How To Decorate Shelves

When it comes to home essentials, shelves are at the top of the list. After all, they create extra storage, fill wall space, and can help keep tabletops and the floor clear of clutter. But when it comes to actually styling a shelf and making it look both aesthetically pleasing and functional, things can get a bit tricky. According to HGTV, it's helpful to start by focusing on what you enjoy — whether that's antiques, a particular hobby, or even colors you like. From there, you can decide whether you prefer a minimalist look or a maximalist one, what kinds of interior styles you might want to try out with your shelving, and if you'd rather have your shelf be purely decorative or serve a more functional purpose. Ultimately, it's all up to you.

However, choosing shelf decor isn't always as simple as selecting a style that you like. Sometimes we need a little bit of inspiration to help get the wheels turning — which is totally understandable. From ideas for color-coordination and moody aesthetics to stylish storage options and green thumb-friendly decor, there are so many ways you can style the shelves in your home. Floating, fixed, or built-in, join us as we explore all the ways to make shelves worthy of a spot on your Instagram feed.

Color coordinate your books

Avid readers and collectors of books, hear us out. While you could organize your shelves of novels, biographies, and non-fiction favorites alphabetically or by size, try opting for something a little different to give your home a whimsical decor style. Simply take all your books and color coordinate them — either in a rainbow pattern or in different blocks of your favorite hues. This could mean a shelf full of black and white books or a shelf filled with color. How you choose to display these books is up to you, but it can be a great way to add an unexpected pop of color into your home, per The Washington Post.

And though you might be seeing this trend pop up on your Pinterest or other social media outlets more than years past, the idea of color coordinating both hardbacks and paperbacks is nothing new. In fact, there are editorial discussions dating back to 2006 about this colorful design style (via Design Observer). It's argued that sorting your books into color-coordinated blocks can make what would ordinarily be a plain, often boring wall (or single shelf) into something aesthetically pleasing.

Combine form and function

For shelves that house important everyday essentials — like items you use in the kitchen — there are ways to combine form and function to create a shelf that looks amazing (and still has everything you need within reach). According to Grace in My Space, one way to ensure you're getting the best of both worlds is to add purely decorative pieces along with the functional ones. You could opt for a small plant, your favorite painting, or even a knick-knack that brings you joy. By using your shelf as a place to store items you need daily, and as a way to showcase pretty objects, you're able to craft a utilitarian home without sacrificing style. The best part? You can adapt this decor to fit whatever aesthetic you prefer!

For example, if you're decorating a shelf in your kitchen, there are many different ways to try this interior design hack. If you're a fan of neutrals, keep the shelf (or shelves) minimalist and within a simple color scheme. If you prefer bright colors, though, incorporate some into your decor. Experiment with different metals and textures, and toss in a few items that add warmth and coziness to your space (via Homedit). Before you know it, you'll be a huge fan of open shelving that serves a purpose both aesthetically and functionally.

Frame your favorite plant

If you already have plenty of art and photographs around your home, try another approach to decor. Frames can actually hold your favorite plant or flower and look incredibly chic on a shelf. You can, of course, opt to buy an already-framed plant — but you can also DIY your own. Per A Beautiful Mess, there are only four steps to creating this natural artwork. You'll need a plant press, some plants (no surprise there), glue dots, scissors, tweezers, a printer (optional, if you want to add photos), and a few frames. You can watch a video tutorial to get the finalized piece ready to go, but remember, you'll need to give your favorite plants time to dry out before you can complete the DIY. This takes approximately two to four weeks.

If you'd rather make an air plant frame (which doesn't include drying or flattening), there are seven simple steps to achieve that look. You'll need a few more tools for this project — like a staple gun and handsaw — so make sure you're prepared for a more in-depth process (via Better Homes & Gardens). Whichever way you choose to display your framed plants, though, they're sure to add some beautiful and natural elements to your shelf.

Go for a Mediterranean feel

Do you love Mediterranean decor but don't know where to start? You're in luck. Rather than committing to this particular aesthetic for your entire home, you can easily get the look in one room — or, in this case, one shelf. HGTV recommends keeping the background simple and sticking with basic hues like whites, creams, and browns when tackling a Mediterranean style. Because this interior aesthetic features intricate tiles, natural colors (terra cotta, azure, seafoam green, etc.), and beautiful detailing, having a fresh and minimalist set-up can help you add in items without going overboard.

