How To Decorate a Shelf


Article by Natalia Daniels

Photography by Natalia Daniels

Every time I go to decorate a shelf I feel a little helpless. I end up experimenting a ton until something looks decent. Are there rules I should be following? How do I make this look good? How do you decorate a shelf?

So I did a little research on rules for decorating a shelf and put together some recommendations and suggestions:

1. The Rule of Threes

When decorating a shelf try to group things together in threes. Sometimes it’s three of the same thing and sometimes it’s three groups of things on a shelf.

2. Mix Materials and Textures

Woods, metals, greens, woven/rope materials, glass, ceramics. You don’t want all of one material. Vases with rope or twine are great for incorporating multiple textures.

3. Use Items of Varying Height

Try incorporating items of different heights on your shelves. I think frames are a great way to add some height to a shelf and I specifically like multiple frames layered together.

4. Balance and Diagonals

When decorating a shelf I try to create symmetry and balance within the shelves and between the shelves. What exactly does that mean? Note in the picture below that similar items are on opposite sides of the shelves. For example the group of 3 bottles on the top right is opposite the group of 3 tree trunk candles on the middle shelf. The metal orb in the bottom left is on the opposite side of the metal basket on the middle shelf.

Busier sections are opposite of each other, creating diagonals.

5. What to Decorate shelves with

  • Fun bookends
  • Pictures/frames. Tip: keep the frames of similar tones for an elegant consistent look (wood frames helps incorporate mixing materials too!)
  • Books. Tip: Stacked books + an object are a great look
  • Lanterns/ candles
  • Baskets. Tip: Fill one shelf of a bookcase with 3 baskets
  • Plants/Greenery
  • Table Clocks
  • Orbs
  • Sets of 3

Put it to Use on Your Shelves

At the end of the day everyone has a slightly different style. Do you like your shelves with a lot of stuff on them or are you more of a minimalist? Are you more into neutrals or bright colors? Do what works for you and experiment. I will rearrange things many times before I’m happy with the result.

Here is the before and after of my shelf putting these rules to use:

I hope you have found this helpful. Now go decorate those shelves!

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