How to decorate your Shelves
15 Minute Read
Shelves are often simply a means to an end for some of us – to provide storage and get things out of the way. But storage isn’t the only reason to add a shelf to a room, so if you want your shelves act as wall décor and look great, then you’ll need a plan to decorate your shelf. After technical questions, we’re often asked about decorating and styling shelves, and we’re always a bit cautious of answering, because there are so many variables to consider! What a ‘perfect’ shelf looks like will very much depend on your personal taste in interior design, the colour scheme of the room, what is around the shelf, and the look that you want to achieve with the shelf.
However, in this post, we’re going to cover some of what we think are the best items that you can use to decorate your shelves, as well as some tips to give you some inspiration and to get started.
Best ways to decorate a shelf
There are so many items that you can use to decorate a shelf, and you don’t necessarily need to go out shopping for new items – unless you want to, of course. ‘Shopping your own home’ and moving items you love to your new shelf is one way to create a new look without spending, or you might shop sustainably – either second hand, handmade, or at the least, plastic-free. Here are some of the things we love seeing on shelves to make them look great.
You absolutely can’t go wrong with adding greenery to your shelf – and not only do plants add a great natural touch to your shelf, but house plants are also great for the air quality of the space too. They help to remove gases including carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, as well as fungal spores and other bacteria. They have even been shown to improve both psychological, and physical health for humans, so if you’re thinking about adding greenery to your shelf, there’s a list of plants that can help here.
If your shelf is high enough that being able to water your plants would be tricky, or you simply don’t have green fingers, then consider faux plants, or an arrangement of either silk or dried flowers. These can look just as effective as living plants, and there is no chance that you’ll over- or under-water them.
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Artwork and photos
If you have a large collection of artwork or photos that you want on display, your shelf is a great place to put smaller ones. Choose your other accessories to complement, or to contrast with the colours. You might choose to layer in accessories that suit what is in the image too – so, having a palm-like plant next to an image of a tropical beach, and maybe an ornament from the holiday you took there, for example.
Looking for some prints - Have a look at Abstract House for some inspiration
Books are an obvious choice to place on your shelf, especially if you have a large collection! But think about how you want to display your books, and the effect you are going for. You might try:
- Arranging them by the colour on the spine
- Displaying books that complement the colour of other items on the shelf
- Turning books around to show the pages rather than the spines, for a more neutral effect
- Laying books flat and placing items on top, to help create visual balance
- Arranging books largest to smallest
Play with how to display your books based on what else you’re going to have on your shelf – you might not even need to use bookends, depending on what else you have to display.
Even if your shelf is purely decorative, you still might want to work in some storage – there are always items that you need to keep hold of, but that you don’t need to hand every day. Where this is the case, you might look for:
- Beautiful glass jars
- Woven baskets in natural materials
- Vintage jewellery boxes
- Ornate wooden boxes
- Cardboard gift boxes
- Large bowls – ceramic, glass, or even copper can work beautifully
- Decorative plant pots (or metal ones for an industrial effect)
Of course, you can still use your shelves to hold functional items like ring binders and box files – but keep in mind that storage can look great too.
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If you’re a collector of any kind of item, then there’s a good chance you’re putting up your shelf to help display your collection, and so you can appreciate those items. Here are a few ways to display items from your collection:
- Group Items – this will help your collection to look intentional, rather than haphazardly thrown together and cluttered.
- Create a focal point – if your collection has items of different sizes, try a single focal point, either in the centre or to the side, or you might use two similarly sized items to create symmetry to your collection.
- Sort your collection by colour – you might place all blue items together on a single shelf, create a rainbow effect with different items, or just choose two or three complementary colours.
- Change the items on your shelf seasonally – this means you get to see and appreciate more items in your collection, and you’ll refresh the look and feel of the room easily.
8 tips on how to decorate a shelf
If you’re unsure how to make your shelf look good, don’t worry – there isn’t a single way to make your shelf look great. You can play with different items to make your shelves look good, and you can break all the rules – but here are a few tips that make it easier.
1 - Place large items first
If you’re placing artwork, large photo prints, plants, or an ornament on your shelf, put that in place first. This will help you to establish that it is the right item for the location, and that the scale of it makes sense. This will become your anchor piece, which you can then layer other items around.
2 - Be cautious with heavy items
If you’ve bought quality shelves that have strong fixings, then the weight that you can place on your shelf is likely to be pretty high. All of our bracket shelves and floating shelves can hold up to 35kg (around 77lbs) of weight – we’ve tested them – and that equates to a pretty decent number of books, especially in paperback form!
3 - Keep it simple
You don’t have to include loads of stuff on your shelf – less can definitely be more. Personal items that you love, with one or two other items that complement them, will look much better than picking stuff you don’t have a connection to, just because it is trendy.
4 - Find balance to create symmetry
Symmetrical doesn’t necessarily mean you have to use a pair of the same item – rather, it is about creating balance with the visual weight of the items on the shelf. You might balance a tall vase with a plant of a similar height, or a few books, for example.
5 - Use the rule of three
If you’re unsure how many ornaments such as candles to add to your shelf, you can’t go wrong with three. This will help you to keep the shelf feeling uncluttered.
6 - Group smaller items to make one bigger item
If you’ve got a collection of smaller items, you can place those items together to create the look and feel of a bigger one. Typically, designers use odd numbers of items in groups (see the ‘rule of three’ above) but it may be that you have a pair of items that look great next to one another – so feel free to break those rules.
7 - Don’t forget about cleaning
If you’re adding loads of little items, don’t forget that you’ll need to be able to get to your shelf and dust them according to your cleaning schedule – and if there are a lot of little items, there’s a good chance you’ll end up regretting that you put so much up there!
8 - Forget about perfection
Perfect shelves can often look boring – and so we recommend not even trying for it. In fact, the concept of ‘perfectly imperfect’ is likely to be a better one to aspire to, since it will look less contrived, and far more effortless. What you think looks great in your home is far more important than what a designer says is on trend – and you’ll love it far more too.
Decorated well, your shelves will make a beautiful addition to your home, and there are infinite numbers of ways to make your shelves look great. If we’ve inspired you with our post, when you’ve decorated your shelf, or maybe you’ve restyled your shelf ready for the start of spring!
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