This could include bringing in a few plants, exploring different textural aspects, and embracing prints and patterns that might feel new to you. You can also add wooden elements and deep colors representing nature (via MyDomaine). Envision your ideal Mediterranean vacation and choose elements from your imagination that make your everyday space feel like a tropical home away from home.

Try a moody color scheme

Keep your shelf decor dark (and maybe a little mysterious) for a moodier home or room. With a few tricks, it's incredibly easy to get the look. According to Homes & Gardens, this particular style has been on the rise and is often referred to as the "dark academia" trend. It includes rich, dark hues and eclectic knick-knacks that bring a lot of personality to a space. You can even go so far as to add a few period pieces to your shelf to really explore the aesthetic. "I like to use antique portraits and especially nineteenth-century portraits of gentlemen," designer Michelle Nussbaumer tells Homes & Gardens. "These types of nineteenth-century portraits help create a moody aesthetic. You can look for these at auctions. Putting several of these portraits together can produce a library, clubby feel."

Whether the shelf you're decorating is in the living room, kitchen, bedroom, or even bathroom, you can always opt for this moody style. As designer Kelly Sutton mentions to HGTV, "I think you can do it in almost any space. There's always a detail or some element that could be done more dramatically to take it to the next level." Whether that means adding an antique bust to your shelf or simply painting the shelf a dark color, you'll be on your way to mastering the art of the "dark academia" look.

Add some rattan storage

Who says storage has to look like storage? If you're using your shelves as a way to store extra items, opt for some rattan boxes and bins for a stylish organizational look. Better Homes and Gardens recommends rattan storage that's woven — mainly because it's available in plenty of different dimensions to fit anywhere in your space (including a small shelf). You can keep things like towels or blankets in larger baskets on wider shelves. If you don't have a lot of room, though, opt for keeping smaller objects, like jewelry or extra buttons, in little rattan boxes and baskets. You can even change the color of classic rattan to match your style by painting it! The possibilities are endless — but all incredibly stylish.

However, those who might consider rattan a bit too bohemian for their taste don't write this style off yet. You can use rattan baskets as a way to display plants, opt for a woven rattan tote as extra storage, or add a rattan try to your shelf for just a touch of this aesthetic (via HGTV). By mixing in this particular texture with others, you can create any interior style you want!

Shed some light

Skip the tabletops and go straight for the shelves! Adding a lamp or too to your shelving is an unexpected way to get a little extra light in a room. Per Decoist, you can also use lamps to add in an element of style that's different from other areas of your home — turning your shelf into a statement-making area rather than a throw-away space for housing extra objects or random books. It also helps to consider the wall or background of the shelf. If it's neutral, try a bold lamp for added color. Alternatively, go for a neutral lamp if the background is a maximalist wallpaper or bright hue. Experiment with different lamp styles and colors to see what elevates your shelves.

And if your lamp feels too small or short for the shelf? No problem! Simply set it atop some books (anything from vintage novels to decorative coffee table books) to give it a lift (via Amanda's House of Elegance). As a bonus, if you want to sit and read, the lamp will add some extra light and warmth for the ultimate cozy space.

Go for a pastel look

If a dark and brooding look isn't your favorite, head in the opposite direction with pastel hues. Per House Beautiful, there are plenty of ways you can incorporate these fun colors into your space (and onto your shelves). For a low-commitment decor option, try outfitting your shelf with a few pastel decorative objects, like a lamp or vase. This will add some pretty colors without leaning too far into the aesthetic. If you want to take it up a notch, try painting your shelves pastel colors like pink or lilac. You can even add some pastel artwork to your shelf for a unique way to showcase the hues. No matter if you want to keep things maximalist or minimalist, there are pastel options all along the interior design spectrum.

Another option is to make your shelf extra-functional and opt for pastel essentials to get the look (via Urban Company). Deck out your kitchen shelves with lavender plates, light blue bowls, or pale yellow cups. Not only will your shelf decor look great, but you'll have the added bonus of keeping things useful.

Toss in some antiques

Need a good home for those antique knick-knacks you have sitting around? An easy (and stylish) solution is to decorate your shelves with them. Veranda says you can either go with a bold, statement-making piece that becomes the focal point or keep things a little simpler with some accent pieces that collectively bring together the look. This might mean decorating with neutral objects and one sizeable antique painting, sculpture, or vase. Or, you could opt for several quirky items on the smaller side to add some personality to your shelf.

Don't forget, though, you can also decorate with both vintage and newer items for a combination of antique and trendy styles. "I find that antiques have a timeless quality that is difficult to achieve with most modern pieces, and the depth that they give to a scheme provide unparalleled comfort," interior designer Henriette von Stockhausen tells Homes & Gardens. "However, often it is the juxtaposition of old and new that creates that certain special energy."

