I love well styled shelves but I get it, it can be hard to get it right. I had a ton of fun styling all the office shelves for the high-rise condo project. So, today I want to go over the basics of styling shelves with some Do’s and Don’ts sprinkled throughout. Before you know it you will be a pro shelf styler!
The first thing you want to do when styling shelves is remove everything that is currently being displayed. It's best to start with a blank canvas so you can better see the space as a whole. This also gives you a chance to take a look at everything you have and see what you might want to add before beginning. The high-rise condo didn't have any existing built-in shelves so I used four of these Stairway bookshelves from CB2 to create an entire wall of shelving in the office. So many shelves to play with!
What Items To Use
You have an endless number of options when it comes to objects to style shelves with. Chances are you have most of what you need already. I recommend shopping your own home before buying new pieces.
This is an obvious one! However, there are a few ways to style books. Don’t just stack them vertically with spines out. Lay some flat either individually with another object on top, or in stacks. Also, try to spread the books out so they aren’t all clustered together on one shelf. I like to vary the size of books I’m using. Art books are an easy way to add larger books and you can typically find them for cheap at secondhand bookstores or thrift stores.
Something new I did when styling the condo shelves was backwards books! It's a modern way to style a bookcase in a space where you don't want color to steal the show. These books were my Mom's and all of them were in my childhood home growing up. I've used them for staging over the past few years where you've seen the other side of them, but now they've found their new home for a while and it's time for the pages to enjoy the view!
Artwork, Framed Photos, Mirrors
These items are great to add into the mix because they tend to be bigger and are great to layer with. I like to first place a piece of artwork or framed photo in the back of a shelf and then add smaller objects in front in order to build some dimension. You can also hang artwork or even a mirror on the front of shelves for an unexpected twist. I got this large Sunburst Mirror from At Home and I think it was the finishing touch the wall of shelves needed.
Greenery and Flowers
You can literally add some life to you shelves with plants! Plants and flowers are a great way to incorporate texture. If your shelves don’t get much natural light, faux plants or dried flowers are the way to go. Target and IKEA usually have a selection of good faux plants. If you want to splurge a bit for more realistic looking faux plants, head to Afloral.
Truly you can use pretty much anything to style a shelf. I often use ceramics, sculptures, and baskets. The key is getting objects of different sizes so when it comes time to place them, you have a variety of different sized objects to work with. Also, don’t be afraid to add in an unexpected item or two. I added a Himalayan Salt Lamp which creates a nice glow in the condo office.
How To Style
I try to keep to a general color palette when styling shelves so there is a cohesive look in the end. I recommend spreading out all the objects you are considering using on the floor and look for any repeating colors. Try to keep your palette to two or three colors and then mix in neutral colors like white, cream, and gray. In the condo I kept the palette to whites and creams so everything popped from the black walls. Whatever your palette ends up being, make sure to spread out the color across all the shelves.
Don’t just consider the color palette of the objects your styling, also keep in mind the color of your shelves and walls (if visible). I wanted some contrast between the white shelves and objects in the office so I painted the walls the color Broadway Black by Behr. You could also wallpaper the backs of shelves for some fun visual interest.
The end goal of styling shelves is to have a cohesive and balanced look. I always start out by placing large pieces or the 'anchors’. I can then build from there with other objects. What you don’t want to do is have a lot of repetition. Mix things up on each shelf by varying the height, size, and color of objects. Making groupings of items is an easy way to create visual interest. The last tip I have for laying out shelves is switching up the placement and number of groupings or items on each shelf. For example, if one shelf has one object centered, the shelves below and above should have more than one object or grouping, and be placed off-centered. This creates a path for your eyes to follow from shelf to shelf. The image below shows this well. P.S. how cute is that Cynthia Marble Writing Desk from Living Spaces?!
The beautiful thing about styling shelves is that nothing is permanent. You can have fun rearranging as you get new stuff or for the holidays. What is your favorite thing to display on shelves?