Shelf Styling 101

Built-in bookshelves, TV console shelving, a fireplace mantle. What do all of these things have in common? They are likely visible from most spots in our home and need to be functional, yet stylish! Well, I’ve spent some time in the past reading articles and blogs on shelf styling and I’ve found you can get it right with just a few simple steps.


First things first, you need to clear everything off of the shelves. I usually take this opportunity to decide what really needs to live on the shelves and what can be stored somewhere else or tossed. I find that my shelves tend to collect random objects along the way. So every few months, they need a refresh. Recently I went through our bookshelves and got rid of our DVD stash. I don’t know why I was holding onto so many DVDs, but we never use them! Make sure you really evaluate what you want to put on display and what you would rather put elsewhere.


Once I’ve got everything off of the shelves, I can see what I have and what I need to fit. I usually put books in one pile, framed art or photos in another pile, and the rest are typically decorative accents. I take a look at the space I have on the shelves to make sure everything will work. I actually visualize before I start placing things. The heaviest items should go on the bottom shelves (think: visually heavy, not just physically). Then work your way up. Be careful to leave empty space on each shelf. Items tend to get lost if there are too many things on one shelf.



The shelves need to be functional for your space! Maybe you need to store kids toys out of sight at the end of the day or there are family photo albums that need a home. This is where pretty baskets and bins come in. And since these pieces sometimes take up a substantial portion of a shelf, I like to start with incorporating what NEEDS to be stored on the shelf. Then style around it. Again, I would typically place baskets and bins near the bottom of the shelves since they are visually heavy. If you are going with a wire basket, or something that shows the contents inside, make sure what you are storing is in line with your color scheme. For example, I store my workout weights and bands on our bookshelf. These items are bright blue and bright pink, so I put them in a wooden box that does not show the contents!


There are plenty of ways to display books on shelves. If I have any books with pretty binding or that are a bit larger, I tend to stack those. For smaller books, like novels, I like to stand them up between some book ends. If any of the book bindings aren’t that pretty, or don’t fit into the color scheme of the room, I turn the bindings around to mute the colors. Another idea is to organize books by color, to create an ombre look. I will also say that anything can be a bookend, as long as it’s heavy enough. I’ve used a vase and a piece of driftwood in the past. Whatever works!


Now you have the base of what needed to be stored on your shelves: the bulky items and the books. The rest is mostly for decoration and is fun to style! Take some of your favorite photos and put them in black, silver, or gold frames. Extra matting always makes the photo pop. I print my photos at Walgreens and do same-day pick up. I love these Tiny But Mighty frames from Amazon. I like to layer frames on top of something else, like a mirror. Or place the frame at the back of the shelf and layer a succulent in front of it. And finally, sometimes you need to add a photo stand if there is nowhere to lean the picture frame. I use these wire stands and I also have one of the gold metal stands. Both work great!



I find that my favorite decorative accents fall into three categories.

1) Leafy greenery or a plant of some sort - a potted succulent on a shelf or a vase with eucalyptus stems can really help add life and color. I go with faux when I know the area won’t be getting much light (and so I don’t have to remember to water).

2) A metal or glass tchotchke, like a decorative glass bowl - I read recently that every stack of books needs “a hat”. Meaning, something to stack on top of it to finish the look. I think the same is true for a bookshelf. I’ find the best decorative accents at thrift stores and salvage shops. I’ve picked up a basket from our trip to Africa. And I have used glass bowls that we received as wedding gifts. Generally, look around your house and I guarantee you can find something to use! If not, here are some good ideas from Amazon.

3) A candle or source of light - this is the finishing touch. I like to put candle sticks on top of the fireplace mantle. A candle with a pretty container looks great on a bookshelf, even as a book end! Just be careful with open flames. A small lamp for ambiance would also work great.