A top-shelf showcase

Most of us never complain about having too much of these three things: chocolate, free time and spots in our homes where we can display treasures and store everyday items.

Most of us never complain about having too much of these three things: chocolate, free time and spots in our homes where we can display treasures and store everyday items.

I can’t give you a chocolate fix or help you tame your calendar, but I can tell you about two fabulous tools I use to showcase accents or corral stuff in my home: etageres and baker’s racks.

These timeless classics are the perfect choice when you’re looking for attractive and functional shelving.

Shelves with style: Although the name sounds snooty, etageres are anything but fussy. Once called a “whatnot,” these striking shelves were immensely popular in 19th-century France and England, where you’d find them in most middle-class homes loaded with collectibles.

Today, etageres are as hot as ever. You may not be familiar with the name, but I’ll bet your know the furniture style.

Etageres look a lot like a bookcase: They are tall, thin and have at least three shelves. But unlike a bookcase, they usually have open sides and backs, so they present a light, delicate appearance that makes them an ideal pick for spots where you want a piece of furniture that adds height but not bulk.

Etageres come in nearly every size, shape and style imaginable, so they fit perfectly in any home. They can be made of natural or painted wood, rattan, metal, glass or marble.

You’ll find modern industrial styles, traditional French and English looks, and everything in between. I’ve seen some that resemble Asian pagodas and others that look like they were made of pruned twigs.

Just like an etagere, baker’s racks are shelving units with open and airy backs and sides. My favorites are antiques made of iron and polished brass.

Although they were originally cooling racks for baked goods, baker’s racks have evolved into attractive storage and decorating tools.

Sensational showplace: In my book, there’s nothing better than having shelves to fill with things you love. I’ve fallen hard for etageres and baker’s racks because they are both beautiful and fun to decorate.

The key to creating powerful displays on these open shelves is to pull together a group of larger statement pieces, not a mass of tiny treasures that will look cluttered.

Be sure to vary the sizes, shapes and heights of your pieces to ensure visual interest. And provide an intriguing backdrop on several of the shelves to frame the items displayed there, such as a tray, mirror or artwork.

Fill your etagere or baker’s rack with silver serving pieces, mixing in fresh topiaries for a pop of color.

Or showcase a collection of blue-and-white china, such as urns, trays, teapots and serving bowls. For summer, grace the shelves with an assortment of succulent plants in interesting containers.

Storage galore: I had an etagere light bulb moment in a friend’s office when I noticed how she cleverly used her chic etagere to store back issues of the decorating magazines she uses in her interior-decorating business.

Instead of looking like clutter, the magazines were artwork neatly stacked in this eye-catching shelf.

Etageres and baker’s racks are a perfect way to solve storage challenges in nearly every room in your home. My guest bathroom has zero storage space, so I put a black etagere next to the sink and stocked it with supplies my guests need, from towels to jars holding toiletries.

Place an etagere in your bedroom or closet to hold sweaters. Put one in the study to store books.

Place one on your patio to collect your garden tools and pots.

Use one in your kitchen to sort cookbooks or hold serving pieces that don’t fit in cabinets, like soup tureens, punch bowls or pitchers.

Mary Carol Garrity is the proprietor of several best-selling books on home decorating.

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