5 Quick Interior Design Secrets to Styling Shelves

If you’re wondering how to style a shelf, you’ve come to the right place, my friend! For most, styling shelves can feel daunting, and it can be difficult to know where to start. Luckily, I am here to provide you with some insider tips to help vanquish your shelf decorating nightmares and give you a well balanced recipe to create charming vignettes in your home.


I hope these tips provide you with inspiration to create beautiful spaces in your home that showcase your unique personality and style, while in turn, taking the guess work out and stress out of decorating. Let’s get started, shall we?

Styling Shelves



Anytime we are styling shelves for a client, there are certain items that we always make sure to grab. It’s good to always have a few options of each items that vary in size, color, and shape in order to obtain a good balance on each shelf. Chances are, you probably have items you love around the house that you can incorporate, so look around your home before making a list of items to shop for!



Decorative vases and pottery can be neutral in tone, or can be an area you choose to add a pop of color. Go with a color palette that fits your style! Aim to gather a mixture of textures, shapes and sizes to help balance your shelves with contrast. If your shelves are darker, incorporate items that are lighter for a better contrast from the shelving. If your shelving is lighter, choose darker accents and accessories. Smaller vases and bowls are perfect for setting on top of a stack of books, while larger vases, or a set of vases make a statement and can be used on their own to simplify a shelf.





Artwork and photo frames tend to take up larger amounts of real estate on a shelf. Photo frames are an easy way to customize your space. Artwork can make a statement and is a good way to add color and personality into your shelves. Choose your favorites, make them the focal point of your shelf, and build around them. Consider sizing and your color palette when selecting frames and artwork!





Probably the most obvious thing that’s needed for your shelves; books, books and more books. Try setting a stack of books together on varying shelves, with some laying flat with décor stacked on top, and some standing up between decorative bookends. Opt to use your favorite coffee table books with the spines facing out, or for a more simple look you can turn books around so that the pages face out.





Bring personality and interest to your shelves by incorporating unique sculptures and figurines. These items add a lot of character and can typically stand on their own. It’s important to have more simple and plain pieces to style around items like these. Similar to artwork, you’ll want to start with these larger pieces and style around them.




Greenery is the best way to bring life to any space. If you have shelves with ample access to natural light, real plants may work for you. However, if you’re like me, you don’t have a florist bone in your body and faux plants are the only way to go. I am extremely picky with the faux plants that I do choose. They may be fewer and far between, but you can find faux plants that don’t look cheap and plasticky! Keep in mind, you can always find an alternative vase/ bowl to put a floral inside if you don’t like the vessel it comes in.




To avoid crowding and clutter, avoid placing too many small items on your shelves. Balancing with larger items on specific shelves is one of my favorite shelving tricks. Your instinct is to fill every space on a shelf, but you’ll be amazed at how much cohesive your shelves look when you add one large item to a shelf and let it breathe. As you style, make sure to take a step back and look at your shelves together from time to time. Take note of busier shelves, so you can set aside a large item like a basket or stack of boxes to place directly on the shelf above or below.






Before styling your shelves, determine your color palette. This will help you narrow down your selections and items you want to use to create a cohesive look. After narrowing down your color palette to 2 or 3 colors, make sure to add in plenty of neutral items in creams, whites and grays.  Spread the colors you’ve chosen throughout your shelves, varying spacing and placement from shelf to shelf.



You want your shelves to be well balanced and for each shelf to vary slightly from other shelves. Aim to have some shelves with groupings of several items, some shelves to have three items, and some shelves to have just one large item. By altering the layout of each shelf, you’ll create a layout that is visually appealing, while staying cohesive with the color palette you chose. Make sure you play with different colors, textures, as well as variations in height.



  • Stack books laying flat with candle sticks, or a decorative item on top. Add vertically stacked between book ends for variety.
  • Start with the largest items, or your favorite items that you know you want included in your space. Build around these pieces.
  • If you feel your shelves are starting to look cluttered, begin taking a few items away and see how the extra space feels. The less you have displayed, the more focus you bring to the items selected. Edit the shelves until they feel proportional and balanced.

Are you feeling inspired to give your shelves a refresh? I hope you found this information useful and that it helped answer some of your design questions on shelf styling. Sapphire + Co is here for all your design needs, big or small. Full scale design projects, to accessory and finishing touches in a space; we do it all! If you’re interested in working together, please send a design inquiry through our website.