Home & DIY

How To Style Open Shelving

Open shelving is a growing trend in home decor and it’s popping up everywhere. From kitchens and bathrooms, to the floating shelves that frame a fireplace.  The challenge for many homeowners tackling this trend is finding the balance between too empty and overly cluttered.   

If you are contemplating this home decor trend and are struggling to find that perfect balance, these five easy steps will help you style your shelves like a pro: 

5 Easy Steps to Styling an Open Shelf: 

  • Start with a clean slate
  • Gather items and mementos to place on the shelf and gather twice as many items as you plan to use.
  • Follow Your Rule of 3s
  • Define Your Base
  • Add & Build Layers

You can see the unit BEFORE.  It is a large piece that can be seen as soon as someone walks in our front door.  I filled it out using some of my favorite vintage finds and personal mementos, but it didn’t have a cohesive, finished look. 


Step 1:  Start with a clean slate.  I removed everything from the shelf. It’s also a good time to dust if you are like me and tend to forget that household chore more often than not…

Step 2:  Go for a treasure hunt!  Search through your home for Knick-knacks, picture frames or plants, anything that might add personal character and charm to your shelf.  Pro Tip  Be sure to collect twice as many items as needed for filling the shelf.  The extra items will provide more variety and creativity in styling out the shelf. 

So now your shelf is clean and clear, you’ve gathered all your items, and it’s time to style! This may also be the time where the confusion and indecision set in.  What goes where? How do I fill up all that space?! 

Here is the magic trick to escape frustration:  Follow the Rule of 3s.  In general, I don’t follow many “rules” of home decor, but this one is a huge help in styling your home!  According to an article in Apartment Therapy , “The guideline of threes say that things arranged in odd numbers are more appealing, memorable, and effective than even-numbered groupings.”

Step 3:  The Rule of 3s helps break down the size and scope of styling this shelf.  This shelving unit is large in size and has extremely long shelves. Instead of looking at the unit as a whole, I envisioned three separate columns, which I highlighted below with the red dotted lines. 

Step 4:  Define your base.  The eye is naturally drawn to center, so I began building my base from the center column of the shelving unit.  I started at the bottom because I knew the suitcases were staying in the same spot.  The sombrero bookends were a recent find that I wanted to showcase, and the row of books with blue and white bindings add a brightness to the dark shelf and bookends. 

I increased the height of my potted plant in the middle with a two of my favorite books.  On the top shelf is one of my favorite wedding photos in a stained glass frame made by my mom.  The glass vase was a recent clearance find at JoAnn Fabrics for $7! 

Step 5:  Add & Build Layers.  Now that you have a defined base, it is time to build upon it by adding more layers. The rule of 3’s can also apply here, but don’t stifle yourself with too many “rules” or guidelines.  This is the fun part where you can move, arrange and play with all the fun items you have to work with. 

I got to the point in my photo below and realized I had 3 gaps in my styling.  The glass star is floating in space all alone.  The top shelf became a challenge because the rounded edge of the unit limited my selection to short, smaller items that wouldn’t be cut off or blinded by the metal frame. 

I layered in a picture frame behind the star.  The small Buddha head statue with a book placed underneath became the perfect height to fill out the top left of the shelf.  The vintage decanter and mini globe bank completed the space on the top right. 

When looking at the final after photo, you can envision the 3 columns, but also notice there are 3 separate groupings on each of the top 3 shelves.  The suitcases at the bottom anchor the whole collection.  All of the items are highlighted and showcased rather than arranged haphazardly to fill space.   

Now I have completed the largest set of open shelves in our home I am feeling motivated to move on to the kitchen and eventually my home office. 

I hope these 5 simple steps have helped breakdown the styling process and leave you excited to get started styling the open shelves in your own home! 




Author: Alisa Canter 
Email: westmaininteriors@gmail.com
Author Bio: I am a newbie blogger sharing my love of flea market flips and DIY hacks with the world! I want to share my passion for unique and budget friendly home decor with others looking to update their home without breaking the bank. 
Link to social media or website: https://lifeatwestmain.com 


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