Shelf Styling Made Easy: Designer Tips for a Gorgeous Display

Shelf Styling Made Easy: Designer Tips for a Gorgeous Display

One of the things we get asked most about as designers are tips for styling shelves.  It can be tricky but by following these tips, you’ll find shelf styling to be a breeze. We will cover five of our favorite tips on how to style open shelves to create a gorgeous display. 

1) Select and Stick to a Color Palette

When it comes to learning how to style shelves, one of the most important aspects is selecting and sticking to a color palette. This helps create a cohesive look that will draw the eye in and make the display appear intentional and well-designed.

When choosing your color palette, try to pick around 3-4 colors that complement each other. For example, if you have shelves next to a fireplace, you might want to stick to neutral colors such as white, black, gray, brass, and wood tones. However, don't be afraid to add a pop of color in the form of greenery or decorative objects.

Stuck or have a hard time finding the right thing?  Head over to for your accessories, bowls, and trays.  We have beautiful black bowls that look great on a shelf to hold keys and odds and ends. Then add these black candlesticks to the shelf below on the opposite end. Finally add the repeating black color by using these Mango Wood Jacks.  Then continue a collection of beige items in the same way.

It's also important to spread your colors evenly around your shelves to avoid clustering too many items of the same color together. This helps maintain balance and visual interest in your display.

2) Use a mix of materials

When it comes to how to decorate shelves, using a mix of materials is a key factor in creating a beautiful and interesting display. Open shelves in living rooms and dining rooms provide the perfect opportunity to showcase a variety of textures and finishes. By incorporating different materials such as wood, metal, ceramics, and woven baskets, you can create a layered and visually appealing display. If you have a metal object, try to incorporate more than one object of the same material to tie the design together. We love to mix textures like the Rachel Textured Platter with Seagrass Baskets like these.

Organic materials such as shells, gemstones, or branches can also add a unique touch to your display. Don't be afraid to mix and match different textures and finishes, as this will help create depth and dimension. Remember, the key to successful shelf styling is creating a display that is both visually interesting and meaningful to you.

3) Use the triangle method when placing items

If you have open shelves in your home, you know how important it is to accessorize them just right. One technique that can help you achieve a perfectly balanced and visually appealing display is the triangle method.

To use this method, start by grouping items of similar colors or materials in a way that creates triangles on your shelves. For example, if you have a brass metal item on the top right shelf, make sure you have a brass metal item on the next shelf on the left. 

Make sure they are not all placed next to each other or in a straight line. Instead, space them out and create triangles with other items on the shelves. This will create a flow and keep the eyes moving between all the shelves instead of focusing on one.

As you can see in the graphic below.  The beige wood-tone objects are placed on opposite ends of the shelf, every other shelf forming a “triangle”

This is also true when arranging objects together on a shelf.  Layer them in a triangle.  Consider height- putting the tallest object in the back, then the medium sized object, then the smallest object in front.  Not in a line but instead in a triangle.

By using the triangle method when placing items on your open shelves, you'll be able to achieve a well-balanced design that will add style and interest to your shelves.

4) Create layers

Creating layers is an essential part of learning how to style decor on shelves. Layering your pieces gives them a sense of depth and helps to avoid a flat or cluttered look. You can layer in various ways by placing items in front of each other, arranging them at different heights, or overlapping them slightly. Here are some tips on how to create layers when accessorizing shelves:

  1. Vary the heights

One of the easiest ways to create layers is by varying the heights of your decor pieces. Use items of different heights, such as a tall vase, a medium-sized picture frame, and a small decorative box. This technique will give your shelves a sense of dimension and visual interest.

  1. Overlap items slightly

Overlapping your decor pieces is a simple but effective way to create layers on your shelves. You can do this by placing a picture frame in front of a vase or stacking books in front of a decorative tray. The key is to make sure that the overlapping is deliberate and doesn't look haphazard.

  1. Use different textures

Layering textures is an excellent way to add depth and visual interest to your shelves. Use items with different textures, such as a basket, a sleek matte white vase, or a real or faux plant. The contrast between the textures will add depth to your display and create a more interesting look.

  1. Group items together

Grouping items together is a great way to create layers and add depth to your shelves. Use similar items, such as a set of picture frames or a group of vases, and arrange them together. You can vary the height of the items in the group to add more visual interest.  These Tube Vases are a twist between a lantern, a vase, and a test tube.  Interesting and at different heights they look great paired together.

  1. The Rule of Three. 

Always work in odd numbers, if you can! Groups of 1, 3 and 5 are much more pleasing to the eye than even numbers. 

  1. Leave Space

Be sure not to overfill your shelves. (Unless that is the look you are going for).  We like to group objects while leaving spaces in between.  It gives the eye a chance to rest before moving on to the next grouping.  Think about creating little vignettes.  Here are some formulas that work for us:

  • Two or three books stacked horizontally with a small decorative object on top.
  • Tray or box + a tall vase + shorter greenery.
  • Large art or decor item + another art or decor item layered in front + another large decor item to the side.
  • Large art or decor item + another art or decor item layered in front.
  • Group of vertical books + vase or bookend
  • One large decor item + tall decor item + shorter decor item


5) Use pieces meaningful to you

When it comes to accessorizing shelves, it's important to remember that the display should reflect your personal style and taste. Using items that have personal meaning or sentimental value will make the display feel more authentic and add an extra layer of depth to the overall design. Here are some tips on how to incorporate meaningful pieces into your shelf styling:

  1. Family Photos: Adding family photos to your shelf display is a great way to showcase memories and loved ones. You can mix and match photo frames of different sizes and styles, or even create a gallery wall effect by clustering them together.
  1. Souvenirs and Travel Mementos: If you love to travel, incorporating souvenirs and travel mementos into your shelf display is a great way to show off your adventures. Displaying postcards, small trinkets, and even local artwork can add an interesting element to the design.  One of our favorite things to collect on vacation is local books or coffee table books that remind us of our travels.
  1. Artwork and Collectibles: If you have a collection of artwork or figurines, consider showcasing them on your shelves. These items can add visual interest and personality to the display.
  1. Books: If you're an avid reader, displaying your favorite books on your shelves is a great way to add personal meaning to the design. You can even group books by genre or color to create a more cohesive look or turn them around for a more neutral muted look so you only see the beige pages.
  1. Family Heirlooms: Family heirlooms such as antique dishes, vintage jewelry, or even furniture pieces can add a touch of history and personal significance to the display. These items can be used as statement pieces or blended in with other accessories to create a cohesive look.

When it comes to using pieces meaningful to you in your shelf styling, the possibilities are endless. The key is to choose items that speak to your personal style and taste, and to showcase them in a way that adds visual interest and depth to the overall design.

By following these designer tips for a gorgeous shelf display, you can create a beautiful, personalized space that reflects your unique style. Don't be afraid to experiment with different pieces or styles and use meaningful objects to tell a unique story. 

All you need is creativity and imagination and you'll be able to turn any bookshelf into a masterpiece!

If you need help along the way- send us a message on social or stop in-store; don’t forget to bring your shelf measurements along with a picture of the space.  We can also do the work for you by signing up for a Design Refresh.  It starts with a free phone consultation.  Sign up here to get started with Linen & Clove Design.