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  • Writer's pictureStacey Martin

SHELFIES // How to style shelves, mantels, coffee tables, and other surfaces.

Updated: Oct 5, 2022

PHOTO CREDIT: Luisa Brimble via Unsplash


The items you choose to put in your home

deserve to be celebrated.

That vintage bowl you found last year on your road trip to Arizona. The brass whale from Paris. Even Aunt Edna's porcelain cat collection (if it sparks joy!). All your cherished items are just junk on a shelf if they are not thoughtfully placed and given the attention they deserve.

Don't let your awesome stuff - the cool things that bring up sweet memories - get lost in the shuffle! Today we're giving you the dos and don'ts of shelf styling (and other surfaces, too!) Let's tame that visual clutter and celebrate your objects!

DON'T crowd or overstuff.

I don't know about you, but this image on the left gives me straight up anxiety. There is no way I could sit in front of that shelf and casually drink a cocktail without fearing I am about to be toppled to death at any moment by the Twilight Saga.

DO give your items room to breathe (image right).

Arranging your objects in small groupings (or vignettes) allows for negative space between items. This pulls your eye around the shelf and highlights each little collection or grouping.

PRO TIP – when styling with books, group like with like – paperback with paperback, hardcover with hardcover, and similar colors with – you guessed it – related colors.

DON'T fill your shelves with too much of the

same thing.

Lots of the same item, uniform in size, displayed in the same way, can look pretty unexciting. And I know you don't want to live in Snoresville USA.

DO vary the items and orientation of your objects to add interest

and texture (image right).

The one exception is if you are purposely displaying a collection. But even then, adding in a little variety with plants and art can really take it to the next level.

DO layer your objects.

Guys, it is totally OK to overlap your objects and gasp obscure a piece of art. For real. Layering creates so much depth and interest to your vignettes. And bonus, it’s a great way to add all those candid family photos into your décor.

Plants are another great layering object. Since shelves and consoles are inherently linear, adding in plant life helps visually soften all those hard edges.

DON'T forget your focal point.

If you are lucky enough to have a fireplace to begin with, make sure it gets the attention it deserves by highlighting it with a large and in-charge object that sets the stage.

There. That's so much better, don't you think?

DON'T spread objects too far apart.

This actually applies to anything you are styling. Ask yourself, “Are my objects friends or frenemies?”

Arrange items in little object cliques so they can visually relate to each other.

PRO TIP – when grouping objects, use odd numbers for better visual balance. One is an odd number too, but make sure your singular object has enough visual weight to stand on its own and balance out the vignettes that are opposite it.

DO use trays and vessels to corral small items.

A tray or a small vessel on a coffee table or console is an easy, go-to solution for corralling clutter and creating a well-styled surface.

It doesn't really get any easier than taking a tray, filling it with a vase or plant and a stack of magazines, and centering it on the table.

It's like a belted trench - it instantly pulls together the outfit with minimal effort.

Pretty vessels to hold matches, remotes, sunglasses, and loose change are also a simple and functional way to do design double-duty in the higher traffic areas of your home.

DO ground your small objects with books.

It's easy for small objects to look really busy and get lost in the styling shuffle. Elevating your smalls - literally - will ensure that doesn't happen. I like to call it "book punctuation".

Punctuating your horizontal book stacks with candles, small vessels, or little objects really just completes the styling sentence.

PRO TIP – when styling round coffee tables, group your objects in a triangular shape - two side by side, one centered above the two.

DO leave space for functionality.

I can just imagine myself coming home to this console table (left) with a hot coffee, my arms full of stuff, and having NO PLACE to put down a single thing. And you know what? I bet I would be super duper ridiculously annoyed about it, too. Show your future errand-running self some love and leave space on your surfaces for functionality (like the image on the right). Look at all that open space just inviting me to set down my extra hot matcha latte with almond milk!

DON'T forget about the bottom.

Photo Credit: Studio Mcgee (right)

When it comes to consoles and sofa tables, don't forget about the bottom! Whether there is a shelf there or just an open space, visually grounding these workhorses with large objects (like storage baskets) helps balance out their scale. And bonus points for extra storage, amirite?!

DO add scents and greenery.

Photo Credit: Studio Mcgee

When thinking about designing the surfaces of your home, smell is just as important. Don't you just love walking into your favorite boutique and being surrounded by wafts of vanilla and amber? You should be able to say the same for your own space.

A lovely candle or some fresh greens, especially in a high-traffic area, will help elevate your space and up the warmth factor.

Whew! That was definitely a lot of info, but it isn't as overwhelming as it may seem.

Let's recap the 6 easy tips that apply to almost any

styling scenario:

GROUP in odd numbers

USE texture, variety, and scale

CREATE a focal point

LAYER and relate your objects to each other

ADD scent & greenery

DON’T OVERCROWD! Keep space for functionality and visual breathing room. And remember - when in doubt, switch it out!­­­ If you have a lot of stuff, keep some objects in a closet or the basement and rotate them out when you are in the mood for a change.

What about you? Do you have lots of books / objects / items in need of styling help? Hopefully these dos and don'ts will have your shelves and surfaces looking swanky in no time! Any other challenges we didn't cover above? Let me know in the comments below! Happy styling! xo

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