Interiors: Styling a shelf

I’ve loved String designs for ages now and I grabbed a chance at a recent closing down sale of a nearby furniture store to purchase one of their shelving units in grey for the wall in our study. With our books stored downstairs in the snug I could use these shelves for some styling fun rather than having to be super practical with them.


Having spent a few hours faffing around with them I thought I’d set out some tips on how to approach the styling:


  • Theme. Decide what sort of theme or look you want for the shelf and the colour scheme. 

  • Accessories. Gather together the accessories that you want to display. You want some items that go horizontally across the shelf and others that go vertically into the space above so that your eye travels across the shelves in interesting directions. Examples of horizontal items are books laid flat, boxes and trays. Vertical items are things like candles, books and magazines standing upright (try turning them so that the cover faces to the front) or pieces of art.


  • Some people think that a shelf display needs colour but personally I think that a co-ordinated neutral scheme can be just as striking. If you want to add some colour without having colourful items try adding plants as you’ll get an instant hit of green.  

  • Metallic accents. I love metallic objects but it’s good to stick to all warm metals (bronze, copper, gold, brass) or all cold metals (silver and nickel). 

  • Artwork. You can stick artwork to the wall behind the items on the shelf so that you have a vertical item but it doesn’t take up actual shelf space. It also means you get to play with depth giving more interest to your shelf. 



  • Start with the biggest items and then move down in size. This should help you keep the weighting of the shelf balanced - you need to balance top and bottom and each side (that doesn’t mean it has to be symmetrical but you won’t want all the small objects on one side of the shelving unit or all in a line along one shelf). 

  • Vary the height of the items. In addition to pieces going horizontally and vertically you’ll also want to make sure that not everything on each shelf is exactly the same height as each other. Your eye needs to be able to roam across different levels.  

  • Resist the urge to fill every bit of space on the shelf - less is more (although what less means to you is personal). 

  • The rule of odds. Groupings of things always look more pleasing to the eye when there’s an odd number so think groupings of 3, 5 or 7.

  • Stacks. Try stacking larger items like books and then placing a small decorative item on top. It’s a great way to add interest and layering and can make everything look complete. 

The finishing touch

  • Look at the shelves from different distances. Things often look different if you stand back and view them so make sure you step back occasionally as you go. 

  • Tweak and tweak again! It can take a bit of faffing around to get everything just right so feel happy moving things around until you get the look you want.