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How to Style Shelves

white bookshelves in dining nook

Shelving can be a practical and beautiful way to add storage and decorative layers to your home, but filling them can be a daunting task. One of the signature elements to any reDesign space, shelf styling is the romantic layer that make a space feel truly personal. Today we are pulling back the curtain on our process to inspire and help you along in your own shelf-styling journey.




Step One: Decide the purpose.

Often, beautiful bookcases set the tone for an entire room. Their ability to evoke certain emotions and shape an experience make them a favorite feature in any home. The first consideration should be how the shelves — and the room beyond — will be utilized on a day to day basis. Will the shelves be purely decorative and highly curated or practical and often-used storage? Will the items that live there be left alone or accessed frequently? How the shelves will relate to the room will help you make decisions about their contents later on.

Design by Amber Interiors | Photo by Tessa Neustadt

Step Two: Gather inspiration.

Once you have a clear goal for how the shelves will function, you will move on to decide how they will feel, aesthetically. This will vary according to their purpose, of course, but you can also peek around for ideas and inspiration online (our go to source for inspiration is our Pinterest). Do you prefer them full of books and sprinkled with decorative objects or more styled and carefully curated? Do you want to use lots of color or a more pulled back palette?

Step Three: Shop your house.

Once you have finalized the function and visual aesthetic you are going for, may begin gathering objects to fill in your shelves. First you will round up any of the practical objects you plan to store, such a books, vinyl records, or even dishes, in the case of kitchen shelving. Then, look around your home for objects that you love and would like to see more often. A favorite vase that belonged to your grandmother, a treasured photograph or small piece of art, even a hand-made bowl that you use to serve mashed potatoes can be a candidate, and these personal objects are what give our homes a soul. Often, our shelves represent our travels over the years, with mementos from Alessia's family and friends back in Italy.

We always like to include vintage and antique accessories such as jugs, pottery, trophies, and art to avoid that "fresh-off-the-shelf" feeling, so if your own collection needs updating, you'll want to check out our vintage offerings. We've shifted from a full-time shop to making quarterly, curated drops, so follow along on our shop's Instagram to stay in touch.




shelf nook

Step four: Fill them up.

Now, the fun begins! It will be helpful to spread out your objects on a table or the floor so that you can see all of them at once while you fill your shelves. Begin with your largest objects and spread them throughout the shelves to anchor your collection and bring a sense of balance.

Then, fill in with small items, varying the shape and scale of the objects as you go. You may wish to stand some books upright and stack others to provide a spot to place a small trinket. Some shelves may house a collection of like items while others have a variety of objects. It will be helpful here to take a few steps back — or even photograph the shelves with your phone — to make sure the arrangement is pleasing from all angles.

kitchen with marble and open shelving

Project: English Cottage | Photo: Ryan McDonald

Step five: Edit. Edit again.

Just as Coco Chanel famously suggested we all remove one accessory before stepping out the door, often it’s helpful to give our shelves a little breathing room. This may also be an on-going process, so don't be afraid to step away from the project if you are feeling frustrated or uninspired and come back later with fresh eyes. Nothing you are doing here is permanent or expensive, so have fun with it!

And on that note, don’t be afraid to use a controversial — yes, shelf-styling can be controversial! — storage method if it works for you. Not everyone likes to see books turned with their spines facing backward but it can be right for a calm color palette. Arranging books according to the color of their spine might confuse some, but those of us who are highly visual may recall the color of a book’s dust jacket before the title when searching for it. Your home is yours alone and your shelves can be arranged how you please.


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