My title here kind of makes me thinking of a book title--Something like Raising the Difficult Child, haha! Just talking shelves though here, which is a little easier than child rearing.
So we have these built in shelves at the bottom of our library stairs. (Darn, I can't find a before picture!)
They are not very deep, definitely not tall, and are DARK! They took a few days of thinking and rearranging to get a look I like.
Here are my tips:
For dark shelves, used light colored objects. I had some old cameras I wanted to display, but they were black and disappeared.
Use some organic objects, like the antlers, wood bowl, the jar of shells, and the wood spools.
Use objects that have meaning. The Little Men book belonged to my dad, the shells are from trips to the Oregon coast.
Add colors--the ukulele is my son's, he taught himself to play. A friend accidentally sat on this one so now it is a decor item for mom. I wanted to add some yellow so I used a few yellow books and a jar with yellow twine.
Add something new and fresh. Elephants are all the rage and I love them so I bought a white one at TJ MAXX. The little globe and star thingy are from there too. It is fun to have a few trendy things, but not too many.Keep it simple, do not fill every space.
And finally, only use objects you love, things that make you smile when you see them.