How to Decorate A Shelf – What the Pros Know

How to Decorate A Shelf – What the Pros Know

How to decorate a shelf like a pro! When you go into a show room or look at a shelf online they are styled so perfectly. So why do all my shelves look like a cluttered mess?

I’ll be honest, when I started styling my vintage booth I was a plunker. I was one of those vendors who just plunked everything on shelves and surfaces with no sense of style or design. Whenever I would go into the shop to work my hours I would look at the other vendors gorgeous displays and feel bad that mine looked so . . . plunked.

So I started studying.  Not just visual merchandising but decorating.  They do in some ways go hand in hand.

While I caught onto placing larger items quickly, I still struggled with how to decorate a shelf. How do you get everything you need on the shelf and still have it look nice?

Learn by Example

I find that I learn best when I can see the results, so I studied different images in magazines and online of shelving units perfectly styled. That’s why I’m going to use those same “catalog” images

Decorate a Shelf
Sauder Woodworking Shelf

to help demonstrate these tips.

When you see images like this one from Sauder Woodworking the first thing you see is how open the shelf is.  If you want your selves to be “pretty” they can’t be completely full of stuff. I know, I know! That’s a lot of real-estate that’s going to go un-used. But this is the trade-off you need to make. Go ahead a full the shelves in your private rooms but the public rooms you want to look beautiful need to have a little air in them.

The second thing I notice is the variety of items being displayed. It’s not a line of books with a couple of book ends. There’s bottles, an insulator, books, a photograph, a scroll, and an armillary sphere.

The third thing is the way the designer displayed items in an unexpected way. There are books on their side, one is turned backward, and the scoll is laid across the book toward the viewer.

One of the tips I received in all my researching was to create visual motion when you set up your shelves.

Create Visual Movement

To create visual movement you vary the height of objects on each shelf, placing them in a U pattern like the image below:

U shaped display

Or a triangle (or as I like to say upside down V) pattern like the image below:



And always remember to zig zag.

Think Zorro

What the heck do I mean when I say zig zag? I mean to move from left to right and back again as you travel down shelves so that your shelves don’t get too heavy on one side or line up down the center.

The Zorro Pattern

Make an Impact with Colors

Think about the colors on your shelf. I’ve seen tons of stunning color coordinated shelf displays. Grouping like colors together can make an impact and draw your eyes.  Bur don’t rule out making a display with contrasting colors.

Contrasting colors are colors that are across from each other on the color wheel.  Grouping them together can make a splash that can wake up a dark corner.  One of my favorite combinations is blue and orange like the image below:

contrasting colors

As far as what to put on your shelves if you love it and you want to see it, them put it out. Find a creative way to display what you love by stacking, or setting it on an angle. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Rearrange your shelves frequently, swapping in new items every few months just to keep your shelves from getting stale.

Good luck arranging your shelves! If you’re looking for more DIY tips and tricks don’t forget to check out my older posts like the ever popular $3 DIY Upholstery Cleaner!