Secrets for How to Decorate Shelves Like a Pro

Decorate living room shelves like a pro with these shelf decor ideas and tips for how to decorate shelves one shelf at a time!

Styling shelves is something that can seem intimidating at times. But, it doesn’t have to be!

With just a few design ideas and some tips and tricks from experts in interior design, it is a perfect way to add interest and a fresh  color scheme for a new season.

Although I loved the cozy comforting style of our Cottage Core Living Room for Winter, styled shelves with cheery yellow seem appropriate for the sunny days of Summer!

Tips for Styling Shelves

Whether you’re decorating shelves in your living room, home office, or dining room, the same principles of decorating apply. Here are some tips and tricks to help acheive the styled shelves result you’ll love.

1. Empty everything out and start with a clean slate.

Before you begin,  take everything off all the shelves and use the opportunity to dust them well! This gives a total blank slate for decor ideas.

2. Start at the top and work down one shelf at a time.

Gather decorative items in the color scheme that you’d like to work with and start styling your bookshelf one shelf at a time.

This time, I chose yellow and white as my color scheme, and wanted the top shelves to feel “light” with the heavier looking decorative items near the bottom. 

3. Stagger repetitive items/ colors from shelf to shelf.

Learning this shelf styling trick made everything so much easier for me! It’s a bit hard to explain, but really the concept is simple. 

Look at the above picture and observe all the yellow items. See how they are located in a way that moves in a diagonal pattern down the shelf?

The green items do the same thing.

Do you see it?

That trick makes the shelf arrangement seem orderly and co-hesive without being overly busy.

4. Leave blank space in between decorative objects.

To decorate shelves without looking cluttered, leave space between the items. It gives our eyes a chance to “breathe” when we look at it.

4. Group decorative items in odd numbers and vary the height

Of course there is always exceptions to this rule, but I tend to like to group items together in groups of 1 or 3.  I read somewhere that that is just easier on our eyes, and I agree!

5. Add in a little green and black throughout the bookshelf decor.

I wanted these shelves to have yellow as the pop of color, but the other main color I used was white. Using white and yellow alone, though, looked a bit bland.

Adding in greenery with a few splashes of black provided nice contrast and life to the overall look.

5. Decorate with items  you already love to put together a brand new look!

I just love re-using what I already own to put together a new look for a new season. I incorporated the “hello Spring” free printable sign I made a few years ago. (You can get your own free printable Spring art here.)

I also look in my kitchen cupboards for bowls, pitchers, tea cups – and lemons! – to add to the mix.

What are some cool things to put on floating shelves, open shelves, or built in bookcases?

There are so many things you can put on shelves as decorative items. Here are some ideas to help get you started: (And you can find a “Shop this Look” section at the bottom of this post.)

  • Old books
  • Pictures
  • Dishes, bowls, and vases
  • Pitchers
  • Plants
  • Faux greenery and florals

A few more notes about Living Room shelves…

One of my favorite places to decorate for each season is the Ikea Billy Bookcase bookshelf unit we have in our small living room. We bought the components separately, but put them all together to look like a built in bookcase with crown moulding.

In the past, I’ve decorated them to look like an inspiration photo of a West Elm bookcase and wrote the steps for how to style a bookcase for a farmhouse look.

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Shop this look

I’ve collected these items over time and can’t find exact matches to objects online. However, I’ve put together a list of similar items below. (disclosure: they are affiliate links.)

Shop Decorative Items for Shelves

I am an Amazon affilate and the above affiliate links are provided for your shopping convenience.

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  1. I love the yellow—so cheerful! Pops definitely add interest to rooms. Books would clutter your clean look — put them on a table instead. Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. The yellow is such a fresh, bright colour for spring – love it! And I LOVE your giant quote, it’s beautiful.

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