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9 Tips for Styling Your Living Room Shelves Like a Pro

Make the most of a bookcase or shelving unit with these expert tricks to give them a design boost

Houzz UK and Ireland Contributor. Interior Designer and Proprietor of Egon Walesch… More

We need our living room shelves to be practical storage surfaces, but they can also be beautiful design features. Follow these tips to help you get the balance right between function and style.

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Learn to layer
An arrangement is more aesthetically pleasing when it contains a variety of sizes, shapes, textures and colours, all working in harmony and balanced throughout the shelves.

A classic layered shelf starts at the back with a frame, plate or other shallow item. Add objects in front to create depth.

Here, shorter vases and ornaments have been placed in the foreground, while pictures and a gold platter form the backdrop. Our eyes naturally seek to group similar items, so try to display complementary shapes together for more impact.

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Create a gallery wall without hanging a picture
A shelf of photos and pictures can look stunning, and is a great way to be flexible with your artwork. It allows you to move things around and, if you fancy a change, it’s easy to swap pictures.

Style the artwork by choosing a mixture of sizes, and overlap the frames to give an informal and spontaneous feel to the display.

The narrow ledges here are ideal for this type of arrangement and replicate a gallery wall, but without the hooks.

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Consider proportions
To achieve an ordered look on box shelves, make sure each object fits the space. On this wall of bespoke shelving, each gap contains pieces that are in proportion with the area.

If you’re planning shelves like these, measure out exactly what you need in terms of storage and display beforehand and have the unit made to reflect those needs.

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Channel your inner librarian
If you have books, it’s important to allocate space to store them. Thinking about the arrangement will not only make it easier to find a specific book, it will ensure the collection is more attractive, too.

Here, a sunny nook in a living room provides a spot in which to relax and read. The books are ordered by height and fit perfectly in the space provided. Paperbacks sit on the right-hand side in bespoke shelves sized for them, while larger tomes take up space on the bigger shelves.

You can also display your books by colour, which has been done here on one shelf. The arrangement provides a zing of orange. Be wary of overdoing this with a large collection, though, as it can make it tricky to find the book you’re after.

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Keep it eclectic and personal
Let your shelves represent you and your family by displaying inherited knick-knacks, eclectic collections and photos you treasure. A display of personal objects will bring warmth and interest into the room. Be informal with your display to give the shelves a more spontaneous look.

The distinctive curved and arched bookcases in this Huguenot physician’s house are perfectly married with an eclectic and eccentric series of artefacts.

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Go for a minimal look
Conversely, the simplicity of minimalist styling can also work beautifully. Use items that mimic the shapes and colours of other furniture and décor around the room to subtly bring the look together.

Here, a Scandinavian feel is achieved through clean white lines and the absence of superfluous decoration. The items have been rigorously edited and leafy plants added to soften the look.

Like the Scandi look? Here are 10 ways to work it into your living room

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Leave open shelves uncluttered
If your shelves are in the form of a room divider, like this one, make sure the items you display are kept to a minimum. This will ensure the space feels airy, light and uncluttered.

Dividers like these came into their own in the mid-20th century as open-plan living took off, so to echo the style, choose some objects from that era. This vintage teak divider has been simply styled with a few well-chosen pieces.

Discover how to use room dividers to boost your open-plan space

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Aim for balance and variety
A mixture of different objects makes an interesting display, but it’s important to get the balance right. These bright yellow shelves have been styled with some quirky items that give a fun look to the room, but the display itself is carefully arranged, with similar objects forming subtle symmetry.

Red accents appear throughout to add harmony, while some objects are set just off-centre to give a pleasing balance. The colours in the shelves also tie in with brightly hued accessories dotted around the room.

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Remember less can be more
If you want to avoid clutter, a good tip is to use a few large decorations instead of a multitude of smaller knick-knacks. And don’t pack every inch of the shelf: start with just a few pieces, and if, over time, it still feels bare, add new items a couple at a time until you find a balance you like.

In this bespoke unit, the owners have not been afraid to leave some shelves empty. The piece, as a whole, has been allowed to breathe and gives the impression of an expansive space where there’s plenty of room for everything. The things you notice are the homeowners’ favourite artworks and treasures.

How have you styled your living room shelves? Share your ideas and photos in the Comments below.
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