How to Style Shelves or Built-Ins

Jun 7, 2022

One of the best parts of any interior design project is accessorizing a room. Styling pieces are the icing on the cake, and accessories take a space from pretty to personalized and unique. Figuring out how to style shelves and built-ins can be a daunting task. Many of our clients feel overwhelmed when looking at bare or busy shelves and are unsure how to make something fabulous from a catch-all for clutter. 

Here are our top tips for creating a gorgeous bookshelf or built-in that is functional, beautiful, and reflects your personality and style.

style a shelf

Step 1: Clear Your Shelves or Built-Ins

The first step to styling shelves or built-ins is clearing everything off. Books and accessories attract dust, so spend some time wiping down the shelves and the items on them. Starting with a blank canvas allows you to use your imagination without being influenced by clutter. 

Next, set your vision. If you are artistically inclined, spend some time sketching out what you hope the final design will look like. Alternatively, flip through some magazines or save some images online that reflect the style you wish to bring to life. 

Step 2: Take Inventory & Shop

Once you have a clear vision of what you want, sift through the items you took off the shelves. Set aside the pieces you want to place back on the shelf and find a new home for the ones that don’t fit into the new aesthetic. 

Get inspired by what you already have at home! Seemingly everyday, ordinary items can become amazing accessories and add a personalized touch. 

Finally, if you do not have enough items on hand to fill the shelves, you’ll need to go shopping! Make a list of things you want to display and start looking in your favorite shops. Remember, you don’t have to purchase everything at once. A curated collection with meaningful pieces looks best. So, don’t feel pressured to find every single item in one trip. 

style a built-in

Step 3: Place the Largest Pieces First

Once you are ready to place items on your shelves or built-ins, start with the largest pieces first. Bigger items serve as focal anchors for the entire space. Baskets, vases, bowls and art can be the foundational pieces that set the tone for the shelving. Make sure to space them strategically so that they are not all in one place. Spreading around the larger pieces creates balance.

Step 4: Create Groupings

The next step is to take your medium and small items and create groupings to fill the spaces around your more oversized items. Stacked books, small sculptures, photos and small containers are perfect ways to fill space. If you have a collection you would like to display, choose a few of your favorite pieces to add to your shelves so you can enjoy a part of your collection every day. 

Step 5: Change Seasonally

One of the best things about a shelf or built-in is that making changes is easy. Some design projects are harder to change once they are complete, but shelf styling can rotate whenever you need a refresh! You can change out shelf decor to rotate your prized possessions, or you can change out shelf decor with the seasons. Bonus, seasonal changes are ideal for deep cleaning and dusting your trinkets!

Incorporating plants and fresh-cut flowers into shelf designs brings an outdoor element into the home and can also be changed seasonally. 

Step 6: Edit Frequently

Once complete, edit – and edit OFTEN! Shelf space can become a catch-all for clutter. Setting down a book, a stack of papers, or anything that does not belong can quickly add up. Before you know it, your fabulous shelves are hidden by everyday items that weren’t put away in the right spot.

Editing also gives you the chance to change out accessories for new pieces you found while out shopping, on vacation, or received as a gift. Instead of crowding new items into the space, make an even swap within your current setup. By using a critical eye, you can avoid overcrowding. If you are styling a room in your Charlotte, NC or need help with interior design in Lake Norman and need some guidance, book your complimentary discovery call today! We love to help our clients create a design plan and find the perfect pieces to bring rooms to life. You can also grab our free design project planner resource to help get you started with your design adventure.


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