Neat, orderly rows and structured, perfectly measured spacing has a place in design, but without the occasional “wild card,” the overall look becomes dull, stuffy and monotonous, like chores without playtime or vegetables without the possibility of dessert. Offset or staggered shelving offers that needed break in shipshape decor and -- ironically -- helps to form balance. How you arrange the shelves depends only on a few basic rules and your sense of decorating adventure.
Wild and Freeform
Helter skelter isn’t the technical term for a freeform grouping of shelves, but maybe it should be. If you’ve ever wanted to throw design caution to the wind, here’s your chance. But before you start locating stable wall studs in which to randomly mount shelf brackets, sketch your plan to scale on paper. Even abstract art needs subtle composure or well-hidden direction to be successful. Considering what you’ll place on each shelf helps you nail this project.
Off Put by Wildly Offset?
If you’re worried that a wildly staggered group of shelves won’t have the effect you’re after, simply don’t relinquish too much control. Offset three or four shelves -- one above the other -- back and forth by just a few inches for a uniformly staggered effect. The look is still unexpected, unusual and unlike the room’s more structured elements.
A steplike arrangement works in various settings. You could hang 2- or 3-foot-long shelves on a staircase wall ascending in unison with each few steps. Use narrow shelves for such a project; deep shelves could be a head-bonking hazard. To make a long trek down an otherwise bland hallway more interesting, mount stepped shelves meandering up and then down the wall in wavelike fashion to hold novels, framed collectible comic books or photos, or what-have-you. As for the room with extra-high ceilings, stepped shelves offer another way to display art while guiding the eye along the wall to various points, such as a mantel-like display over a fireplace trailing up and over a high window and back down to an average-ceiling-height "plate rail."
You don’t have to stagger individual shelves directly on the wall; a freestanding bookcase with such a design offers another option. Again, draw your plans on paper for better results. You might design the shelving “helter skelter,” but the overall height and width is key to a unit that fits where you want it.