Written by Hugh Metcalf

How to style shelves in 7 easy steps

Trying to create the picture perfect ‘shelfie’? Gather your home décor and test out our easy guide to styling shelves of any size.

stylish shelving unit with decoration - goodhomesmagazine.com

Image: Good Homes 

As more and more of us become amateur home stylists, open shelving has become a huge trend in interiors. However, it’s not always easy to corral together your disparate home accessories and make one stylish set-up.

If you’re feeling like your shelving situation is just a little off, time to clear the shelves and start again with our useful guide to the basics at hand.

1. Play with height and proportion

The key to a good set-up is working with pieces of different scales. If your decorative objects are all a similar size, your styling scheme will look too flat and leave an odd negative space. Think of your shelf as a city skyline – play with heights and widths of objects in particular to create an interesting look.

2. Stack books sideways

good homes shelf styling with books on side - goodhomesmagazine.com

Image: Good Homes

One way to do this is to think about stacking. Books are a shelf essential, but they don’t all have to be vertically stacked. Placing them one a top the other laid flat give you a platform which you can crown with our decorative accessories, also giving you total control over the height you create. If it’s a stylish shelf you’re looking to achieve, choose books that match your colour scheme and have spines that complement the final look.

3. The rule of 3

good homes shelf styling with rule of three set up - goodhomesmagazine.com

Image: Good Homes

If you’re a styling novice, make life easy for yourself by sticking to the rule of 3. This is a stylist’s basic formula for creating a picture perfect look when grouping objects by mixing together 3 separate elements. Look at the shelving above and you’ll also notice that there are 3 separate groups of objects on the shelves – another instance where 3 is the magic number.

Of course it’s a rule made to be broken – for example, there’s actually 4 elements in the above set-up as there’s 2 candlesticks, but because they match, they can be counted together as one decorative element without strictly breaking this golden rule.

4. Personalise with frames

photo frames on a shelf unit - goodhomesmagazine.com

Image: Good Homes 

Give your shelf the personal touch with photo frames. Choose sentimental photographs, but also ones that match the colour scheme. Remember to play around with both portrait and horizontal frames to mix up the height of the shelf-scape you create

5. Foliage and plants

flower vase on shelf styling set up from good homes - goodhomesmagazine.com

Image: Good Homes

Plants, flowers and dried grasses all add something extra to your set-up. We also love the idea of using a trailing plant on a shelving unit to break up the lines of a shelfing unit and impacting how you style up the lower shelves.

6. Experiment with shape, colour and texture

bottom of shelf with different shaped vases - goodhomesmagazine.com

Image: Good Homes

Be careful not to choose objects that look too similar in colour or shape throughout your shelving, or else your design could become a little monotonous. Look for certain themes that hold the styling together across the collection – in this case, it’s green, pink, blue and brass – but try to achieve a relaxed, eclectic look that doesn’t conform too rigidly.

7. Lighting

flower vase on shelf styling set up from good homes - goodhomesmagazine.com

Image: Good Homes

A light source is a good call for shelf styling so that it can a real focal point at night. Placement may depend on where a wire needs to trail to a plug socket – look for styles with clear wires to minimise the effect of this.


Want us to take a look at your super shelf styling? Let us know on social! Tweet us @goodhomesmag or post a comment on our Facebook page, or post a picture of your colour scheme or moodboard on Instagram using the hashtag #ThisGoodHome.



Best modular shelving ideas for flexible home storage

How to create a picture perfect gallery wall

4 interior stylists we’re loving on Instagram