When you look up at your big empty shelves, it can feel like you’re a painter staring at an empty canvas or a writer contemplating a blank page. It is overwhelming, to be less verbose. And it is often difficult to know how to start. How do I arrange everything to look good? How should I group items together? Should I arrange by size or by color? If you’re anything like us at The Kuotes, these are the kinds of questions that keep you up at night. Luckily, we’re here to provide you with some insider tips to vanquish your shelf decorating nightmares and give your home a strong, pulled together look.
#1 – Begin with a Tabula Rasa
Although to many this may seem like an easy, self-explanatory step, it is often the most forgotten or ignored rule of shelf decorating. Edit. Get rid of any clutter that should be thrown out, eliminate anything that you don’t use anymore, and donate anything that may still be good but you just no longer love. A frequent shelf mistake we see is styling with too many (frequently small) objects. Think of it this way: the more items you have on a shelf, the less of an impact each individual item is going to make. Some pieces are even large and dramatic enough to stand alone on a shelf. Having a few small decorative objects you love is okay, but make sure you retain a healthy mix of decor and keep nothing beyond what you need.
#2 – Party in the Back
Now that you have everything cleared off and edited down, consider the bookshelf itself before you begin. Don’t like what you’re working with? Explore our collection of standout bookshelves and display cases for a shelving update. The Brentley, Oriana, and Worthington are some of our bestselling favorites! Or, if you have a built-in bookcase, try dressing up the back of the unit with paint, fabric, or wallpaper for a stunning transformation. Drawing attention to the back of a shelf creates a sense of depth that can otherwise get lost, and it can provide a complementary or contrasting element to the shelf decor itself. Just look at the photo above and below for some inspiration!
Get the Look
#3 – Hit the Books
Whether you’re a big reader with a library full of fun novels, or you just have a few favorites that you use for styling, shelf decorating should start with books. How to start? Group your books into small stacks and position them both vertically and horizontally with color peppered evenly throughout for a curated yet pulled-together look. Grouping by color is an alternate method, but this styling technique should only be used if you have a LOT of books on your shelf and each color will have enough books for a sizable stack. Grouping by color is also best for styling a shelf that contains mostly books instead of a vignette of different objects. The number of books in each stack will vary depending on the size of your books and the height and width of your shelves, but stacks should generally include three or more books at minimum. More than twelve or fifteen books might be too many. We also like to play with how stacks on a shelf are arranged: some shelves can have all vertical stacks, some all horizontal, and some can mix it up!
Get the Look
#4 – Know the Importance of Balance
#4 – Choose a Color Palette
Like with most things related to interior design, it is important to have a clear and consistent color palette when styling your shelves. Take a look at the photo above. The white books and creamy built-in shelves make for a rich and airy feel. Mix in the nickel and steel metallic decor, and the room looks complete and effortlessly sophisticated. As you read this post and scroll through the images, you’ll find that whether bright, neutral, or moody, the palette for a successfully styled shelf typically consists of a base color and then a metallic accent color. This is generally good practice, but don’t be afraid to experiment and bend the rules and throw a third complementary color in there.
Get the Chinoiserie Look
#5 – Add Artwork
Artwork is typically an overlooked accessory that works wonders on a shelf. It adds personality, and it allows you to express your design creativity. Just prop a piece up, or even hang larger pieces over the cross-section of the moulding for a more “library” look. Artwork also draws the eye to the back of the shelf and allows for a more visually layered look that has depth. Keep in mind that artwork takes up a lot of shelf real estate, so it is a better solve for larger shelves (instead of crowding large shelves with too many small objects).
#6 – Have a Healthy Mix
This is the part that makes shelf styling so much fun! Explore our collection of decor and add all of your pretty items! Objects, sculptures, collections, vessels, flowers… you name it. The key is to provide a healthy mix and to think sculptural. A tip we adore at Kathy Kuo Home is to use an organic material for a super refreshing look, like our petrified wood slices or a beautiful shell.
#7 – Style, Style, Style
Okay, so now you have all of your shelf styling essentials … But this is only half the battle! The last step is to blend together all of the aforementioned tips effortlessly for a fresh and cohesive look. Mix together texture, size, and tone, but be sure to keep to a singular color palette or style. Take a look at our moody, black and gold bookshelf as an example. Move things around to see how they look in different places, and take time to play with different groupings (Pro Tip: Odd numbers tend to look better in a group than even numbers). The honest trick to getting a shelf to look perfect is spending the time to style and edit until everything falls into place!
How do you style your shelves? Let us know in the comment section below.