How To Decorate Shelves and Bookcases: My Easy 3 Step Formula


Shelf decor got you stuck? I'll show you how to decorate shelves in just 3 easy steps that will work whether your decorating built in shelves, working on living room shelf decor, or bookshelf decor.

Shelf styling is a lot easier than you might think. But with all the shelf decor ideas out there it's difficult to figure out which shelf decor items to display to make sure your shelves tell your story, but don't get too cluttered.

When selecting decorative objects for shelves, you'll follow the guidelines of your defined decor style, but how you arrange the decor on your shelves can take your decor to the next level and make your home feel amazing.

Today I'll show you how to style shelves and how to style a bookcase in just 3 simple steps that you can put on repeat!

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I even made a quick how to decorate shelves video to show you the steps!

The shelves in your home are the perfect opportunity to tell your story and show off your personality so when thinking of things to put on shelves, some of the items you decide to display should have meaning and be items you love.

In order to maintain a cohesive look, the things you put on your shelves will use the same colors, patterns, shapes, and textures that you use throughout your home and be consistent with your decor style.

Tips And Ideas For What to Put on Shelves?

  • Keep the color palette consistent and balance the use of color from one shelf to the next.
  • Add interest with texture and different shapes.
  • Odd numbers are key so stick to vignettes of 3 or 5 items and an odd number of decorative items per shelf as well.
  • Larger is sometimes better. To many small shelf decor items can make your shelves look cluttered. Mix it up by using larger items with a few smaller items sprinkled in.
  • White space is your friend. Don't feel like you have to fill every space on your shelves. Leaving space between items allows them to stand out more. And don't be afraid to let one single piece of decor stand alone.
  • Edit, Edit, Edit! The whole idea of bookshelf styling and is to tell your story and showcase your style and personality so make sure you choose the best of the best decor to put on your shelves.
  • Once you have everything placed don't be afraid to play around with it to get the right balance, look, and feel you're going for.

Living Room Shelf Decor

Shelf decorating ideas for the living room might include art, photos, books, and decorative objects but often need to include some functional decor as well like baskets to organize everyday items like keys or mail.

Office Bookcase Decor

Bookshelf decor ideas in a room like an office might include more functional objects like boxes, magazine holders, and books along with some art, family photos, and bookcase decor.

Kitchen Shelf Decor

Kitchen shelf decor will include more functional items like cookbooks, bowls, or platters to keep the items you use within easy reach while still adding style and interest to your space. Even these items will fit your style and be an opportunity to add color and personality to your space.

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How To Decorate A Bookshelf In 3 Easy Steps

It's important to find things to put on shelves that are different heights, shapes, and go in different directions to create interest.

Living room shelf decor will differ from office bookshelf decor in the items displayed but these are easy steps to bring your shelf decor ideas to life.

Step 1: Place horizontal shelf decor items

Styling shelves is all about balance so as you place your horizontal items you'll want to consider balance from one shelf to another so that one shelf doesn't appear too heavy with items. That's not to say that every shelf has to be exactly the same, but you'll want to keep balance in mind along with making sure your colors and textures (that we discussed earlier) are evenly distributed.

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Horizontal items are items that are wider than they are tall. Some ideas for decorative objects or functional decor are:

  • baskets
  • trays
  • decorative boxes
  • stacked books
  • long and low decorative objects
  • planter or pot
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Step 2: Add depth by leaning flat shelf decor items

Leaning items at the back of your shelves is a great way to layer in color and texture and add depth. This is especially important when decorating built in shelves.

The items you choose don't necessarily have to stand out or have much contrast to the background of your shelves either. Even items that essentially blend into the background still add interest and help anchor (or create little focal points) for the items in front of them.

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Flat decor items are just what they sound like, they're flat or thin and don't take up too much much of the shelf depth.

Examples of flat items that can be displayed on shelves are:

  • framed art or photographs
  • plates
  • trays
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Step 3: Place vertical shelf decor items

Vertical items are those that are taller than they are wide will add height to your shelves and finish off what I like to call little moments on your shelves.

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Some vertical shelf accessories are:

  • vessels like vases, canisters, or jars
  • leaning books
  • plants
  • candle sticks
  • decorative objects and sculptures
  • or small decorative items stacked on top of other things on your shelves

Tip: To create height, stack small shelf decor on the horizontal items already on your shelves to add interest and vary the height on each shelf.

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Ready to create a home that feels like you without the overwhelm?

Inside my course, Style Your Way Home, I'll teach you my step-by-step approach to discovering your unique design style and how to incorporate all the styles you love into your own home design plan. Plus, you'll learn my simple 4 step process to to apply your decor plan to any room in your home so you can make quick and confident decisions and create a home that feels like YOU.