How to Expertly Style a Shelf or Bookcase [7 Tips]

Whether you are lucky enough to have built-in bookcases, or you just have a few floating shelves, shelving is a great way to display accessories, art, and other treasures that are meaningful to you.

We love Pinterest and use it for inspiration and mood boards, but if you search “shelfie inspiration” on Pinterest you get… a lot of the same.

You might end up thinking there is only one “right” way to style a shelf – and that just isn’t true! Or you might think you need to pick three colors and go out and buy a bunch of new accessories to style your shelf. This isn’t true either!

Nearly every project we complete includes a styled shelf or bookcase, so we are going to give you our best tips and show you a wide variety of real-life styles!

1. Pick a Focal Point (or Few)

Every shelf should have items in a variety of sizes to draw the eye where you want it to go. Imagine a space where every item is roughly the same size. It would just look like a messy sea of stuff! You should have a couple of larger items to anchor the spaces. Here you can see that the baskets stand out, as well as the framed art in bottom left shelf. However, each individual shelf has a variety of sizes and its own “anchor” item.

2. Use Groups of Odd Numbers

Odd numbers of like items tend to be more pleasing to the eye, especially when you use the “rule of three.” In the first picture (left), you can see the group of three items on the bottom shelf. There are two additional figures on the top shelf, bringing the total to five.

On the right, there are THREE shelf units. Tying the three shelves together are three plants, one on each shelf.

3. Add Plants, Vases, Books, Photos & Art, Decorative Objects

No need to go out and purchase perfectly styled items for your shelves. We believe everything in your home should mean something to you. We frequently source decorative objects and accessories to complete a look, but most of what we use is meaningful to the homeowner.

Plants bring life and vitality to your décor. Books, photos, and art communicate a lot about you and what you are interested in. These can even be great conversation starters when you entertain.

Baskets can be storage for clutter-y items that you don’t want visible out in the open.

Decorative objects and vases can be things you have sourced in your travels and everyday experiences, or they can be purchased simply to finish the look. There really is no right or wrong.

4. Layer, Stack & Group

This is closely related to tip number one where we determined that you should have objects of varying size. If you have several items that are all the same size and visual weight, you can try stacking them and grouping them in various ways to make them visually interesting.

5. Pick a Palette of Colors & Finishes

There are many ways to create visual cohesion, but one of the easiest is to pick a color palette and/or few finishes or textures (bronze, leather, etc.) to stick with. You can see in these two examples of open-shelf kitchens that our commitment to a specific color palette ends in a beautiful, uncluttered look.

6. Edit, edit, edit.

You might think that we put all our items on the shelves and get a perfect result the first time… but nope! It can take several iterations to get to the perfect result. Sometimes taking a picture can help you identify what is “off” about the styling of your shelf. Maybe you have some blank spaces to fill. Or maybe you need to subtract something. It could simply be a matter of the way things are arranged. Try several things. If you document along the way, you can always go back to something you liked better.

7. Do You.

At the end of the day, you are the one that must live with it. YOU should love it. Let your design style influence your shelf style. Do you like a more “curated and composed” look, like the minimal design on the left? Or would you rather have shelves that are “teeming with treasures” like on the right. Know your individual design style and let that influence how you style your shelves.

These 7 tips should put you well on your way to beautifully styled shelves. Remember that the most important design “rule” is that it should make you happy when you enter the room!