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The secret to easy shelf styling

I am in a shelf-decorating frenzy right now! With the changing season, I’m adding festive elements to my regular shelf décor and just starting from scratch on another one! If creating a pretty shelf seems like a mystery to you, follow my quick and simple rules for easy shelf styling!

But first, I wanted to catch you up too speed. This is the fourth and final post in a series using stock cabinets to build a DIY build in bookcase. If you missed the last post on build the upper part of the bookcase you can check it out here!

How do you decorate a shelf nicely?

The rules of design apply to single shelf styling the same as they do to create a well-put-together room. As you gather together the vintage and dollar store finds you’ve been gathering at sales and online, remember to consider:


There isn’t a perfect way to style a shelf, but balance is still important! Balanced decorations give the feeling that everything is purposeful. You can get this feeling with either asymmetrical or symmetrical designs.


In a symmetrical design, the two sides of your design are identical, mirror images. With an asymmetrical design, the images on each side of that imaginary center line are different, but there is still balance. 

Choosing a color palette 

The color palette you choose will set the tone for your room and your mood! And don’t be afraid to mix metals. Just be sure to repeat that metal at least twice on your shelf. Try Adding a bright green houseplant! This will liven up your design and can work great with any season! I like to buy my plants at Garden Goods Direct. They have the best assortment of plants and the quality is out of this world. Plus, they’re super affordable so thats a win for me!

Add artwork

A splash of color or a big focal point really makes a statement! This is your chance to add your own personality and artistic flair to the shelf.

Play around

There is no one perfect way on how to style open shelves in a kitchen or how to style open shelves in a living room. Style it one way, look at it for a few days, and then switch it up a little. Adding or taking something away can give it a fresh new look.

How do you style a bookshelf like a pro?

Varying heights

When you’re trying to figure out how to decorate shelves without looking cluttered, start by looking for objects that are different in height, shape, and proportion. Use three tall candles, next to a picture, or group of pictures, and a wreath. This varying height can give you balance and a more interesting shelf! On my mantle, I also use garlands and houseplants, with a couple of houseplants on the floor, to add more interest.

Dos and don’ts 

I take everything off the shelf and start from nothing. You’d be surprised at the inspiration you’ll get from a blank canvas! Start decorating when you have time to yourself and aren’t rushed.

It’s a process! I like to shop my home for accessories, just like this blogger at The DIY Playbook. She likes to add books and also greenery, like me, to mix things up and keep it fresh. Also add meaningful décor, family photos, souvenirs. I like generic pieces, sometimes, if it’s that pretty, and mixed in with a variety of other items.

Pick a pattern or shape

There are tons of patterns out there to grab attention! Try decorating with objects in a zig-zag, x, z, or a visual triangle. With the triangle method, you create a triangle with objects, either three that are the same or different. With this method, you can tie in repeated textures.

How do you style an empty shelf?

Like I said earlier, it’s easiest to always start with an empty shelf. I add in a picture or two first! This gives you a nice central focal point and a background. Next, start thinking about plants, maybe a vine or even a tall cactus. My favorite is a Chinese money plant. I love the shape of the leaves and how they hang over the planter.

Then start adding interesting groups of small items, candles, a vase, anything that seems like a fit for you! When I tackle any new project, I throw some things together and then give it some thought, maybe go back and make changes or enjoy my success!

How do I style my shelves?

I like to start simple and add the things I love most. If you have a favorite picture of your family and friends that’s gathering dust in storage, get it out! If your dining table centerpiece is getting old, move it to a shelf and add a couple of new pieces. Sometimes, if you are decorating a lot of shelves, it’s nice to give one shelf a breather and only place ONE object on it — think an oblong bowl full of apples or lemons.

Here are a few more of my favorite shelf styling tips:

  • Mix vertical and horizontal elements, to draw the eye up and across
  • Layering adds depth, shelves can look flat, so those layers help it look 3-D
  • Our eyes see things best in groups of three or odd numbers! (You can see how I decorated my shelf in 3’s!)

What to add on: 

  1. Vases – There are some beautiful, hand-crafted vases and pieces of pottery out there that you can add on. But there are also some great finds at Walmart and Target that can add great color and shape too!
  2. Bookends – Can be a fun and quirky way to add a little spice to your shelf
  3. Books – Create height by stacking books or even leaving a book out for display if it has a pretty cover! Height can also be created by displaying candlesticks, the globe, and varied vase heights. Any books that are stacked vertically (generally a stack of two to four books is best) require an object on top of them to ground the look. A candle, picture frame, or plant are great ideas. Arrange your books by color or turn the spines toward the wall so that it’s a nonissue.
  4. Boxes – A little stack of boxes can add height for an object on top or add to the holiday joy.
  5. Baskets – A basket can hold a lot of different objects, from fruit to balls of yarn, to an interesting dried flower arrangement. A good basket can do a lot for your shelf styling!
  6. Decorative Objects – Paint the back of your bookcase a different color or wallpaper it to add interest and texture.
  7. Plants – I love adding in a few plants, a popular décor addition in modern shelf styling. When adding in a plant, consider its needs first. The last thing you want is a dreary, dried-out plant! Find plants that can thrive in your shelf’s conditions, whether it’s low or bright light. Next, consider that you have options! Pots, hanging planters and propagation stations are all great for showcasing a special plant, whether it’s a succulent, monstera, or cacti. Hanging planters come in various shapes, colors, and sizes, making them a good addition for (near) your shelf! And propagation stations, a trendy new idea for shelf styling, are simply a glass jar where you place a new plant cutting. You can watch its roots grow!

Which plants to buy for easy shelf styling

There are so many plants out there to choose from, but I have to say a few of my favorites are:

Monstera adansonii – Swiss Cheese Vine
Monstera deliciosa (Split Leaf Philodendron)
Chinese Money Plant – Pilea peperomioides
Zz plant 

They all look beautiful styled on a shelf and are all really affordable through Garden Goods Direct. I love that I can get them shipped right to my house from their farm. They are a nursery that’s making plants more accessable by bringing their garden center online. To learn more head over to Garden Goods Direct and get 10% off your oder by using code ABN10 click the link here!

Just in case you missed the other posts in this series you can check them out here:

How to use unfinished stock cabinets to make a base for your build in

How to paint your unfinished cabinets like a pro for the best overall finish!

How to make a built-in bookcase with unfinished cabinets

Want to shop this post’s supplies? Just click on an image to be directed to that shops site. *These links are affiliates and if used to purchase then I make a small commission at no cost to you. Thanks for supporting the brands that help keep this blog going!

Thanks so much for reading along. I hope you feel more confident in your shelf styling ability!

Talk soon,



  1. I totally love this!! I am constantly “re-thinking” my shelf decorations, especially now with the holidays!! The suggestion to start with empty shelves and a clean slate was just what I needed to start the first step of my Christmas displays! I also love to use plants to add lush colors and contrast to the scenery! This year holly and ivy accents seem to be bringing the Christmas joy to my decor! Thanks so much for the post!

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