Do you ever look at homes in magazines or on television and wish you could achieve that gorgeous, put-together look? Shelves in staged homes always manage to look beautiful and welcoming, while yours feels either empty or too cluttered.

How do you get that perfect balance of interesting items arranged in a way that elevates the feel of the whole home?

Shelf styling is an art form, but it’s one you can learn and use in your own home. Read on to learn more about how to style a shelf to create that model home look you’ve always dreamed of.

Pick Your Colour

When you get ready to start styling your shelves, the first thing you’ll need to do is decide on a colour scheme. Having a cohesive set of colours on your shelves will help them feel like a unified display, rather than a grouping of random items. This can also be a good way to reinforce the colour scheme you have going through the rest of your home.

Your shelves don’t have to be monochromatic by any stretch, but it is a good idea to find a primary colour that will set the tone for your shelves. From there, pick a few accent colours to include, focusing on complementary colours or analogous colours.

Keep in mind that the wall colour behind your shelf will be a part of the colour scheme, and plan for colours that will complement that shade.

Group Differently Sized Items

The key to making a shelf look beautifully styled, rather than boring and cluttered, is variety. You’re going to want to group items of different sizes to give visual interest to your arrangement. It’s also best to group these items in asymmetrical patterns to keep things from looking too uniform.

Gather some short, wide items; some tall, thin items; and some items that are large in both dimensions. Look for items that have different shapes, too – pair rounded items with more angular profiles. Use your colour scheme to unite these different pieces, and remember not to let things get too cluttered. 

Consider Visual Lines 

As you’re arranging, it can be easy to start setting up the same patterns over and over again. You may pair a tall object and a short object on the right side of one shelf and then again on the left side of the shelf below it. Unfortunately, this winds up looking stiff and unnatural, rather than artfully staged.

One great way to get that natural variety look is to take a look at the lines your objects are making. For instance, if you have two tall objects on the outside of a shelf and two short objects in the centre, your visual lines are creating a V shape. Vary these visual lines among your shelves and your arrangement will look much more natural.

Vary Your Layouts

In addition to looking at size and arrangement, you also need to pay attention to the number of objects in your layouts. Remember, the goal is to make your shelf feel like you set items up at random and created this artistic look. If all your groupings include three items, things will start to feel a little rote.

Odd groupings of items feel most natural to our eyes, and it’s fine to have a few groupings of one or three items. But don’t be afraid to set up a pair of items next to a trio for some added visual interest. You can even create groupings of four or five smaller items or items that are visually similar, such as books or vases.

Start With Artwork 

Now that we know some of the basic principles of a good shelf layout, let’s talk about what elements to include in your décor. As a rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to start with any artwork you want to include in your layout. These pieces tend to be large and may also have the most colour variation, so they’re a good foundation to build from.

If you have a piece of artwork you know you want to include in a shelf arrangement, start with that piece and build your other décor selections off of it. Look at the colours in the piece and use those to set up your colour scheme. You may also want to place that in your arrangement first since it will draw the eye first.

Add Some Pottery

After your artwork is in place, you may want to consider adding some pottery to your shelf arrangement. Vases and bowls can give your shelves a charming, homey feel that makes your house feel more welcoming. And depending on your style, you can use pottery pieces to adjust the “tone” of your shelves.

If your style is more casual and earthy, look for pottery pieces that are finished with a matte glaze or that don’t have a glaze on them at all. If you want something a little more glam, look for the glossy glazes and use these pieces as your pops of colour. Remember to get a few different-sized pieces, or set up intentional groupings of similar items. 

Bring in Books

Books are always a good addition to a shelf, whether or not you’re a big reader. Books make your space feel more sophisticated, and they provide some visual stability in your design. You can stand books up next to pottery or plants, or lay them down and set a candle or small art piece on top of them.

When you’re picking books for your shelf layout, colour is more important than content. Many people choose to set books backwards on shelves, with their white pages facing out for a clean visual look. You can also buy books that have solid-colour covers and are designed specifically for decorating.

Include Some Green

Plants are always a good addition to any décor scheme, especially shelf arrangements. Plants make a space feel lively and breathable, as well as bringing in some natural beauty from the outside. Green is a wonderful addition to even the most monochrome palettes and depending on the type you choose, you can use plants that drape to bring attention from one shelf down to the next. 

If your thumb is more brown than green, you can find some convincing-looking fake plants that will still bring natural appeal to your shelf arrangement. Consider the overall size and shape of the plant when you’re looking. Do you want a taller, spikier look as you would get with aloe, or do you prefer the shorter, rounder appeal of succulents or herbs?

Incorporate a Sculpture

With the basic décor elements in place, it will be time to start adding some detail pieces to your design. You’ll want a few smaller items that you can tuck into spaces that may seem empty or unbalanced. Small sculptures and figurines can be a great way to add some interest to your design. 

If you want to create a high-brow, sophisticated feel, look for busts or miniatures of famous sculptures. If you want to add a more casual, natural feel, consider bringing drawing models into your design. And for a nice modern touch, look for knick-knacks with metal finishes and clean lines to liven up your shelves.

Go Big 

One of the trickier things about shelf styling is that your bookshelves need to be functional, as well as beautiful. Yes, you want a gorgeous shelf arrangement, but you also need a place to put your kids’ video game controllers or your crafting supplies. Don’t be afraid to add larger containers to your shelf design to catch these items.

Find a basket, box, or other containers that fit in with your design aesthetic. If you’re using it to contain items that are less than beautiful, look for an option with a lid, or place a small throw on top of it. You can even use wire baskets or other open containers to set some of your smaller décor pieces in for a grouping with some added visual interest.

Learn More About Shelf Styling 

Styling your shelves can be a great way to make your home feel more beautiful and put together. Remember to start with your basic colour scheme and vary your arrangements and visual lines. Start your design with any art pieces you want to include, and then add in pottery, books, plants, and any other décor that fits your tone.

If you’d like to learn more about shelf styling, check out the rest of our site at Vincent and Barn. We offer industrial, rustic, and boho style furniture and homewares, as well as contemporary designs with a focus on beautiful and practical storage solutions. Shop our home accessories today and discover the gorgeous exclusive furniture designs only available in our store.

June 21, 2022 — Vincent and Barn