tyling shelves is hard. No arguments are coming from me on that one. It was one of those things I vehemently loathed for so long. I had so many thoughts racing through my mind while navigating my stylings. What on earth was I going to style shelves with? Books seem simple enough, but do I even have enough books? The right books? What about the colours? Okay, what else? A plant? All of my plants die and don't live. Vases? Seems boring. After years of some random thoughts and a lot of practice, I've finally become more and more comfortable with styling shelves. There are some hard and fast rules I live by now and there are some, more traditional rules, that I've opted to throw out the window and go with my gut on.
Styling Shelves Rule 1: Clear the Space
Nothing is harder than starting your shelf styling when the space is half full, half cluttered, or has things sitting on it. Fully reset your zone. Otherwise, it’ll be impossible to visualize. Move EVERYTHING off to the side. Clean your shelf, dust it and sanitize it. It’ll feel good and help you out big time.
Art for Your Shelves
Styling Shelves Rule 2: Group Your Items
Vases and Jugs
Styling Shelves Rule 3: Think About Your Shelf
Shelves have different heights, depths, lengths, etc. Think about yours and what can feasibly go there. My cabinet here has some pretty short openings for decor: the bottom ones are about 12″ high. So I know I won’t be adding any floral or branches that are too tall. Remove items that won’t work based on this from your piles.
Bowls and Trays
Styling Shelves Rule 4: Start with the Necessities
Sometimes when it comes to styling shelves, I know there are non-negotiables that you need. I’m working on a tea bar in my home and I know I need a basket to collect my daughter’s art projects, mail, etc. I’m going to work with our family’s needs and that basket is one of the first things I incorporated. It’s a realistic and useful item – it’s not the prettiest or most practical but I know we need the storage. If you need to hide remotes, put the remote basket there first. If this is the spot you sit and light your favourite candle, add that. Whatever purpose your space serves, make sure you’re meeting those needs first.
Styling Shelves Rule 5: Depth, Dimension, Groupings, and Repetition
Now you can really get into it. There’s a range of things to remember when styling shelves:
- Groupings: you don’t want things to look random or out of place so make sure you have your items grouped together intentionally. I’m fond of grouping like-vases together. I also love using books or trays to anchor the surface – that way whatever you place on top seems like it belongs (try placing items on your surface without a book and then on top of a stack of books – it’s wild the difference it makes!).
- Dimension: texture, texture texture. Okay, for the love of styling shelves, don’t style them with everything that’s texturally the same. Adding in a mix of linen, metal, wood, stone, glass, smooth, rough, etc. can add quite a bit of dimension to your space.
- Depth: Don’t forget to vary the heights. If you’re styling your shelves and everything is the same height, it’s going to fall flat. Styling with different heights can make or break your decor.
- Repetition: Look at repeating colours, textures, or concepts of textures throughout your decor. Given I have 5 shelves I’m working with, I’ve added repetition throughout. For example, I’ve repeated darker black tones on different shelves to create that commonality and I’ve repeated some open space with my sculptural vase and glass vase.
The biggest thing to remember when you’re styling shelves is to take your time, you may have to collect more items to make it work seamlessly like you want, you may have to sit on it for a day and eventually come back to it, or you may love what you did off the bat. Just remember, it all takes time and that’s ok.
Coffee Table Books
Admittedly I have quite a growing collection of home decor items, so it does make it easier for me to pick and choose what I need, which is why I was able to give you three variations of my shelf styling above. I’ve also started buying things in the same warm-toned and muted colour family to keep it simple and easily interchangeable. None of this happened overnight though. I’ve been doing this for years. If it’s not in the budget to go grab everything you need right away, keep a list of what you think will go in your space. And remember, you can shop for other places in your home, you can thrift, you can DIY, the possibilities are endless and don’t need to break the bank.