Carol O’Callaghan explores the versatility of shelving for its practical application in addressing storage issues and also, for its convenience as a way to display books and other decorative items around the home

Shelves are one of the most useful items of furniture, from the practical basic arrangements suitable for garages — storing power tools, and to keep nuts and bolts from wandering around the floor — to more designer-led versions for displaying beloved objects and worthy tomes in the home.

There’s the option of going for handmade if you want something very particular, (and you might be surprised to know it can even cost a price similar to what you were planning to pay for a unit from a mid-range retailer.)

“Ireland is coming out of its fear of bespoke. If there’s something you’ve seen in a shop that you like but doesn’t have the right dimensions for your room, we can make something similar to fit,” says Fergal O’Leary of Horizon Furniture.

But he has advice on how to go about it, so the cost doesn’t rise with changes of mind about the finer detail and finishes.

“Start with what you want the shelves to do,” he says. “What will it hold? Think
function first, before design. What sort of house do you have, traditional or modern?

“From there it’s on to producing drawings and then deciding on the finer details. This is where the price starts going up, accordingly.

“Someone might want a hidden drawer or a specially-sized space for a wedding album, but don’t start with this sort of detail, deal with the practicalities first.”

Tree shelves by Horizon Furniture are made to order and come in a choice of materials, colours and sizes (from €1,300).
Tree shelves by Horizon Furniture are made to order and come in a choice of materials, colours and sizes (from €1,300).

Sometimes designers will have an existing design they modify to suit in terms of size, colour and choice of wood, and there’s the after sale service.

“If it’s handmade well, it will last a lifetime,” says Fergal, “and you have someone to call if something goes wrong later.”

Of course, there’s a vast selection of off-the-shelf designs to choose from, with an equally vast price range, from well below
bespoke to beyond it too, with certain types working best in particular rooms.

Start with the hallway where individual shelves can be wall mounted in a pair as a pit stop for keys, umbrellas and post.

Floating wall shelves, in particular, are easy on the eye as they don’t have ugly brackets that kill the design and look of the wall.

On a practical level, they may or may not take the weight of heavy items so curate that display of beautifully-styled kitchenalia with care, gauging whether heavy cookbooks or a small plant is best in creating a vignette to break up a relentless run of wall-mounted cabinets.

In larger halls, a substantial unit not only adds an interesting dimension, but can be family command-central for school bags, shoes, sports bags, hats and gloves, charger cables and all the other detritus of life.

Ladder-style shelving is perfect for bathroom bits and pieces. Wider versions work equally well in living and hall areas, and are easy to move around the house for a new look (from, from €395).
Ladder-style shelving is perfect for bathroom bits and pieces. Wider versions work equally well in living and hall areas, and are easy to move around the house for a new look (from, from €395).

To keep it from being an eyesore, opt for units with small cubby holes as well as long shelves to keep small items under control. Bathrooms always benefit from shelving but as they tend to be the smallest room in the house, wall-mounted shelves offer extra space for towels and spare bottles of shampoo.

Ladder style shelving units were made for bathrooms, with individual shelves dedicated to things like towels and facecloths, the toothbrush mug and cosmetics, and a moisture loving fern for texture.

Living room shelving often ends up crammed with books, making the wall seem heavy and dense like a library. If it’s used for displaying precious ornaments and
picture frames, it can look like an arrangement at the jumble sale if badly done, but do it well with a mix of books and ornaments, it adds a beautiful dimension to the room and gives it a finished look.

Studio apartment living, and open-plan kitchen, dining and living rooms, can benefit from a unit to divide up the space while retaining the open-plan feel.

In particularly small spaces, a low level version may be more suitable, especially something similar in dimension to a sideboard. It will create a division of the various functions in the room but also keep the space light and airy.

Similarly, a kitchen island in an open plan living space can have shelves on the dining and living side to hold extra crockery and table linens for entertaining.

Shelves can also transform a corner of a dining room. Make a study pod with shelves and an integrated desk top which pulls down but can be stored away when not needed, meaning you get added value in what is typically an under-used room.


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