Here’s Why Putting Furniture in Front of a Shelf is Actually a Great Idea

published Dec 25, 2019
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: Jill Slater

While shelves solve a lot of decorative problems, they also create a few in the process—including complicating furniture arrangement. Floor-to-ceiling shelves, for example, essentially eliminate an entire wall to place your furniture on, which can be especially problematic in a small space or apartment. 

If your place requires you to make the shelf-furniture combination work, look to the below seven homes for inspiration. These examples work for a few reasons. First, each of the homeowners leaves a small amount of space between the shelf and the piece of furniture. Two, they place seldom-used items near the bottom of the shelf, which makes access less of an issue. And finally, they expertly designed their space around the busy shelving situation, which becomes a natural focal point, instead of trying to side-step it.

Want or need to put furniture in front of a shelf? Here’s how to do it—and do it right. 

Create a Cohesive Color Story

Shanan Campanaro of New York-based textile design studio Eskayel pulls off the shelf-in-front-of-furniture look with ease, as seen in designer Rebecca Atwood’s book “Living With Color.” Why? The secret lies in this space’s gorgeous color story—the use of aquamarine, blue, and green expertly ties this maximalist media nook together. 

Store Seldom-Used Objects at the Shelf’s Base

In Raechel and Ryan Lambert’s 400-square-foot studio apartment placing furniture in front of a shelf was unavoidable. If you’re in a similar situation, heed their advice and store your less frequently used items on the bottom rungs of your shelf. The couple’s colorful books are on full display, while their less visually exciting beige canister is slightly hidden from view on a lower perch. 

Credit: Aimée Mazzenga

Chairs > Sofas 

If you can, place chairs in front of shelves instead of a large sofa or a cumbersome desk. We especially like the functional chair and shelf styling combo in James Conley and Kurt Heinrich’s Chicago home. Not only are the recessed shelves tastefully decorated, all of the items are still visible and accessible from each seat.

Go Neutral

Our biggest bone to pick with floor-to-ceiling shelving is that it can be busy. Balance all that visual chaos out à la Esther, Álvaro and Aníbal by sticking to neutral furnishings and decor. The all-white table and chairs, shelving unit, and light fixture makes the colorful books and greenery pop even more. And yes, you can put a table in front of a shelving unit. Just make sure you have enough clearance to pull the chairs out. As you can see, placing the table on the diagonal also helps.

Credit: Minette Hand

Keep it Symmetrical

Here fashion designer Danielle Ribner flawlessly introduces some much needed-shelving space into her Parisian-inspired dining room by adhering to the room’s natural center. She also leaves ample space between the dining table and shelving unit, ensuring that the room is functional and practical. 

Credit: Lauren Kolyn

Opt for Enclosed Shelving

Minimalist at heart? Take notes from Cassandra Hope and install a sleek enclosed floor-to ceiling storage unit, rather than open shelving. This approach provides just as much storage space as a shelving unit, but gives the room a streamlined look. As always, leave plenty of space between the unit and your furniture, so you can access your items. 

Credit: Lauren Kolyn

Stick to a Theme

Storing a single item on your shelves appears much more intentional design-wise and eliminates the visual clutter typically associated with shelving. As such, the furniture arrangement in front of these kinds of set-ups is not much of an issue at all. Take Cynthia Zamaria’s inventive firewood storage, for instance. The whole wall doubles as a sort of art installation and creates a cohesive look in the space. And that pair of sofas doesn’t interfere with the design or function of said space at all.

Follow these homeowners’ tips, and we promise: your shelves will play well with the furniture in front of them.