TIPS FOR STYLING OPEN SHELVES. Here's how you can style shelves like a pro!

I love the look of open shelves! They are everywhere in home decor right now and have a fresh, old-is-new-again look! I know many home decorators have been jumping on the open shelf trend opting for them instead of kitchen cupboards. I think they are very brave!!! I would not want the content of my kitchen in plain view! I’m not that organized! Bobby and I did add open shelves above the bar in our breakfast room and we love them. I have come to find out that there is a method to arranging open shelves so they don’t look cluttered or too sparse or unbalanced. Here are some decorator tips for decorating open shelves (or a hutch or bookcase or any other flat surface)  like a pro!

TIPS FOR STYLING OPEN SHELVES. Here's how you can style shelves like a pro!

There are as many ways to style a shelf as there are people styling them!!!! I think decorating is the ability to create a space that is truly our own and has our personal style signature attached to it! And I find a little bit of a miracle in that! 

Too many home decorators give up or afraid to try something new because they think they won’t do it “right”! Even the most seasoned professional decorators don’t get it “right” the first or second or tenth time either! And “right” is very subjective! Right for you may be different than right for me when it comes to home decor.

But there are tips and guidelines that can help us create beauty and balance and a sense of well being in our homes.  

Here are a few tips to help you style almost any open type shelf like a pro!

TIPS FOR STYLING OPEN SHELVES. Here's how you can style shelves like a pro!


TIPS FOR STYLING OPEN SHELVES. Here's how you can style shelves like a pro!


Bring together all the things you might like to use in your open shelves. Collect things from other rooms and the basement and attic. I usually collect far too many things so I have lots of options! Options are good when it comes to decorating!

Collect items that are tied together in similar ways like color or purpose or configuration. This will ensure that your shelves look organized and pretty and purposeful and not cluttered and a place to stash “stuff”.

I collected white dishes, white soup tureens, white kitchenware, galvanized metal objects, textured baskets and some organic green. These items have a common thread of white, kitchenware, galvanized metal, texture from the baskets and organic materials. 

I collected things for my open shelves in a big laundry basket and spread them out on my kitchen so I could see them well. 


TIPS FOR STYLING OPEN SHELVES. Here's how you can style shelves like a pro!

I think one of the biggest things that hold us (I know from experience) back when it come to decorating is “how” to start! Here’s a little secret… for many decorating projects there is no right way to start! We just need to begin. Dig in and begin! Take that first and hardest step! We are not rocket scientists we are decorators! Just do it!

Once all the items are collected for your open shelves (or hutch or bookcase) start arranging. Add and edit and work on your shelves. It took me many rounds of arranging and rearranging and walking away for awhile and coming back to my open shelves to get a configuration that I was pleased with. 

Decorating is a PROCESS! And there is much to be learned from it.  Give yourself lots of time to work and play when decorating!


TIPS FOR STYLING OPEN SHELVES. Here's how you can style shelves like a pro!

Even open shelves need a place that our eyes can first rest upon. Something that we purposely arrange as a “center” or landing pad for our design. It can be subtle or bold.

In my open shelf design I chose to use the center of my shelves to be a focal point. I added a large soup tureen in the middle of each shelf, with the rabbit soup tureen in the center of the shelves as a whole.

TIPS FOR STYLING OPEN SHELVES. Here's how you can style shelves like a pro!

Even if we have an asymmetrical design for shelves or bookcases or hutches we still need an area that our eye finds as a sorta home base! 


TIPS FOR STYLING OPEN SHELVES. Here's how you can style shelves like a pro!

Adding decor to shelving is all about balance! Balance is making sure the visual weight of things work together. Our eyes love balance and order! When things work together and compliment each other they strike a pleasing visual balance. 

One of the easiest, decorating-101-ways to have a sense of balance and order on shelves is to divide them into “sections”. Any odd number of sections work best. My shelves are about 7 feet long so dividing them into sections of 5 worked best for my space.

Think of each little section as an area to create a tiny vignette. And all the tiny vignettes should work together. It’s okay to leave some of the sections fee of any items but even undecorated spaces must be balanced with the overall design. I’m sorta the embellishment queen (self coronated) so leaving empty space is still a work in progress for me!


