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1) Determine the function of your shelves
Here’s my take on shelf organization. You almost need to decide whether you need the shelf for storage, or if you want it to be decorative. I have bookcases in my house designated for book storage because we have a TON of books. That is a personal need in our house. However, certain shelves in my house are designated as decorative. My husband does not understand this:)!
In my opinion, it’s hard to fill a shelf full of random items and get the look you see in magazines. Less is more when styling shelves, and strategically picking items that have a cohesive theme. So, my first advice when it comes to organizing shelves is to determine what shelves in your house you need to use as storage, and what shelves can be decorative.
2) Choose your style and your color palette
There are many styles that you can pick from when decorating a room, such as coastal, vintage, modern, farmhouse, bohemian, rustic, etc. Your shelves should contain items that match your theme. This may also be a certain wood tone, color, or shade of metal.
This may take some internet searching to find a bookcase that matches your style and then try to mimic this look. I cannot stress the wealth of information sites like Pinterest and Houzz provide. For someone trying to decorate their home, there are a wealth of photos on the internet that you can use to guide your selections.
I have a Pinterest board called Styling you can peruse.
3) Carefully consider your current decor items
If you don’t maintain a cohesive theme throughout your shelf decor, it just won’t achieve a carefully styled look. This may involve making some hard choices. You may have to go through the trinkets and home decor you have in your home and determine what fits your chosen style and what does not. I love to keep sentimental items and work them in, but if you are trying to achieve a certain look some of your items may need to be set aside. Donating home decor to local charities may make it easier to part with these items by knowing they will bring joy to someone else.
4) Start with a blank slate
To start your bookshelf styling adventure, I would recommend starting with a blank slate. Take everything off the shelves, so you can carefully select and curate the perfect item for each spot.
5) Create visual balance
Visual balance? What’s that obscure word? To me visual balance is just making sure you have the right balance of heights and sizes to make everything look aesthetically pleasing. If you look at the image at the top of the page you can get a sense of what I mean. If everything on the shelves was the same height it wouldn’t look great. If each shelf had one item it would look empty, but if each shelf had six or seven items it would look cluttered. It’s important to get the right balance of all of these.
It’s good to mix a taller item like a picture frame or a plant, with a lower item like a decorative object or a decorative box. It’s also good to add in a few shelves with one larger item to pull back on the busyness. This is why it’s good to start with a blank slate. You will get a feel for what looks right if you try adding a taller item, coupled with a smaller item and then stand back and assess how each individual shelf feels. Add a grouping of three items with a stack of books or a picture frame. If you feel like it’s getting too cluttered, try paring down some items, or putting just one item on a shelf. Also balance out opposite sides of your shelves. If you have one side that has tall items, a grouping of items, or one statement piece, you probably want to mimic that feeling on the other side, especially if you have shelves flanking a fireplace or a television.
The picture below shows some mistakes that can be made when styling shelves.
6) Items to consider adding to your shelves
Now that you have carefully chosen items to keep, you will most likely need to gather things to add. I often buy these things on the internet or at local stores, such as Target, HomeGoods, Pottery Barn, etc.
I also enjoy rummaging through thrift stores for fun finds that may fit my theme. This is not for the faint of heart. I love it, and I’ve found many things that I love, but it takes time and things will not usually jump out at you. It takes some patience.
I suggest looking for certain types of items, which I have listed below.
Above I said to pick between decorative and storage, but a great way to maximize storage and still maintain the styled “look” of your shelves is to utilize baskets. Rectangular or square baskets on the bottom few shelves can hold toys or miscellaneous items that you need to store, but you want out of sight. Here are a few options below.
Now, like I said above, if you need to store hundreds of books, you’ll need to designate a bookcase purely for book storage. But, if you need to store a few books they can definitely be worked into your perfectly styled shelves. In fact, I think a few books look great when placed strategically.
Stylish bookends are a great way to hold books and still look organized. Pick a bookend that fits the style or theme you’ve selected and place it in the middle of a shelf with a grouping of books placed between. There are a few options pictured below.
Stacked books with a decorative object, floral arrangement, or picture frame placed on top is another way to store books in a carefully curated way. This is important because it adds height. Varying the height of the objects on your shelf adds a necessary dimension to achieving a styled look. Books are probably one of the best ways to add height.
Floral arrangements add color to your shelves. This may be green, or it may be more colorful depending on your theme. Florals soften the look of all the hard lines of a bookshelf and are so pleasing to the eye. You can find floral arrangements at almost every big box store these days, or if you are creative it is fun to go to Michaels, Hobby Lobby, Joanns, etc. and put together an arrangement yourself.
Decorative objects are great space fillers on your bookshelves. You can put smaller items in the front of other items when there are little gaps to fill. This is also a great way to bring in metallics or a little pop of color without overwhelming your shelves. I often like to but a bigger item on a shelf, such as a floral or a stack of books, and then complement it with a smaller decorative item to play with the height. You can see that in the picture of the styled shelf above.
Groupings of three
I have to admit, I have no idea why (I know someone does), but groupings of three or uneven numbers is almost always more aesthetically pleasing. So, when you are styling your shelves, look for items that come in groups of three.
A bowl is a great way to fill one shelf. Varying between shelves with multiple items and shelves with one big statement piece helps the shelves to not look too cluttered.
Now, I’ve just asked you to add a lot of items to your shelves that may not have a lot of personal significance. Picture frames are an area where you can add meaningful touches which make you smile. It is so easy to find beautiful picture frames, they are often inexpensive and wonderful options can be found at just about any store these days. Don’t skip over adding these because your home should have pieces of you in it.
I love adding little canvases or wood signs on my shelves. You can lean them against the back, or stand them up. This is a great way to add a little bit of fun to your shelves. You can have fun with the sayings, or add some color or pattern with art.
I love to add silver or gold objects to my shelves. The use of metal brings in a certain bling and elegance, and is great for certain themes. If I’m doing rustic I’d probably go more bronze, vintage again bronze or gold, beachy is great with silver, modern and white looks great with gold. I personally love shades of blue with silver. Of course, these aren’t hard and fast combinations. Mixing and matching is great. One of my favorite things to find at thrift stores are silver items. I love to polish them up and use them in my decorating, especially in my dining room. Below are a few examples of types of metallic objects you could add in.
I hope this has helped you with some ideas for how to style your shelves. Just get started placing things, stepping back, evaluating, rearranging, and eventually it will all come together! Good luck and happy decorating!