Tips for Decorating Shallow Shelves

What I find to be one of the hardest things with my projects are the finishing touches. I’m not talking about the caulking, sanding, or getting a perfectly smooth painted finish that has taken hours, days, even weeks to achieve. Today, I’m talking all about decor. You create this masterpiece, and now you have to decorate it. This is about to make or break your entire project. Do you think you can handle the pressure?! I felt this pressure, especially in my home office. My home office is my pride and joy and I wanted it to be nothing but perfect. The office also presented an extra challenge because my shelves are two different depths. One is 12 inches, and the other is 6 inches (so I didn’t block the window). You can bet that the shallow shelf presented its own set of challenges. Luckily I’ve overcome them and I’m here to help you navigate decorating shallow shelves too.

shallow shelves decor ideas. picture frames, baskets, pedestals, bells all on a shallow shelf.

Design Principles of Decorating Shallow Shelves

Guess what?! The design principles of shallow shelves are the same as those of regular shelves. Shocker, I know. There are the easy tips – think odd groupings (threes, fives, etc.), add textures, mix elements, pick a colour palette that works for you, and vary your heights. Styling ultra-shallow shelves doesn’t mean that the typical design principles go out the window. They are just harder to achieve.

If you’re in a situation like mine and you have two very different depth shelves across from one another (pictured above), try to pull the eye out at the bottom creating the illusion of depth. To create this in my space, I went for a basket that has more depth to trick the eye into thinking the shelves aren’t so shallow.

tips for decorating shall shelves by signed Samantha

Objects to Use When Styling Shallow Shelves:

This is the hardest part – finding a variety of objects that will not only fit on your shallow shelf but that will also create visual interest. Here are my suggestions for objects to use when styling shallow shelves.

  • Picture frames and prints or art. This is the easiest thing to start with. They are narrow and come in a variety of sizes and prints. Heck, you could even make your own. 
  • Books. Think everyday readers, not gigantic coffee table books. My favourite is to take these and sping them around so you see the pages, not the binding. It always matches. 
  • Pedestal bowls. This one might be challenging to find in the right size/scale but when you do, they are a perfect way to add texture and height to your space. I saw this one and immediately snagged it from H&M – I can’t find the exact one online but I linked the salt holder which is the same without the pedestal part. 
  • Disk decorative objects. These are tall and shallow. Need I say more?! 
  • Decorative bells. I love these bells. They come in three different sizes and all fit on my shelves. They add texture and dimension to the decor with the leather detailing and unique shapes of each of the bells. 
  • Small decorative boxes. Hide stuff in the boxes, or don’t. The choice is yours. Either way, they are a great alternative to use as books for stacking. 
shallow shelves decor ideas. picture frames, baskets, pedestals, bells all on a shallow shelf.

With any form of decorating, don’t be scared to fail. The art of decor comes with trial and error and many times that means a boat load of buying and returning. Don’t settle for something you don’t like and always make it your own!

Happy shallow shelf stylings.


  • Eileen

    What paint color did you use?

    • Samantha

      Hi There – the walls are Benjamin Moore – Decorators White and the built in colour is Benjamin Moore – Ashwood Moss. The stain is a mixture of briarsmoke and flagstone. Hope that helps!

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