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Design Therapy: How I Style My Open Arched Shelves

Seeing vacant, open shelves can summon an inner daunting akin to a blank canvas. But just as a painter has to take the first stroke, everything begins to fall into place when you simply just start. It’s like piecing together a creative puzzle. The key? To pair pieces that are delightfully at odds with the more contemporary objects to achieve comfort and collectibility. Of course, this can be easier said than done. So, for today’s edition of Design Therapy, Athena shares her tips for how to style open shelves to change the complexion of your space while injecting a ton of depth and soul.

Design Therapy: How I Style My Open Arched Shelves

“Be sure to include pieces that have some sort of personal story.”

Choose a Theme

When you’re styling in your home, it’s always helpful to have some sort of guidepost or a theme that you’re going after. When approaching my living room shelves, I wanted to ensure everything was in a very calming, natural, neutral palette of whites and creams. With that in mind, I was able to locate pieces within my home to fit that vernacular. A theme also sets creative parameters to help chaperone you towards your stylish goal.  

Create Your Focal Point 

I started at the top by putting the books in a central location on the shelf. Then I wanted a sculpture and a statement piece to offer verticality and a focal point that immediately attracts the eye. By arranging your shelves in this way, you get to direct how you want the eye to travel. 

Bottoms Up

Now that the top is set, now it’s time to style the bottom shelf. I placed a larger, centrally located book similar to the top shelf to act as a grounding element, but I didn’t want to do the same thing. So, to avoid symmetry, I chose a low yet curvaceous bowl to complement the tall sculpture at the top. Same same, but different. 

Design Therapy: How I Style My Open Arched Shelves
Design Therapy: How I Style My Open Arched Shelves

Group in Three’s

I played around with groupings for the middle two shelves. You’ll notice I usually do things in groups of three’s which is the golden rule of design but for this arrangement, I needed to break up the monotonous plane of my decorative trio. While each piece was beautiful and told an interesting story together, their matching heights lacked the visual diversity I was craving. Using a stone cube as a riser, I could break up the plane and allow your eye to move up and down.

Inject Sentiment 

Be sure to include pieces that have some sort of personal story. I added a knife to the arrangement that Jivan found at the bottom of the sea in Miami when he was five years old and I love that it triggers a memory for me. Another ceramic object I used was given to me when I went to Copenhagen to shoot my design book and it also renders fond reminders of a special time. These poignant pieces are critical to adding depth and soul to your styling. 

Consider Asymmetry

Since the books on the top and the bottom are centrally located, I purposefully offset the book arrangement on the second shelf to create shape and movement in the styling. You want to design something fun for your eyes to follow as they scan the shelves from top to bottom, side to side. I also chose white books so they could recede into the shelving for a little visual trickery.

“You want to design something fun for your eyes to follow.”

Design Therapy: How I Style My Open Arched Shelves

Master Materiality 

I think it’s really important to have a mix of materials. I chose a Peruvian bowl for the second shelf that I bought when I was finishing up the design of my Brooklyn home. I love that it’s irregular and imperfect with an aged patina so I paired it with a grouping of mini gold candlesticks. Their smooth shiny surface created an elegant juxtaposition against the bowl’s grittier texture. Again, these are arranged in a series of three, offering some diversity and much-needed verticality, too.

Have a Point of View

When you’re styling, be sure to have a different point of view on every shelf, change how you style pieces on every shelf, change the placement of items on each shelf, but most of all, have fun.

Keep reading to shop some of our favorite decorative objects to style your own open shelves at home. 

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