Shelf Styling Tips

Whether you’re decorating a bookcase in your living room or open shelving in your kitchen, these tips can be used as guide to create perfectly styled shelves anywhere in your home.

First, let’s talk about the the “ingredients” for shelf styling and then I’ll show you how to put them together to create a cohesive color palette and simple vignettes.


Anytime we style shelves in homes we are staging or in my personal home, there are certain items I always gather. It’s good to have a few different options from each category that vary in color, shape, and size because each shelf will need different things based on what you start with. And don’t feel like you need to go out and buy all new things to decorate with! Chances are you already have plenty of items around the house that you love, so shop your house first before going to buy anything else!


The obvious thing to put on a bookshelf would clearly be… books. You don’t want to fill every shelf end-to-end, instead try setting a stack of a few books together on various shelves, with some laying flat and some standing up for variety. You can use your favorite coffee table and decorating books with the spines facing out or have a more simple look by turning them so the pages face outward. Collect old antique books that have a lot of character or grab a stack of paperback books from the thrift store for cheap and remove their covers. You can also cover a set of books with fabric and tie with twine (my personal favorite).


Art and framed photos are great items to style with. Choose your favorite pieces, make them the focal point, and build around them. Think about how much height you have to play with in between your shelves, and look for frames that will fit well into the space. You’ll also want to start thinking about your color palette and what frame colors will work best with your decor.


The best way to bring a little bit of life into any space is by adding some plants or flowers, and since most shelving you have probably isn’t going to receive a ton of light, faux may be the best way to go. We love our faux palm fronds and olive branch stems.! Look for a variety of pots and containers to put them in from bowls, to pitchers, to baskets.


Start collecting pieces of pottery and vases in a color palette that fits your style. Again, look for a variety of shapes and sizes and finishes. I love having some pieces that look aged and weathered with lots of texture along with a few pieces that have a simple, solid, glossy finish to help balance the contrast. Smaller vases and bowls are great for setting on top of a stack of books, while larger bowls and pitchers can make a statement and simplify an area with a lot of smaller items.


When you have too many small items on your shelves, they can start to look crowded and cluttered, so balancing smalls with larger items is the BEST trick. I’ve noticed that our natural tendency is to want to fill every little space, but you’ll be amazed at how much more cohesive your shelves look when you add one large item to a shelf. As you style, take note of shelves that are busier with smaller items and set one of these large items like a basket or box on the shelf directly above or below it. I also like to use something larger on the very bottom shelf because it visually is “heavier” and use smaller, lighter items in the middle and going up to the top.


The first thing I recommend is to choose a color palette. This will help you select which pieces to use and create a cohesive design. Look at all the items you have gathered and find similarities in color and texture. Do you have a lot of items of the same color? Do you have a lot of wood tones? Is there one accent color like blue or green you want to use? Decide what 2 or 3 colors you want to focus on, and make sure to include plenty of plain, neutral options like white, cream, or light gray.


You want each shelf to be balanced and also different from the other shelves. For example, you don’t want every shelf to have three similar sized items lined up in a row. You should have shelves with two items or groupings of items, some shelves to have three items, and some shelves to have just one large item. This will create a look that is visually appealing, but still cohesive with the color palette you choose. Height is also another important element of styling these miniature vignettes. Try using all similar size items on one shelf, then on the next shelf, place a taller item in the middle of two shorter pieces.


-If your shelves start to feel cluttered, take a few things away and see how the extra space looks. The less you have displayed, the more focus and importance it puts on the items shown.

-Stack some books laying flat with a small vase or candle on top, and stand some upright for variety.

-Start with your favorite pieces you know you want to include or the largest items such as artwork or a framed photo. Then build around those items.

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