Shelf Styling 101

Whilst living in London space was a commodity, shelves were stacked with books and papers, boxes filled with batteries and spare car keys and matches, our interiors were dictated by necessity rather than style. Moving back to Bournemouth didn’t feel much different, Connor and I sharing my bedroom back at my parents’ house for nine months meant most of our possessions were in storage, and every surface space in my little bedroom for one, was aching under the weight of two people’s possessions.

Fast forward to last May when we moved into the flat, and we had so much space we didn’t actually know what to do with it. The lounge looked bare because we didn’t have enough furniture to fill it. Our bedroom looked like a show home, because we finally had enough space to store our clothes. Even my office looked bare, with all my stationery, cables and camera gear assigned a home. We went from having nowhere near enough room, to having maybe too much, the flat felt bare and not at all homely.

We’ve been in the flat for almost a year now, and I can happily say that’s not longer the case. Whilst sure, hanging photos and buying new furniture has helped, I think the main thing that makes our flat feel homely and personal is open shelving.

Well styled open shelving doesn’t have to feel cluttered or kitsch, it doesn’t need to be full of useless knick knacks, and it can be useful, whilst adding something pretty to look at to a room. Styling shelves tends to be a trial and error process, you’ll want to try out lots of combinations, and I’m not sure it’s ever a finished job, I’m constantly moving things around and switching where things are. It’s 100% personal preference, but these are my tips for finding what works for you.


Obviously, if you’re trying to store things like books and magazines, this won’t always work, but I try to make sure the bulk of items on the shelves fit some kind of colour scheme. I tend to go for neutrals with pops of brass, but find what works for your space, and try to keep it within those bounds, whether that’s bold colours, monochromes, earthy tones, pastels etc.


Try and keep a good mix of heights across your shelves to stop things looking to uniform or ‘overstyled’. Pair a big vase with a low candle, use books to add height for smaller objects, try a plant pot on a small stand. Variation in heights, in my opinion, adds a bit of interest and makes the shelves more eye catching.


There’s a fine line between shelves that work with the room, and shelves that are all for show. My tip here is to make the bulk of what’s on your shelves things you actually use within the room. I use books and magazines in the living room, notebooks and pen pots in my office, and recipe books in the kitchen. When I buy something new, I try to think about how it looks as well as it’s practicalities, so it can be stored on the open shelves + look good, things like jars of matches, or a beautiful brass plant mister.


Trays are great for grouping smaller items together, and adding a bit of order. I feel like trays can really pull a shelf together, particularly in smaller spaces, I use trays for things like candles, small plant pots, crystals, matches, anything that can be grouped together.


Plants add life, colour and texture to open shelves. I have a long standing love affair with easy to maintain cacti and succulents, they work well on most shelving because they’re hardy. On a bigger shelving unit I love to add a trailing plant like Ivy or String of Pearls, which adds a little more depth to the setup. I’ll also often take a stem or two from a bunch of flowers, trim them down and pop them in a smaller vase. Play with the plants you’ve got and don’t be afraid to play with fresh flowers too.


If you’ve got items you need to store that don’t look so cute (like tv remotes), or you have a lot of the same thing (like stacks of magazines), don’t be afraid of using baskets! I’m particularly fond of brass wire baskets for grouping things together, but there are lots of cute options, I usually check out the aisles of Homesense for that kinda thing. One thing I will say is I try to keep bigger baskets to lower shelves, as they can look quite imposing at eye level.

Are you a fan of open shelving?