Decorate with plants

Take a few cues from nature and decorate some shelves using live (or even fake) plants. The key here is to consider where the shelf is in your home. Per Lonny, it's important to figure out what type of plant will do best in your space. Think about how much light the area gets, how often the spot is shady, and how close the shelf is to a window. Once you've figured that out, you can then focus on finding a planter that fits your decor style — whether that's a bright pop of color or something minimalist and neutral.

If you want, you can dedicate entire bookshelves or floating shelves to different plants (via The Spruce). For those who don't have a lot of decorative objects or books to display, plants can easily take the place of those things. Big-leaf houseplants make for great space fillers, too, especially if you have larger shelves that need a little color. If you do place plants on a shelf, though, don't forget to turn it every now and then so that each side gets the same amount of light.

Keep it neutral

For fans of minimalism, keeping a neutral shelf decor style will ensure your space doesn't get too cluttered. According to Simplifrey, there are several easy ways to achieve this aesthetic. One is to simply turn your books so that the spines face inward — revealing only the neutral, cream and white pages. This way, you won't have to worry if the covers of your favorite novels match the rest of your decor. Another tip is to choose only one color to feature, which will help create a clean look (whether on a single shelf or multiple bookshelves).

Before choosing neutral items with which to decorate, remember that textural elements make a big difference (via Homes & Gardens). If you're opting for one singular hue for your shelves, having varying textures can help avoid your space from feeling one-note. Make sure also to consider which way the shelf faces. It may seem tedious, but knowing this can help you choose the right color palette. 'The light in a room is a key consideration when thinking about whether to choose warm or cool tones," Ruth Mottershead, Creative Director of Little Greene, tells Homes & Gardens.

Add a few candles

Set the mood (whether it's relaxing or romantic) by adding a few candles onto any shelf. Thanks to the variety of styles — minimalist, colorful, bold, simple — you can incorporate them into any type of decor. Candles create a cozy feeling in your bedroom, bathroom, or living room. Per Homedit, you can opt for bold, colorful candles in a neutral room as a statement-making moment, or use candles to amplify the style you already have in your home. Try sleek, minimalist candles and candle holders if your house or apartment is modern. Alternatively, try something more traditional for a classic or old-school home design. And, of course, if your home is bright and trendy, there are plenty of candle options to match that style, too.

Don't be afraid to mix and match shapes and sizes, too. You can go for something in a unique size or shape, like a twisted taper candle or one that actually looks nothing like a candle (via L'Officiel). When you remember that candles are just as much decorative objects as they are ways to make your home smell nice, you'll realize that there are infinite ways to use them in your home — and especially on all your shelves.

Use a statement art piece

Allow one piece to be the center of attention on your shelf and keep the rest simple. Per Home & Gardens, you can easily achieve this by opting for an object — whether that's a sculptural element, painting, or a photograph — that differs from most of your decor in an eye-catching way. If you have a very neutral shelf with a minimalist style, try a large piece of art that boasts a bold color. Or, make a statement with size! Create a focal point by bringing in a large object that takes up most of the room on the shelf.

Don't think that you have to limit statement pieces to the main living areas in your home, though. You can also choose to add bold shelf decor to your bathroom or bedroom — places where they aren't necessarily out in the open for everyone to see (via Homedit). This might be an antique photograph or typographic art that adds personality to a room. Of course, if you have a set of two or three prints or paintings that go together, you can also consider that one piece and put them all together on a shelf, creating a standout moment that's larger than life.

Choose light and airy decor

If you're trying to brighten up your home, opt for light and breezy shelf decor to bring the sunshine indoors. Skip the store-bought objects and DIY a wooden beaded garland with the help of DesignLoveFest's tutorial. This can help add a minimalist boho style to a shelf without taking up room on the shelf itself. Or, you can add some colorful florals and wooden accents to your shelf to create a modern, cozy feel (via A Beautiful Mess). Fresh flowers and items reminiscent of nature help bring the best parts of the outdoors into your space.

Keeping your shelf decor relatively neutral can help with this, too. You can, of course, add in some color wherever you like, but it's important to keep a cohesive mixture of neutral hues to keep the space calm (per Trendir). And, like with other shelf decor styles, remember to add textural elements to keep the look fresh and exciting instead of flat and one-note. In addition, the more natural light your shelves get, the brighter and airier they'll feel!