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Use open shelving with these designer tips


Dust off your books and put your objets d’art on display. This is the thought behind open shelving, but the idea of baring it all can be scary. They made cabinets for a reason, after all.

Open shelving requires ruthless editing and a keen eye for design, and with these tips from designers, it can move from daunting to doable.

Compatibility check

Often times, this style is seen on a small scale in living rooms — filling in nooks and crannies. Or, it is used in kitchens as an alternative to large-scale cabinetry.

In Alpharetta’s Larkspur community, Megan Harris, director of design for Edward Andrews Homes (EA Homes), and her team installed open shelving after seeing a shift in resident routines.

Harris points to millennial buyers spending more time eating out as a reason for the popularity of open shelving. As a result, some buyers prefer display shelving with quick access to plates, glasses and other items.

Stephanie Andrews of Balance Design Atlanta uses open shelving for go-to pieces and often-used kitchen ingredients, but she advises that families with roaming toddlers or rambunctious pets might want to avoid or adjust plans for open shelving.

In the design process, you have to make sure you’re “paying attention, obviously, to the height of open shelving so pets tails and kids aren’t pulling things off,” Andrews said.

Expert editor

It’s important to remember that open shelves are essentially a display case, so homeowners should ignore the urge to pile things up.

“It does require curating it and editing it on a weekly basis,” Andrews said.

So, if you’re a merciless organizer who keeps a tidy home, open shelving is perfect for you.

“It is a showcase and you’ve got to be committed to keep it clean and neat for it work that way,” Harris said.

But knowing what to show on those minimalistic shelves can be tough if you don’t have an eye for design. Displaying vignettes of travels and hobbies is always the way to go, according to both designers. In family rooms or media rooms, Harris typically uses books, photos and small artwork.

“Mixing the items — books, ceramics and some personal photographs, and possibly some actual art pieces or prints — can really tell a story,” Andrews said.

If you want a more industrial feel, install shelves with wooden planks and iron accents, such as galvanized pipe. If you want a warmer look, try a polished floating shelf made from stained oak or mahogany. Acrylic and metal are other options.

The key to making sure that they don’t get lost on the wall or overpower the space is to step back about 4 or 5 feet.

“First of all, look at the whole thing and see if it’s balanced on both sides,” Andrews said. “Then, also see if you can recognize what different things are. I usually try to then finish up and then take things away and then look again.”

Spacious surroundings

One of the best things about open shelving is the space it frees up in a kitchen or living room.

“I think it’s nice to break up the monotony of box after box of solid door cabinets,” Harris said.

Mixing open shelving with traditional cabinetry is a smart way to cheat the look. In a Candler Park kitchen, Andrews combined a room full of cabinets with a few open areas, giving the kitchen a place to breathe.

“I think it makes a small kitchen feel a little bit bigger. It draws your eye up and gives it somewhere to move,” she said.

Dead spaces are where open shelving really shines.

“People always say, ‘What am I going to do with these two niches on either side of my fireplace?’ ” Harris said.

This is where open shelving comes into play.

“You’re taking up wall space with open shelves, but you’re also maximizing where you can put those special items,” she said. “You’ve got the perfect showcase to lay those things out nicely so people can see them.”



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