The Full Guide to Shelf Styling

Shelf Styling

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Open shelving is becoming more and more popular in interior design. As a great way to increase the feeling of space, open shelving is a great alternative to bulkier storage furniture which can make a room feel more enclosed. 


This stylish storage solution also presents the perfect opportunity to display all of your favourite pieces, as well as adding interest and character to your home. Generally speaking, shelf styling is creative and relies a lot on instinct and your own sense of style, but there are a few rules that you can follow to achieve the best outcome. Here’s how to style your shelving, including tips and ideas to create the most aesthetically pleasing displays...

The Rule of Three

One of the first general rules to follow when creating open shelving displays is the rule of three. Strictly speaking items look best when displayed in odd numbers, such as three or even five if you prefer a more eclectic look. Sticking to this rule will ensure your displays always look well styled, without looking too carefully planned or rigid. 

While this is a good rule to follow, this isn’t always the best way to style items. Use your instinct when grouping items together and play around until you find what works best. Sometimes a group of three might need something extra to pull each piece together - odd numbers are generally best, but some items may look better in even numbers. 

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Consider Height 

Shelf Styling

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A display of items all at the same height and size will look too uniform and won’t create much in the way of interest. For some a uniform look might be fine, whereas for most this might look a little over-styled. If grouping items together in odd numbers, try to include varying height across each item, choosing something tall, something small, and something in the middle. Consider the width and shape of items too, aiming to style pieces of different shapes and widths together for a unique look, or of the same width and shape for a more uniform finish.


Create a Colour Scheme

Shelf Styling

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The best way to pull your shelf styling together is to create a link between each item. Colour, texture and finish can all link pieces together. Try to create a cohesive scheme by using 2-3 colours across everything, or for a more eclectic finish create a link between 1-2 elements and mix in a few other styles for an interesting finish. For example, you might focus on metals, but instead of going for just gold, you could include brass and copper too. Or you might choose a simple colour scheme of white, grey and taupes, enhanced with gold details.

Play with Texture 

How to Style Shelves

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Another great way to add interest is to use varying textures. From matte ceramics and gloss finishes, to smooth glass and textured pottery, playing with different materials and finishes will enhance your display further. This is particularly effective if you’re trying to stick to a limited colour scheme, as it will add interest without taking away from your theme. 

Styling Books and Magazines

Shelf Styling

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Books and magazines are the most common item to display on open shelving, however they don’t have to simply be lined up. Try using books and magazines to enhance your displays further, stacking them on their sides to create a stand for items that you wish to display higher up. As above, this is great for introducing more height to your displays, and stacking books on their sides as well as in a more traditional fashion will add a unique edge to your shelf styling. 

Add a Touch of Greenery 

How to Style Shelving

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Plants are the perfect item to display on shelving. Introducing a touch of greenery as well as a unique plant pot that ties in with your scheme will add that all important finishing touch. Try adding a small collection of plants to shelving, again following the rule of varying heights by choosing smaller plants along with taller options. 

Creativity and personal taste does play a huge role in shelf styling. Follow these rules but don’t be strict and feel like you can’t experiment and try things out. There’s a lot of instinct involved, so keep the shelf styling guidelines in mind, but play around with things until you figure out a display and looks and feels right to you. 

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