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Shelving: How to balance creativity and function

By Rachel Wallace
The shelf is a meeting place of function and creativity. A place to express yourself, share your life with friends and family, and elevate your home – but also a place to dump your things.
Gaylene Drew, interior designer and founder of Gaylene Drew Designs, believes that shelving serves a truly integral purpose in a home. “Well-designed shelving should have meaning to the owner and should tell the story of the people that live there,” Ms Drew said.
So we asked Ms Drew to share her advice on how to reach that balance of creativity and functionality in shelving.

To Open Shelve or Not To Open Shelve

We’ve all seen the ways gorgeous open shelving elevates a space. No clunky brackets, and artfully curated candles and knickknacks all speak to something in us that wants a tastefully designed home.
Ms Drew notes that while open shelving can look good, it’s not for everywhere. The reality is that they are difficult to clean and keep looking beautiful – open shelves do not allow for much functionality.
“I would use open shelving in combination with closed shelving with doors or drawers. Because you’ve got that beautiful open shelving that you can display items on, but then you’ve also got that hidden storage for packing away those items that don’t need to be seen.”

How To Keep Your Shelving Beautiful

The unfortunate nature of clutter is that it is unavoidable. Arts and crafts, forgotten books, keys, bags, cups, cords, games – these are the things that have a way of landing themselves on shelves and gathering dust.

“Using baskets, boxes, and bins are great ways to store items. Your chargers, remotes, cards, or photo collections all can be tucked away here, Ms Drew said. This does not come at the expense of beauty – it is a great opportunity to DIY some old boxes to make them pretty, or to use any baskets and tubs that you have never found a place for. Clutter is a part of life, so make sure there is room for it and that there is a place for it on your shelves!

Shelving For A Small Space

Whether you’re in an apartment, or have an awkwardly sized room, small spaces are unavoidable. So how do we use shelving to our advantage – to make a small space seem larger and less cluttered.
Ms Drew recommends making sure your sleeves are adjustable. “So you can change the shelves to work with things that are changing throughout your life,” Ms Drew says. Small spaces need to work for you, not the other way around.
Ms Drew also recommends the use of shallow open or closed shelving. It gives you the opportunity to display key pieces, without taking up a lot of room and can even make the space feel bigger.
Ms Drew also notes that floating shelves that avoid brackets can be a welcome addition to a small space. Brackets and overly decorative shelving can make a space feel visually cluttered and make a room feel smaller.

Have Fun With Your Shelving

At the end of the day, your shelving reflects the homeowner – that’s you! So try to have fun with your shelving. They are a place that reflects personality and tells your story while also serving a core storage function. They need to work for you.
“I think it’s important to inject those little things that you can look at and will make memories come back to you,” Ms Drew notes.
Whether you’re trialling wallpaper trends, putting your favourite books on display, or showing off family heirlooms, your shelving is a reflection of your life. Lean into it!

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