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Open shelving seems to work in any living space, and for a good reason. It can turn even the most neutral living room into a visually pleasing area with character. The statement piece doesn’t even cost a fortune and adapts easily to both large and small areas.

You can even use these decorative objects to correct anomalies in the room, such as the uneven proportions on the sides of the chimney breasts.

And yet, the larger the shelves are the most difficult it is to decorate them. Looking up at them will feel like looking at an empty canvas – if you are not all that artistic, the process can overwhelm you. The good news is that learning how to decorate living room shelves is not that difficult – you only need to know what you like.

How to decorate living room shelves?

Get creative and begin with the project. You’ll need to decide what to display on the shelves, how to arrange items cohesively, and how to group different items. A bit of size-arrangement skills and color knowledge are also welcome.

To make this easier for you, we’ve gathered some great tips and ideas that make the living room walls fun and intriguing. Check them out!

This is your project

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True, there are many guides and awesome ideas on the internet on how to decorate living room shelves, but we are talking about your shelf decor. Thinking of what you stand for is the most important (and most often ignored!) step in the process, as not all decorative objects will look good in your home.

To decorate shelves successfully, throw out all clutter. Get rid of unnecessary items that are displayed there for years and no good reason. You can either resell them or donate them to make place for new decorative objects. The most common mistake in decorating shelves is displaying too many small decorative objects.

1-30-1 How To Decorate Living Room ShelvesImage source: Bmac Interiors, LLC

It is not that self intuitive, but the more decorative items you bundle in the display space, the less effective the shelf will be. Sometimes, the decorative piece is so dramatic and effective that you don’t even need to display additional items next to it to enhance the decor. Make it a rule: display the items you need only.

If you need to decorate more built in shelves, start with the top one and work your way to the bottom one. This way, you can create a distinctive flow on the blank wall and attract plenty of visual interest. To give you an idea, you can enhance the look with some space on the edges of the shelve.

Work with different objects, textures, and heights

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Decorating shelves is a mix-and-match process, as you will soon discover yourself. You will need to bring boxes, frames, books, vases, frames, and even quirky accessories together in a sensible layer, and the trick is to have the know-how. We discourage you from using one type of item only – a bit of variation will be perfect.

For instance, you can match large statement items with groups of smaller decorative items, as long as the colors and textures match. The display will be very interesting. If you are working with glass-lidded pots, fill them with colorful props and they will look way more decorative.

1-73 How To Decorate Living Room ShelvesImage source:   EAG Studio

Mixing and matching also require you to take care of height. The easiest way to go here is to group items three pieces at a time, at varying heights. If you have vases of the same height, for instance, you can stack a couple of books under one of them, and balance will be restored.

This is only one of the many tricks books make possible in shelf decor, and we adore how well it works.

Be careful, though. You can easily clutter the shelf decor by using too many large items next to each other. You need to decorate shelves in a thoughtful and organized way, so tell a story instead of pilling items on them.

Create interest with bookshelf decor

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Bookshelf decor is an obvious choice, but also one that never disappoints. You are not expected to stack all of your reading material on one shelf, but rather use bookshelf styling to improve the look of your living room.

Where to begin? Divide the books into color groups and position them vertically on one shelf and horizontally on the other. This will give you a custom, yet well-organized look. Grouping books by color is not a must. Yet, the more you are astray from this styling technique, the more difficult it will be to find the right solution.

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Also, we only recommend grouping books where little different objects will be displayed. How many books you will use to decorate shelves is up to you, but make this decision with height and width in mind. The rule of thumb suggests a minimum of three books and a maximum of twelve books per shelf. The stack arrangement is of utmost importance: for best results, mix vertical and horizontal stacks.

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An interesting idea would be to combine horizontal books with upright books and a small decorative object. This simple shelf decor formula lets you use other decorative objects, but make sure you limit the number of books to 6 items the most.

For an even more casual look, lean the taller books on the side, and complete the shelf decor with a small ball-shaped accessory. We recommend a midi vase or a shallow bowl.

Which accessories can you use for decorating shelves?

Idea 1

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Get a rounded and shallow tray and place it against an art print or a mirror (the mirror doesn’t need to be round, a square one will look even better). To complete the shelf decor, you will need an additional tall item, such as a large plant on the end of the shelf. Note that you can use any accessory here, as long as it is laid over a book pile for extra height.

