Shelf Styling Tips & Inspiration

This article was originally shared on my former website, OurFiftiesFixerUpper.com, in Fall 2017, and was updated in November 2018. 

Fun fact about me: I LOVE styling shelves. I could style and restyle shelves all day! I love how versatile they are- you can style them for seasons, moods, decor themes, parties, and so many other ways. You can totally change up the look of a room by restyling the shelves. Fun and colorful, neutral, minimalist, bohemian, modern, rustic… there are so many different ways to style them that can completely change your design aesthetic. Below, I’ll share a few tips for ways that I style shelves no matter what look I’m going for!


1) Decide your decor style.

The style you’re going for makes a difference in the styling items you use. Below are a few popular styles and some ideas of how to style them.

Minimalist/Modern

Prepare to only use a few things per shelf. Lots of neutrals,  simple vases, simple photos/artwork, and lots of open space in your shelves. Because you’re deeply cutting your item selection, pick a few eye catching, unique pieces as well, as seen below!

Image: @doreencorrigan on Instagram

Bohemian/Eclectic

Get those plants ready! You’ll want to use lots of greenery, natural textures like wood and stone, and quirky items. Antique and thrifted items are perfect in this scheme!

Image via 87HomeDesign.com (original source unknown)
Image via Society6

Farmhouse/Rustic

This style relies heavily on baskets, raw wood, metals, and greenery. You will also want to hit up the antique stores: antique books, vases, baskets, and pieces you can repurpose are very popular. 

Image via SarahJoyBlog
Image via LoveGrowsWild

2) Think practically

Where are your shelves located? In a bathroom, show off some items you could actually put to use like soaps or bath bombs. In a kitchen, display some storage jars, mugs and bowls, serving platters, or cookbooks! In a child’s room, display cute toys and signs, books, and use functional items like storage bins to hold things that might not be as pretty to display!

Image via Domino
My own kitchen shelves, styled for Christmas
Image via Better Homes & Gardens

3) Choose larger items you want to feature and place them on the shelves.

The number of large items depends on how many shelves you have. One item per shelf is a good rule of thumb, but if you’re going for a minimalist look, subtract 2-3 from the number of shelves.My favorite larger items to use:

  • Picture frames
  • Books
  • Baskets
  • Plants
  • Vases
  • “Larger items” can also include more than one item used together! E.g. a stack of books, a cluster of tall candles, a group of cutting boards, etc.
Image via RoomForTuesday
Our own kitchen shelves
Our living room bookshelf, styled for fall 2017

4) Choose a smaller item or two to feature alongside the larger item.

Odd numbers (groups of 3 or 5 etc) are always recommended but sometimes two things are just fine- this will be up to you to step back and decide!

Examples:

  • Candles
  • Plants (especially succulents)
  • Smaller picture frames
  • Clocks
  • Vases
  • “Trinkets”- decorative spheres, gemstones, etc.
Floating Shelves in our Master Bedroom
Bookshelf in our living room (styled for Spring 2017)

4) Style and re-style until you’re content!

This involves lots of stepping back and looking at the shelf as a whole!

Other tips:

  • Don’t be afraid to NOT use all of your items, OR, shop for a few new things to complete the look!
  • Think “height balance”: always balance out taller items with 1-2 shorter ones clustered with them. If you have a tall item on the left side of one shelf, put a tall item on the right side of the shelf above or below it.
  • Think “small groups”- for example, put 3 items of varying height on one side of the shelf and 2 items of varying height on the other side of that same shelf. You could also stack 3 books horizontally and put a small item or two on top of them.
  • If your thumb is more black than green, or perhaps your shelves are located in a room with minimal natural light, fake plants are a great option! My fave fake plants are air plants and succulents (I’ve found realistic lookalikes at Hobby Lobby, Michaels, and Target!).
  • Swapping out either photos OR frames can change a look easily. Change up photos for holidays or seasons- the colors in the photo can make a huge difference in the overall look of the shelves.
  • Play around with organizing books by spine color OR by turning the spines around and showing off the pages. Shop antique stores and Goodwill for cheap books!
Image via Bethany Nauert Photography
Image via Beige Renegade
Image via The Creativity Exchange

Here are a few examples of shelves that I’ve styled in our home, and how I’ve changed up the decor for the seasons & holidays or simply a change in my style.  There are a few items that I like to keep in the same spot despite the season, and there are some items that I move around the house.

Our Kitchen Shelves, styled in Spring 2017
Our Master Bedroom Shelves, Styled for Christmas 2017
Shelves in our Master Bedroom
Our Dining Room Barcart
Shelves in our Master Bathroom

I hope you learned a thing or two and got some styling inspiration! I’m always changing up the shelves in our home, so hop over and follow me at @simaspaces on Instagram to see the latest. Below, you’ll find some pieces to help you get started- happy styling!

Author: Laura Sima

Hi, I'm Laura! I have a passion for all things home design, decor, and renovation. My husband Josh and I are DIY renovators, currently working on our 1952 home in St. Paul, MN. I hope that by following along with us, you'll become inspired to find and create the beauty in your home.

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