How to Rock Open Shelving in 2021 (Plus, 2 things to Avoid), According to Designers

·4 min read

When shiplap and chevron first entered the open-shelving aesthetic, we were ecstatic. Now, it’s ten years later, and if we never see a farmhouse shelving DIY again, that’ll be alright with us. However, unlike getting bangs in middle school, there are a few different avenues you can take to reclaim your open shelves. Below, find three ways to rock open shelving this year, plus faux pas that’ll make you look like you’re stuck in 2011.


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DO: Change up the color

Hopefully, you’ve got the whole “light n’ white” thing out of your system, because 2021’s color trends are not for the faint of heart. “Changing up the color of your outdated chevron or shiplap shelving is a simple way to give it a fresh look,” says Marlaina Teich of Marlaina Teich Designs. “In 2021, we are seeing the emerging trend of saying goodbye to bright whites and welcoming in colors that are deeper and dramatic such as black and charcoal,” she explains. And after hours of scrolling “dark open shelving” on Pinterest, we agree: Dark and dramatic is the best way to catapult your cheugy shelves into 2021.

DON’T: Overfill your shelves

Hoarders beware: Minimalism is the recurrent theme of 2021, and it has a strict ‘remove all unnecessary sh*t’ policy. Plus, when we asked each designer what their biggest open-shelving “don’t” was, they all had the same response: clutter. “Less is more!” Designer Kate Lester replied via email. She also noted: “I think over styling is a thing of the past,” and the design world seems to agree. In order to keep your shelves looking clean and clutter-free, aim for 20 percent dead space to give your decor some breathing room. “Shelf styling is a delicate balance between too little and too much,” Meichtry adds. “If you add too many pieces of decor, your shelves will look cluttered rather than well-curated.”

DO: Layer artwork and decor in varying heights

“If you went all-in on the chevron and shiplap trend and are now wishing you could go back in time, there might be an easier solution,” says Lauren Meichtry, stylist and founder of Elsie Home. In addition to updating your decor (psst: check out the new Target x Jungalow collaboration), try leaning framed artwork in varying heights to guide the eye away from the shiplap behind it. “Shelf styling is all about balance,” Meichtry explains. “Stick to the rule of three and place items in groupings of three (or at least odd numbers) for a visually appealing look.”

DON’T: Make your shelves matchy-matchy

You’ve heard symmetry is key, but the trick is to not overdo it. Back in 2019, Queer Eye’s resident interior designer Bobby Berk told PureWow, “one thing that makes me cringe is a matchy-matchy interior,” and we’ve avoided matching furniture ever since. That rule also applies to styling those open shelves—it’s all too easy to overdo it and look like a showroom floor than an actual home (and the latter is far more interesting, in our opinion). If you’re looking to achieve the comfort and tranquility that marks Japandi style, try adding more levels and less symmetry with interesting decor and real greenery. “I think having these spaces feel more lived-in and less perfect is key,” Lester says.

DO: Select meaningful decor for a more curated look

We get it; matching shelf decor is about as taboo as saying “Macbeth” in the theater. So how do you go about selecting accessories and artwork that goes together without looking cringey? Meichtry says “a well-styled home tells your story” and that “your shelves are the perfect opportunity to display items from your travels, books you've enjoyed, and framed photos or keepsakes.” Use that as your test before putting something up: What does this piece reveal about my family? It’s no secret that vintage aesthetics like cottagecore and organic modernism are trending, and *now* is the time to break out your shabby chic and grandma chic decor from storage.

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