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How To Decorate Shelving Like A Pro

Decorating shelves doesn't have to be so overwhelming. With these simple tips and tricks on how to decorate shelving, you'll be styling shelves like a pro in no time!

All of the sources for the items shown in the photos are linked at the very bottom of the post for your convenience!

If I don’t have anything to do on a Saturday night, you can usually find me cozied up on the couch with a blanket and my laptop scrolling through Pinterest, checking out some of my favorite blogs, or thumbing through the latest copy of Magnolia Journal. Usually, I’m looking for one thing….inspiration.

Inspiration comes in all shapes and sizes, sometimes inspiration can strike with a breath of fresh air on a walk. Other times, inspiration comes in the more obvious form…through other designer’s rooms on Pinterest or blogs.

One thing that I absolutely love looking at is how other people decorate shelves. For a couple of years now, I’ve been admiring perfectly decorated shelves all while filling up my inspiration jar.

All while hoping that someday, I too, would have some pretty shelves in my house to decorate. Does anyone else out there dream about having shelves too?

This how to decorate shelves guide contains affiliate links, but nothing that I wouldn’t wholeheartedly recommend anyway! Read my full disclosure here.

My quest for my own shelving unit for the living room

So, this year when Logan asked me what I wanted for Christmas, instead of using my typical answer “oh, I don’t need anything honey…”, I replied, “I would like a shelving unit, here’s the link to the one I want.“.

He was a little shocked at my decisiveness, which is totally uncommon. Please tell me I’m not the only one that never knows what to ask for at Christmastime.

I had waited long enough. I was going to finally get my shelves!

That night…and the nights that followed, I was stuck to my laptop dreaming and scheming…looking for that inspiration again! But this time I was zeroed in – on how to decorate shelves!

Now, this isn’t the first time I’ve decorated shelves – in our old house, we built bathroom floating shelves and decorated them up for our farmhouse master bathroom reveal. I also put some floating shelves up above the toilet again in our recent modern farmhouse bathroom renovation.

I’m sharing a lot of our other decorated shelves (and styled shelves from other bloggers) at the bottom of this article, so keep reading!

Vintage decor displayed on a shelving unit with farmhouse style showing white farmhouse jugs, vintage books, corbles, greenery and faux plants, farmhouse sign, vintage suite case and silver antler

But, this was the first time that I had a massive shelving unit that was all mine to decorate to my heart’s content. Needless to say, I was pretty excited.

When it came time to get my shelving unit decorated, let’s just say my inspiration jar was FULL. I was bursting with ideas. I had so much fun getting my shelves unit decorated and I learned so much along the way.

Hopefully, if you’ve stumbled upon this post today, you are staring at an empty shelving unit wondering how in the heck you can decorate shelves without it looking like you just threw stuff up on the shelves with no rhyme or reason.

I’m going really break things down today to make it really easy to understand how to decorate shelving like a pro. Even if you are typically lost when it comes to decorating, have no fear. With these shelf-decorating tips and tricks, you’ll be ready to get those shelves looking good in no time!

Modern farmhouse decorated shelves in a living room with text overlay that says decorate shelves like a pro

Are you ready to learn how to decorate shelving??

1) Gather all decor options

Much like a super popular Konmari method of decluttering, let’s start by gathering up all possible decoration ideas and putting them all together.

This is a great way to start the process. It helps to be able to see everything you’re working with before you get started.

Modern farmhouse shelving unit in a living room with light gray walls and filled with farmhouse style decor of vintage books, faux greenery, white pitchers, and other vintage finds.

2) Look for repetition of texture, pattern, or colors

While you stare at your big pile of decor options (let’s just call it our inspiration pile, that sounds better, right?), start pulling out items that have similar textures, patterns, or colors. When you are decorating shelves, it is easy to throw everything up on the shelves and call it a day.

But, chances are that the shelves would look like a hodge-podge mess if you didn’t have some sort of repetition or a color scheme. Aim to repeat something at least 3+ times.

You’ll see on my shelves I repeated:

  • Color white (box on top & white farmhouse pitchers)
  • Vintage books
  • Faux greenery
  • Warm neutrals (tan magazine holder, pages facing out on vintage books, tan blanket in basket, cream colored corbels)

This simple repetition helps tie all of the decor on the shelving together so things look more cohesive. When you are placing your repetitive items, be sure you are spreading them out throughout the shelves. This helps your eye bounce around a bit.

