One of my favorite parts of our home in Chicago is a unique built-in bookshelf that runs underneath the stairs from the first floor to the second. The previous owner re-modeled the home and designed this particular element of the house brilliantly: she added thick frosted glass to the back of the bookshelves, which are in turn back-lit by the light in the very deep closet that runs behind the bookshelf. See below:
It’s an interesting architectural detail, and it’s been a lot of fun styling the shelves, too. As with the rest of our home, it’s still a work in progress, but it’s on its way. I recently spent some time daydreaming about other elements to add to this and other shelves in our home — and turned to Pinterest for inspo:
The last two pictures are from spaces Nate Berkus designed, and, in my opinion, no one does a shelf better than Nate Berkus. I like that he incorporates a lot of personal/vintage pieces — items that don’t just look like you ran to West Elm and bought whatever was on offer in their “shelf decor” section, not that there aren’t great steals to be had there. (As with all things, it’s all about balance. If you go too far down the vintage route, your shelf ends up looking like a garage sale.) He also always makes books a centerpoint, which appeals to me as a bibliophile. (P.S. — If you’re craving a beautiful Saturday morning, order his book, curl up with a large latte, and keep your Etsy app open so you can search for items similar to the ones he features in his work.)
At any rate, below, a few picks for the shelves in your life:
I’m big into animal figurals, and absolutely LOVE everything Jonathan Adler does. This funky llama ($78) is the perfect pick. (Or you can get this adorbs llama planter for $49, which not only looks sweet but can hold a little planteroodle!)
I snagged my porcelain quail duo (shown in pic above) from Etsy — you can find similar ones here and here for under $25! Also run a search for Fitz + Floyd on Etsy — they have some super tacky looking stuff IMHO, but they also have epic items like these and are considered collectors’ items.
Or, a set of staffordshire dogs is always a welcome mantel/shelf treat.
I learned this from my mother-in-law (aka, Martha Stewart II): a glass cloche is an epic styling tool. She uses various sizes and shapes for all kinds of shelf and tablescape styling, filling them with anything from moss to a single stack of cookies depending on the situation. You can find a great set of 3 in varying sizes on Amazon for $65, or West Elm has a cool one with a wood base (on sale for $21), and World Market has a budget style for $12. I’m currently using one to showcase a super cool shell I found at the beach that looks lovely on top of our buffet. (Or, as I did above, you can use a glass jar — I have this one — and fill it with ceramic robin’s eggs ($11!), which I thought tied things together.)
And speaking of moss and all things green: as you can see in the snap above, I used some dried plants to add some depth, texture, and, well, life to our bookshelves, and most of the examples I included above from Pinterest did the same. It’s amazing what a little green can do. I dried the eucalyptus myself by buying a few bunches from Trader Joe’s and hanging them upside down for awhile, but you can also buy a bunch here ($15) or here ($14) — or check out this cool stuff ($10)! — or consider opting for some succulents, which are VERY easy to maintain and look awesome and you can find at your nearby Home Depot or garden store:
P.S. Home Depot is like my hell, so I can’t believe I just suggested you check it out. I feel like Mr. Magpie is constantly creating excuses to go there — I swear to God he “needs more lightbulbs” every day of the week and twice on Tuesday — and it.is.boring.
An alternative to the above: a preserved boxwood. Target has some great options for under $20 that come pre-styled in a little pot, like this one ($18) or this one ($18). These look delightful stacked on top of a set of books.
Speaking of plants, vases/planters are an easy and chic way to add some funk and color to your shelf situation. I LOVE this cheeky brass face-print vase ($19). So fun with a little succulent popping out. You might also check out Etsy for steals like this set of 2 vintage brass planters for $34!, or this gorgeous mid-century brass planter (luvluvluv, $35).
Don’t even get me started on ginger jars / chinoiserie. I have been slowly amassing my own collection and am anxiously awaiting the arrival of a handful of new pieces that I inherited from my aunt. Williams-Sonoma has some good basics ($98 for one shown at top, $65 for squatter one shown second), but you can also mix and match with steals like this one from Pier1 ($31) or this one from One King’s Lane ($59). Also consider mixing in items like this adorable mini pagoda for $45.
Incidentally — and it deeply pains me to share this — I snagged this $88 chinoiserie-style umbrella stand for my home, and, while not exactly cheap, was ecstatic that it was under $100 for the quality and style. Our dog, Tilly, broke it within the first few months we had her. I angrily bought a replacement…which she promptly broke. So we are going without an umbrella stand until she’s a little older and more responsible…AHHH I can hardly think about without grimacing. (But, I still love her something awful. Read more about her here.)
I’ve found vintage goblets to be exceptionally useful in shelf styling (and also in serving up a little sninner/spread of treats for guests) — you can fill them with striped straws that coordinate with the color scheme, or seashells, or flowers/succulents, or marbles, or anything else your heart desires. I LOVE the look of hobnail milkglass goblets, as shown below, and available via Etsy here (4 for $36) and here (2 for $12) and here (2 for $27).
As you can see, I have a lot of seafoam green going on in my shelfie, and have a few other pieces throughout the house in a similar color. One thing that made styling a little easier was centering it around a color — and then searching for unique objets in a similar hue. This led me to snag these adorable egg cups ($20 for 2). I currently have them styled elsewhere in my house atop a silver cake stand — but this is just the kind of thing that can really add a little funk and vintage-ness to your shelf situation. (I mean — how cute are these?!)
If animal figurines are not your steez, something like this brass urchin objet ($19+ depending on size) could be just up your alley. I have one of these that I use on a coffee table.
Of course, books are a crucial part of any bookshelf. If you don’t have the patience to curate a set of books with coordinating-colored spines (it took me a long while to find all of those aqua ones above!), One King’s Lane has some great pre-packaged sets here. Or, look for Penguin Classic sets, which have been recently modernized in great colors and bundles, like this candy-colored set of kids books for $185, or this set of Bronte sister books, on sale for $57!
Don’t forget that lighting can be a great shelf accent, whether a sconce installed into the wall or a table-top lamp. I’m personally freaking OBSESSED with this Target find ($45!!!)