Are you ready to toss your outdated shelving unit for something more modern from the 21st century? Perhaps you’re considering a few floating shelves or an open shelving system to open up your space and give your home the additional floor space it needs.

After locating the studs behind the wall with a stud finder and mounting the hardware to secure your shelving, it’s time to select and arrange the items on your shelves. If you're drawing a blank, don’t worry. Designing a visually appealing shelf arrangement may seem like an arduous task, however, with a few basic principles on the elements of interior design, you can create beautiful arrangements for display.

A Guide on How to Arrange Items on a Shelf like a Pro

What To Display On Shelves

You likely have a few items in your home that you can use to display on your shelves like a book collection, some collectibles, or a family heirloom. So before you head to the nearest Home Goods store or Amazon online and buy everything new, consider doing a walkthrough of your home to see what you can find.

Create a Focal Point With Shelving

You can create a focal point with one long shelf or several floating shelves. For a statement wall, position the center of your shelving at eye level. This usually ends up being 57 to 60 inches from the floor, depending on your height. The same rule is used for hanging artwork. If you already have a focal point like a fireplace or the TV that your shelves are going to frame, you can place your shelves at different heights around your focal point.

One way to create a contrast to your shelving display is with an accent wall behind your shelving in a contrasting paint color or wallpaper design. You can add character and texture to the room with textured wallpaper such as grasscloth, metal, or brick.

How To Design Beautiful Arrangements on Shelves

Follow these design tips to style your items like a pro.

Vary size and scale: Choosing items all the same size can look boring. For a display of three items, choose one that’s large, one that’s medium-sized, and one that’s small.

Play with different shapes and textures: Having items with varying shapes add interest to the design scheme. A round, full bottle can look super next to a tall, sleek rectangular vase. To add texture, place a textured wooden item like rattan next to something smooth and shiny.

Variety in textures and materials make your shelf displays compelling.

Mix metals and materials: You can mix wood or glass with different types of metals on your shelving such as antique bronze, brass, stainless steel, hammered metal, and brushed nickel. To coordinate with other elements in the room, select a metal finish that matches the finish of your lighting and hardware fixtures, for example, with your brushed nickel cabinet hardware or your new Sputnik glass and brass chandelier.

Use angles to add interest: Angle objects in different directions to add some personality to your display. For example, turn a small statue atop a few books to the side. When everything stands in the same position, it tends to look dull.

Choose a color palette: When choosing items, stick to a monochromatic color palette (different shades of the same color) or one to three colors. Too many colors can look overdone unless you’re intentionally doing a rainbow effect in a kid’s room. But remember to stick to the colors in a rainbow and keep like colors together.

Shed light on your display: You can highlight special collections or pieces in your display, for instance, a piece of artwork with a lighting source such as a picture light or puck light. To give your shelf an equal amount of lighting, consider illuminating it with LED strip lighting, which makes a good ambient lighting source for your shelves.

A monochromatic color scheme makes the items on display pop!

Items That Look Great on Shelves

1. Books

Your book collections make great conversation starters when you host gatherings at your home. Whether you have classic literary boxed set collections, a Harry Potter series, or rare cloth or leather bound editions, you can store and arrange them in an elegant appearance. Mix up your arranging chops by stacking some books horizontally with decorative objects on top and others vertically with decor in between. Choose heavier decor as bookends or pick up a pair of book wedgies in concrete, or wood & steel from Shelfology. Keep like colored spines together for a stylish presentation, or cover your books in brown paper for a neutral look.

Styling tip: Place three hardcover books with the spines facing forward with a plant or medium-sized object on top for a curated look.

You can always go right with the classic: lots of books!

2. Decorative Objects

Arranging your shelves with decorative objects is an attractive way to showcase your decor style, family heirlooms, and items you’ve collected that have personal meaning to you. You can arrange objects by theme, for instance, the Italian treasures you collected on your summer trip to the Mediterranean (or the one you’d like to take) or your collection of carved wooden figurines. Pair similar items together or vary up your shelving space with a series of vignettes with items in different shapes, sizes, and textures to differentiate your display. Make sure not to cram everything together. Leave space between each collection of items to give your shelf display room to breathe.

Styling tip: Create a vignette by combining three decorative objects in different sizes such as large, medium, and small to create a designer-like presentation.

3. Photos

Family photos or photographs like nature photos that showcase the things you love such as mountain scenery makes for a beautiful shelf display. To make your display cohesive with the rest of your home, frame your photographs in similar wood tones that tie into your floors and furniture. If the room where your shelves are housed has a black-and-white theme, continue the look with your shelves to create a streamlined design.

Styling tip: Paint your frames the same color that matches your wall color. If you don’t have enough frames at home, you can find inexpensive frames at thrift stores for pennies on the dollar.

4. Art

Whether you love traditional impressionist paintings or mid-century modern artwork with bold colors and geometric shapes, your art can look great on open shelves. You can arrange your artwork in layers by pairing them with decorative objects on your shelves. Lean a piece of art angled in a corner or place it up front and center on a stand or atop a set of books positioned horizontally.

Styling tip: A gallery wall doesn’t need to take up your entire wall to make a statement. Choose one to three shelves to display your favorite pieces.

Interesting art is a must for styling your shelves!

5. Plants

Plants bring life to your surroundings and invite nature indoors. Consider plants like pothos or ivy on a top shelf with vines hanging down. But before you buy a new plant like a Pothos, make sure it’s pet-friendly if you have four-legged friends at home. Some pet-friendly plants that are safe for cats and dogs include Boston ferns, Prayer Plants, Chinese Money Plants and select succulents. Don’t have a green thumb but still love the look of plants? Consider a natural looking faux plant. Choose silk faux plants rather than plastic for a more realistic look.

Styling tip: Arrange a few faux silk plants on a shelf in an area that doesn’t have a window to bring the look of nature indoors.

6. Baskets

When you think of baskets the first thing that comes to mind might be a picnic or an Easter egg basket. But the scope of baskets you can use for storage and display goes much further. Baskets are available in a variety of materials, including straw, vine, wood (wicker and rattan), and fabric options.

Some baskets are open while others have hinges and lids that close, which makes for a great way to conceal items you use regularly. Choose baskets that coordinate with your decor and your room’s color scheme. Arrange baskets with items you need to access on lower shelves.

Styling tip: When you’re short on bathroom cabinet space, hide the toiletries you use every day in a beautiful woven basket on a shelf within reach.

With a few interior design principles and decorating tips and tricks, you can now create beautiful arrangements on shelves for an elegant and modern display for your home.

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