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Shelf Decor: A Guide to Styling Stunning Shelves in Every Room

Shelves with decor on top


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Open shelving can be a living room's crown jewel, offering valuable storage space and a chance to showcase your personality. But those empty shelves can also feel stark and uninviting. Here's how to transform your bare shelves into curated displays that are both functional and visually interesting.

Strategic Shelf Decor: A Balancing Act

It's not just about what you put on your shelves, but how you arrange it. Here are some tips to create a visually compelling display:

  • Height Matters: Play with the scale of your objects. Juxtapose tall items like a vintage floor lamp in a converted vase or a framed botanical print with smaller figurines, trinket boxes, or stacks of coffee table books in varying sizes. This creates a dynamic look that keeps the eye moving. For instance, if you have a collection of antique cameras, display a large format camera with its bellows extended as the centrepiece, flanked by smaller point-and-shoot cameras and vintage film canisters.

  • The Power of Triangles: Visual triangles are a classic design principle that creates a sense of balance. Place a taller object in the centre of the shelf, like a sculptural lamp made of ceramic with a woven lampshade, or a large succulent planted in a patterned ceramic pot. Then, flank it with shorter items of varying heights, like a stack of antique travel journals bound in leather and a small framed black and white photograph from your favourite city.

  • Leading the Eye: Use eye-catching objects to draw attention to specific areas of the shelf. Place a brightly coloured ceramic bud vase on one end, filled with a single, elegant orchid bloom. On the other end, position a vintage metal magnifying glass propped open on a collection of antique seashells. This creates focal points that guide the viewer's eye across the shelf.

Layering Like a Pro

Don't be afraid to layer objects in front of each other. This adds depth and dimension to your display, preventing it from looking flat. Here are some layering ideas:

  • A Touch of Texture: Place a woven basket made from seagrass on a shelf. Then, layer a small stack of hardcover travel books with worn leather covers on top. Nestle a collection of polished gemstones or a set of vintage coasters with intricate patterns beside the books.

  • Playing with Scale: Nestle a smaller decorative box made of carved wood inside a larger metal tin with its lid slightly ajar. This creates a sense of intrigue and adds another layer of visual interest. Place a collection of seashells or colourful buttons inside the smaller box for a peek of colour.

  • Light and Shadow: Play with light and shadow to create visual interest. Position a small framed mirror behind a collection of antique apothecary jars. The reflection of the jars will add depth to the display, while the mirror itself will catch light and add a touch of sparkle.

Shelves with books


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Curated Collections: Beyond the Bookcase

Forget filling every inch of shelf space with knick-knacks. Instead, create curated collections that tell a story and reflect your interests. Here's how to transform your shelves into conversation starters:

  • Wanderlust on Display: Group travel souvenirs by region. Display a collection of postcards from your European adventure featuring iconic landmarks like the Eiffel Tower or the Colosseum. Showcase a carved wooden mask from your trip to Bali alongside a small woven basket filled with colourful spices you purchased at a local market. If you have a particular fondness for a specific city, arrange miniature replicas of its famous landmarks or framed photographs from your visit alongside a vintage travel guide or a map of the city.

  • Themed Vignettes: Are you a photography enthusiast? Arrange your favourite travel prints in a series of small frames with white mats. Include a vintage camera with a worn leather case and a well-loved photography book to complete the vignette. Do you have a passion for vintage finds? Dedicate a shelf to a curated collection of antique compacts with intricate designs or quirky tea cups in mismatched patterns.

  • Literary Love: For the bookworm, shelves are a natural canvas. Stack your favourite novels by genre or colour. Display antique bookends made of cast iron or a vintage typewriter with a worn ribbon to add a touch of literary flair. Intersperse your novels with interesting bookends or vintage globes for a touch of whimsy.

  • Nature's Touch: Embrace the beauty of the natural world with a curated collection of botanical elements. Display a collection of air plants in unique glass terrariums alongside a vintage watering can with a weathered patina. Include a framed botanical print featuring a fern or a succulent in a geometric planter for a touch of modern flair.

Beyond the Basics: Thinking Outside the Shelf

While books and decorative objects are shelf-styling staples, there's a whole world of unique decor waiting to be explored. Here are some ideas to add personality to your shelves:

  • Global Accents: A vintage globe nestled amongst stacks of travel books adds a touch of whimsy and a conversation starter. For a more modern take, consider a sleek metal armillary sphere or a world map in a minimalist frame.

  • Sculptural Statements: Interesting sculptures made of glass, metal, or ceramic can add a touch of modern flair. Look for pieces with unique shapes or textures that complement your existing decor. For a touch of whimsy, display a collection of miniature animal sculptures or a sculptural bust on a pedestal.

  • Botanical Beauty: Bring the outdoors in with potted succulents, air plants, or small cacti. These low-maintenance plants add a touch of life and colour to your shelves. Opt for brightly coloured ceramic pots or sleek metal planters to complement your chosen plants and your overall decor style.

  • Unexpected Elements: Don't be afraid to showcase unusual finds. A framed collection of antique keys from different eras adds a touch of history and intrigue. A vintage sewing machine with a wooden case or a set of antique scales can spark conversation and add a touch of personality.

Shelves with plants


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Reaching New Heights: Conquering the Upper Shelves

Upper shelves can be tricky. They're often out of sight and out of mind, but they offer valuable storage space and shouldn't be neglected. Here are some tips to make the most of your upper shelves:

  • Storage Solutions: Utilise decorative baskets or bins to store lesser-used items like extra blankets, board games, or seasonal decorations. Choose baskets made from natural materials like seagrass or woven wicker for a relaxed aesthetic, or opt for sleek metal bins with lids for a more modern look. Label the bins for easy identification if you plan to stack them on the shelves.

  • Large-Scale Art: Upper shelves are the perfect place to showcase larger framed art pieces that might overwhelm a lower shelf. Display a bold abstract painting with pops of colour, a vintage travel poster depicting a glamorous ocean liner, or a collection of framed black and white photographs capturing the essence of a bygone era.

  • Playing with Patterns: Arrange a collection of decorative plates in a variety of patterns and colours on a higher shelf. This creates a visually interesting display that adds a pop of personality to the room. Look for plates with floral motifs, geometric patterns, or scenic landscapes to create a dynamic display.

  • Mix and Match Materials: Don't be afraid to mix and match materials on your upper shelves. Display a collection of vintage glass bottles with a metallic sheen alongside a woven basket filled with pinecones. This unexpected combination adds textural interest and keeps the eye engaged.

Shelves with decor


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Our Final Thoughts

Shelf decor is all about personal expression. Don't be afraid to experiment and find what works for you. Embrace your unique style and let your shelves tell your story. Whether you're a passionate collector, a world traveller, or simply someone who appreciates beautiful objects, your shelves can be a reflection of your personality and interests. So get creative, have fun, and curate shelves that spark joy and inspire conversation.

Want to add shelves to your room? Book one of our Interior Design Gurus for a 30-minute video call. Transforming your home into a space you love shouldn't be a daunting task. With HiiGuru you can save time, avoid costly mistakes and bring your goals to life with experts by your side.


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