How to Style Your Shelves

Chances are you have at least one shelf, built-in, or bookcase in your home that offers prime real estate for showing off your most prized books and trinkets. They are a mainstay for organizing and displaying but can hinder the overall design if that shelf is at all messy or cluttered. While there is no magic formula or one-size-fits-all solution to shelf styling, there are some key elements and tips that will immediately improve your shelving game.

We turned to the Queen Bee of Shelfies, Chrissy McDonald of Harlowe James for her tried and true tips on getting that shelf design just right. Her home is filled to the brim with curated vignettes and she is giving us an insider peek at her process.

How to Style Your Shelves | neutral shelf styling | The Identite Collective

Interior Design: Harlowe James | Photography: Torrey Fox



The Building Blocks of Shelf Styling


“An empty shelf is like a blank canvas to create magic! Shelf styling can be a little overwhelming, but I like to think of it as a puzzle and utilize a few simple building blocks to put a look together. ”


1. Rethink Your Book Displays

“I gravitate towards heavy coffee table books stacked horizontally and a few simple decorative accents. The books serve as a great anchor point, and the book spines bring in a lot of great color and texture.”

2. Layer in Personality

“I love layering in small framed artwork, fresh greenery and a couple of quirky pieces like a vintage bust, oversized baskets or a Senufo stool.”


How to Style Your Shelves | neutral shelf styling | The Identite Collective

Interior Design: Harlowe James | Photography: Torrey Fox


3. Play with Scale

“Scale is important when shelf styling and small decorative accents can often get lost. Look for weightier items and play around with height and balance!”


4. Create a Color Story

“I love to create a cohesive color story with shelves by playing off of a somewhat monochromatic palette. I look for neutral books that have great texture and will often remove the book jacket if it’s too bold. Adding in accessories like ceramics with similar tones will elevate the whole look and result in a soft, but striking shelf situation.”


How to Style Your Shelves | neutral built-in shelf styling | The Identite Collective

Interior Design: Harlowe James | Photography: Torrey Fox



Go-to Pieces for a Shelf Refresh



With the change of seasons, comes the perfect opportunity to update your shelves and give them a good edit. Rotate in fresh, new pieces with some of our go-tos below.


Natural Elements

A little something green is at the center of this category. Pulling in plants and florals adds a living layer to your shelf. This can also be expanded to include any natural elements. Think crystals, stones, wood, woven fibers – anything that comes from nature.



Stacked Books

Books are a given when you are talking shelf styling, but not all books work well for display. Choose those that fit with your color story and have beautiful covers or spines. This might mean pulling off the dust jacket or flipping books around to display the neutral, textured pages. We also love playing with horizontally stacked books. This allows you to vary the height of your styled pieces and showcase a showstopping spine.



Objects of Interest

This category is devoted to all the fun extras. From marble chains (our favorite new accessory!) to a bust or your grandmother’s prized vase, infuse that shelf with personality and collected items that tell your story.




Framed photographs and artwork add a personalized and super beautiful focal point to shelves. They can add an infusion of color that ties into your palette and help to fill the negative space on a shelf.



Pretty Containers

We previously rounded up beautiful storage pieces here. These containers work perfectly for shelf styling. Stacked boxes can provide height, baskets give an added layer of texture, and bowls placed on top of stacked books can break up all those horizontal lines.

How to Style Your Shelves | open shelf styling | The Identite Collective

 Interior Design: Lindye Galloway | Photography: Chad Mellon


Show us your best Spring shelfies by tagging #IDCOatHome and check out more of our design and styling posts below.





Erin Lepperd is an interior designer – turned digital media editor with a penchant for breathtaking interiors. When she’s not gabbing about design, you’ll find her wrangling her wild and wonderful 5-year-old twins, brunching like it’s her job and exploring the wilds of New England as a California transplant.


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