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  • Writer's pictureJulie Sousa

How to Decorate Shelves Like a Pro

5 Tips That Will Leave Your Guests Thinking You Actually Hired Someone


Decorating isn’t a science (although arguable for some). It’s all about experimenting and playing around with different elements until you create something visually pleasing. Well, what’s visually pleasing? The answer to that is subjective – so there’s no right or wrong answer here.

So while there isn’t a quadratic formula to solve for your décor woes, I’ve come up with five recommendations to help you decorate the shelves in your home.

1. Don’t Forget to Scale

When it comes to decorating shelves, it’s important to consider scale. In other words, ensuring you have different heights and sizes in objects. Books can really come in handy for this.

Organize a few books vertically, as you would see in a library, some horizontally, and even some leaning. You can also use books as risers, a few books underneath a piece of décor can really make a statement.

Take a look at this photo below. I’ve left out the source intentionally out of respect for its owner. While there are plenty of great objects, because they’ve chosen to group elements of like-scale together, it makes the décor look incohesive.

Don’t be afraid to integrate your pieces. Think of how scale presents itself in a cityscape. One of the reasons the NYC skyline is so beautiful is because of its scale… so mix and match elements!

A great example of shelving décor that worked really well together is Desi Perkin’s. As you can see, there are various heights and sizes across the pieces she’s chosen – the finished product is cohesive, integrated, and simply perfect.

2. Pick a Color Palette

I’m no color theorist, but I typically select two to three colors, and any shade of those colors are also acceptable (in fact, encouraged) – leaving you with an endless number of options. If you select non-neutrals, just be careful not to overdo it with the matching.

Colors can be tricky, as they tend to fall in and out of trends (ie: think mustard in the 70s). Some might ask, “What about more classic colors like navy or red?” Just as your home décor can be cliché, your color scheme can too. With colors, you don’t want to be too predictable. Unless you’re comfortable, I suggest sticking with neutrals.

3. Get Creative with Your Books

As I mentioned in an earlier post on my Instagram, we have plenty of books lying around our homes, but some may not be aesthetically pleasing to put on display. Before giving up on any of your existing books, rip off that dreadful book cover and see if that works with your palette. If it doesn’t, you can also try wrapping the book with wrapping paper.

For my overachievers reading this, use cardboard (which you definitely will have in your recycling) for your soft covered books and place it inside the wrapping paper for sturdiness.

4. Mix in Décor

Books are great, but if you want to really create that wow-factor, then don’t forget the décor, which is just as important. Plants are a great way to add a pop of color, without interrupting the color palette you’ve chosen.

One way to think about it is as small groups, or clusters of design, like Desi has set up on her shelves. Check out my Instagram feed for posts containing books, and pull out small clusters that appeal to you for inspiration.

I may not own all of the exact objects that Desi has on her wall, but I do own versions of a lot of them such as books, candles, and other décor objects. From her image, I can leverage existing pieces in my home for inspiration.

5. Do Less

Lastly, don’t overdo it. Too much can look busy, and make your house look unorganized. Make sure to leave negative space in between your design “clusters”. This will allow your guests to focus better on what you have on display, rather than overwhelm them.

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