When thinking of balance, think of a teeter totter! If we stack too many children on one end of the teeter totter it will not be balanced. The end with more children stacked on it will go down and the other end will go up… and stay up.

In balancing open shelves we want to “stack” our elements so they sit evenly on the teeter totter of design! 

TIPS FOR STYLING OPEN SHELVES. Here's how you can style shelves like a pro!

Notice that the galvanized elements are spaced out on the shelves to create balance. As are the cookbooks and the baskets! This took lots of playing with my dishes and other kitchenwares. Adding and editing and arranging and rearranging. I’m sure I’ll tweak these shelves again and again! 


TIPS FOR STYLING OPEN SHELVES. Here's how you can style shelves like a pro!

It seem the word “layer” pops up whenever I talk about decorating. I think learning to layer is the basis for creating interest and style! Especially in the world of open shelving, layering is important! Open shelves should be for stacking and layering! 

Layering is especially important when creating a very monochromatic design like my shelves! They need lots of layering to keep things interesting!


TIPS FOR STYLING OPEN SHELVES. Here's how you can style shelves like a pro!

One of the best pieces of advice I can give you is when you are done decorating something WALK AWAY! Move away from it and don’t concentrate on it for awhile! Do something else and forget about your design! If you can do something completely non decorating related… even better. Give you mind a chance to rest a bit. This is a great time to fold laundry or read or dust!

After a few hours return to you decorating project at hand and look at it with a fresh pair of eyes! YOU WILL BE AMAZED! You will be able to see things that you would never have noticed while you were deep in the process of creating a beautiful space! 

Now with those fresh eyes… edit a little more. Move something that seems to be a little out of place. Take away something that make your overall design seems crowded. 

Edit and then forget it… move along! If needed you can come back later and edit again until you think your shelves (or whatever you are creating) is right for YOU!


TIPS FOR STYLING OPEN SHELVES. Here's how you can style shelves like a pro!

I think many home decorators are so hard on themselves! Most of us didn’t go to design school (including me) but just by your interest in reading this post shows that you are learning about decorating! GOOD FOR YOU!  Practice and everyday decorating counts too!

We have earned our design degree by the school of experience!

Please remember this…. more important than great design is great personal style! We can all copy a great design but the magic happens when we can infuse our own signature style into a design.

Don’t doubt yourself! Be bold! You CAN do it… and do it with panache! I say, “YOU GO GIRL!”



TIPS FOR STYLING OPEN SHELVES. Here's how you can style shelves like a pro!

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  1. Great tips thank you! I have open shelves in my kitchen. I bought glass jars styled like old candy store jars. I store my flour, sugar, confection sugar, in small jars brown sugar, chocolate chips and other baking items. The shelves are white. They are between 2 cabinets. I really love the look.
    We had remodeled our kitchen around 10 years ago. In the same blue print. Our kitchen small with a pantry and wall separating the dinning room. One day I said to my hubby why can’t we open this room up and have one large kitchen. So we called in contractors. 14,000 to 20,000. To take down walls and add a new cabinet. We found out that they where not supporting walls. So one me and hubby took down the walls! Found a electrician and a drywall person. Now the cabinet. That was becoming a problem to match what we had. No problem I found something different. I ordered a Island from EBay! Yes I said EBay. It took 3 months to get it from Calf. It was beautiful! Then we where still missing upper cabinet. This was the perfect place for the open shelve. My kitchen is now big open and in style. I so love how it turned out.
    Thank you for your great tips! It helps me make my home even more beautiful! I wish we could post pics! Have a nice day!

