Tips for styling shelves

First and foremost, thank you so much to those of you who took the time to leave a comment on my blog feedback post or emailed me your thoughts. I was blown away by how many of you got in touch and how much thought you put into your feedback. Just amazing! I’m going to spend this month making blog plans and then in September I will start afresh, bearing in mind all that you had to say.

Things here are taking shape and I very nearly have a fully functioning home office: the shelves are up, desk is made and painted, holes in the walls filled, new pendant light hanging. My big job this week is to paint the floor and then sort and style the String shelving. When I was going on and on and on about my new String shelving, quite a few of you got in touch and asked if I had any tips for styling shelves. Now, I have to admit that I have always avoided shelves in the past for two reasons – firstly, I like to hide my mess and secondly, they can become a dumping ground.

That being said, we have invested in some wondrous shelving for the home office and I could cram them with stuff as they are deep and sturdy and I have a lot of stuff but I really want to strike a balance between function and beauty. Mission impossible? Well, here are my tips before I begin the task in hand…

1. Groups of three

I always like to group things in threes, whether it be boxes, baskets, ornaments or plants. I don’t know why that looks better than say, two or four things, it just does.

2. Triangle of colours

You don’t need to colour coordinate what’s on your shelves (I always get a bit of a shiver when I hear about colour coordinating because it makes me think of matching cushions, curtains and lampshades) but pulling together the look with a triangle of colours can look really good i.e. three similarly coloured items, placed at different points on the shelves.

3. Vary height and size of objects

If you arrange all of the tall things together and all of the round things together your shelves will look unbalanced and too curated.

Tips for styling shelves by Apartment Apothecary

Image from: @whiteloftstudio Intsagram

4. Don’t overcrowd

If you have too much to fit on your shelves, don’t just cram it all on. You will need to find somewhere else to store it or get rid of it. Overstuffed shelves are not functional, most importantly, and you can’t fully appreciate the beautiful things on them. On the open kitchen shelves below, they have managed to fit a lot on but everything is accessible, which makes it functional too.

Tips for styling shelves by Apartment Apartment Apothecary

5. Add pictures, prints, mirror or a lamp

By doing this, it adds more interest to the shelves and makes them feel like part of the room, rather than just a storage solution.

Tips for styling shelves by Apartment Apothecary

Image from: Decordots

6. Nothing should touch

When I say nothing should touch, I mean that two items should not rub shoulders; they either need to over lap or not touch at all. Again, I’m not sure why items that just touch look odd, but they do. If you look at the shelves below, the top shelf has a row of items that are just touching. However, on the middle and bottom shelves the items are overlapping, which looks so much more interesting and organic.

Tips for styling shelves by Apartment Apothecary

Image from: Fine Little Day

7. Add plants

This lightens, brightens and lifts shelves. I love how plants have been attached to this pegboard – I might have to steal this idea!

Tips for styling shelves by Apartment Apothecary

Image: Home of Kim Victoria Wearne and Stuart Beer on The Design Files

8. Don’t make it top or bottom heavy

Don’t place all the large items at the bottom of the shelves and all the small items at the top as this will make the shelves look unbalanced.

9. Repurpose containers to store items

Add interest and beauty by using vintage tins, jars or jugs to store items.

Tips for styling shelves by Apartment Apothecary

Image from: Sania Pell

10. Put lots of little things into storage boxes or baskets

If you have a lot of small things that need storing put them into boxes or baskets that can be put in the shelves; this will make the shelves easier to clean and less fussy looking.

Tips for styling shelves by Apartment Apothecary

Image from: Husligheter

11. Add something unexpected

This will draw the eye and set your shelves apart from everybody else’s Billy bookcase.

Hope this helps some of you. I’m going to try my best to use some of these ideas on my own shelves, which I’ll show you all in September.

Katy x





  1. Charlotte
    5th August 2014 / 1:13 pm

    Brilliant shelving idea’s Katy! I have also started using old glass vases and glass storage containers for all my sewing bits & bobs. Thanks for all the great ideas, pictures and time you invest in your blogs. Inspirational!


    • katy
      7th August 2014 / 9:04 am

      Thank you so much, Charlotte. Really appreciate your kind words x

  2. 5th August 2014 / 1:18 pm

    Hey Katy, another interesting post! My boyfriend has just moved in and we’re trying to sort out our shelves – so this is perfectly timed! Do you have any advice on what to do with DVDs? I’m sure I’m not alone is saying that over the years you end up accumulating a lot, so any tips would be really helpful. Thanks. 🙂 Leanne x

    • katy
      7th August 2014 / 9:04 am

      Ooooh CD’s – that’s a tricky one! I’ll have a think and let you know x

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