How to Style an Etagere
Use This Simple Formula for How to Style an Etagere Like a Designer.
Good Morning DIY designers! I am excited to share this super simple etagere styling session with you today. Here’s a little back story as to why and what brought about this video and detailed post on making your bookshelf or etagere look magazine ready.
THE ETAGERE BACKSTORY
Last month I bought an etagere, this Crosley Furniture Aimee Etagere from Amazon (affiliate link- no cost to you, I get a small (pennies) commission). After searching the entire interwebs, the same pieces kept showing up from Wayfair and Ballard, but they were too short around the 70″ range.
Then, I managed to find this etagere on Amazon. And with prime shipping it was here in no time. The price was right at $217.00 with a 4.5 star rating. Now, I’m a compulsive review reader, so if you read the reviews, you will see a few negative ones.
But, I weighed those reviews and took into consideration the most common complaint. The color wasn’t a shiny gold, but a matte gold color. And I was 100% fine with that. So assuming it would arrive with all of the parts and the holes would like up for assembly, it was going to be the etagere for my living room.
First, there were a few boxes the etagere needed to check. Since I was ordering it for the living room, it would need to be tall (80+ inches) to balance the tall windows in that room. I was also sure I wanted it to be brass/gold to coordinate with the peacock side table, but not the same tone as all of the other wood in the room (piano, coffee table, another side table).
Lastly, I wasn’t too concerned with quality for this particular bookshelf/etagere. I like a mix of high and low, and since this piece is going to be mainly decorative to hold my growing ginger jar collection, an inexpensive etagere is the perfect fit. It won’t take a constant beating from daily use like a coffee table or sofa, but will sit pretty in the corner and hold all of the pretty things.
WAS IT A BUST?
Like most Amazon prime items, it arrived in a few days. I unboxed it and laid out all of the pieces. It went together surprisingly well without a hitch. It was certainly a WINNER not a bust!
There are essentially 3 sided square metal tubes that are used to connect the outer frames. The shelves anchor to these long tubes and connect the back to front. After a few minutes of tightening things down with an allen wrench, this bookshelf was ready to stand up.
As promised, it was a matte gold bookcase with glass shelves that are 18″ high and measured 80″ tall as expected. I have to say for $200 this Aimee Etagere turned out to be a great purchase. It holds all of my decorative pieces, including tall vases and is the perfect addition to my living room.
What is an Etagere?
Are you still here? I’m glad you made it through my novella about a bookcase; that show’s how deep my love for interiors runs.
So are you wondering what an etagere is? You may have gathered that it’s a bookshelf of some sorts. It’s history is of French origin and was used to describe the piece of furniture with open shelves to hold decorative objects.
Definition of etagere: a piece of furniture consisting of a set of open shelves for displaying small objects and sometimes having an enclosed cabinet as a base
Whatnot, series of open shelves supported by two or four upright posts. The passion for collecting and displaying ornamental objects that began in the 18th century and was widespread in the 19th stimulated the production in England and the United States of this whimsically named piece of furniture. The French version was called the étagère. Some examples contain drawers at the base; others have three sides of the upper shelf surmounted with an ornamental board. via Britannica.
This alternative use of the term “Whatnot” for etagere is fascinating. It describes exactly what it holds and does in an ambiguous way, but if it were in front of you, the word would make total sense.
In summary, the etagere is a french term, often used in furniture, to describe an open bookcase for holding decorative objects.
What Size Etagere or Bookcase Should You Buy?
What size etagere should you buy? Getting the scale is really going to be the answer to this question.
First, you’ll want to consider your ceiling height. Are your ceilings 8 ft or above? You can probably support a taller etagere.
Next, before you click “add to cart”, observe the other large pieces of furniture in the room. You want to avoid having all of the pieces be the same height. Are there short pieces like a piano, half heigh built ins, side tables? Or do you mostly have large pieces that are at the 80″ mark.
I do want to note that having tall pieces doesn’t exclude you from having a tall etagere. In fact it will likely call for the piece to be tall enough to suit the room. However, you are looking at furniture heigh to avoid having all of the pieces at the same level. We want to vary the heights of the pieces in the room. So all of your furniture is 80″ tall, let’s rethink what piece to add to the room.
When researching bookcase and etagere options, I found that most of them were in the 70″-75″ range. It was hard to find an 80″+ etagere. My initial inclination is to recommend an 80″ etagere if your ceiling height it 8′ + and you have large windows. If your ceilings are low, opt for the smaller size.
But remember to check the height of the other furniture pieces and built ins in the room so that there isn’t a visual line of furniture tops at 80″ around the entire room.
RULES OF ETAGERE DESIGN
Rules are meant to be broken. But, I want to give you a few great starting points for your etagere styling. After you digest these rules and begin styling your etagere, you will learn how to apply the rules to create groupings of objects for perfectly styled shelves.
What Decor Pieces Should I put on my Etagere?
By now, you have probably gathered the type of things that you’ll want to pull together on your etagere or bookshelves for styling them. But, I will give you a list of some ideas as a recap.
