Shelf styling is among the greatest cause of ‘design angst’ in homes world-wide! Mainly created to display objects and photos, home owners either get it right or they get it terribly wrong. Stuck on the belief that each shelf needs to be filled to the max, most often I see shelves adorned with tons of tiny knickknacks and millions of picture frames, therefore lacking beauty, interest, texture, color and balance. To help achieve a clean (clutter-free) look that reflects your own personality I’ve outlined 5 steps for stylish shelving below.
What It Takes
I’m often asked how I go about styling shelves. I’ve never actually had a method to my madness, but the question made me consider the steps I take in creating a compete and balanced look. One of my favorite shelf stylings was at my client’s home about a year ago and a half ago. Linda has a large wall of built-ins in her office just off to the left of her main foyer that she needed help styling. She has a very fun and colorful personality and I wanted her shelves to reflect that. Linda already owned most of everything we needed to style her space. She had many family heirlooms, antiques, collectibles and family portraits. Not everything was in one spot, but she allowed me to “shop” her home to find the right pieces for the perfect shelf styling.
Shelf Styling With Clients
When I’m working with clients on shelf styling I ask them to begin by separating their shelving accessories into the following three groups:
The first group…
is for items that must be returned back into the mix of shelf decor. These are typically your sentimental items, like old photos, kids’ art work, and pieces passed down from loved ones. This also happens to be the most difficult for so many people to discern. It seems that more clients than not have attached a false sentimental connection to almost everything they display. No joke, I once had to play therapist with a client to get down to the bottom of why she really truly needed the 15 large softball-sized painted rocks and the 5 bowls of seashells she had secured in her “sentimental” pile. She explained that her children had gifted her the 15 pet rocks over the years and the bowls of seashells were in memory of the beaches she and her family had vacationed. No comment…
The second group…
is for accessories that are well-loved, yet hold no sentimental value. These items might be of high monetary value such as sports memorabilia or antiques and are somewhat important to the home owner.
The third group…
of accessories is for pieces that clients could live without. Typically these accessories are what they’ve used to “fluff” their own shelving like plants, books, trunks, candles, baskets and plates.
Once we area able to clearly see the space we are styling and the pieces we are working with the rest of the process falls right into place. Follow along as I share the following 5 steps to stylish shelving.
Height & Width
Begin thinking both vertically and horizontally. Your goal is to make sure that you have an even balance of shelves that take up space in equal sections of height and width. The easiest pieces to bring us height are books and trays. I like to sprinkle my shelves with books stacked on top of one another and side by side. I use the books to build height and fill space. Similarly, I use trays to do the same thing. As you can see in the picture above I use a wire tray in the center shelf to draw out a long horizontal line defining space in width.
Another important note to consider is the amount of “weight” I give the bottom shelves in comparison to the top shelves. Think of your bottom shelves as the ‘foundation’ to a pyramid. They can hold more, whereas the top shelves need to remain light. If the reverse were to happen your top shelves would feel too heavy and off-balance. My top shelves are displaying lightweight rectangular baskets that fill up space, are free of knickknacks and are easy on the eye.
Layer It Up
Layering your shelves with items like artwork, mirrors, and photos is the secret to adding depth and dimension. However, you have to be careful to not overdo it. Too much layering can look messy and busy. I like to layer my bottom shelves because they are at eye-level and can afford the weight. Then, moving upwards, I layer just a few shelves here and there. In the photo above I leaned a mirrored piece against the back of the shelf, layered it with a piece of art work and added a stack of books for vertical height. The accessory pieces brought in character and color, but overall, the layering is what contributed to the visual depth of this space. The stack of black books provided weight and balance.
Again, I layered the back of this shelf with a distressed white frame chalkboard. I used the wire tray to bring in width and I stacked a couple of books on the tray to add weight. The accessories filled the space with color and interest.
Above, I layered the middle shelf with one black framed art piece, a photo, three books and an antique serving dish. The shelf to the right is simply staged with two thin metal framed old photos that are slightly staggered next to one single antique porcelain accessory. The three pieces are spaced out just enough to show a little dimension.
If we styled our shelves with just books and frames they’d be boring. To build interest, fashion your space with accessories like vases, sculptures, jars, bowls, and anything else that brings in color. Keep in mind step one as you place each piece. If the accessory is small it won’t look right sitting alone on the shelf. To better highlight that piece place it on top of a stack of books. If the piece is tall you will want to make sure that the other accessories sharing the same shelf space also have height. NOTE: Mixing in a few round pieces, like bowls and plates, is a great way to soften space and add visual interest to already squared-up shelves. You will most likely need plate or picture frame stands to properly prop these babies upright!
Blend In Texture
Texture is key to beautifully styled shelving. This is easily achieved through a mix of metals (within your picture frames, lanterns or trays), and a blend of fabric (perhaps found in your picture frame mat, hardback books and woven baskets). Notice how the chalkboard provides one big backdrop of matte texture and looks really pretty styled next to the reflective blue pedestal bowl. For added texture and interest sprinkle in reflective and sparkly objects throughout your shelves. You can do this by mixing in mirrored frames and colored glass jars.
For the final touch, complete your look by tossing in organic elements like wooden objects, plants and florals made with natural material. Above, you can see how the aloe plant placed in a yellow ceramic bowl brings “life” to not only its shelf space, but all the space around it. You DON’T need to go overboard in this step. Just like all the steps above, less is more. You just need a few shelves to spotlight natural elements in order for the entire shelving unit to look great!
The oval white bowl on the bottom shelf hosts a small cactus with a sweet little pink flower. This provides just enough greenery to fill this shelf with all the life it needs. The shelf to the left displays an old painting of daisies. Although this is not truly organic (it’s a painting) it sends a similar message and throws an organic vibe! Same with the framed zebra drawing.
Now that you’ve got the 5 steps to stylish shelving get to work! Shop your own home for hidden gems like hand-me-down platters and old photos. Pull out your mom’s old macrame bowl from the 70’s because it’s back in style! Dust ff grandpa’s old spectacles and place them atop a stack of books. Whatever you use to style your shelves make sure it reflects you.