Stylish storage ideas for shelves and cabinets

  • Wallpaper in a display cabinet can serve as a stunning background for basic white dishes.

    Wallpaper in a display cabinet can serve as a stunning background for basic white dishes. Courtesy of York Wall Covering

By Christine Brun
Posted7/13/2014 12:01 AM

Open storage in any room can be both practical and dazzling fun. Granted, you need to exercise a sort of discipline when you intend to expose stored things to public view in your home, but it is possible to create attractive arrangements that serve a purpose. Avoid sloppy stacks, tattered books and piles. But if your intention is to artfully arrange vases, photos or dishes, an open display can be a big plus in the smallest of rooms.

A favorite idea of many is to acquire an étagère. An étagère is an open shelf unit intended for the arrangement of displays. These can be made of wood, metal or wrought iron and range from basic to ornate. Styles range from clean contemporary to curvy traditional. Some people use open bookshelves as a type of room divider because of the ability to easily see past what the storage shelves. Generally étagères are about 12- to 14-inches deep and stand about 6- to 7-feet tall.


Another sassy idea is to install wallpaper on the back of a wall-mounted storage unit or a closed back piece of furniture suitable for presentation of personal items. This concept allows for an unlimited array of design motifs and color combinations that will become a hip background for favorite items. You can purchase a wall-hung display unit that is as narrow as 7-inches deep, and ranges up to 12-inches deep. Think about capturing a vintage wall shelf and refurbishing it as storage for collectibles.

Store sea shells, small figurines or even bar wear might be stored on narrow shelves. Coffee mugs, teacups or a collection of creamers and sugar bowls can also sit on shallow shelves.

Generally speaking, I would suggest that you seek a small wallpaper pattern to apply to the back of such a furniture item. Here we see "Small Trellis Pattern" by Waverly that is pre-pasted and strippable, making it easy to apply.

A splash of an accent color can enable a simple shelving unit to achieve more importance in a space. In addition to wallpaper, consider plain old paint! You might also get more ambitious and apply a faux finish or perhaps glue a fabric to the back of a display unit.

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Both of these ideas prepare an interesting surface to serve as a stunning background for basic white dishes. You may also have an assortment of cobalt blue dishes or vintage carnival glass items that would be set off by an accent color.

Floor-standing storage pieces range from consoles to hutches to china cabinets. Often there is an open top part to a traditional china cabinet and that might be decorated in the manner described above with a different color.

I have an Irish spice cabinet in my dining room with narrow open shelves above a deeper console table. The back is painted a soft sage green; all of the ceramic and porcelain items I display go with that color. I also show copper mugs and plates that create a nice contrast to the green.

Know that you can adopt the same type of colorful solution for closed storage. The surprise of color would be mainly for your private pleasure and experienced every time you open an armoire or solid china cabinet.


You could treat the insides of a tiny hall closet in the same manner and add a battery-powered utility light that will light up the colorful space when the door is opened. Another twist on this theme might be to remove a solid closet door and replace it with a single light door that features frosted glass.

• Christine Brun is a San Diego-based interior designer and the author of "Small Space Living." Send questions and comments to her by email at

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