- stacks of books
- vases- tall, medium, small
- wooden or sculptural bowl
- brass objects
- wooden beads
- bone inlay box
- stack of magazines
- candle jar
- framed artwork (leaned against wall)
- wooden objects
- glass figurine
- geode/ crystal
Size & Scale
Measure the size of each shelf space. You will mostly opt for large objects. Pick objects with height and depth to take up the space.
A common mistake when buying decor (or gathering from around your home) is to use too many small pieces. We want the object on the shelf to make a statement. They need to be large enough to see from a distance.
We can stack objects for height, but maintain width and depth for shorter items. Begin gathering your items (the list above is a great starting point) for filling the shelves.
Tip: if you are restyling your bookshelves or etagere, remove everything first and then start replacing items one by one.
Leave White Space
When we begin placing objects on the shelves, we want to be careful not to overcrowd them. Grouping the objects in pairs and sets will help you delineate white space in between the groupings. Doing this allows your eye to pick up on the individual pieces and not see it as a whole cluttered mess.
Which brings me to the next point.
Clutter is the number one etagere or bookcase styling killer. Less is more. So stick to those large staple pieces like large vases and urns and stacks of books. Avoid too many small tchotchkes.
Tip: If you love collecting like I do, buy collections of the same type thing. For example, a collection of all blue and white jars is more impactful than 7 random small decorative items. Likewise, if you love dogs, collect similar dogs objects in various sizes and group them together as opposed to a menagerie very small of animals.
Mix Old and New
A great way to add character to your shelves is to mix old and new items. By adding in vintage or passed down finds, you’ll avoid your shelves from looking like a Home Goods isle.
I love to shop Instagram (read how to do it here) and Ebay for books, brass statues, vases and urns, lamp slips, books ends and framed art to mix with my Target and Home Goods finds.
New: candles, decorative boxes, books, beads, wooden bowl, textural basket/tray
Old: Vases, books, art, jars, book ends, vintage brass objects/sculpture
Lastly, of the etagere styling rules is to mix materials. You want to vary the shiny, woven, paper, and wooden objects. Avoid a shelf of entirely shiny objects or all wooden farmhouse signs and crates.
Add woven trays or baskets, with old and new books, shiny brass or glass objects or orbs, wooden boxes or bowls, and ceramic or handmade matte pottery for a collected, balanced look.
Now you have the basics and fundamentals of what items to use for styling your etagere. Next, we will talk about the formula for styling and the how.
FORMULA: HOW TO STYLE AN ETAGERE
Can I start by saying it is sooooo hard to put into words something so visual like how to style an etagere. But, I’ve tried my best to break down the formula for collected, but uncluttered shelf styling.
Below you will fine (1) each shelf number, (2) the item groups on each shelf, (3) the number of groupings on each etagere shelf.
*Note- the Number of groupings isn’t the number of items, but the pattern for the total visual groups of object. You will leave space in between the groupings so that they are visually separate spaces and not all of the items lined up.
FORMULA FOR SHELF STYLING
Shelf 1: Vase + Box & Object + Vase (3 Groupings)
Shelf 2: Tall Vase & 2 small vases + Books & Bookend (2 Groupings)
Shelf 3: Art & Horizontal Book stack & Wooden Box + Horizontal Book stack & Object (2 Groupings)
Shelf 3 Alternative: Art & Large Horizontal Book stack + Horizontal Book stack & Bowl (2 Groupings)
Shelf 4: Tall Sculptural Statue + Horizontal Books & Object + Medium Vase (3 Groupings)
Etagere Shelf Groupings
Here I am showing you a few of the grouping combinations so that you will be familiar with how to group the items and how to separate the groups. The goal is to create separate stacks of items and leave white space in between them as well as around/above some as well.
You want the items and objects to look like meaningful, collections and not random items thrown on a shelf. For that, you’ll need more tall, substantial items rather than smaller tchotchkes.
Below, the dotted lines represent the groupings & space between.
Vase + Box & Object + Vase (3 Groupings)
Tall Vase & 2 small vases + Books & Bookend (2 Groupings)
Art & Horizontal Book stack & Wooden Box + Horizontal Book stack & Object (2 Groupings)
Tall Sculptural Statue + Horizontal Books & Object + Medium Vase (3 Groupings)
Etagere Styling Resources
I’ve provided a few additional resources here on Etagere Styling to help you hone in on your bookcase decorating skills. To be honest, when I’m writing an article I typically do a little Google research about the topic. I want to know what questions to answer, which questions I can’t find an answer to, and where there are any gaps that I can fill in for you.
So when I researched etagere styling, there wasn’t a really long, in-depth article on the first page of the search results. That let me know that there is a need for a detailed article on styling. And in addition to an article, having a video to show you how to style your own etagere is even better.
Guess what? I couldn’t find a great video on stying an etagere either. So I made one!
Video: How to Style an Etagere
I created this video episode originally on IGTV, but have embedded it here for you to watch. It goes over the items to pull together, what pattern to use on the shelves, what to leave off, and how to vary heights.
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The second etagere styling resource I have rounded up is an article from Arcictectural Digest with tips from Suzanne Kasler, who is an amazing designer.
Resources: Architectural Digest post on How to Arrange a Bookshelf