How to style your shelves like a pro

Here is the big secret. It’s harder to get a coherent, beautiful looking unit if you start with the unit itself. To get a really gorgeous, beautiful outcome, you will need to take a few steps back and start by looking at your whole space.

What room will your shelving live in and what will its function be in this particular room? If you need help defining the function, you can choose one of the following:

  1. Will this shelving act as my focal point?
  2. Is the shelving just pure storage?
  3. Is it going to be my artwork?
  4. Is it going to add texture or colour to this room?
  5. Is it only functioning as a screen or room divider?
  6. Is it the backdrop of the space?
  7. Is it the main defining feature?

In each instance, you should approach the whole shelving unit differently, but it will always relate to the rest of the room.

For example:

Shelving as a focal point

If this unit is or is going to be the main focal point of the room, it needs to be a star and treated like a star piece. How will it be lit? What is the theme going to be? What mood will it add to the room and will it compliment or contrast the overall scheme to give you that “wow” factor?

Look at the feature image I chose for this blog. This is a very functional bookshelf, but is also a star. The key here, is the heavier items are on the bottom and unified folders create a block rather than too much pattern or texture. Notice how all of the items on the shelves are one colour? The room is monochrome (black and white) and the shelving unit adds the colour and texture and focal point. It really is the star piece in this example. Another tip here, is that you could have used almost ANY colour in this example. It is a winning combination.

If your shelving is honestly just going to be storage and the items are going to get dusty easily and have a tendency to look messy quickly (like mine do), then consider covering the open shelves with doors, curtains or sliding walls, rather than “displaying” it. Make a conscious decision about what you want to live with. Practicality is one thing (cut me open I’m all practical inside), but there is something to be said for an organized, gorgeous space, that brings you joy and lights up your mood every time you see it.

The biggest mistake I see is working in the micro space of the bookshelf itself. This is the last piece and it is made a hundred times easier, once it has its purpose or design intention, because you always have your benchmark to go back to.


Also remember that if you are working with a new piece of furniture, always invest in the best you can afford, or once you have a plan (design), compartmentalize and know you can add to it as and when you get the funds.

If you are working with an existing piece, give it some love and see if it needs any maintenance, a fresh coat of paint, maybe some lighting installed and start making provision for it. Also, do a big clear out, absolutely empty the existing shelves and actually redesign them using the steps below:

  1. Decide on the function in the room. (Eg. Focal point & storage).
  2. Confirm how you will achieve your function (E.g I am going to create a focal point by making the colour of the shelving different to the backdrop colours of my room)
  3. Decide whether to display or hide particular pieces.
  4. Choose a theme for your display? (E.g Colour could be your theme, as in this example)
  5. Add, take away and test. Take photos, ask other people’s opinion and get it to a point where you think you are 95% there.
  6. Finally, go back to your original function and ask yourself “have I achieved my goal”? Eg. Is it a successful storage piece and is it a successful focal point?

Share yours before and after’s with me. This recipe always brings dramatic and gorgeous results.