Shelves can become an eyesore in your home. They gather clutter and can make the room seem messier.
The same can be said for the opposite, a well styled shelf can really elevate the entire space and make it look put together.
Think of styling your home like getting ready to go out. Get your hair and nails done, makeup's on point, and you are ready to kill it. You feel confident, you look amazing, and people want to be around you.
Same goes for your home. Styling can make the space feel more inviting, vibrant, relaxing. It sets the mood and welcomes you in.
Before you style your home you'll want to know the over all look you're going for. I have a post on How to Find Your Home's Style which is a great starting point.
I wouldn't say styling comes easily to me, but I have taken the time to research and study what works and doesn't. I'll be breaking down all the guidelines I follow in this post to give you the tools to style your shelves like an expert. Whether you use one of my pre-styled Accessory Recipes, or you follow this guide and take the time to source all the accessories yourself is up to you. You'll be armed with the tools you need to make your shelves look drool worthy.
Here's the bad news, no matter what anyone says, there are no hard fast rules in design. Sometimes you have to go with what feels right. The good news is, that there are guiding principles that will help you get there.
The guidlines I follow help me achieve a few key things. I want the shelves to be interesting, have depth and dimension, and have a clean, uncluttered aesthetic.
To demonstrate the principles I use, I will be illustrating them on a recent design post.
1. THE TRIANGLE METHOD
Seperate like items into a triangle pattern.
If you do nothing else, follow the triangle method. It provides balance and helps your eye bounce over the entire shelving unit. You want peoples' eyes to roam, to feel like there is always more to look at. It's such a simple tip but it's what took my styling to the next level.
You'll see here I used 4 Triangles in my latest design. When I have two shelves in the same unit I separate the triangles over both units. Treating it as one big shelf makes it easier to keep the styling balanced.
Triangle 1: I counted two wood vases as one object, as they are grouped closely together. I always group like objects together when using them on the same shelf as one interesting object.
Triangle 2: I had 3 similar vases which I separated over both shelves. These vases provided texture, and a starting point for the style.
Triangle 3: Books, since I only have 3 groupings of books I wanted to make sure I evenly dispersed them among the shelving.
Triangle 4: Last up is the main colored objects. I always seperate these using the triangle method. This really helps the eye travel the entire shelves and not miss anything.
2. VARYING HEIGHTS:
Never put two objects of the same height beside each other.
Often I will see shelves with frames lined up all the same height. Now, there is a place for this when done right but most of the time It makes the area look flat and unappealing. If you have ever looked at a shelf and couldn't quite figure out why it didn't look right, not varying the height is probably one of the culprits.
Varying heights applies to both singular items and when stacking items on top of another. There needs to be a clear change in height with the item to its side.
This rule will not make or break you, but you want to make sure that most of your items have a variation in height.
Looking at the image above, the DON'T example is lopsided and less interesting. Your eye coast across the top with no change of direction. The DO example creates separation, your eye bouncing over each item.
3. GROUP OBJECTS IN 3:
Items should be arranged in odd numbers
The theory is that items arranged in odd numbers are more appealing, memorable, and effective than even-numbered groupings. Check out this quote from Rue Magazine.
OBJECTS: Placing objects in groups of three (or five or seven for larger arrangements) also creates visual tension and keeps the eye moving about the room. Despite the odd number, the end result will look more balanced than if you just had a pair. Even within the three objects vary the height. Groups of three look great on a coffee table, mantle, or for pictures on the wall. ~
I follow this guideline where ever possible, but I don't treat it as a hard fast rule. Seems crazy that a grouping of 5 would look more balanced than a group of 4 but it's true, I promise.
4. MIX VERTICAL AND HORIZONTAL:
Use objects to bridge the gap
Not only should you vary the height of your items, but a great way to add interest to your shelves is to mix vertical and horizontal pieces. Use an object to bridge the gap in heights.
The School of Decorating blog has an entire post HERE that goes in depth about the use of objects in styling.
Layering adds depth to your shelves. Shelves can appear flat and two dimensional. Layering helps your objects pop into 3D. It's as simple as moving one piece ahead of the other. Big pay off very little effort. I especially love layering tall and short vases on shelves.
6. COLOR THEME
I found this awesome graphic that does a way better job of explaining color theory than I ever could.
For bold contrast use complimentary colors. Like a modern look? go monochromatic. Color can feel intimidating chose one main color that will pop and a secondary color to add dimension. In the example above Teal is the main color and wood tones is the secondary color choice.
Keep your color palette simple, chose your main colors and stick to neutrals for the rest. This will prevent your shelf from looking busy, or worse messy.
Bonus: Texture, Texture, Texture. Have you ever seen a styled shelf that's all one color and still looks fantastic? They do that with texture. It's an unobstrusive way to add detail and depth to your shelves without overpowering.
What to put in your shelf?
Putting this Guide into Action
Many people decorate their shelves over time. Picking up items as they go and bringing them home and hoping they work out. For some this ends up looking fabulous, but for many their décor looks disjointed and unfinished. People then write themselves off as “bad at decorating”.
WAIT! YOU ARE NOT BAD AT DECORATING!
You are missing the pre-planning stage is all. I’m a planner, I embrace planning in all things, my litteral job title at work is “planner”. When people ask me what that means my standard response is I plan things. No one ever laughs but I get a kick out of it.
Pre-planning before you go shopping:
Step 1: choose your color palette
Step 2: Make a shopping list
I always start with my triangles. So in this example I will start with the teal accents. I know I will need 3 teal pieces and to make sure it’s a main color I will chose objects on the larger side.
My next color is Wood. I will chose at least 3 wooden objects. One of which will be a smaller object. Why? Because this is my complimentary color and doesn’t need to be as bold as my main accent.
The fill. I love white vases for filler pieces and I would generally chose two or three.
I believe bookshelves need books, so I put a least two pairings and this also is a great place to put book ends in your color palette.
Picture frames- adding a bit of you and your loved ones helps make your shelves more personal. I know I love seeing a picture of kevin and Tucker as I’m walking by.
Last up must have plants! Well you don’t really have to but it adds life to our shelves. Pro-tip use fake succulants because they look real and are no maintenance (aside from a bit of dusting from time to time.) I like to put 2 plants when styling one shelf, and 3 plants in a triangle when I’m styling two shelves.)
Step 3: draw your shelf (doesn’t have to be pretty)
Step 4: determine heights between shelves
Sep 5: sketch the layout of your objects. This does not have to be pretty and is not written in stone but It will help give you an idea of what you’ll be looking for. I take the objects from Step 2 and place them around the shelves following the 5 Guidelines.
Step 6: go shopping, now you are armed with a guiding shopping list.
Pro Tip: do mini styling in store. Find a shelf and group your objects together to see how they’ll look together.
Keep in mind the height of your shelves. If you plan on putting two vases on the one shelves you’ll want to make sure their heights fit. 12” shelf you might have 11” and 9” vases.
Now you are all set to tackle your shelves! Need inspiration check out my latest Design Recipe.