Simple Tips For Styling Shelves

July 8, 2020

It may look oh so simple but the art of styling shelves is anything but. I’ve worked on perfecting this practice for years and I feel like I’ve finally found my method, an approach that is proving to serve me well, both professionally with my interior design projects, and personally, with the various shelves and bookcases in our home

So where do you begin? I may lean towards a minimalist side when it comes to my style, but yet, one of my top secrets I’ve discovered when it comes to styling the scary shelves is that actually, MORE can be better. Though some homes/styles are better if styled with a minimal approach, I lean toward the lived-in, curated look.

As you begin tackling your shelves, think about what exactly you want to showcase on them. Do you have travel memorabilia you can display? Framed photos that you can add in? Special books, both novels, and larger coffee table volumes? Pull out anything and all that might work. I always recommend starting with a healthy mix of vases, books, sculptures, artwork, plants/flowers, and more, and then weeding through the collection carefully as you place each item, and then play around with various positions over and over again…


No. 1 – Take everything off the shelf to create a blank canvas, clean said shelf, edit any clutter, and only keep the items you absolutely love. 

No. 2 – Sort items based on a color palette to make a big impact. For instance, my living room bookshelf is filled with books that are all in a similar neutral color palette; I purposely didn’t include any bold colors or patterns as I wanted to create an overall calming vibe on the shelves. 

No. 3 – Separate items also by size: one mistake I see often is a lot of really small things gathered on shelves. If any item you’re displaying is smaller than two to three inches tall, I recommend finding a way to gather these items together, such as in a basket. That way you avoid the image of just a random collection of knick-knacks.

No. 4 – Start with books and the largest decor pieces as those will anchor the smaller items that you use to fill in the remaining space.

No. 5 – Play with different heights, depths, and odd numbers. I love adding smaller artwork to the back of shelves to create more depth. I also recommend grouping accessories in odd numbers as it’s more appealing visually. This is a good rule to remember when styling any surface in your home!

No. 6 – Strive for balance: you don’t want the shelves to be so filled that you can’t actually appreciate any of the items and your eye doesn’t know where to go. But don’t leave it too empty to where your decor looks like it’s floating and isn’t given purpose. Mix it up a bit; if you have standing stacked books on one shelf on the bottom of a bookcase, then try a few stacked books horizontally and add a decorative piece on top of the books on a higher shelf.

No. 7 – Keep going: continue to edit and re-style the shelves until they feel right. I find that taking a photo of the shelves/shelf really helps! It’s also a bit of a never-ending project; you’ll find a great look but a few weeks later, you’ll be tweaking it again! Enjoy the process and if you don’t, hire a designer/stylist. 😉 haha!

What are your favorite tips for styling shelves?