10 comprehensive tips to nail your shelf styling

Shared a #shelfie on Instagram lately? We know what a joy pretty looking shelves are, right? They look stylish and interesting, give you endless styling opportunities, allow you to showcase your personality and design aesthetic, and are pretty much a work of art. But it can also be daunting to try to create the perfect shelfie.

Here are the tips and tricks that I follow when styling shelves which I hope will have you faffing happily on your way to a beautiful shelfie!

1.  EDIT YOUR STUFF
I’m putting this first before you even start on your shelves because cluttered shelves are not where we’re going with this post. Anything that isn’t useful or beautiful or really sentimental needs to go. Be free of tatty tat. It’s very cathartic, I promise.

2.  DECIDE ON A COLOUR PALETTE
This tip is really more for decorative shelves rather than your home library shelves which have lots of different spine colours, and I am not about to suggest you turn the spines in for a neutral look because I find this a ridiculous thing to do.

F-ck your bookshelf with the spines facing in.png Yeah, don’t do this. Image from the brilliant Fuck Your Noguchi Coffee Table

So if you do have lots of books, see Tip 3 for how you can make them look aesthetically pleasing.

If your shelves are more decorative rather than for housing a whole library of books, a limited colour palette really helps to give your shelves a cohesive and soothing look. You don’t have to be strict about it at all, a naughty colour pop never hurt anyone!

amber-interiors-client-freakin-fabulous
Impeccable styling by Amber Interiors using monochrome and natural tones

The fun part? You can change the vibe of your shelves when your mood desires by changing the colour palette. Case in point: Emily Henderson’s amazing shelves in her previous home styled in two very different ways:

emily-henderson-shelves-blue-and-pink
Emily’s shelves looking cheerful and fun. The art on the top left seems to have informed the colour palette.
emily-henderson-artfully-styled-bookcase-in-neutral-tones
The same shelves, looking classy in a neutral palette.

3.  START WITH BOOKS AND OTHER LARGE ITEMS
Some shelves are for housing book collections, while others are more decorative and hold a select few tomes along with objets d’art. Wherever your shelves fall on this spectrum, I find it a good idea to start with the books you want on the shelves, along with any pretty storage boxes and lamps if you have them. Adding these larger items first helps you to visually balance the layout of your shelves so you don’t have one side looking heavier than another. Stack some books vertically and others horizontally (by height). When it comes to styling, I treat a box as a horizontal stack of books. Vary the positioning of your books: some in the centre of a shelf, some to the side.

Where you have a lots of books, try colour coding them. And if you can, paint the back of your bookshelves in a dark colour – it just looks better when you have lots of colourful spines. Also, pull your books to the edge of the shelf: this looks a lot smarter than having books at different depths.

Built In Bookcase Styled by Arty Home
My built-in bookshelf with varying arrangements of books, including a row of colour-coded books
Colour+coded+books+on+Stylophile's+shelf
@styleophileuk’s colour coded bookshelves
ikea-vittsjo-shelves-with-colour-coded-books
Bookshelves with colour-coded books. Image: Better Homes & Gardens

4.  ADD ART/PHOTO FRAMES
Large art at the back of the shelves layered with smaller art or objects in front of it add dimension to your shelves. Or you can be really bold with art and mount it on your shelves like in the image below:

bookshelf-with-mounted-art
Beautiful bookshelf with mounted art. Image: Room for Tuesday

5.  ADD SMALLER ITEMS
Little decorative objects add so much interest to shelves. Let your pretty little things shine atop book stacks, in front of art, as bookends, etc.

large-art-and-shelves-shelf-styling-tips
Afri-Scandi vibe in my dining room

6.  BLING
Not compulsory by any means, but I find warm metallics are great for adding a touch of luxe to your shelves.

shelf-styling-by-arty-home
My simple alcove shelves: I do love me a bit of gold

7.  ADD GREENERY
You really can’t beat the life and movement that a house plant brings to a shelf! Succulents or trailing plants work best on shelves where height is limited. You can also try a little vase filled with flowers or leafy branches.

jollyabode-annawithlove-88
Even the simplest of shelves come alive with a bit of greenery. Image: Lark & Linen

8.  DISPERSE COLOUR
Make sure the main colours in your palette are dispersed throughout your shelves (unless you’re going for a colour-coded look with your books as seen in Tip 4). This helps to balance the overall look and also helps the eye to travel across the shelves.

shelves-room-for-tuesday
@roomfortuesday‘s beautifully balanced shelves. Look for the blues – see how the colour is peppered around the shelves? Same with the black, white, neutral and metallic tones.

9.  LAYER AND VARY HEIGHTS
Layer by placing larger items behind and smaller ones in front. Play with heights: position your decorative objects in a triangular or mountain range formation; raise smaller objects by placing them on books or boxes. Whatever you do, stay away from symmetry.

amber-interiors-client-cool-as-a-cucumber
Lovely layered shelves by Amber Interiors

10. WHITE SPACE
There are some designers who advocate leaving no white space at all, but I’m an advocate of less is more, and I think white space allows your eyes to rest between visual stimuli, making your shelves look more soothing.

StyleCurtator Shelfie.jpg
Stunning shelf styling by @stylecuratorau on Instagram

These tips are not just for shelves, you can apply these principles to console or mantel styling too. It always takes me a bit of, er, faffing, before I’m happy with my shelves, so don’t be afraid to play around and experiment with different looks. Most importantly, have fun with your styling! Do you have any tips for shelf styling? Do share them in the comments!

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10 comprehensive tips to nail your shelf styling - Arty Home.jpg


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7 thoughts on “10 comprehensive tips to nail your shelf styling

  1. Brilliant! I now have my ‘this is where you go for styling shelves advice’ line ready for any client who asks! In fact, I just sent an email to someone who was asking me this very question on Thursday! I’m a huge Amber Interiors fan so those are always my personal ‘go to’ pics for inspiration but now I’ve got loads more inspo. I’ll be going back to this post of yours over and over. Thank you! ps. where are your white shelves from – in each instance.

    Liked by 1 person

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