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Styling Up The Perfect Shelf: A Guide

"Design is not the design, the details are the design."

You know how they say that God is in the details? A tremendously underrated fact. The little details of any design is where the personality of the built space shines through.

Looking to freshen up the look of a room you love? A creative and easy way to revitalise a room is to re-style a simple shelf and make it a highlight. Are you wondering where to start? I am going to help guide you to transform a little nook in your home, which is usually ignored or crammed with the most useless of things: The Shelf. It's okay, we've all been there. It might seem like a daunting task to style a shelf, but it's one of the easiest and most essential little details that go into creating the right personality of your room, and we're going to help you with it. Whether it's a bookshelf crammed with loads of books, or a tiny shelf in the kitchen, this blog can be used as a guide for perfectly styled shelves that are functional and pleasing to the eye, complete with carefully curated arrangements, anywhere in your home.

Consider this guide as the recipe for the perfect shelf, complete with the Ingredients that go into making it and the Instructions required for the proper use of them. Here's to hoping this gives you a clear starting point in creating unique shelves in your home, while taking the guesswork out of the design process.


Let's begin with the Ingredients required to cook (style) the perfect shelf. I have included a bunch of reference images for inspiration, simply slide through the galleries below.


  • Artwork & Framed Pictures

Artwork and framed pictures are the easiest items to go on the shelf because they take up a lot of shelf real estate and exude a unique personality to begin with. Pick a favourite piece or two, and arrange them on the shelves for that unique oomph in the space. The only things to consider while using artworks or framed photographs on shelves is the size and proportion of the pieces with respect to the shelf space and a cohesive colour palette, in case of multiple artworks. You don't want two colour palettes that don't blend well together. And if you don't have enough framed art pieces to go on your shelf, consider framing other things of importance, maybe your mother's famous chicken soup recipe that you absolutely adore, or an old letter from your best friend. The options are endless, and a lot of plain, old things end up looking really good when framed.

  • Books

This might as well be an obvious one, but the beauty of using books on shelves lies in their arrangements and its layering with other accessories. Books can be grouped together by colour, or size or can simply be arranged with their spines in so they all look cohesive together. The trick is to arrange the books in a variety of arrangements and along with interesting accessories. Some can be stacked together in groups of three or four, or can be leaning on a gorgeous bookend. Alternate the carefully grouped arrangements for the various shelves and then play off the books with objects to sit on or lean against. Books are instant conversation starters and provide a glimpse into your personality to anyone who visits your home.

  • Decorative objects - Vases, Bowls, Candles

This is where you can play with colours and textures and accentuate your shelf space. Start collecting pieces of decorative objects of different shapes, sizes, textures. There are a variety of objects to choose from in every category of objects. Decide on a type of style that suits your personality or your home: Minimal, Scandinavian, Japandi, Tropical, Bohemian, Eclectic, etc. You could start with a colour palette in mind, maybe something that blends well in the room or something that makes the shelf instantly shine through with contrasting colours. You can even accentuate the whole space with gorgeous textures. Want a contemporary feel to your space? Go for simple shapes with metallic or solid finishes. Maybe you have a love for all things tropical and love the beach? Go for natural textures, like cane or rattan. Or your heart aches for the Japandi style, like mine, and would prefer the aged, weathered texture for vases or bowls and anything decorative you can find or collect. The options are endless.

  • Sculptures & Figurines

Sculptures are really interesting pieces of decoration that can really bring out the personality in your shelf space. It is not a necessity to have one, but if you do have a sculptural piece of art that you want to show off, a shelf might just be the perfect place. You could even start with this, if you have a truly knock-off, favourite piece and then build your shelf around it, using a similar or complementary colour palette, textures and decorative objects.

  • Simple, Large Objects

Having too many small objects can start to make your shelf messy and cluttered. It's important to balance the smaller objects with a few larger items. It could be a simple basket or a box to store some of the smaller objects or other items of necessity. A useful tip is to arrange larger items on the bottom shelves as they're visually heavier and more functional than the lighter, decorative objects and need better accessibility.

  • Plants & Flowers

I deliberately saved the best and personally my most favourite accessory for the last, because doesn't it just always make any space complete and effortlessly gorgeous? Plants are naturally sculptural and provide a beautiful burst of textures. They breathe life into any space they're in. Mix it up with complementary vases, pitchers or baskets and you're good to go. If your shelf doesn't receive any natural light, faux is the best way to go.

Check out what all went into the styling of our shelf, here ;)


Let’s gets to the Styling

  • Places, Places If you have a portable shelving unit, it would be wise to start with the right place for it. It could be a focal element in your living room, or an accent piece beside your TV unit, finding the right place for it is the first thing to begin with. You can even highlight the shelves through different wall paint colours or a wallpaper backdrop.

  • Blank Canvas It's a good rule to begin with a blank canvas so your design thinking is not distracted by any existing clutter. Clear out the junk and start fresh.

