There comes a point in your life when you ask yourself what you should do with all the knickknacks, books and other items you’ve gathered throughout the years. Some of them might have already found a spot on your shelf, but does your growing collection seem cohesive and pleasing to the eye? Decorating shelves might seem daunting at first, but following a few tips might help you reach décor nirvana.

Here are some tips to help beautify your shelves:

1. Empty the shelves first

Even if you’re planning on using the same décor, clear everything off the shelves first. Looking at the existing ensemble away from their original setup will give you a fresh perspective. Following this strategy also helps you see each shelf individually, without all the clutter around it. Besides, you are able to assess all the decorations that you have, and perhaps you can be inspired to find new ways to pair them.

2. To get or not to get new decorations?

It’s perfectly fine to go out and shop for a few decorations that you think will bring the room back to life in a unique way. However, you don’t have to go all new on your décor. As you’re looking to restyle your shelves, you can always shop your own home for new decorations. Perhaps the perfect item to pair with your silver vase is the other room. Think about this strategy towards the end of your redecorating efforts.

3. Use color coordination to tell a story

For a polished look, decide on a color scheme. You have a lot of flexibility in this area, but a common theme helps bring the entire room to life. Choose two or three hues and repeat them throughout the entire display. Built-in shelves in neutral tones can be accented with black, gray or any other color combination that suits your fancy.

color coordinated shelf decor

4. Start with your biggest accent pieces

Statues, vases or simply larger pictures should be the first items to find a new home on your shelves. Center your décor around them, as they will become the focal point of the shelf. They might not be large enough to fill all the vertical space, but you can always add other items that can be stacked.

5. Display décor in groupings of three or five

While you’re matching items to form a cohesive look, remember that pairings of three or other odd numbers are pleasing to the eye. If two vases are of similar height, add books under one of them to disrupt the sameness of the pattern. Voila – you’ve created varying heights that catch the eye. But don’t limit yourself to just one grouping per shelf. You can use it as a focal point, but you can build more around it with other smaller items to fill the negative space.

grouping of objects on a shelf

6. Turn to books

Books are classic décor items that never disappoint—alternate vertical and horizontal grouping to break the pattern. You can alternate rows of vertical books with a horizontal arrangement. Remember to use bookends to anchor them. Alternatively, you can try to group them by color, but only if you have a lot of books in order to dedicate enough books for each color. You can arrange them in groups of color, choose one hue for all of them or even create a rainbow pattern. Decorating by color is best used when you have a shelf that’s mostly dedicated to books. If you have fewer books, you can combine stacks of books with vases or candles on the same shelf to add variety to your décor. If you’re going this route, you want to mix layers in order to make more of an impact with your décor. Place smaller items at the front, and stack a few books in the back.

7. Let your stairway shine with décor

Whether you adorn it with books or other items for décor, the under stair area is prime real estate for home décor. But you can also use this corner of your home for practical purposes. Line the lower shelf with baskets which you can use for hidden storage. For all the other items that can’t fit into your home – especially if you live in a small apartment like those in Seattle a small apartment like those in Seattle— you are better off looking into self storage. Your bulky seasonal clothing or even pieces of furniture that can’t fit into your apartment can thus find a home away from home — a 5×5 storage unit  will suffice if you’re only storing clothing. For larger items like furniture or appliances, a 10×10 unit will be a better fit. With the many storage options available, you will easily be able to rent a storage unit in Seattle.

8. Make a display of art and photographs

Break with convention and display on a shelf instead of hanging it. Or, if your artwork is larger, you can even place it in the middle of the shelf to make a statement. It’s time to pull out all that art you’ve experimenting with and flaunt it — simply lean it against the shelf.

photo shelf decor

9. Make use of all surfaces

You’ve already decorated your floating shelves, but are you using the underside of the shelf? That’s a great spot to hang cups and make use of all space while creating a lovely addition to your décor.

10. Style your kitchen

Especially if you’re short on cabinet storage, you can use bookshelves to display your plates and other kitchen wares. Keep your everyday items inside cabinets and show off your favorite china and glassware on the open shelves. Add candles and a small vase to create a cozy atmosphere.

11. Let your shelves bloom with greenery

A few potted plants will surely breathe new life into your shelves. Ivy, feathery ferns and flowering plants are the best candidates to help perk up your shelves. Don’t shy away from mixing plants of varying sizes to create visual interest. You can combine plants with your other shelf décor — mix plants with books, vases and small decorations for a balanced look. One important tip: Take the plants off the shelves when you want to water them as most shelves are made of wood and water can damage them.

plant decor on shelves

12. Make room for special mementos

Finally, it’s important to stick to what you like and to your mementos. Display items that are close to your heart, be they treasures from recent trips to flea markets or even your accomplishments. Use your shelves to tell the story of you, as our homes are a reflection of our core as human beings. Let at least one corner of your home shine with cherished memories that speak to you in a unique way.

Now that decorating your shelves seems a more attainable project, let us know which tip you found most useful in the comments section below.


Mirela is a real estate writer and lifestyle editor for Yardi. With an academic background in English and translation, Mirela now covers a range of topics including real estate trends, lifestyle and economy. Her previous experience in proofreading academic articles has inspired Mirela to choose a writing career path. In her free time, Mirela enjoys reading, but also hiking and creating art. You can contact Mirela via email.

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