The Idealist

The Art of Open Plan Shelving

Open plan shelves are everywhere. From kitchens to bedrooms, bathrooms to living rooms, open plan shelving is a simple and easy way to achieve a personal and eclectic feel within your home. Space is often at a premium but this style of shelving offers a practical and contemporary solution that can also tell your story. Here’s a handy guide on how to create sophisticated shelves with the items you love.


As tempting as it may be to start putting things on shelves, a bit of planning and preparation at this stage will really pay off. Take a look at all the objects you have collected over the years and pick out the items you particularly love. Curating your collection will create a cohesive look and reinforce your style.

The Shelves Themselves

It’s not just what you put on the shelves that counts, adding colour or pattern to the shelves can enhance the collection. Painting the shelves the same colour as the wall is a great way to draw attention to your objects as is using wallpaper as a backdrop.


Arranging items into groups is really effective and creating a balanced look is the key here. It’s like you are creating a mini gallery or museum of you so be inventive. Perhaps group your objects by colour or interest and remember that groups of books can be stacked either horizontally or vertically (or both). Try a few arrangements, stand back each time, and see what works to your eye.


When looking at open plan shelving photos on websites and magazines it is rarely over cluttered. In fact most items are given their own space to ‘breathe’ and be seen. Think of galleries and museums that allow objects and artwork to be viewed with out interruption from other items. You can apply the same principles to your collection. This is also a great opportunity to recycle or donate any unwanted items whilst remembering the golden rule of less is more.


To create impact and balance make sure the heights of your items are varied throughout the shelving. Tall objects are a good place to start and don’t be afraid to try different combinations and layouts to find the best places for your objects. Art and photos can also be displayed on shelving for a relaxed and layered look that is really effective.

Colours and Textures

If your items are bright and colourful try adding a few neutral colours to make it each item stand out. Using all neutral colours creates a calming and timeless look too, as does monochrome. Varying textures and materials adds interest too such as woods and metallics.


Plants on shelves helps to adds a breath of fresh air (quite literally) and the splashes of vivid greenery will bring a natural element to your display.

Change it Up

Don’t be afraid to change things around as and when you feel like it. This could be moving items into different places or swapping objects that might coincide with changes in the year or different celebrations. Remember, there are no ‘rules’. You are the curator, you are in charge.

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Images Copyright: Dinozzo, Serezniy, BonninStudio, Lemonadv, Maximkabb on 123RF Stock Photo.

  • Helen is a fabric designer and lives with her husband and two sons near Bath. She grew up by the sea in Cornwall and is reinventing a modern coastal look of interiors with her debut collection in a minimal graphic design inspired style. Passionate about pattern, Helen is constantly capturing images on her phone for potential design inspiration.

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