do it yourself

Switching up the look of my home office shelves (part 1)

I spend almost every day in our home library, which is what I use as my own office. I’ll have you know that we own a lot of stuff—and I do mean a loooot of stuff—and despite regularly holding garage sales, we never seem to run out of them. Our library is no exception. My husband and I are both avid readers, and our daughter is becoming one herself. We had three bookshelves custom-made specifically for this small and narrow room, but those simply aren’t enough to contain all the books we own, plus some office supplies as well.

Take a look at a photo of our library below, which was taken by Toto Labrador for Cosmopolitan Philippines (for when our house was featured in Cosmo‘s section called “At Your Place: Decorating Tips from a Cosmo Girl”). 

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Our home office/library (image courtesy of Cosmopolitan Philippines/Toto Labrador)

This was taken in December 2014, so I still had my childhood desk in there, and—sa lagay na ‘yan—much fewer items. Come to think of it, we need to do another rummage sale—and the last one we did was just three months ago.

Anyway. Notice the black shelves above the small escritoire in the lower left part of the photo? Here’s another shot by Toto of those same shelves.

Not really a complete view—our library is so narrow, Toto had a bit of difficulty getting the entire length of the shelves in the shot. (Image courtesy of Cosmopolitan Philippines/Toto Labrador)
Not really a complete view—our library is so narrow, Toto had a bit of difficulty getting the entire length of the shelves in the shot. (Image courtesy of Cosmopolitan Philippines/Toto Labrador)

Now, before we move on to the next set of photos, a disclaimer: I suck in photography, and suck even more so with Photoshop. Needless to say, the next few images you will see are now all taken by me, hence, the poor quality (and poor post-editing quality).

Here’s a more complete view of the shelves, which is how I styled it when I first had the shelves installed.

Boxes of supplies on the top shelf, decor books and some tchotchkes on the lower shelf
Boxes of supplies on the top shelf, decor books and some tchotchkes on the lower shelf

For all my crowing about being an “interior stylist” (see previous post), I am an amateur at best. There are other people who, unlike me, don’t even study interior design, and yet have that “magic touch.” So even when I spend so much time analyzing how to decorate certain spaces, I don’t always get my desired look on the first try. These shelves are a prime example of that.

I wasn’t exactly pleased with how I fixed them up, but I was busy, needed to move on to other more pressing matters, and decided I’ll just come back to them when I had more time.

Then, while researching for my work as content editor for home and design website Cromly (shameless plug), I stumbled upon these links.

How to Achieve a Well-Styled Bookcase: I’m pretty nerdy when it comes to—well, a lot of things—and I love reading about how people analyze and solve certain problems or issues. (The only thing this doesn’t apply to is mathematics. I suck at math.) I love arriving at answers to my own how’s and why’s, which is pretty much the reason why I have this blog and seem to tend to overanalyze everything I do. And I loved how Jenna Burger takes apart several well-styled bookshelves and explains why they work.

(Though I don’t love how I used the word “love” three times in the above paragraph. Moving on.)

Although I don’t agree to all of the bookcases she featured—some, for me, just had too many objects in one place—I do agree with what she says about why certain shelves look more well-styled than others:

The key to good balance is layering from front to back and adding elements at varying heights.

My shelves lack that layering element. The boxes lined up on the top shelf and the books all standing on one side on the lower shelf don’t really convey much movement—the eye doesn’t go up and down and side to side and in and out. It just moves stoically from side to side. Doesn’t do much for visual interest, does it?

So I went to my shelves again and tried to add some movement by rearranging my books in vertical and horizontal positions.

IMG_7393

Hmmm. Still not quite “well-styled,” and I suspected it had a lot to do with the amount of books I had up there. Plus the boxes on top didn’t change, and added to the static effect. And then I read this next blog post.

