shelf styling tips - don't always center objects

Shelf styling tips from an actual expert (as opposed to someone who just spent too much time browsing Pinterest. 😉 )

“Wait, what if I move this right here?” I tap my chin, unsatisfied with the newly decorated shelf that stares back at me. The house is empty, but I’m counting on the universe to answer my shelving questions. No matter what I do, it doesn’t look right.

Whenever I try my hand at shelf styling, it looks like I’m trying too hard. I become obsessive about spacing and symmetry and making everything just so, completely forgetting that I like things that are imperfect. They’re so much more interesting and a million times more real.

In the end, I usually throw my hands in the air and spend the next six hours browsing Pinterest for help (which sometimes results in shelf decorating ideas posts).

All of this is ridiculous considering the fact that my sister is an interior designer. She’s really, really good at this stuff. Yet here I am, talking to my shelf.

I decided to pick my sister’s brain a little to get some of her top shelf decorating tips and tricks so that next time maybe I won’t struggle so much. Be sure to read all the way to the bottom for a free printable shelf styling checklist.

how to style your shelves like an interior designer (with a free printable checklist) - shelf decor - shelf ideas - shelf decorating - shelf styling - #shelfie

10 Shelf Styling Tips from an Interior Designer

Triangles are your friend.

Take objects of different heights and arrange them in groups of three. Not only is it pleasing to the eye, but it looks more natural and less forced than grouping things in even-numbered sets.

Glass is great for grouping.

Glass is noncommittal in the sense that it can go with anything and not become overwhelming or take away from an object that you want to stand out.

shelf styling tips - glass is great for grouping

via Domino

Add in organic material.

Plants, succulents, and terrariums add visual interest and texture while livening up your space. They can also help to soften up harder surfaces and create a cozier vibe.

Display colorful or interesting covered books.

Stack them vertically or arrange a pile horizontally with an object on top. Either way, it adds a little pop of unexpected visual interest.

Layer framed pieces of art.

Don’t just use small 4 x 6 prints, but layer in bigger artwork as well. You can put a small piece of art or picture right in front of a large one.

Add baskets or boxes on the bottom towards the floor.

This ensures the shelf isn’t too busy all the way to the ground, which will look cluttered. It gives your eye a break and can serve to anchor the whole arrangement.

Leave space!

Whether it’s on the sides or in between things, your eye needs to rest. Jamming too many things in there can look cluttered and chaotic. If you give objects a little bit of breathing room, you can create a calming effect.

Don’t always center objects. 

Trade off between centering things and placing them towards the edges of the shelf so the shelves don’t all look the same and become uninteresting.

Don’t overdo textures and shapes.

For a full-length bookshelf, you should use no more than three different textures or shapes. Any more than that and it will look cluttered.

Keep a theme to your objects.

Whether you choose style or color, there should be a theme. Without one it will become confusing and look like a jumbled mess.

Lastly, remember that a styled shelf is rarely functional. It’s pretty, but not always the best if you plan to constantly use the items displayed there. Accept it and move on.

In hopes of keeping you from talking to your shelf, I created a printable checklist that includes all of these tips to make your next attempt at shelf styling much more satisfying.

Click the link above and a printable checklist will be delivered directly to your inbox. And if you’re looking for more shelf styling ideas before you get started, be sure to check out my 7 Awesome Shelfies post for inspiration.

inspiring shelf decorating ideas

Written by Jennifer Garry
Jen is a freelance writer and girl mom from New York. When she's not knee-deep in glittery crafts and girl talk, you can probably find her sprawled across her couch in the middle of a Netflix marathon with dark chocolate smeared on her face. The struggle is real.