Shelves deserve a little love and focus. After all, they spend all their time supporting your well-loved decor items so they can shine! Whether you have a basic white shelf, a bookcase, or a hand-made decorative shelf, there are some basic guidelines to styling it to create a bigger impact, and make your decor look cohesive in the room.
First off, I want you to think about the purpose of your shelf. Is it a family photo display? Are you going to put favorite ornaments on it? Will it store a treasured collection? Or do you just have a blank space that needs something? Once you’ve decided the purpose of the shelf, your next job is to pick what you want to go on it. What are the main objects you plan to display? If you are unsure of what to put on it, then I want to shop your house. Do a walk around your home and look for objects that:
- Make you smile or bring good memories (and good vibes)
- Are of a similar color, such as shades of blue
- Have a similar theme, such as family photos or a succulent collection
Now go gather them up. Spread them out on your dining room table or someplace you have some surface room to work on. You will be adding and subtracting from your collection as we hit some key points in shelf styling.
Shelf Rules: Variation
There are a few key points to keep in mind as you go about decorating your shelf. Most involve variation. Variation is the key to keeping a shelf interesting instead of looking bland and depressed. There are a few ways to have variation:
Rule of Three:
This is a major guideline in many aspects of design, and I touch upon it in my post on Using Kitsch to Personalize Your Home. Our minds naturally prefer odd-numbered groupings: 3 and 5 being the ideal grouping numbers. This gives us a focal point with a central item. Everything about styling your shelf comes back to odd groupings, which I’ll keep referring to as a trio or group of 3. It’s the simplest to work with. Try to split up the decorative objects you collected earlier into groups. You can switch items in and out as we continue down the checklist. Depending on the size of your shelf, or the number of shelves you are styling, you’ll be aiming for multiple groupings in the same area that are cohesive, but independent of one another.
You normally don’t want all of your shelf items to be the same height. The idea is to keep your eyes travelling and flowing along your shelf, and not having abrupt stops. Try to vary it up by having tall items next to short items, and items that fill in the middle space too. The ideal shape for an arrangement is in the form of invisible triangle or pyramid.
I will add that sometimes you may be going for a uniform and symmetrical look, which is very suitable in a modern minimalist style. If that’s the case, then you will add interest and variety in other ways. Even with design, there can still be exceptions to the rules, one of the beauties of being creative!
It’s easy to play around with color on a shelf, and equally easy to get carried away. Try and limit the color scheme to, you guessed it, 3 colors, or stick to the same hue family, such as blues. A great way to also had some variation is to use metallic. They are considered a color too, but are more of a neutral so they add some sparkle without contrasting with your other colors. Chrome is a silver, gold is yellow, rose gold is pink, bronze is brown, pewter is black. Are you able to use a metallic in one of your groupings? Using metallic objects also switches up the textures you use, as I’ll discuss next.
I love mixing textures! There are so many options too. It’s as easy as laying a hardcover canvas book flat on the shelf to use as a tray for a polished candlestick and wooden picture frame. Another idea is to use a wreath on the wall behind your glossy pictures, and spread some crystals among the photos. You can also take the shelf material into consideration; is it smooth glass or a rough barnboard shelf? Play around with texture groupings among the items you set out on your table.
You can add subtle interest to a shelf just by switching up the shapes on display. If you had a row of grey concrete planters, but some were round, while others were square or cylindrical, there is still some variation to them! Even if the objects are not matching, add an object with a different shape into a grouping. An example would be a round decorative ball next to a rectangular container, and rectangular picture frame.
You’ll most often find this variation directly at the store. A vase will be available in three different sizes, but all in the same pattern and color. As tempting as it may be to pick up all three items (Ta da! The perfect grouping!), I say to grab either the largest size, or the two smaller sizes. With the large vase you get a lot of impact in one object, and can pair it with two other, simpler items. Or you can use the two smaller sizes and pair it with a single object, maybe something with a different texture or finish to it.
Horizontal and Vertical
While you don’t want a shelf to look cluttered, you also don’t want to skimp out and leave it bare boned. It is okay to overlap objects, in fact, I recommend it! This is making use of both the horizontal and the vertical space on a shelf. A great way to overlap objects is to have a flat vertical item, such as a picture, sit behind a 3D object, such as a candlestick. Another idea is to hang an item on the wall space behind a shelf and have a group of 2 objects in front (the object on the wall being the 3rd item in the group).
Styling your shelves doesn’t need to be overwhelming. The key is to understanding what you are looking for in the items so that you can group them best. Most objects serves two or three purposes without you even realizing it; it can add a different texture, a different height and a different shape. See? With that one item you have checked off three variations guidelines!
Let’s review. You picked out objects that make you happy, have some similarities and some variations according to the checklist. You have played around with and grouped together objects into trios. Not everything you initially picked out may fit into these groups, and you may have gone back for new items that you didn’t grab the first time. That is okay. Even for designers, styling a shelf (or space) can involve a little on-the-go tweaking. For a larger shelf, you have then selected an odd number of those groupings to sit together. Your end result should be a shelf that has small groupings, interest, variation, but looks cohesive overall and purposeful.
Send me your #shelfie once you’ve finished giving it a makeover! Or send me the before picture now to prompt you to get started. I won’t judge. Judgement free zone here. What all shelves are you planning on styling now?