How Objects Add Dimension to Your Decor: This one’s from Jackie of Teal and Lime. (What is it with these work-from-home, decor-loving, DIY-making, bargain-hunting blogger moms?) (I’m really just a work-from-home, decor-loving, trying-hard-DIYer, bargain-hunting-with-zero-budget blogger mom.) Here, she tried to explain a certain formula she’d noticed in beautifully styled spaces, particularly surfaces and shelves. What struck me from this entry of hers is this:

Once I started working on my decor and styling more, I realized how big of a role those non-functional objects play. Not only do they bridge the horizontal and vertical planes, but they also add the most personality to a space. Without objects, a space feels flat and devoid of personality. Objects aren’t just expensive space fillers, they can make or break an arrangement.

If you look again at my initial shelf styling above, you’ll see that it lacks what Jackie thinks is what makes or breaks an arrangement: objects. All the objects you’ll find up there are the mini globe (bought from the bookshop at Changi airport) and a small thrifted trike figurine.

Now that I knew what was wrong with my shelves, I stopped the presses (yeah, this usually happens when I’m hit by a wave of inspiration—even on deadline days) and tried to re-style my shelves a third time.

I broke up those books and boxes, and added more objects.
I broke up those books and boxes, and added more objects.

(Pardon the blurred photos. I’ve already asked my photographer-friend to give me a few pointers. {Hi Toto!})

Here's a more straight-up view. Please do note that I tried to take this photo with my camera on the topmost level of the bookshelf opposite this one, that's why this seems a bit distorted. {Excuses, excuses}
Here’s a more straight-up view. Please do note that I tried to take this photo with my camera on the topmost level of the bookshelf opposite this one, that’s why this seems a bit distorted. {Excuses, excuses}

It definitely looks a bit more dynamic than the first two arrangements. There’s a little more depth as well, though my books and boxes are of the same depth as the shelves, so I should have created more diversity by layering more from back to front. Alas, I had very limited shelf space, and too many books and boxes to place on them. (And unfortunately, there are no other shelves to relegate some of them on.)

But the objects did a lot in breaking up the rigidness of my previous arrangements. There are more spherical shapes, for one: apart from the mini globe, I added the gold scalloped frame from H&M with our family photo (again by Toto Labrador!) and the two ceramic owls (only P80 for the pair from Dapitan!).

The "etc" block letters are thrifted from a small  shop along Kamias Road in Quezon City.
The “etc” block letters are thrifted from a small shop along Kamias Road in Quezon City.

While this third arrangement is much better, I’m still not completely satisfied with it. Now that I’m looking at this more closely, I am starting to realize what else I’m doing wrong. Take the above photo, for example. There are three spherical elements: the framed photo, the owl, and the wooden block letters. Jackie of Teal and Lime did talk about the Rule of Threes, but this three-piece arrangement (obviously not counting the books) doesn’t provide much tension due to the fact that they’re all round. If you do count the books, that makes it a four-piece arrangement, and as any designer will tell you, odd-numbered arrangements are better than even-numbered ones. They just seem more visually balanced.

There is also the problem with uniform heights. While I did switch things up a bit by laying some books on their backs and propping up others vertically with bookends, the items on the shelves all ended up having the same height.

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Books as tall as boxes
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Plant and globe, still the same height
Just a commercial break: Remember my black thumb? This here is a real, live sanseveria bacularis plant, and despite its indoor, indirect-sunlight position, it's remained alive (thank god) for more than two months now. Hooray!
Just a commercial break: Remember my black thumb? This here is a real, live sanseveria bacularis plant, and despite its indoor, indirect-sunlight position, it’s remained alive (thank god) for more than two months now. Hooray!

Obviously, my bookshelves haven’t yet arrived at the well-styled level I had initially hoped they would get to when I had those shelves installed. I guess I will have to rearrange my shelves for a fourth time yet.

The silver lining? It’s all thanks to writing this blog post! I really didn’t have an end goal of inspiring you with (really bad) photos of my home office shelves. In fact, I didn’t really know how to end this entry when I started out writing it. But this is what writing does to me—it helps me thresh out my issues. Decorating issues and otherwise.

I should be able to set aside time on Monday to fix these shelves, and maybe (hopefully) post about them. In the meantime, enjoy the remaining day (sniff) of your weekend—and may you have more luck in decorating your own shelves than I have!

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