Shelf Life: How To Showcase The Things You Really Love

Make the most of your bookcase or shelving unit with these expert tricks.

You’re reading Here, Try This – our month-long plan encouraging you to try something new every day.

Shelves should be given the same love and attention as the rest of your house when it comes to changing up your interiors. Plus, they’re a great way to spruce up your home without breaking the bank.

Interior designer Linda Barker had the right idea in the Changing Rooms’ teapot incident – which became an iconic moment in British TV – but don’t leave it up to chance by balancing your priceless teapot collection on a floating shelf. With a bit of know-how, shelves can be the star of a room using things you already have lying around the house. Here are a few tips to improve your own shelf life.

Get creative with colour

#shelfie by Geraldine James, published by CICO Books (£16.99)
#shelfie by Geraldine James, published by CICO Books (£16.99)

People underestimate the power a pop of colour can have on their happiness levels. “Colour can be added successfully to your home without taking the plunge and painting a wall,” says interiors design expert Geraldine James, who is also the author of #Shelfie, a book on styling and displaying your collections.

Use this pop of colour to spruce up your shelves. “If you open your cupboard, or look around your home, you’re guaranteed to find colour in unexpected places,” says James. “Think: books, glassware, plants. If you go into the garden, you could pick a couple of branches off a bush and stick them in a pot.

“Then you’ve got a very natural and easy display that costs you virtually nothing and it looks cohesive.”

Learn to layer

#shelfie by Geraldine James, published by CICO Books (£16.99)
#shelfie by Geraldine James, published by CICO Books (£16.99)

For shelves that feel full and finished, mix and match bigger items with smaller pieces to create a layered and multi-dimensional look.

“Always start with the largest objects at the back – and I’ve got a thing about placing things off centre,” says James. “Make sure you have a selection of objects of various heights, otherwise your display will look far too uniform.”

The combination of a few, large staple items, accessorised with smaller, more intricate objects, creates balance on the shelves. Don’t limit shelves to just books – try boxes, baskets, large bowls, big pictures, ornaments and plants, they’re great pieces to incorporate either as a foundation or to fill in space.

Play with proportions

#shelfie by Geraldine James, published by CICO Books (£16.99)
#shelfie by Geraldine James, published by CICO Books (£16.99)

Have a small space? No problem. Use it to your advantage and play with different perspectives to give an illusion of higher ceilings and a wider space.

“When arranging items on your shelves, make sure the objects vary in height for a larger visual impact,” advises James. “Whether you choose to display a tall, unique piece of art, or a sleek, contemporary vase, add something that draws your eye upward.

“Scale is something I feel strongly about. I’m not afraid to put large or oversized shelves into a small space. It actually does the opposite of what you might expect, opening up the space and giving generous proportions.”

Unleash your inner librarian

#shelfie by Geraldine James, published by CICO Books (£16.99)
#shelfie by Geraldine James, published by CICO Books (£16.99)

Books aren’t just for reading. Use your favourite reads as display pieces for shelves that looks effortlessly put together, as they offer colour and height. Books can also be put on their sides as bookends or piled up as a base for putting pots and ornaments on top.

“Use your shelves to tell a story and genuinely link it to what’s going on around the rest of the room, so doesn’t look unorthodox and out of place,” James advises. “I always think it’s good idea to mix different types of medium and textures play around with wood, paper, leather or even metal.”

Keep it personal

#shelfie by Geraldine James, published by CICO Books (£16.99)
#shelfie by Geraldine James, published by CICO Books (£16.99)

Adding a personal touch to your shelves is a great way to show off the things – or people – in your life that matter most. “I do like personal memorabilia, but I don’t have a house filled with lots of pictures of my family,” says James.

“Pick and choose a few special ones that are important reminders of things in your life. I think you can incorporate them into a display, but not all. Otherwise, it becomes a sort of, shrine-esque.”

This new year, we focus on fun, not denial (because we’ve all had enough of that). Follow our month-long plan, with a new ‘Here, Try This’ idea each day, spanning easy ways to engage your body and mind, inspiration for your food and home, and tips for boosting how you feel – inside and out.