  • Colours & Textures Make an inventory of all the things you think you can use. When you collect your favourite objects, pick out the range of colours and textures that you will build your shelf around. It is a good thumb rule to keep this palette small, so it all looks cohesive when put together. For instance, you can pair a couple of monochrome objects with golden, metallic highlights. Maybe you have plain, white walls in the room and you might not want to use a whole bunch of colours to highlight with your objects, only subtle creamy tones. Think about your specific situation and pick out your collection of objects from your inventory. Mix your colour palette with neutral shades like cream, white, light grey and space them out over the shelf by introducing textures. Below are some mood-board inspirations for colours, textures and patterns that look cohesive together.

  • Rule of Three It's a good thumb rule to group similar objects in odd numbers. The Rule states Three because that is a safe number, because if you go with any further, say five, you might have a clutter in your hands (shelves). Have a couple of vases of similar colours but different shapes, group them together so they don't look stranded all alone.

  • The Triangle Method of Arrangement The Triangle Method or the Zig-Zag method is simply a method of placing your objects on the various shelves. You don't want to have the same type of materials, in terms of colour, shape or size directly adjacent, above or below each other. So, when you go about placing a particular category of items, say books, be it leaning or stacked, go about it in a zig-zag manner from top to bottom.

  • It's All in the Proportions As highlighted in the points above, you want to play with proportions. Similar items with different proportions can be grouped together, or a small object can be placed with a larger one. The goal is to not let the eye settle in one place, which can be achieved by playing with proportions.

  • Mix Horizontal & Vertical Elements This is another way to make things visually more interesting. You can have a stack of books next to candlesticks, or a creeper plant that falls across the shelf, along with a short, long bowl. Mix & Match.

  • Layering & Stacking Layering and Stacking give depth to your space. You can have layering with a piece of art leaning against the wall, and a complementary decorative object directly ahead of it, to create a 3-dimensional depth in your shelf, instead of just going about it linearly. For stacking, you can have a bowl or any other decorative object on a pedestal of a stack of books, to keep things even more interesting.

  • Functionality Remember how we talked about simple, large objects in the list of accessories? This is where they come in. You can keep your essential knick-knacks, towels or papers in a storage basket or fruits in a decorative bowl, or mason jars of seeds, pasta, tea bags or sweeties, and your shelf automatically becomes functional. You could even have a beautiful looking stereo player, or some other type of entertainment unit, or display a tea or a bar set, with carefully curated cups or glasses.

  • Personality This is where your shelf becomes you. By now, your mind must be filled with thoughts of objects that you put on your shelf, or you might be thinking of gathering these similar-looking groups of items from your closest home décor store. Stop right there. Opt to curate your accent pieces over a period of time, rather than making one bulk, impulsive purchase. When you travel, keep an eye out for vintage or antique stores, slowly building your collection of favourite things. It doesn't even necessarily have to be an expensive process. Thrift stores, flea markets and local outstation stores are full of these gems, and with each of them, you have a story to tell. Hell, maybe you have a quirky crafting hobby like me, and collect and paint oddly shaped stones or pinecones, maybe seashells from your beach adventures. This is their chance to finally shine. Whatever it is, make it personal. If you don't love the things you put on the shelf, the design will fall flat. Make it you.

  • Cut the Junk Quality is greater than quantity. I've listed a bunch of ideas of objects that you can use to style your shelf, but obviously you cannot put all of them. Maybe you're happy with only books, some plants, and some small vases and that's alright. Whatever you use, don't overcrowd the space. Embrace the open, breathing spaces so the eye doesn't tire of looking at the shelf.

  • The Game Plan

If you've collected your items, made your object groups and planned your colour palette and textures and still aren't sure about where to start, here is a easy way to just get right into it.

  1. Pick up your largest objects and in a zig-zag way start placing them on the shelves from bottom to top, since it's the heaviest item.

  2. Then, plan out the books, in the leftover space, some leaning, some stacked.

  3. Next, play off the books with some objects to stack on the books or to lean against.

  4. Fill out the rest of the leftover spaces with textured and complementary objects.

Check out how we went about styling this shelf, step by step here ;)

  • Amp the Vibe up with Lighting If there's a cherry on top for the whole shelfie experience, it has to be the element of lighting. It really helps you bring out the things you want the most to shine and creates a highlight experience in the day with the natural light, and in the night with your lighting design. The only tip to remember is to not go overboard, because you don't want the light to strain your eyes, only add an ambient touch in the room. You could opt for a table lamp, or LED strip lights, or simply, fairy lights along the shelf or in a bowl or a vase for a magical touch. You can even place a wall or a ceiling light just above the shelves. Track lights are a major go-to for highlighting long shelves. Other options can be neon signs, or cinematic light boxes or sculptural lighting fixtures.

  • Stand Back & Critique When you're done with your masterpiece, stand up and take a look. You might feel like changing a thing or two around, or removing some things, if it feels too filled up. The less you display, the more focus and importance it puts on the objects shown. This is called the final edit.


All in all, have fun with the process and don't forget to personalise it. There's nothing more special than a design that is unique to you and your personality. If you ask me, the simple act of styling a shelf is therapeutic and meditative, because you look inward through the entire process.

I hope this post was helpful to you and you keep coming back to it as a resource.

Until next time,

xx Ishita

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1 Comment

Col J Jolly
Col J Jolly
Mar 20, 2022


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