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How to Decorate Shelves in 6 Simple Steps

I’m not sure what I love more – making shelves or styling them. There is something really satisfying about creating a functional part of the home that can ALSO reflect our personality. So yeah, give me all the shelves. In fact, you might have found me from one of my numerous shelf posts, styling videos, or little shelf mention in HGTV (eeks!). It’s a skill I’ve honed over time and am excited to share how to decorate shelves with you. 

styled kitchen wood shelves with neutral decor

(Part of my design journey includes sourcing great products and sharing them with you! Naturally, some of my content includes affiliate links, which means, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a commission if you click through and purchase.  This commission allows me to write more content and support my boys so thank you!)

How to Decorate Shelves

  1. Clear Off Shelves

    Start with a clean slate!

  2. Choose Shelf Decor in Advance

  3. Add Anchor Pieces

    Main pieces that connect everything together

  4. Layer in Odd Numbers

    Add additional decor, consider groups of odd numbers, including 1

  5. Balance Sizes, Shapes, Colors, & Texture

    Spread out items based on these attributes so the eye looks around the shelf

  6. Edit

    Take a moment to step back, take a look and remove or adjust what doesn’t feel ‘just right’

Let’s just back it up and say that I love tips & strategies that work in different settings and this, my friend, is no different. These specific steps apply to ANY shelf. From my kitchen shelves, to a bookshelf, bathroom shelf or photo ledge, you can apply these tips to decorate in a way that reflects YOU! 

wood shelves in the kitchen with white subway tile

1. Clear Off Shelves

This seems so simple, but pretty please do not ignore it. Clearing off the shelf space makes all the difference in world. We want a clean slate to work with!

We will then carefully layer our needed items and pieces to create shelves that feel clean and authentic. Otherwise, we’re just shifting things around and in the same old mess.

wood kitchen shelves with neutral decor pieces

2. Choose Shelf Decor in Advance

Before putting ANYTHING on the shelf, gather the shelf decor first. Create two little areas: one for items you need and the other for items you love.

In my case, I need plates, bowls, and mixing bowls. I love my plants, black vase, and artwork.

Just like the rest of my home, I keep it all neutral. This calms my mind and makes life simple. However, if you love color, now is the time to assess and perhaps consider color psychology.

Need Shelf Decor Ideas? Check out my Ultimate Guide with 15 Ideas for Shelf Decorating!

wood shelves with shelf decor

3. Start With Anchor Pieces

Now, the fun begins. We’re going to start layering the main, anchor pieces. These are the items that are serving a major function here by bringing height, symmetry, or size.

I typically have 1-2 anchor pieces per shelf. I usually choose a tall item if there is a corner. A wider piece to take up the “main space.”

Start inspecting my shelf photos and I bet you’ll see those anchor pieces.

4. Layer in Odd Numbers

Once the anchoring pieces are set in place, we’ll start adding other shelf decor from our pre-selected pieces. Group them together loosely in odd numbers around your anchor pieces.

Notice that one is an odd number. It’s ok to have one item by itself. We don’t have to have everything smushed together when we decorate shelves.

kitchen shelving and neutral decor including vases, plates, artwork

5. Balance the Color, Shape, Size, & Texture

While you’re layering, also look to balance the different elements. Try to spread out items with similar attributes.

For example, if you have a lot of woven items (like the trays above), place them in diagonally or not in a direct line with each other. This keeps the eye moving and makes the shelves feel dynamic, NOT flat.


Remember that old Coco Chanel quote about removing at least one piece of jewelry before leaving the house? Well, I don’t wear jewelry but we’re going to do that with our shelves!

Usually there will be at least one item that just doesn’t feel right or one area that seems unbalanced. I like to take a step back and view from a distance.

Or, even better, I take a casual photo and that perspective often tells me more than just standing there staring at it!

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    Now that you’ve tackled how to decorate shelves, you might be wondering about making a shelf. I’ve created the kitchen shelves in both my current and previous home. Shelves are one of my favorite home updates and I’ve created a guide on How to Make Wood Shelves that walks through the entire process.

    Don’t forget to pin this for later!

    wood kitchen shelves with neutral decor and white subway tile

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