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Design The Essentials:

Room Swoon: My Arched Recessed Shelves

Words by Sacha Strebe.

Sarah Elliott
Sarah Elliott

As you know, we’re not ones to follow rules, but when styling shelves, there are two things you should consider: keep it simple but above all personal. Just like any area you design at home, your shelves should exemplify your tastes, travels, and infatuations. Start with a statement piece that draws in the eye, but don’t let it dominate—layer in accessories, supporting colors, and prints, ensuring you have a neutral base to ground them. You can see this in action via Athena’s arched recessed shelves which are covered in Wevet by Farrow & Ball to hold all of the patinaed patterned book shelf décor in place.

From here, it’s all about intuition. Play around with your found objects, see what gravitates to you, trust your gut, and let your curiosity be your guide. Create multiple vignettes of varying heights and shapes to see what sticks; stack books in uneven parallel and perpendicular lines; orient each shelf differently from the one adjacent to it and add something offbeat to create the visual interest your eye craves.

There will absolutely be moments (or several in fact) where you feel like a failure and nothing looks right, but this is also where the real design magic happens.

So try to relax, breathe, and move through the tension as you shift things around, and eventually, you will land on the right combination. Trust me!

Victoria Hely-Hutchinson
Victoria Hely-Hutchinson

When you get overwhelmed, step back and Take a photo to assess your arrangement through a different lens, then make adjustments as needed.

Ready to get started? Shop some of our book shelf décor essentials below and let your creativity fly.

Book Shelf Décor:

This decorative wall sculpture or sconce is an artistic nod to holy water basins at Chapelle du Rosarie, bringing a hint of iconic artist Henri Matisse's style home.

Diversify your arrangement with unique arrangements from all over the world.

Patina is always recommended for any space.

Jayson Home Osaka Bowl

Look for colors that play well with neutrals.

Chubster Deep Rustic Wooden Dough Bowl

Vintage is always a good idea.

Stack books with interesting spines and colors.

Mix in varying shapes and heights for visual interest.

Jugs, vases, and vessels look great atop a stack of books on a shelf.

Mix your materials, always.

Layer design tomes in stacks, between bookends, and in varying shapes to add depth and verticality to your mix.

Don't forget to add texture via rattan. Its blonde color is a beautiful neutral.

Look for bowls to house trinkets or beads but are also decorative in their own right.

Trays don't have to be expensive. This beauty is from Zara Home.

Look for organic shapes that mimic the beauty of nature indoors.

Plaster will add touchable texture to any arrangement.

Consider color in natural materials like marble and onyx.


We've never met a travertine object we didn't like.

Bring in pieces that add a sculptural quality.

Stoneware's patterned surface is visually appealing.

Rose marble brings a hint of romance to any space.

Mustard anyone? We consider this to be a neutral.

Keep things simple with traditional shapes in natural materials.

Even the ordinary can be elevated. This tissue box holder made from beautiful marble is worth of display.

Fuse hard edges with soft round surfaces.

If your vignette is looking too one-note, put a book under a vase and raise the height to break up the planes.

Terracotta is hugely underrated but its burnt hue makes every vignette pop.

Consider ceramic sculptures and candle holders to engage the eye.

Keepsake boxes ensure your practical pieces look pretty.

Carvings, figurines, and sculptures take your book shelf to the next level.

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