Shelf Styling 101: Learn how to style shelves––the minimal way––in 5 steps
Shelf styling is a great way to refresh your space with minimal effort, but it helps to have a few things in mind before pulling every item off of your shelf.
Learn how to style shelves with a minimal and neutral aesthetic––and get loads of inspiration for your own design––with these five simple steps.
Shelf Styling Step 1: Select A Shelf that Works in Your Space
If you already have a shelf in mind, skip to step two (we told you this was going to be easy!).
Otherwise, take a look at some of our favorite shelf systems designed for the Nordic interior, including bookshelves and wall-mounted options.
Danish design brand Normann Copenhagen’s Block Shelf is both playful and minimal. Made from powder-coated steel and Ash wood, this piece offers a blank slate for your shelf styling (it comes in white, too!).
This simple oak shelf system from Form and Refine is a beautifully minimal shelf system that balances aesthetics, stability and packability. It’s light, airy, and straightforward, making it the perfect piece to style however you like.
If you prefer a cube-style bookshelf, take a look at this practical solid wood bookcase from LAX Series.
Wall-mounted shelves are another great styling and storage opportunity.
The Sector Triple Shelving Unit from Ferm Living is another minimal wall-mounted shelf option. Note the black brass bracket detail that contrasts the natural warmth of the oak wood of the shelves.
Shelf Styling Step 2: Anchor the design with large, statement-making items
Now that you have an empty shelf, you’re ready to get to the fun part––styling it! This is where you can really get creative.
Start by anchoring your design with several large, statement-making items. The number of large items you include will depend on the size and scope of your shelf. We’ll share a few of our favorite statement sculptures and vases as inspiration.
This Kristina Dam sculpture features two distinctly shaped mirrors atop a natural marble pedestal. We love how the mirrors reflect the light and add dimension to a shelf style. Take a look at Kristina Dam’s Concrete Stair Sculpture for another beautiful statement item option.
Danish design brand Cooee Design has an array of neutral-toned minimalist vases and sculptures that are the perfect addition to a shelf. Shown here is the Adamo Sculpture in Limestone, made with raw concrete in a cubist form. Another beautiful option is the alluring Eve II sculpture or the iconic matte black Cooee ball vase.
This minimalist sculpture speaks for itself, but we’ll try to do it justice with some words. The Berg Ceramic Sculpture is inspired by the organic shapes that form when hot lava flows. This piece is effortlessly beautiful and invites conversation wherever you place it.
This Kink Vase from MUUTO is such a playful and unexpected shape. It’s the kind of vase that doesn’t need any more than a few simple stems to make a statement.
Shelf Styling Step 3: Layer in minimal design objects for texture + depth
Now that your design is anchored with several large pieces, you’re ready to layer in additional design objects and elements.
Here are 5 shelf styling concepts to keep in mind:
- Odds are in your favor: Odd groupings tend to look best––think sets of 3, 5, 7, etc.
- Level up: group taller items with shorter items––levels add depth! You can always use hardcover books to add levels to items with similar heights. Remove book jackets and/or showcase the pages rather than the spine for a simpler look.
- Texture is your friend: You don’t need a zillion different colors to add depth to your design––incorporate neutral elements with different textures and materials. Think textured vases with dried or fresh greenery, glass objects, interesting sculptures, etc.
- Use what you already have: The best thing about styling a shelf is you can create a brand new vignette in your home without having to buy every single piece. We like to grab items from around the home in addition to treating ourselves to a few new pieces.
- Mise en place: Think of styling a shelf like cooking a new recipe––it’s best if you have everything prepped and arranged in front of you prior to cooking. Arrange every potential item in front of your shelf of choice so you can see and touch everything you have to work with prior to styling.
Now that you have these “rules” in mind, take a look at some of our favorite design objects.
Minimal Glass & Ceramic Vases
Each one of these vases can be styled with or without greenery.
This ceramic vase draws inspiration from the female idols of the Cycladic culture (a group of islands in the Aegean sea between 3200-2000 B.C.).
This amber vase has a distinctly organic shape and comes in a few different sizes that can be layered together as a group, or scattered throughout your shelf to pull the whole look together.
This glass vase is named échasse, the French word for stilts. The brass legs and test tube-like shape offer a unique take on a traditional glass vase.
Textured Design Objects, Books, & Bookends
This peach planter is a great way to add a pop of color. This Yield Design planter is self-watering, making it the perfect modern plant pot for beginners or experts.
These off-white ceramic baskets from Ferm Living add texture and visual interest. You can keep them empty, or use them as additional storage.
This oak wooden sphere from Kristina Dam is another subtle storage option for tiny trinkets. We love the warmth that this oak piece adds to a shelf.
Whether or not you include books on your shelf, bookends are a great element to incorporate in your design. This set of bookend sculptures from Kristina Dam can be used with or without books. If you’re styling multiple shelf levels, we recommend breaking up the books on different levels. For example, if you have books on the top left of your highest shelf, place another grouping of books on the bottom right of your lowest level shelf.
Here’s another gorgeous bookend set from Ferm Living. We love the contrasting colors and smooth curves of this set.
If you want more minimalist home decor items, check out this list featuring 18 of our favorite minimalist design objects.
Shelf Styling Step 4: Add warmth with soft lighting
This step is optional, but we simply love the look of a soft, ambient light on a shelf, especially if your shelf is in a space that would benefit from some mood lighting.
Shelf Styling Step 5: Make it functional with small storage solutions
Wondering how to style a shelf that also functions as an additional storage place? This final step is for you.
Storage can fit within your shelf styling aesthetic while still remaining functional for your lifestyle. Here are a few of our favorite small storage solutions with recommendations on how to incorporate each piece within your overall shelf style.
These geometric Bent Boxes are a simple little option for storing small trinkets. The muted colors are a nice way to gently bring color into your shelf style without overwhelming the design. We love how they look paired together––style them on open shelving in a bathroom or for tiny trinkets anywhere else.
This paper pulp box is made from 100% recycled pulp. This storage solution from Ferm Living comes in a stackable set of two. Each box can hold up to 11 pounds. We love how they look when stacked on the bottom of a bookcase or shelving unit. The natural paper pulp is such an earthy and neutral texture!
A few more small storage solutions: Danish design brand Skagerak has gorgeous solid wood boxes in both larger and smaller sizes. These boxes are part of their Cutter collection, but they are minimal enough to work on a variety of shelves. For a softer storage option, try this basket from MUUTO.
We can’t help but mention this two tier plant box from Ferm Living. Although it’s technically not a shelf, this adaptable piece can serve as a shelf thanks to its two levels. Add a tray to the top level to store items out of sight.
That wasn’t too bad, was it?
If we inspired you to style your shelf, tag us on Instagram so we can see the result!
For more styling tips, discover our minimalist bar cart styling guide.
Batten Home carefully curates a collection of Scandinavian furniture and minimalist decor objects for the modern home. We are inspired by a Scandinavian aesthetic and Danish design philosophies with a new modern design feel we like to call new Nordic design.
Have any questions for us? We’re family-owned and independently operated, and we’d love to hear from you. Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.