How to Style Open Shelving

How to Style Open Shelving

I have always thought it a bit pretentious to advise others on how to style a shelf, but the more I tend to style for work these days the more I realise there are a few helpful tips along the way for getting it just right.  Interestingly if I am on a photo shoot and styling a shelve I will more often than not take an image of the process to see what it looks like through the lens as this is always less forgiving than the naked eye.  

My shelves to me are an opportunity to show all the treasure I collect and an added way of bringing more personality to the room.   For example the kitchen shelves are filled with glasses, canisters and an array of pots.  But how do you style the shelf to make sure you get the balance just right. 

Here are some tips on how to style the perfect shelf.  


Photo by Dane Deaner on Unsplash


Start with a Clean Slate
Clear off your shelves completely. Starting with a blank canvas allows you to reimagine the space without any preconceived notions.

Plan Your Arrangement

I am not a very practical person, in fact I will always consider aesthetics over functionality however clearly if I am styling a shelf for every day use and not just for a beautiful photograph then functionality must come in to it and as much as we are living in a world of Instagram we do need to be a bit practical about it.  

Composition When creating any composition there are a few general rules which you can apply to styling shelves.  

Rule of thirds.  It is better when creating a vignette or a grouping to keep to odd numbers rather than even.  

Balance.  Asymmetrical balance.  Different elements are balanced by their visual weight (colour, shape and size)

Depth & Perspective.  Use techniques like overlapping and size variation to enhance perspective.  Place items at varying depths to create a sense of depth. For example, lean a framed photo against the back wall and place smaller objects in front.

Add Height Variations.  Use stands or stacks of books to elevate smaller items, adding height and dimension to your shelves.

Contrast.  Contrast in colour, value and texture can make elements stand out. 

Repetition & Rhythm.  Repeat elements (shapes, colours and patterns) to create a sense of rhythm and unity.  

Negative Space.  Leave space around items.  Don't over clutter.  

Mix and Match Items.  Combine different types of items such as books, vases, plants, and decorative objects. Mixing textures, sizes, and shapes adds visual interest.

Rotate items seasonally: Change out items seasonally to keep your shelves fresh and reflective of the current time of year.

Add Greenery.  Incorporate small potted plants, succulents, or fresh flowers to bring life and color to your shelves. Greenery adds a natural, organic element that softens the overall look.

Unfortunately you do need to keep it tidy.  Try not to let it become a dumping ground. 

Inspiration and Experimentation
Look at interior design magazines, websites, and social media for inspiration. Take note of what appeals to you and try to replicate those elements.

Image Credits.

Main Photo by Matt Briney on Unsplash