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Best Tricks for Styling Your Open Shelves

Updated: Nov 21, 2023

I've always loved open shelves. These simple spaces provide a platform where you can express your personality while also coordinating with your home's decor. I personally think shelf decorating is one of the most rewarding parts of re-organizing and redecorating an interior space. The type of shelves you select for your home, and what you place on those shelves, really says something about you as a person. If your shelves don't express who you are, then you should make some changes!

Whether you're decorating open shelving or bookcases, whether it's in the bedroom or the bathroom, there are a million little things you can do to make your shelves more attractive. In this article, I'm going to talk about the many types of shelves that you can find in your home, where they're located, and what you can do to decorate them.

Entryway Shelf Styling by Maria Bowers

Shelving in Living Room and Other Common Areas

Shelves in the living room and other common areas of the house are best for displaying a combination of knick-knacks, certain sentimental items, pictures from trips, and more. When you're trying to decide what to put on the shelving in your living room and common areas like the dining room, I recommend collecting a range of important and meaningful items, with a focus on what coordinates with your home decor. In common areas of the house, color-coordinated shelf decorations can help reinforce a certain look that you're trying to capture in the room. Some suggestions:

  • Display memories and important finds. Shelves are the perfect place to display your family heirlooms, an item picked up from traveling abroad or anything else that has meaning.

  • Pictures. Look through your pictures for favorite shots of the most important people in your life. Coordinate the picture frames with the decor in the room, and with other picture frames in the room. I always recommend getting your pictures matted, either with a mat that comes with the frame, or by getting photos professionally matted.

  • Nod to culture. Have items that represent your heritage? Your living room shelves may be the perfect place for it!

Living Room Design by Maria Bowers

When you're putting things on your bookshelves, design in the rule of three. In other words, group similar items together in 3's, in varying heights. You might place three books on the shelves, three pictures in different sized frames, or three little knick-knacks together. Want to raise the height of an object or two? Stack a few books on your shelf then place your items on top.

If you're feeling completely uncertain about what to put on your bookshelf, some easy options include:

  • Books. Books are expected and welcome on shelves. I like to shop for antique books, but if you're someone who loves to read, you might just place three good-looking copies of your favorite books on your shelves. If your bookshelves are meant to hold books, fill some shelves with books and leave some empty spaces for decorations.

  • Candlesticks and/or candles. Candles and candlesticks look great in the living room. Candles have a way of getting dusty, and the dust can easily stick to the wax, so be sure to clean your candles routinely. This is especially important if your candles are pillar candles - they'll show more dust than thin taper candles.

  • Greenery. Plants make your living room more inviting. I always recommend incorporating beauty from nature into your house!

  • Mirrors. Mirrors reflect light back into the room, making the space feel more open. Prop mirrors up on your shelves but choose the area carefully.


Bookcases in Any Room of the House

Decorating bookcases are areas that we can have some fun! Instead of just having a blank background, try enhancing your bookcases with wallpaper! I recommend installing the wallpaper on the back wall of the bookcase. You can do a bold pattern or consider installing grasscloth or a subtle material like canvas or linen.

Consider what you'll be installing on your shelves before you choose the pattern or material for your bookcases - whatever you'll be putting in front of it should coordinate, or the look might be distracting. I like the look of a black and white wallpaper juxtaposed against some lovely plants, for example.

Bedroom Shelves

Bedroom shelves can get a little more personal than shelves in the living room. This is the perfect place to put those more personal items that you'd like displayed. Keep your important mementos and most important framed pictures here.

How to Style Open Shelves in Kitchen

The open shelving look has been popular for years, and it's especially popular in the kitchen! You've got to take care when you're installing open shelves in your kitchen, especially if you're replacing your cabinets with it. I recommend you choose exactly what you'll be placing on that shelving in advance.

Will you be putting decorative plates on your shelving? Or, perhaps, a mixture of decorative glasses? Whatever you choose, remember that you'll need to wash it regularly, or it will become dusty. To see how I renovated our old kitchen and styled my open shelves read the old blog post here!

How to Style Open Shelves in Bathroom

Open shelves in the bathroom are similar to open shelves in the kitchen in that you need to have a plan for what you'll put there. You can use baskets to contain any clutter.

Choose attractive baskets that match your bathroom decor, but avoid the temptation to line your shelf with baskets - leave some space open for decorations like shells, a couple attractive rolled up towels, or a decorative glass bottle. Oh, and the rule of three applies here! Choose three attractive glass bottles, or three beautiful shells of different shapes and sizes, or three rolls of attractive towels.



The mantel over your fireplace is its own kind of shelf - and one that I LOVE to decorate! When you're choosing items for your mantel, remember that this is a natural focal point in whatever room it's in. The items you put there should be special.

I recommend selecting a few large, attractive things like a painting and some pillar candles, or a smaller hodgepodge of decorative items - like pictures, a few sentimental items, and perhaps a clock. Take care not to select anything flammable that could potentially become a danger if a spark flies from your wood-burning fireplace. If the television is above your mantel, a common problem and one I had in my old home, place shorter, slimmer items on the sides of the TV. During the holidays, I loved placing garland on the mantel with little seasonal decor and hanging stockings underneath.

Shelf Styling by Maria Bowers

Need Help Learning How to Style Open Shelves? I'm Here For You!

Decorating the shelves of your home is a way that you can express yourself and tie together your home's decor with simple personal items that mean something to you.

If you're feeling a little lost and not sure what else you need to do to make your home's shelving look complete, I can help you learn how to style open shelves. I've got a ton of ideas and I'm happy to give you my thoughts. Click here to find out more about my work and to contact me directly.

Until next time,

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