A couple of weeks ago, I had a chance to spend the better part of a day with my good friend Marianne, helping to create a beautiful, practical space in her home. About year ago, Marianne and her husband Jim had a carpenter build three walls of bookshelves in a small pass-through room that would become part-playroom, part-library. But after having the shelves installed, life took over, and they became a mass collection point for anything and everything…books, piles of the kids’ artwork, kitchenwares that were too big for the kitchen cabinets, toys, even laundry. It was time for an intervention.
In four hours, using items Marianne already owned, we transformed her stuffed shelves into works of art. Here’s how we did it:
1) Cleared the decks: Using tables in the adjacent rooms, we cleared off everything from the shelves and made distinct piles — framed photos, accessories, art supplies and artwork, books, and so on.
2) Decided on an approach: I quizzed Marianne….did she care how her books were arranged? By author? By genre? Did she care if I mixed accessories among her books? Was there anything that was critical to remain on display? Nope, she said, the only thing she wanted was to be sure that her cookbooks were together. Other than that, I had free reign.
3) Checked the angles: After the shelves were clear and I knew my parameters, I stood back and took in the views. Because of the central location of the space, it could be seen from almost everwhere in the house, so I needed to be sure that I was taking the purpose and feel of adjoining rooms into consideration.
4) Created vignettes: This is the part that is trial and error, more art than science. I reviewed the piles we had made (which were many), and began creating vignettes among the shelves. I started with the knowns — she wanted all of her cookbooks to be together, and I knew I wanted to group their many, many travel guides. I knew I wanted the children’s artwork and art supplies to be accessible (low shelves) and breakable items to be inaccessible (high shelves). I knew I wanted the wall that faced her coastal-inspired living room to be calming, artistic and elegant, and the main wall of the room to be filled with energy and color.
4) Hunted for treasure: After establishing the vignettes on each shelf, there was still a lot of space remaining (there were 28 shelves to fill artfully), so I went treasure hunting around Marianne’s house. After hijacking a painting from a bathroom, a chinese teapot from her office, and a few other items, I filled the empty spaces and the shelves were nearly complete.
5) Assessed the situation: After finishing all the shelves, we took a hard look at what was missing, and it was only two things: a container to keep drawing paper accessible (but not all over the place), and a basket to hold the work of Marianne’s prolific little artists. We made a quick run to the Container Store, and voila!, the space went from messy to marvelous.