Vintage Onyx Candlestick Holder

Find decorative objects that create beautiful vignettes among your bar essentials.


This tequila bottle is sleek and minimal.

Vintage Round Glass Decanter

Consider a vintage decanter with interesting shapes.

Antique Glass Etched Floral Decanter

This antique decanter is a sight to behold.

Atlantis Equinox Donut Shape 2-Piece Round Glass Decanter and Stopper

A conversation starter if ever we saw one.

Vintage MCM Elegant Clear Glass Decanter

MCM decanter? Yes, please.

Fenton Graphite and Wood Bar Tool Set

Find a bar tool set that looks like decoration.

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