How To Decorate Shelves: My Easy 3 Step Formula

Inside: How to decorate shelves in 3 steps and ensure that you’re decorating with intention. Whether your decorating bookshelves, kitchen shelves, floating shelves, or built in shelves, these easy steps will teach you how to bring style and personality to your display spaces.

You know when you see perfectly decorated shelves? They’re never too full, but not too empty and they have a way of moving your eye from one point to another. The items on the shelves tell a story, have personality, and add a ton of interest to a space.

When styled with intention, the open shelves in your home are a perfect opportunity to showcase your style and your personality, but too often they become a bit of a dumping ground for random objects that take away from the overall feeling you want to create in your home.

Let’s change that!

how to decorate shelves

I’ve decorated many shelves and studied what makes for a perfectly styled shelf and narrowed it down to just 3 simple steps that you can repeat again and again to decorate your shelves with intention and move you toward the look and feel you want in your home.

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

But first…

What should you put on your shelves?

The shelves in your home are the perfect opportunity to tell your story and show off your personality so the items you decide to display should have meaning and be items you love.

When decorating the shelves in your living room, you might display art, photos, books, and decorative objects that tell your story.

But when decorating shelves in your kitchen or in your office the items you display might be more functional to keep the items you use within easy reach while still adding style and interest to your space.

>>Want to learn how to find your style and create your own unique decor plan? Click here to learn about my course, Style Your Way Home.

Really, what you choose to display is totally up to you and anything can be part of your decor but in order to make sure we’re decorating with intention I have a few tips for you to keep in mind before we start decorating your shelves.

 A few shelf styling rules to keep in mind

Rule 1: Keep The Color Palette Consistent

In order to maintain a cohesive look, the items you place on your shelves will use the same patterns, shapes, and textures that you use throughout your home and be consistent with the your home’s color palette.

You’ll most likely have neutrals as well as pops of color that you’ll want to distribute with balance when you work through the shelf styling steps below.

Rule 2:  Edit, Edit, Edit!

If the whole idea is to tell your story and showcase your style, make sure the items you choose to display are the best of the best.

This means, each items should fit into at least one of three categories: beautiful, useful, or sentimental.

It’s like I said when I shared the huge mental shift that got me decluttering like crazy

“If everything is special, then nothing is really special.”

In other words, choose your absolute favorite things. The things that really speak to you and light you up and let those be the show stoppers. Don’t be tempted to display everything because all of the extra items will only distract from the really amazing ones.

How to Decorate Shelves In 3 Easy Steps

Step 1: Place Horizontal Items

Horizontal items are items that are wider than they are tall.

A few examples of horizontal items you might use to style your shelves are baskets, trays, decorative boxes, stacked books, or decorative objects.

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.

horizontal items on shelves

Step 2: Lean Flat Items

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

Items like framed art or photographs, plates, and trays are good examples of flat items.

Leaning items at the back of your shelves is a great way to layer in color and texture and add depth.

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.

lean art on shelves

Step 3: Place Vertical Items

Vertical items are those that are taller than they are wide.

Things like vases, books, plats, or decorative objects will add height to your shelves and finish off what I like to call little moments on your shelves.

Vertical items don’t necessarily have to be tall though. You can stack these items on the horizontal items already on your shelves to add interest and vary the height on each shelf.

vertical items on shelves

A few final thoughts…

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.

The best shelf displays don’t have the same number of items on each shelf so don’t be afraid to have one single item on one shelf and more on the next. You’ll know when you get it right, so have fun with it!

>>I can’t wait to see your styled shelves! Share them with me by posting them to Instagram or Facebook and tag me @heytherehome in your post so I can send you a virtual high five!

easy steps to decorate shelves


I’ve done my share of building shelves to add a ton of character to my home too. Check out these posts to see how I did it!

DIY Built-Ins With Bench Seat

DIY Built In Bed With Shelves

How To Turn A Closet Into A Built In


Happy decorating!

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About Corey

Corey is the creative behind Hey There, Home where she shares easy-to-follow and beautiful home decor and entertaining ideas. Her mission? To make home decor accessible to everyone, even if you don't consider yourself crafty, and to empower people to decorate their homes in a way that they can actually be lived in, not just looked at.

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