If you’re struggling with finding repeating colors, change it up with paint!

Can I tell you a secret? When I was decorating these shelves, I was struggling to pull in some more repetition of the pure white color after I added my cute farmhouse pitchers (which are totally spray painted BTW, read all about it here).

The box you see up on the top shelf was originally a rustic wood shade…I quickly dry brushed some white acrylic paint on there and BOOM….the decorated shelves instantly looked better with the subtle repetition of the color white.

Farmhouses shelving unit with vintage inspired decor showing metal scale, vintage books, white farmhouse pitchers with gray walls in the background

3) Incorporate creative storage

Well, chances are you want to actually STORE things on your shelves. There are plenty of ways you can store the not-so-pretty things when you are styling shelves.

  • In the white box on the top shelf, I’m hiding workout equipment like resistance bands and workout DVDs
  • In the tan box on the left, I’m storing my favorite magazines – mostly old copies of Magnolia Journal & Better Homes And Gardens
  • In the vintage suitcase on the bottom, I’ve stuffed in a spare pillow for visitors that are crashing on the couch
  • In the basket on the bottom, I’m storing extra blankets for the living room
Corner of living room with large bookcase with rustic wood shelves, metal brackets, farmhouse decor on shelves, light gray paint on walls and woven wall hanging

4) Don’t forget about the wall behind

When we’re learning how to decorate shelves, it’s easy to get stuck on what to actually put on the shelves – right? But don’t forget that you can also decorate the wall behind your shelves!

  • You can lean framed art or family photos on the back of shelves
  • Add color to the back of your shelves with wallpaper or paint (or a sponge painted design like we did on the inside of our mudroom lockers)
  • Hang a sign on the wall behind your shelves (this is what I did)
Farmhouse shelf decorations with faux greenery, vintage books, candlesticks, white farmhouse pitcher and family name sign hanging on wall

5) Vary heights

Much like spreading out repetitive items helps your eye bounce around the shelving unit, arranging the items in varying heights is more appealing to the eye. You definitely want to have items at different heights when you’re decorating shelving.

You’ll notice on my shelves that stacks of books from thrift stores are one of the great ways that I use to vary heights!

There’s something about the shape of a triangle that also looks great when you are decorating shelves…it probably has something to do with the magic of three…which brings me to the next point…

Shelf decor idea with a farmhouse sign hanging on the wall in the background that says Johnson and 2 white farmhouse pitchers displayed with a stack of vintage books and faux greenery

6) Group items in odd numbers (3 is the magic number)

Have you ever heard of “the rule of three“? It’s true that things grouped in odd numbers (specifically three things together) are more visually appealing.

There are definitely plenty of instances where I pulled this rule-of-3 concept into our shelves:

  • Three areas of repetition for the color white (spread out in a general shape of a triangle, too)
  • Stack of three vintage books on the scale & under the white pitcher
  • Three things added to the scale (vintage books, faux plant, and mini wreath)
Living room shelves in a farmhouse living room with vintage decor and a couch in the background

7) Don’t get too comfortable

Even though I absolutely love the way my shelves are decorated right now, one of the fun parts about having a shelving unit like this is that you can change things up whenever you want!

If you want to flex your designer muscles, decorating a whole shelving unit like this is a workout – 10 points for the corny joke.

Since I’ve had this shelving unit for a few years now, there are SO many different ways I’ve styled them! One of my favorite things is to take everything off and start over again to redecorate the shelves. I’ve shared some of the different ways below!

Vintage books on a shelf with worn covers and vintage corbel used as a bookend

Decorating shelves doesn’t has to be so overwhelming. If you’re reading this and you’re stuck and frustrated, try this (or if you just scrolled to the bottom and want the cliff notes version):

  • One of the first things you should do is take everything off the shelves…yes, everything
  • Gather all possible decor into a pile – this is our inspiration pile
  • Store the not-so-pretty things in pretty containers and baskets
  • Look for your repetitive items …remember color, texture, pattern
  • Spread these items throughout the shelves
  • Try grabbing three things of different heights from your inspiration pile of decorative objects and placing them on your shelf in a group together that create a variation of height. Mixing together larger items with smaller ones is a great option!
  • Give the “triangle method” a try
Vintage books on a wood shelf topped with a white pitcher with faux greenery flowing out of it

Using these tips and tricks for how to decorate shelving, you’ll be able to go from being frustrated and overwhelmed to confidently decorating your shelves just like a pro.

