What Is A Whatnot Shelf?

Are you curious to know what is a whatnot shelf? You have come to the right place as I am going to tell you everything about a whatnot shelf in a very simple explanation. Without further discussion let’s begin to know what is a whatnot shelf?

In the world of interior design and home decor, a “whatnot shelf” is a delightful and versatile addition to any living space. Its name may be somewhat enigmatic, but the purpose and charm it brings to a room are quite clear. In this blog, we will explore what a whatnot shelf is, its history, and the various ways it can be incorporated into your home decor.

What Is A Whatnot Shelf?

A whatnot shelf, also known as a whatnot stand or étagère, is a type of shelving unit characterized by its open, often asymmetrical design. These shelves typically consist of several tiers or platforms, and they are used for both functional and decorative purposes. The name “whatnot” suggests its versatility, as you can display a wide array of items on these shelves, making them a perfect fit for showcasing your personal style and collections.

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A Brief History Of Whatnot Shelves

The whatnot shelf originated in England during the late 18th century and became especially popular in the 19th century. These shelves were initially designed to display various decorative objects and curiosities, which led to their quirky and eclectic nature. Whatnot shelves were frequently found in Victorian-era homes, where they served as a canvas for homeowners to exhibit their diverse collections and decorative items.

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Key Features And Characteristics

  1. Open Shelving: Whatnot shelves feature open shelving, which means that the shelves do not have a solid backing or enclosed sides. This design choice contributes to their airy and open appearance.
  2. Variety of Tiers: Whatnot shelves come in various configurations, with different numbers of tiers or platforms. Some have just a few levels, while others can have several, creating an interesting visual dynamic.
  3. Elegant Framework: The frames of whatnot shelves can be crafted from a variety of materials, including wood, metal, or a combination of both. The framework is often adorned with decorative elements, such as turned spindles and finials.
  4. Versatile Usage: Whatnot shelves are incredibly versatile and can be used in virtually any room of the house. They are suitable for displaying a wide range of items, from books and collectibles to potted plants and decorative accessories.

Incorporating A Whatnot Shelf Into Your Decor

  1. Living Room: Use a whatnot shelf to display a collection of your favorite books, family photos, and decorative vases. You can also add small sculptures or figurines to create an artistic and eclectic display.
  2. Kitchen: In the kitchen, whatnot shelves can serve as a stylish storage solution for your cookbooks, spice jars, and colorful dishes. This adds a touch of warmth and character to your culinary space.
  3. Bathroom: Place a whatnot shelf near your bathtub to hold scented candles, bath salts, and plush towels, creating a spa-like atmosphere. It’s both functional and aesthetically pleasing.
  4. Bedroom: In the bedroom, use a whatnot shelf to showcase your collection of framed artwork or your cherished collection of vintage cameras and accessories.
  5. Home Office: In your home office, these shelves can store reference books, office supplies, or decorative items that inspire creativity.


A whatnot shelf is a charming and versatile piece of furniture that can elevate the style and functionality of any room in your home. Whether you are showcasing treasured collectibles, organizing your favorite books, or adding a touch of greenery with potted plants, whatnot shelves offer a unique and visually engaging way to express your personality and creativity in your living space. With their rich history and timeless appeal, these shelves continue to be a popular choice for those looking to add character and organization to their homes.

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What Do You Put On A Whatnot Shelf?

The antique whatnot stand was intended to display a variety of objects, ornaments, curiosities, books and papers. They are usually in very nice serpentine or simpler rectangular shapes, with three shelves and occasionally one or two drawers below.

What Piece Of Furniture Is A Whatnot?

Perhaps the most colloquial and winsome term in the antique lexicon, a whatnot is the name given to a floor-standing piece of open display furniture, comprised of slender uprights which support a series of shelves, based on the French design known as an ‘etagere’.

What Does A Whatnot Look Like?

A whatnot is made in three or four tiers, and of any shape: square, oblong, quarter of a circle, as in the illustration, to fit into a corner. Sometimes when the whatnot is rectangular a drawer is added below the lowermost shelf. They are generally intended for the reception of music-books, china, &c.

Why Is It Called A What Not?

whatnot (n.) also what-not, 1530s, “anything,” from what + not. Elliptical for “what may I not say,” implying “everything else.” As the name of a furniture item, first attested 1808, so named for the objects it is meant to hold.

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