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Decorate Your Open Shelving like an Interior Design Expert!


What better way to display all of your special knickknacks than on an open shelf for all to see? Here's how to style all your souvenirs and trinkets!
Photo by Ana Pearce/


Open shelving is one of the best ways to add visual interest to a room, but knowing where to begin with it can be overwhelming. I know. But don’t be overwhelmed! I have a few tips to share that will have your shelf looking effortlessly styled in no time.

1. Use clever solutions.


Photo by Ana Pearce/

Typically, open shelving is one part function and one part style. (Like all good things are, am I right?) Let’s begin with function. The first thing I placed on this shelf was the basket on the bottom shelf. Why you ask? Because it’s holding my Wi-Fi router and cables. If you have some unsightly items that you functionally need to keep on a shelf, consider finding a basket or decorative box to store them in. Similarly, if you have books you’d like to store on a shelf but don’t necessarily want the titles displayed, you can turn the spines toward the back of the shelf. You’ll still get the visual impact of having books, and you can hide any embarrassing titles (or your second set of the “Harry Potter” series, if you’ve already displayed one…)

2. Stick with a palette.

As you’re deciding what to place on your open shelving, try and stick to a general color palette. Depending on what room of your house it’s in, borrow from the tones throughout the space. Open shelving can feel very busy sometimes, and using items with similar colors will keep the design looking cohesive rather than scattered.

3. Keep the eye moving.


Photo by Ana Pearce/

I always place the biggest items first, since the eye is typically most drawn to them. When you’re styling each shelf, consider which item is the focal point, and make sure you set focal points (larger and more interesting items) in varying places so the eye doesn’t get “stuck” on two or three focal points that are right next to each other. Use similar items on different shelves to tie in your themes throughout the shelving unit, and so the eye jumps around to see the commonalities. On that same note, only place frames with art or photography on shelves that are eye-level.

The best way to style your home is to showcase the things that you find special and beautiful, so don’t stress out about following all the rules if you want to stray a little bit.

4. Use items with varying sizes.

Most of the pieces on the shelf will capture attention from a distance, but it’s fun to have a few teeny tiny items, too. They’re especially fun little surprises for anybody who gets up close and personal with your shelving unit.

5. Make it personal.


Photo by Ana Pearce/

The general idea is that if a stranger walked into your room and saw your styled shelving (or saw a photo of it on the internet) that he or she would have a pretty good idea of who you are. Using some purely decorative items is fine, but open shelving is a great place to let your personality shine through. Consider using original art, tchotchkes from a favorite vacation or family heirlooms—like your grandma’s old spoon collection. My husband’s film camera was one thing I “borrowed” for this shelf—he’ll take it on trips and use it in town, so I like displaying it here when it’s not in use. Another thing I placed on this shelf was a framed copy of our resolutions and goals for the year. It’s nice to be reminded of things that are really special to me that may seem insignificant to someone else.

6. Consider the room.


Photo by Ana Pearce/

The shelving unit in this room is certainly the focal point, which is why I was able to play around with a lot of different textures and colors. If you already have a large-scale focal point nearby, for example, a big wall hanging, tapestry or even a really crazy lighting fixture, you may want to tone down your open shelving so it doesn’t compete with something else. A good way to do that is to keep it styled in a monochromatic scheme, or even repeat the same theme throughout the unit (like all vintage bottles or books).

Finally, have fun with it! The best way to style your home is to showcase the things that you find special and beautiful, so don’t stress out about following all the rules if you want to stray a little bit. After all, rules were made to be broken!