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living room play nook + six tips for styling your shelves

Vintage Turkish Kilim rug from Istanbul

We’d been living in our house for about five years before my husband let me make any changes or get rid of any of his all-black furniture. “But we’re not staying here,” he kept saying to me. Then we had a baby on the way and I finally convinced him that whether we’re staying for one more year or 10, this is our home. That worked, amazingly. It helped that I was pregnant, huge and could barely move or tie my shoes and shamelessly used it to get my way. (Judge me if you must.) So now that we have a baby who is into E V E R Y T H I N G, I get to say things like “oh that table is not safe for a baby and will pinch her fingers and poke out her eye.” (Translation: that table is ugly and I’ve been waiting five years to get it out of my sight.) It’s working. Sort of. This gorgeous Turkish kilim straight from Istanbul: brand spanking new. Well, it’s 80 years old, so it’s new to us. That blackish-brown Ikea bookshelf: from my husband’s bachelor days.

So here’s a little sneak into how I’m giving the whole house a fresh new look with both old and new pieces, starting with our living room play nook.

Styling an Ikea Bookshelf

 My very talented Anya painted that canvas and I’m so happy it finally has a home!

We have a long and narrow living room (typical in a city townhouse), which makes decorating a little challenging. One half has our TV, couches, etc and this other half has been pretty much empty since we moved in. So we moved this bulky Ikea bookshelf up against the wall and added a little shelf styling (more on that in a minute), bins for Isla’s toys and a vintage Turkish kilim. Now we have a great space for Isla to play in that still looks like “nice living room” and not “messy playroom.”

The rug: I searched for months for the right kilim rug. I wanted something durable and very colorful to hide baby spillage. I looked EVERYWHERE and finally settled on this beauty I found in an Etsy shop based in Istanbul. It was a steal and it’s amazing and I am in love.

Styling an Ikea Bookshelf

Now let’s talk about the bookshelf. It’s black(ish), of course. Just like our TV stand and dining room table and that dreaded coffee table I finally expelled from the house. I’m tempted to paint this white, but that just seems like way too much work. So, alas, I’m making it work. I am a book collector. I love stacking up the books I’ve read, want to read, probably will never read and the tween fiction I freely admit to obsessing over like a 13-year-old girl (except those damn Hunger Games books. That’s a week of my life I wish I could get back. But I’ll still watch the movies.)

So anyway. One morning a few weeks ago I joined a few ladies for Sunday cocktails, a huge sprinkled donut and a shelf styling workshop hosted by my friend Sari at her adorable boutique HOME on East Passyunk. Who knew such little things could make a world of difference in making your space look organized? Clearly, I did not. The shelves in our bookcase are square, which makes styling a bit more challenging, but here are a few lessons I learned that I found helpful and that you’ve probably already mastered (and here are some examples in my shelf styling Pinterest board):

screen shot of pinterest board about shelf styling

1. Consider your needs. Are your shelves meant to hold objects and pretty items or every last book you own? Don’t be afraid to fill your shelves with actual books if that’s what it’s there for, but consider color coordinating for a more visually appealing look, switch between vertical and horizontal stacks and break up the shelves with objects wherever you can.

2. Balance and scale. If you have multiple items on one shelf, make sure they are different sizes, shapes and textures. Tall and skinny with short and stubby, textured with smooth, metallics with mattes, etc. For example, a metallic gold vase, a silver frame and mercury glass votive holders in all the same heights probably isn’t going to work.

3. Rule of threes. Three brass candlesticks, three gold figurines, three small vases. If you have multiples of items, it’s good to group them in threes rather than put them all together or spread them all out. For example, if you collect Eiffel Tower figurines, consider grouping three of them together on a shelf with a few other items. Ten on one shelf is way too many, but spreading them out so you have just one on every single shelf can make them look a little too scattered and disorganized.

4. Consider your colors. You don’t have to stick with objects of the same color palette, but at least make sure the colors are complimentary. As for the books, I was anti color coordinating books until recently. No matter what I did our bookshelf looked sloppy. It drove me crazy every time I walked by. So I bit the bullet and put the books together by color (except the series. I just couldn’t separate those.). Instantly the shelves seem clean, streamlined, better. Don’t get me wrong, it keeps me up at night knowing my pasta cookbook is next to my history of Yankees baseball and The Alchemist is next to Skinny Bitch: Bun in the Oven. But for some reason it just works.

5. Depth. Find pieces of different heights and sizes that can be layered from back to front. For example, prints and artwork can be layered in back of shorter items, tall vases behind small candles or frames, etc.

6. Think big picture. This sounds like a no-brainer but it’s so easy to obsess over one shelf and forget about the rest. Don’t focus on each shelf as if it’s floating on its own. Think about how it’ll look beside the others and change it up. For example, a shelf of vertical books next to horizontal ones, a big bowl above a skinny vase, a matte clay pot next to a metallic bowl, etc.

All that being said, nearly every single time I walk by our bookshelf I change something around to make it better. But that’s normal, right?

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