Shelfie Secrets - How to Curate a Shelfie

The following is an extract from Shelfie by Martha Roberts. Published by Mitchell Beazley, £12.99 

It’s one thing to wantonly collect and accumulate (which most of us manage with very little effort) but it’s another to curate. Curating is conscious collecting – selecting and acquiring objects with intent. The elements may be chosen because they are a particular brand or type of object (vintage tea caddies, for example) or a specific shape or colour, or because they help to convey the story you’re trying to tell through your shelfie. When it comes to curating for shelfies, here’s how I do it. These guidelines should help to clarify your mind so you don’t end up with heaps of random objects that make you say to yourself, “What was I thinking?!”

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Create a “capsule wardrobe” of styling items

Fashion experts often talk about the aspirational capsule wardrobe. Why not a capsule shelfie wardrobe, too? It gives you a go-to collection for all your shelfie requirements. If you’ve collated objects you love, you should find that they work together harmoniously – a bit like a melodious choir. Of course, you will no doubt add to these as time goes by – with ad hoc additions such as children’s artwork or a birthday gift – but the shelfie capsule wardrobe should give you years of good service.

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This shelfie (above) in my home contains my entire “capsule shelfie wardrobe”, including vases, candlesticks, heirlooms, books, baubles, ribbons and braid, as well as a memory box. The colours are set off by cut-out artwork by Antonia Woodgate and my favourite multicoloured “Happy Happy” canvas by artist Dan Baldwin, which helps the shelfie arrangement to “sing”.

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Mix things up

My style guru is the inimitable Iris Apfel, nonagenarian interior designer and fashion icon. I love how she mixes colour, pattern and texture with unabashed confidence. As quoted in the Telegraph in 2011: “I mix everything up. A museum curator once said to me that there is a great jazz component to the way I do things because good jazz is improvisation and draws elements from all different cultures”. Curating doesn’t mean buying everything that matches. In fact, it often means having the confidence to buy something because it doesn’t. Mix it up like Iris does.

Here’s what my shelfie capsule wardrobe contains:

  • Books
  • Pitchers, vases and glasses
  • Shells, rocks, crystals and pebbles
  • Ribbons, braid, patches, badges, swatches of fabric
  • Baubles and decorations
  • Plants and flowers
  • Heirlooms and hand-medowns
  • Picture frames
  • Candlesticks, candles, tea light/votive holders
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Know where to look

  • Thrift shops: Get managers on your side. They have an overview of what’s come in and have the discretion to let you know about it.
  • Auction and craft websites: Search these for original artwork and objects.
  • Specialist shops: Plunder everything from button shops to a fly-fishing shop for neon floats.
  • Vacations and day trips: Whether it’s a shell or a bracelet, holiday finds can add both visual excitement and emotional connection.
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Shelfie by Martha Roberts.

Published by Mitchell Beazley, £12.99. 

Photographs by Nick Pope.