Shelf Styling: Built-in Edition

 

We get a lot of questions on shelf styling, specifically built-ins in a living or family room. These spaces are pretty unique because typically the styling is more decorative than functional.

Here are our 5 Quick Tips to help you get started and create the ultimate shelfie!

Quick Tip 1: Find Your Inspiration

Whether it’s a pop of colour from your favourite vase, a family portrait from a trip, or a unique sculptural find, use a piece that inspires you and that you love to be your jumping off point.

Consider displaying a collection of items that compliment each other in some way. Maybe they share similar qualities or all fall under a specific theme (i.e. coastal, bohemian, monochromatic…)

Halifax Project Family Room Built-Ins

Halifax Project Family Room Built-Ins

Quick Tip 2: Gather & Group

Gather other items that you think you’d like to display so that you can see them all together before placing them on your shelves.

This helps to see what type of items you might be missing and what you need more or less of. Try thinking in terms of colour, materials and texture.

The types of items we like to style with include: baskets, books, bookends, greenery, picture frames, sculptural items, and vases.

Quick Tip 3: Work Your Angles & Stagger Your Favourites

Start with your favourite piece, place it somewhere in the middle. Then take an item that compliments your favourite and place it on a different shelf, staggered from the first item. Slowly start to fill the shelves but keep in mind colour, texture, and object type so that you are balancing items and using a lot of variety to keep the shelf interesting.

In the photo above, our favourite item was the large wooden bowl. We placed it towards the middle of the shelving unit and then staggered other wooden pieces around it to balance out the wood tones. Notice that we didn’t place any wooden or brown tones directly above, below or beside the wooden the bowl.

The overall goal is to create a well balanced shelf by designing a path for your eye to follow. This is done by dispersing eye-catching pieces throughout the entire shelf as oppose to clustering them together.

Quick Tip 4: Embrace Negative Space

The saying “the more the merrier” doesn’t always apply to shelf styling. Make sure you’re not over styling every shelf and cluttering your home and instead embrace negative space.

Negative space allows your focal points to shine by giving your eye a place to rest. This can be done by having a couple shelves with only 1 or 2 items on it. That being said, there is a sweet spot between bare and cluttered shelves where you want to be, and that’s where Quick Tip 5 comes in.

Quick Tip 5: Take a Step Back & Reevaluate

Whenever we’re styling clients’ homes, we always need to pause and look at whatever it is we’re styling from another angle.

So remember to take a break and ask yourself these questions: is there too much of one thing? Is there enough greenery? Are my shelves too full or too bare? Do the items fit the space and style you’re aiming for?


Keep swapping items around until you’re happy with how your shelves are looking. Don’t be afraid to revisit and refresh your shelves every once in a while. If you’re shopping and find a stunning new piece to introduce to your collection you should go for it! This isn’t a permanent look and can easily be changed as your personal style evolves. Have fun styling and restyling, the more you practice the easier it’ll come to you.