How to style your shelves

In my living room makeover blog post I mentioned how shelves are the easiest way to transform a room, and it’s really such an underrated tool; decorate your shelves with coastal-inspired books and objects for a coastal look, decorate them with Art Deco inspired books and ornaments for an Art Deco look, etc.

Well-styled shelves can completely transform a room and give it some personality. They are also a great opportunity to showcase your favourite home accessories. Add framed pictures to display favourite memories, add some faux succulents to instantly bring the outdoors in, or keep shelves fairly clear and empty to instantly make the room look tidy and organised. Easy peasy. Right?

Well, after being a bit disappointed at the result of just filling the shelves with stuff, it seems there are actually a few unwritten ‘rules’ to achieve shelfie perfection…


1. Basics

Before you start, it’s probably worth emptying all the shelves in front of you, and organising the objects into piles.

I find that books are a great place to start – but be selective! To ensure that the shelves don’t look cluttered, start with some eye-catching coffee table books, either stood upright or laid flat and stacked. I grouped mine by size and colour, and spread them out along all the shelves so that I had similar accent colours (like hot pink) on each side of the fireplace, for balance. I grouped smaller books (like the Cupcakes & Cashmere ones) together and placed them upright, and grouped the largest ones together and lay them flat on a neat pile.

Stick to the rule of three and only stack a maximum of three books to avoid it looking too busy. This will give a simple yet effective look.


2. Accessorise and layer

Books are always a great foundation, but to add some interest throw in the unexpected with decorative accessories such as pretty box, some (faux) coral, some succulents or cacti, picture frames, vases, and other eye-catching ornaments. Use a balanced mix of hardback books, sculptures and personal photos, and keep a look out for items on your travels too! Don’t be afraid to use empty clear vases as accents throughout your shelving space – it’s not always necessary to fill the vase up (in fact, I find they look better on shelves when they’re empty!).

Placing some things to the back of the shelves can give it depth, and to avoid the shelves looking too regimented, play with asymmetrical positioning. Play with different textures, structures and shapes. A structured object can really make a shelf area come alive! Finally, don’t forget to incorporate some greenery.


I placed all my bits and bobs on the table and slowly added them to the shelves in size order; first the bigger items dotted around the shelves, and then on to the smaller pieces. I kept taking a step back to get a better view, then returning and reshuffling everything again. Taking pictures also helped as things will show up differently on a photograph and can help you spot things better.


3. Less is more 

Not styling your shelves and leaving them crowded and messy can make any room look cluttered and disorganised, so it’s worth taking a step back, maybe even taking a picture (also known as a ‘shelfie’) and evaluating what you can get rid of, and what they are missing.

Come away from the shelves and leave them for an hour or so. Taking a photo of them helps you spot the changes you’ve made and compare the difference. When you come back to them you’ll have a fresh mind and you can revisit the look. If it feels overcrowded then edit by removing one item from each of the shelves.

Never overcrowd or overload your shelves. It’s okay to have a little bit of empty space between your decorative accents – this will allow your shelf to look styled and not cluttered.

Instead of worrying about putting absolutely everything on the shelves, focus on the objects you love the most. Balance your arrangements by having your items other in the middle of the shelf layer or an equal amount of items at each side – this will ensure your shelves are symmetrical and picture perfect!

So this is what my shelves looked like before…


And after playing around a little bit…


And a little bit more…


Until eventually I reached this formation:


Thanks for reading and please tweet me your #shelfie: @yespleaseblog!

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