Decorative Storage Solutions

Solve your everyday organizing dilemmas by creating an elegant, clutter-free shelving display.

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Objects Lesson


Wall-mounted shelves are ideal for showing off photos, artwork, or any prized possession and fit easily in tight places. Ellen Kosloff, a pro organizer with Julie Morgenstern Enterprises in NYC, suggests hanging them throughout the house. "Beautiful objects should be enjoyed everywhere, not in one museum-like spot," she says.

Pro Tips

—Mix it up. Instead of exhibiting an entire collection, which can be overwhelming, select a few favorite pieces and rotate in new ones periodically, says Kosloff.

—Keep loads light. Floating shelves are not typically designed to support a lot of weight (some hold no more than a few pounds) so be sure to consider what you plan to put on them before purchasing.

—Go for drama. Take a cue from Washington, D.C., interior designer Darryl Carter and lean a single framed canvas or photograph on a narrow shelf painted to match the wall. The art will "look like it's floating and take on a cool three-dimensional effect," he says.

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Book Smarts


Volumes of volumes arranged upright on shelves are one thing in a library, but in your home they can read as monotonous. "Think of a bookshelf as a collage," says L.A. interior designer Leslie Sachs, who advocates positioning tomes vertically as well as in stacks, and sprinkling accessories throughout. Include attractive storage boxes for miscellanea and to corral the clutter that will inevitably accumulate.

Pro Tips

—Ensure a good fit. When purchasing a bookcase, make sure your tallest volumes will fit and add several extra horizontal feet—more than you think you will need—to allow for growth and breathing room in the display, says Kosloff.

—Consider proportion. If you want to access your books without a step stool, look for a unit with a top shelf that is no higher than 6 to 6 1/2 feet from the ground. "Play with the heights of adjustable shelves to create a more interesting display," says Kosloff. For example, space one at 12 inches, the next at 8, and so on.

—Create a custom look. Give a plain shelving unit the appearance of a built-in by painting it the same color as the wall and adding crown molding, says Carter.

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Bedside Manner


A nightstand can be lots of things—a curvaceous table or a chest of drawers. The trick in all cases, says Sachs, is to be judicious about what you keep on the piece and how you display it. This is especially important if you're dealing with a small surface area and no enclosed storage. Arrange books and magazines in stacks, and conceal remotes and the like in a graceful bowl or basket to help neaten the arrangement.

Pro Tips

—Sleep strategy. Choose a stand that's no higher than a few inches from the top of the mattress and position it close to the bed so that essentials are within reach. Grouping everything—a lamp, alarm clock, and water glass—on a large tray can also bring order to the display, says Sachs.

—Make it work for you. Ask yourself what kinds of things you might need before bedtime, and keep only those items (reading glasses, tissues) on the nightstand, says Kosloff. Stacks of to-dos and unnecessary clutter will only induce stress.

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Kidding Around


Cubbies are ubiquitous in classrooms and mudrooms because they're a simple way to corral kids' stuff. So it makes sense to use the clever cubes to organize toys, books, and gear in a child's room too. "I'd treat them like blocks, and let kids arrange them however they like," says Carter. "Or mount them and cover a whole wall." Choose boxes with crayon-colored interiors and accent them with modular furniture—upholstered cubes, a geometric nightstand—in a playful palette, says Carter.

Pro Tips

—Scale back. Kids often have more toys than they have time to play with. Encourage them to display their favorites in cubbies, then store the rest in bins.

— Set up a system. If children share a room, line up open containers on shelves and assign one, or a few, to each child with his or her photo on it, says Kosloff. Or divide similar items (Legos, crayons) among the receptacles and put a picture of the contents on the front.

—Engage kids. "Invite children to help pick out their own containers," says Kosloff. "They might be more inclined to keep them organized." Also let them make the labels. "If it's not simple and fun, kids won't use them," she says.

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Bathing Beauty


Give your bathroom the same attention as the rest of the house. "There's no rule that you must have white laminate shelving in the bathroom," says Kosloff. "An elegant piece of furniture can look great and be functional." Carter keeps a glass-front barrister bookcase filled with towels in his bathroom. For a Zen-like look, display only a few attractive and useful items—piles of pristinely folded towels, a scented candle, and luxurious soaps and sea sponges in apothecary jars, ceramic dishes, or silver cups.

Pro Tips

—Divide and conquer. To prevent clutter from spilling onto open shelves, Kosloff recommends that all family members have their own toiletry container that can be hidden away in a cabinet.

—Set the mood. Sachs likes to place a small lamp on top of a bathroom etagere. "It gives a nice ambience at night and allows you to illuminate a beautiful display rather than the entire room," she says. A plant such as a fern or an orchid will thrive in the bathroom's humidity, creating a tranquil rain forest feeling and adding a touch of natural beauty.

Copyright © 2008. Used with permission from the March 2008 issue of Family Circle magazine.