Five tips for styling shelves

Wooden open shelving with decor and a blue tile backsplash

It is no secret that we are big fans of open shelving. We love the open space that not only offers storage but also the opportunity to tell a story and show our personality.

With all of the possibilities, it can seem daunting to stage them. There is a fine balance between looking full and being cluttered. How do you juggle the functional and aesthetic pieces? The great news is that styling shelves is an art, not a science – meaning you can learn as you go and have fun doing it. If you have some empty shelves and are looking for a starting point, here are the guidelines that we use at Neff Designs. 

1 – Consider the room

Start by looking at the space. Where are the shelves located and what is their purpose? What functional items can we include in this space? The purpose of the room will help dictate what to include on the shelves. 

For example: Living room shelves might include family photos, books, and a record player. While kitchen shelves might have bowls, plates, and containers of used items. 

White cabinets and shelves in a kitchen

2 – Embrace negative space

Over-stuffed shelves can quickly look cluttered. Leaving space between groupings of objects above and below helps give the shelves a curated look. I recommend mixing items in size and height to create some negative space.

3 – Find balance

Instead of stocking your shelves with only books, opt for items of varying sizes and heights that share a color palette, aiding in the creation of a cohesive and visually appealing display. In addition to layering books and plants, incorporating artwork and personal items that hold special meaning to you will enhance the overall display.

White cabinets and shelves in a kitchen

4 – Group objects together

Shelves achieve a cohesive look when items are thoughtfully grouped together. These groupings don’t necessarily require similarity; in fact, they can consist of entirely different items placed close to each other. Practical pieces like mugs, stacking bowls, crocks, or canisters can serve a dual purpose by combining functionality with aesthetic appeal, adding beauty to your shelves.

5 – Play around and have fun with it!

It often takes a few tries to get it right. The shelves in my house are ever-changing and I always have fun working on them. I am constantly moving items around and adding and removing décor pieces. 

Experiment with different groupings of objects and don’t forget to take a step back to get a full-picture view. It’s sometimes helpful to leave it for a few hours and return later with fresh eyes. There is no rush and you can edit it as much or as little as you’d like, whenever you’d like!

Ashley Neff smiling and standing in a beautiful white kitchen

I’m a local who loves what I do more than I can express. I would be more than happy to be your teammate through your remodel or new home build. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you want design assistance. 

Cheers to spring in the gorge! One of my favorite seasons.

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