Shelf Styling 101

Nearly everywhere you look, 'shelfies' (that is, images of perfectly curated shelves) are having a pretty big moment on social media. Shelf styling lends itself to beautiful vignettes, which is why you'll see those images featured in designers’ portfolios time and time again. Naturally, everyone wants to showcase their shelf styling abilities, but getting it just right takes practice, curation, and some trial and error.

I’m often asked about tips for creating a visually cohesive shelf, bookcase, or built-in, so I’m dedicating today’s post to the shelf styling basics. Keep in mind that most of these ideas can apply to just about any surface (coffee tables, entry tables, and more), so be sure to bookmark this page for future reference down the line.


The first step in any styling project is to start with a completely clean slate. Go ahead and take everything off your shelving unit and put it to the side. The goal is to get a better perspective on the space you’ll be styling, and you need to see it clearly!


One common mistake I see in shelf styling is a lack of cohesiveness, and an easy solution is to pick a single color palette and stick with it. I usually like to work with a neutral palette made up of blacks, whites, grays, beiges and softer tones. However, if color is more your jam, select a complementary palette rather than an entire rainbow of hues.


No matter which color palette you use to hone your vision, remember that a space should never be void of texture! In fact, for shelf styling, texture is key. I like to integrate various elements like ceramic, marbles, woods, metals and more. The intentional variety of textures keeps even the most neutral-toned shelf from ever looking boring.


Blending modern and vintage pieces is my personal design mantra, which is why I always, always, always use a mix of new and vintage items from a variety of vendors. I know it’s super tempting to purchase everything from Target or Home Goods, especially when the price is right, but it’s really important to curate an eclectic mix of found items from varying vendors.

As I’m curating items to display, I love showcasing handmade objects from my favorite Etsy vendors, sweet family heirlooms, or mementos from my travel adventures. Shelf styling is the perfect opportunity to integrate those items of meaning or sentimental value, and they’ll help give your shelves so much more character.


As you begin putting items back on the shelves, start by placing your largest and heaviest items first. With this method, you’ll be able to get the balance right and fill in with your smaller objects later.

Also, be sure to select items of varying heights, weights and sizes. I love allowing my taller items to stand alone and placing my shorter items on a stack of books! Collecting objects of various shapes and sizes will allow you to style, move things around, and play until you get the balance just right.


One of my favorite additions to any shelf styling moment is a beautiful piece of art. I simply lean my art pieces on the shelf (no need to hang!), and I always love the result. Artwork often brings in much-needed color and movement to your scene, so find a piece or two you love (I’m currently obsessed with art by Monica Lewis) and go for it.


Be wary of overfilling your shelves and remember that less is often more. I know it’s fun to fill up every inch of space, but a little breathing room is good for everyone, your shelf included. One trick I love is to take a quick phone photo of your shelf during the styling process. You’ll see a totally different perspective on camera, which can help guide you in the process.

I’d love to hear how your shelf styling adventures turn out! Leave a comment and let me know what worked best for your space or any questions you might have. Good luck and happy styling, friends!

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