Decorating shelving ideas with farmhouse style decorations on a modern farmhouse shelving unit with antique books, candle stick holders, and metal scale

Whether you’re decorating blank space on open shelves in your kitchen or built-in shelves in your home office, just follow these simple steps every time!

I can’t wait to see what you come up with. Be sure to tag me @MakingManzanita with your decorated shelves!

Looking for more ideas on how to decorate shelving?

Living room shelving unit decorated with moss and vintage books for a Spring look

Here are the exact same shelves in our living room, but this time they are refreshed and ready for spring!

You can use items like pumpkins and fall colors to switch the decorations up on the shelving unit for the seasons.

Again here are the same shelves, but this time they are styled for fall with mud cloth pumpkins made with Sharpies and lots of vintage books in pretty fall colors.

Here's how we styled the living room shelves for Christmas with a farmhouse style

The shelving unit got another update when it was time to decorate our living room for Christmas. We added some fun DIYs to the shelf decoration, like the white painted Christmas village, yarn tassel tree and yarn-wrapped trees.

Check out these pro tips for decorating shelving in your living room!

Here’s how we decorated the shelves after we renovated our living room with more of a modern boho style. You can see here that there is a more minimalist and clean look to the shelves, but a lot of the same concepts exist (rule of three of baskets on the bottom shelf, grouping things together in threes, repetition of vintage books, wood tones, and colors.

Shelving unit in living room decorated for Christmas with stockings hung on the shelves, which is a great way to display stockings if you don't have a fireplace with a mantel

Here’s, yet, another look at the shelving unit in our living room decorated for the holidays, but this time we used DIY stocking tags and added the farmhouse advent calendar and the little DIY gnome to the shelves.

Picture ledge shelving a hallway styled with monochromatic wall decor leaning against the wall

Here’s another area where we have shelves in our home. We added these ledge shelves as a DIY project and I had so much fun doing the styling. There are definitely some unique things about styling ledge shelves, so check out all of our tips here.

Modern bathroom with marble hexagon tiles on the floor and a dark wood vanity with green accent wall with floating shelves above a toilet

We also added floating shelves over the toilet when we renovated our modern bathroom and I love them! We have a metal bin there to hold medicine, a faux plant, room for folded towels, and a small bowl holding Q-tips.

I’m obsessed with these little floating shelves above our toilet in our newly renovated farmhouse bathroom! Bathroom shelves are one of my favorite ways to decorate over a toilet. They are the perfect place for decor and functional items, like storing folded towels and extra toilet paper.

I had originally got on the whole bathroom shelves bandwagon because I fell in love with these shelves we built in our master farmhouse bathroom at our old house. (Floating shelves tutorial here). It is a fun way to add a pop of color to your bathroom so it fits better with the color theme in the rest of the bathroom.

Speaking of shelves in bathrooms, I love how Emily from Small Stuff Counts has decorated that cute little shelf in her bathroom! She only put in one shelf and put a small framed art on the empty space below the shelf, so genius!

And why we’re on the topic of bathroom shelves, here’s how you can drill into tile to add DIY bathroom shelves. Love this look from Lindi at Love Create Celebrate. These are a blank slate to add a bit of your personal style to a bathroom.

Liz Marie has some awesome tips in this post all about shelf styling! I love how she mixes together both large objects and smaller items. And the natural elements with all of those indoor plants create such a cozy vibe!

Love how Amanda at Love & Renovations has styled her living room shelves. This post also has a step-by-step tutorial for how to build DIY floating shelves! She uses her living room shelves to hold a lot of books mixed with other decorative items.

Even small shelves can be difficult to style sometimes. I love Sarah from Sarah Joy Blog’s tips in this post about styling the smallest shelf ever. I love how she layers the picture frames to create more visual interest.

Did you learn something new from these tips on how to decorate shelving?

Let me know in the comments below!!

Farmhouse Living Room Shelf Sources:

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