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Tips for How to Style Shelves

Learn how to style your shelves with these helpful tips and get some great ideas for new artwork and items that work well together.

Hi Kenarry readers! I’m Lori from Greco Design Company back today to share my tips for how to style shelves. Knowing what to display on your shelves and how best to arrange these items can be a little daunting. Styling a shelf is like creating a piece of art. But you don’t have to be an artist to do it well. And even though there are no strict rules for how to do it, I’ve come up with a few guidelines that I think work well and get me over the fear of styling a shelf.

greco design tips on how to stay shelves

I bought a multi-shelf unit for our sunroom and I finally got around to styling it to be a purposeful and pretty display that’s also meaningful to us. Just like anything in your home, your shelves should reflect YOUR style. You can look on Pinterest and in magazines for ideas but ultimately your style should be a reflection of you.

greco design tips on how to style a shelf

1. Figure out what you like. Instead of just filling the shelves with random pieces, I try to figure out what I really like and what’s meaningful to me. This is where you can search blogs, Pinterest, and home decorating magazines for what catches your eye. Then write a list to help you streamline your ideas. Keep in mind where your shelf will be displayed. Is it in a kitchen? A bedroom? Or a sunroom like mine? A sunroom may have more natural and airy items and colors, where a bedroom might have a warmer and cozier feel. Wherever your shelf is going, be sure to make your items purposeful and not just pretty.

My list looked like this:
– blues, neutrals and grays
– burlap and natural elements
– pop of color like red or orange
– nautical items
– distressed wood
– initials, signage and thoughtful art prints
– games
– photos
– baskets

greco design tips on how to style shelves

2. Shop your home. You don’t necessarily need to buy new items. I had a lot of shelves to fill so I bought 2 new pieces but I only spent $24 so it wasn’t too bad. Once I have my list of items, I start searching my house for things that fit that description. I’m somewhat of a hoarder collector so I had a lot of stuff to work with. Gather all your items so you can decide what works best. It’s hard to visualize what will work on your shelves, so I find it’s best to just try them all out before I make any decisions.

greco design time on styling shelves

3. Start with larger objects. These are the objects that will fill the most space. Be sure to spread them out. My multi-colored wood board balances with the big basket and welcome sign. Leaning some of these pieces against the back of the shelf – or the wall if your shelves are open – is a good solution too. If your shelves are closed in the back, consider lining the back of a few with decorative paper. This will add a big impact and the color and pattern will have the same effect as a large object.

greco design tip on how to styles shelves

4. Add the tall items. Don’t forget to add height to your shelves. It’s not a strict design rule but putting tall items on the ends seems to work well. Like bookends. But tall items also need to be balanced. If you have a tall item on the left side of one shelf, add a tall item to the right side of another shelf. I also like to put one of the biggest and/or tallest items on the top shelf – like the sailboat. This makes the unit – and the room – appear even larger by forcing your eye to move upward and around the room more.

greco design tips on how to style shelves

5. Break it up. If you’re styling more than one shelf, sometimes they can get a little busy with all the items. So I like to break this up by keeping one shelf very simple with one large item. Here I used a big basket to hold magazines making the shelves look less busy and more visually appealing. If you have just a single shelf, it could be something as simple as balancing a busier side with a larger, more simplified item on the other side.

greco design tips on how to style shelves

6. Stack & layer. After I have my larger and taller items, I begin to fill in the gaps and layer in items. Items should actually touch or overlap each other – this way they create a more cohesive unit and are more pleasing to look at. This might mean covering some of your favorite items a bit. Don’t worry though, you’ll still see them and they’ll probably get noticed even more if it’s a more pleasing arrangement.

greco design tips on how to style shelves

7. Repetition. By repeating similar colors, shapes and textures, your eye flows more easily because it relates them visually. For example, the pop of red is repeated in the lantern, the air plant and the glass balls. Repeating also works with textures and shapes. The silver orb, decorative dish, colorful glass balls, and white cake stand are all good examples of repeating the circular shape.

greco design tips on how to style shelves

8. It’s all in the details. Here’s where you add the smaller items for a personal, finishing touch. I love natural elements like shells, plants (I heart air plants!!), candles, jars, coasters – even beautiful rocks. These items may not be large in scale but they have a huge effect to the visual balance of your shelves. A good rule for adding smaller items is to keep them to a minimum and space them out. You can pair them with larger items or ground them with a dish, tray or pedestal.

greco design tips on how to style shelves

9. Trial & error. Once your shelves are looking good, just keep moving things around until you have a nice balance. Again, your eye should move easily around your shelves. It shouldn’t get stuck on one area or one item. I’ve changed these shelves several different times over the past few days until I really liked how they looked. I even just recently added a small art print on the lantern shelf. Click here to purchase that art print in my Etsy shop too!

And remember styling a shelf is more like creating a piece of art than an exact science. There are no real rules but I hope these tips will help. And even though I find styling shelves to be somewhat daunting, if I go through this process, I love how my shelves look in the end!

greco design tips on how to style shelves

Here are a list of common items that work well on shelves (you can also check out the items that Carrie used on her bookshelves:

Baskets – great for storage and a way to bring natural texture into your scheme.

Books – assemble them in cohesive color groups or stack them for height. If books are damaged or unattractive, try wrapping them in decorative paper.

Boxes – mix and match decorative styles.

Vases – great tall elements that can be filled or just left as is.

Dishes – a beautiful dish, platter or cake stand can be a great addition to any shelf. Lean a platter or use cake stands for pedestals.

Trays – these make great landing spots for smaller items or work well leaning on their side.

Picture frames – they work best when layered with varying but related finishes.

greco design tips on how to style shelves

Finding artwork for our homes is often one of the hardest things to decide on. That’s why I’m excited to also share with you a brand new idea to add new, fun art to your shelves or walls and help you to see how easy it is to change the look of your home. I created a yearly art print subscription where you will receive 12 new and unique art prints in your e-mail in-box – one each month – for a whole year!

Each print is uniquely designed by Greco Design Company and it’s only $24/year! That’s only $2 per month for new art! And that’s a 50% savings compared to buying each digital art print separately from my Etsy shop.

Yearly art subscription from greco design company

Yearly Art Print Subscription

If you need some more DIY ideas for your shelves, check out these related posts:

DIY antique sign how to tutorial

DIY Antique Sign

Decorative Candy Jars from up cycled glass food jars

Handmade Decorative Candy Jars

What’s Next?

Looking for more great home decor ideas?

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