Essential storage know-how for stylish shelving

The most insightful and economical solution for storage in centimetres of space and euro spent, is and always was, to go straight up the walls. 
Essential storage know-how for stylish shelving

If you can keep your show in order, shelving offers multiple possibilities for those orphaned, irritating areas all over the house.

Material, loads and spans

The load-bearing of any shelving material depends on two things: the strength of the materials and the distance (span) between supports for the shelves. If you place too much weight on a shelf, it will bend, or ‘deflect’. The human eye picks up on imperfect lines with uncanny accuracy.

Even a couple of centimetres of deflection looks awful. In the worst cases, the shelf may tip forward, crowning you with 30 hardback books. Perfect levels with shelves in service are key. If you’re buying shelving you may see the term ‘uniform-distribution load’, which means the loading has been designed into the thing presuming you are spreading the weight of your goodies across the shelves, not putting it at the centre.

Bowing skinny laminate with chipped leading edges will never look sophisticated. I love the Sagulator, a deflection or sag-calculator that covers just about every material suited to shelving, load distributions, depths, and support types. Remember, that as with any shelf or bookcase, once you go over shoulder height, it’s important to safely secure high sections of the shelving with their contents to the wall. This is especially important with toddler Tenzing Norgays about the house.

What shelf where?

Forgotten spaces:

With slender profiles, freestanding, suspended or built-in shelving can go where other storage furniture becomes added clutter, including halls, bathrooms and circulation spaces. A 30cm depth of built-in MDF shelving taken up and over a study or bedroom door, can handle a extensive domestic library and add a valuable layers of acoustic insulation. This looks great worked into a partition door, or in the roofline of an attic conversion.

The awkward, thrown-away recesses on either side of a fireplace offer ideal columns for shelving in, with large blind cupboards at the base for physical support and voluptuous storage. And try a full height tower of shelves at the end of a run of kitchen counter — great for cookery books..

Best buy: Elfa, the underrated DIY Meccanno for 100 projects with everything from hanging rails to ventilated shelving. Find Elfa elements at and the Algot series at IKEA.

Create relationships

By bringing shelving down to other furnishings, you can visually marry them up. Shelving that is hovering above or even secured to a base unit or boring old sideboard instantly indicates a dresser.

Wall-mounted storage over a desk designates the home office space, and placed at the right height (50cm or less) will demand no more than a reach forward while still seated. A deeper (75cm minimum) properly- supported shelf at the base of a run of wall- mounted shelves can act as desk for a sleek arrangement. Here and everywhere, break your stored items down into frequently used, occasionally used and rarely used, leaving the rare booty (if it has to be out at all) to the loftier shelf. Micro-manage open shelving where possible with boxes, baskets, dividers and trays.

Best buy: Carolyn Donnolly Eclectic metal storage baskets, €12-€18, Dunnes Stores.

Walls of shelving

Recessed or built-in shelving taken to a whole wall is a potentially cheap adventure to gift architectural impact to even a truly dull room.

Decide first how big you want the voids between the shelves to be — the visual rhythm of the thing. Are you thinking of long floating runs of horizontal shelving or want a framed area divided into boxes for books and ornaments? Whether you’re using shelf supports or vertical uprights of timber, particleboard or MDF, the design will lead the choice of materials.

A break-front (where a hearty centre area of the shelving marches forward by a few centimetres — or, as in our example right, it’s used for covered storage and a projection screen). This visual break can accommodate doors or glazed areas and other trims that will chime with the style of the piece. Airy alcoves with just single ornaments, and organising books into colour blocks will calm the look of 3,000 paperbacks.

Best buy: Ready painted architraves and trims by KOTA (MDF), B&Q.

Divide and conquer

Room-dividing shelving, free standing or made from a half-height partition wall, can add chapters to uncomfortable volumes of open plan, especially if in need of a function designation. Do you want to see right through the shelving, or would a solid piece with a back provide more useful shelter and definition? Obviously, if you choose a piece of ready-made furniture, it should be physically stable, crafted all round, with no sharp edges, (see below).

Best buy: Follow the on-trend ladder styling of Francis Cayouette’s One Step Up bookcase in ash and metal, which grouped in two, is my firm designer winner from Normann Copenhagen. €470,

Progressive shelved furniture

Gentle industrial is everywhere this year in distressed boards, enamelled metal and even cast concrete panels. Crowd box shelves together in various shapes, and take triangular brackets onto the top of the shelf, to suspend rather than support a short length.

Take a look at Nendo (Japan) nesting bookcases inspired by Russian matryoshka dolls that pull open magically to the side, shown at the 2015 London Design Festival. A recent trend for shelving cocked sideways to catch books and goods in its corners or set in gyrating uprights and slim veneered panels is largely plagiarised from late mid-century forms.

Think carefully before throwing away the proven horizontal and vertical line.

Best buy: Como floating wall-mounted bookcase systems (pure discreet chic in one box or a whole wall) from Bo concept. From €249, Beacon South Quarter, Sandyford, Dublin.

Some clever shelf ideas

* Metal vintage style suitcase by Kare-Design of Germany. Alternatively two shelf brackets, and vandalising any interesting old hard suitcase, and you have a bulletproof DIY project this weekend! Cut the depth of the case down with a hand saw for a slender shelf if you prefer. The lid can be on or off. Go to PinInterest for more great ideas.

* This fabulous pipe and scaffolding plank confection is €1,113 as a designer piece by Inspirit for Not on the High Street. Have the skills or a willing welder? If not give Greg at Barrel & Gunn (Dublin) a call. They can run up just about anything. Also on Facebook.

* Individual plaster corbels are a lovely addition for placing a single ornament, and can sit proudly in singles or make conversation in gorgeous classic groups. These printed ornaments will hit the shelves at M&S later this spring, any specialist plaster mould company can run you up a range of designs from €15.

* These ethereal vases by Keisuke Fujiwara of Tokyo, are weighted in the base with such delicacy and precision, that the falling of one single petal from a blossom causes them to gently and very minutely move on their base without tipping over. Try grouping almost identical pieces for even greater impact. (Image:

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