Idea 2

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This is how you can decorate shelves with thin accessories: get the thinnest, yet tallest vase you can find and arrange small items around it. We recommend art prints, framed photos, or even mirrors. Preserve the height variations, and make sure the distance between the items is appropriate.

Idea 3

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Select a centerpiece to decorate shelves professionally. This can be your favorite ceramic sculpture, an old decorative bottle, or simply a large mirror. To complete the look, lay a small decorative box on the side.

A very common mistake in shelf decor is following trends and purchasing items online. Instead, we can use objects that have artistic value and say lots about outer personality.  Art, for starters, is heavily underestimated on styled shelves, even if it is the most creative tool we could use.

1-24-5 How To Decorate Living Room ShelvesImage source: Entrance Fastighetsmäkleri

When we say art in bookshelf decor, for instance, we don’t only refer to paintings and sculptures. The molding on the gallery wall is the artwork itself, and it enhances the library feel of the bookcase decor. Guess what visitors will notice first!

When styling shelves, remember that artwork needs more space to attract attention. We recommend it foremost for floating shelves and built in shelves.

Work with the right color scheme

1-75 How To Decorate Living Room ShelvesImage source: Cat Dal Interiors

If you want your floating shelves to tell a story, choose colors carefully. We are not saying you should pick two colors and stick to them, but rather that you should mix and match. Work with shades to pull together an intentional and organized look. Think, for instance, of a few shelves in neutral silver tones, decorated exclusively with black and white objects. Doesn’t it look nice?

Your bookcase decor can either work with moody and neutral tones or bold variations – in both cases, the palette rule is the same. You have a base color and a metallic accent color to work with. When it comes to decorative items, stick to a single third color that complements this look.

Is there a particular place for styled shelves in the living room?

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The answer is simple – no, there is none. It is up to you to decide which blank space to use for your beautiful floating shelves.

For maximum impact of your shelf decor, measure the room in advance and see what you can do. Sometimes, you can even install a floor-to-ceiling unit with adjustable and sturdy shelves. On other occasions, however, you will only be able to install one shelf, but this will be enough to depict a bold and enticing look.

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If you have a small room and little blank space, shelf decor will help you decorate effectively and functionally. Define the theme first: do you want a detailed, traditional journey in time; or are you after a contemporary, sleek, and unfussy look? This decision will define both the colors and the items you are using, so choose carefully.

Which are the right accessories for styling shelves?

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Shelf decor will always depend on your style and preferences. You’ve got the formula and the plan, so let your taste do the rest of the job!

Here are some accessorizing ideas you can repurpose for your own shelves:

  • A throwback to nature: Plants are never out of style, so use them to add life and freshness to your bookshelf decor.
  • A play of textures: Use fun textures, such as woven baskets and wire bowls. Styled shelves can only benefit from a variety of textures.
  • Let your bookshelf decor tell people who you are: The most important thing is your personality. There is no better place than living room shelves to keep vacation memorabilia, family photos, or favorite books.
  • Candles and candle holders: This is another classic trick for shelf decor that all homeowners love. Candle holders come in all shapes and sizes, and they will enhance the look of the room regardless of how it is styled.
  • Books, books, and more books: Opt for bookshelf decor even if you are not the most passionate reader. Books complement a catchy color scheme and attract the interest of any visitor.
  • Use vases: Yes, vases work great in any decor scheme, even if there are no flowers inside.

Final thoughts

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Now that you’ve learned how to decorate living room shelves, all sorts of ideas are coming to your mind. And that’s great!

An organized shelving unit keeps the living room attractive and tidy. Also, it triggers conversation easier than any other decorative item. It is up to you to decide how to arrange the shelves and which materials to use, but whatever you do – tell a story. We all want our shelves to be personal and impactful.

Last but not least, don’t commit to one design idea. Change the decor here and there to prevent it from becoming boring.

If you enjoyed reading this article about how to decorate living room shelves, you should check out these on decorating a living room with wood paneling, hiding the office in a living room, or filling the empty space in the living room.

We have plenty of other living room-related articles, such as hiding exercise equipment in the living room, hiding a pillar in the living room, arranging plants in the living room, storing blankets in the living room, and creating a foyer in your living room.