Shelf Styling

Shelf Styling

Styling your open built-in shelves or really any book shelf can be stressful for some.  So much so, that they despise the feature in their home.  Open shelving can be tricky and make you want to throw in the towel.  Well, I am here to tell you that what you may consider a design pain in the butt can be the most fabulous focal point in your house!  A true reflection of who you are and all the things that you enjoy! 

Decorating built-ins does take some thought and so you may want to make sure that you have some free time to tackle this project.   For me, I love the whole process of clearing off every shelf and reworking my accessories or adding in some new items.   You would be surprised at what I do have on my built-ins.   I like to “shop my home” for accessories that maybe I haven’t seen in a while.  You see not only are the cabinets below my built-ins full of goodies, I have things stuffed in nearly every extra drawer and closet in my house.   It’s surprising at how often I steal accessories from other rooms and fall in love with them all over again after seeing them on the built-ins. 

Here are a few of my tips when styling open built-in shelves for an uncluttered and balanced look.

  1. First step, clear everything off of your shelves.  Always start decorating with a clean palate, so clear them……completely……every single time you want to change the look of them.   As much as it may seem daunting to start with a clean slate it is very important.  By clearing the shelves, it allows you to focus on one shelf at a time without all the other clutter to distract you.  As you remove things sort them into like items piles so that when you are ready to put back your accessories you will know where to pull them from.  
  2. If you have adjustable shelves like mine, remove one or two of the shelves or space them apart at different heights.   By doing this it will allow you to add in some larger pieces like a tall vase, candlesticks, or artwork.   Play with the spacinguntil you get it just like you like it.   Remember, I told you that it takes a little time to decorate your built-ins.   So, give yourself some grace and don’t stress over it, you will love them when you have it just right.   Don’t force the process, put on some music and fix yourself a cup of coffee or pour a glass of wine, and have fun styling your shelves! 
  3. Balance smaller pieces with larger accents. Most already have way too many small accessories on their bookshelves.    Add in some larger accents to fill the space that you just created without it looking too cluttered.  Balancing decorative accessories with various sizes is visually pleasing.  
  4. Repetition is good.   Repeating elementsof like items, texture and color creates a harmonious look from top to bottom and left to right.   Remember it’s all about mixing and matching vases, boxes, books, frames, art, your favorite souvenir from a family vacation and any other quirky accents to create an interesting layered look.   The more you mix and match, the more layered your shelves will appear.  Be careful, don’t overdo your styling with one thing.  Too many of one thing isn’t a good idea, but a little bit here and a little bit there with all of your other pieces is perfect!  Create little vignettes and groupings of three.  Always remember that one of the fundamental rules of design is using groupings of three. 
  5. Things all open shelving must have.  
  6. Do– add books for texture and color. Books fill space and add height.  
  7. Do– add pops of greenery, real or fake.  I like to keep a vase handy to fill with fresh cut flowers or sometimes depending on the season I will mix real and artificial florals.  No one will ever know the difference! 
  8. Do– add things you love.  Incorporate some of your favorite pieces to make your built-ins not only look good, but by using meaningful items your built-ins become a reflection of you.   For example, add family photos, just a few, don’t go crazy, a special piece of art, maybe some pottery from vacation spot….. I think you get the idea.   These special details will become much more than just décor, they will create conversation with guests and remind you of special moments in your life. 

So, there you go!  You should be ready to style your built-ins.  Don’t be afraid to think outside the box, don’t be too matchy matchy.   The more mixed and matched your design is, the better the shelves will look.  The best advice I can offer is to just have fun and remember it doesn’t have to be perfect.  My built-in décor is ever evolving and I’m totally okay with that.   If I can’t shop my house, I am on the search for the perfect accent to complete the look.  There is no one right way to style your shelves, just have fun with it and embrace the process.   Happy styling!! 


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