  2. Hi Yvonne!Thanks for these great tips! I also discovered that it is often a great idea to buy several pieces of the same decoration accessorizes. A pair of candles or the same three jars for example. It gives symetry and please the eye too!
    Have a very nice day

  3. This is great info. I, too. added rustic shelves to our kitchen, and they are so much fun. I try to keep the look current with the season

  4. Thanks for all the great ideas, you’re the best! Could you share where you got the bunny covered dish or the brand? I’ve been looking for one like that for a couple of years with no luck. Thanks. Peggy

  5. Thank You for this helpful information! I’m working on styling my shelves. ?

  6. I LOVE your white, especially your grouping today…I wish I had a cabinet or shelf to display my white. Looking for a soup tureen still…

  7. I do enjoy your blog. I like seeing your decorating and have used a few of your recipes . Really love the bone broth. The fact that you’re a Christian first brought me to read your blog. I do wish for more color in my displays. As you remarked, we all see our own beauty. God’s blessings.

  8. Ellie LaJuett says:

    Great tutorial on designing shelves very helpful!

  9. Thank you for the help. I have some new open shelves in my kitchen. Your blog is such a great help. I now have a better sense of direction for styling. The bunny tureen is so pretty.

  10. Excellent tutorial! The photos with the lines give visual clues that are so helpful. This shows your talent and experience as a teacher. 🙂 Love all the white dishes, especially the bunny tureen.


  11. Marcie Peterson says:

    I am addicted to your style! Glad I got that off my chest, lol. Love everything you do. I was wondering if you could tell me the name brand of the white plates you have standing up on the shelves? I love them! Saw them last summer at homegoods, did not buy them and have been kicking myself ever since then. Thank you for all you do for us!
    Marcie (Mobile, Alabama)

    1. The back of them say “home” and Made in Portugal. I got them at HomeGoods! Hope this helps.

  12. Great information! Things I do not know. Thank you for giving it a formula so I can make it work! No wonder your home is so beautiful! I love, love, love the white dishes mixed with the galvanized metal. Your shelves are gorgeous!

  13. Thanks for the wonderful tips. I love displaying pretty things in my kitchen and dining room and your tips really help!

  14. I agree with all your tips, Yvonne, and I’m sure your viewers appreciate the detailed photographs. May I add one other point and that is … if there are two similar sized items (whether they be soup tureens or decorative urns, etc.) if one is darker in color than the other, place the darker colored item on a lower shelf than the lighter colored item as it will look weightier (due to its darker color).

  15. Yvonne, thank you so much for this very informative tutorial! I’m thinking of adding shelves over the buffet in my kitchen and yours are almost exactly what I had in mind. I also share your passion for ironstone/white dishes so your photos really help me visualize my thoughts.

    I was wondering if you could tell me more about the spacing of your shelves, how many inches apart are they? I’m not sure if I’ll do two or three of them. Love the wood “shiplap” on your wall too, your blog post are my inspiration!

    Thank you.

    1. Hi Elizabeth! So glad you asked. We opted for shelves about 15 inches apart. I wanted to be able to prop up a set of white dishes in my shelves.

  16. I’ve been wanting to do some open shelving and your tips are going to help a LOT. You bring it all together and break it down so well, I have confidence now;) Pinned to refer back t. Thank you!

  17. I love your open shelves and all the iron stone it look’s beautiful I will try the technique .Thanks so much

  18. Your attention to detail and symmetry is just amazing! I’ve actually been toying with the idea of adding a bookshelf to my dining room lately so if I do I’ll definitely try to keep all this stuff in mind when I’m decorating it 🙂

  19. Mary Mutz says:

    I’m somewhat new to the Stone Gable site and just want to say your decorating style is beautiful. As I work on doing a decorating refresh of my living space I am having to deal with some shelf arrangement too. One word of advice I have to constantly tell myself is “I’m not being graded on what I do.” If I love it and it makes me smile when I walk in the room then it works for me. Try to always have fun with it. I also pray when I get stumped. God is the best decorator I know and he always seems to send some sort of vision my way when I hit a wall. I could not put my house together with out him. Thanks for helping all of us enjoy our home a little bit more.

    1. MARY! What great advice! I love all your tips. Welcome to the StoneGable family! Hugs to you!

  20. Wonderful tips Yvonne … Thank you as always, I learn something new every day and love your blog. And thanks to Mary for her reminder that we have a Helper on hand … I pray when I lose keys, or when my mobile broke the other day ( only for it to resume working … I just knew it would ) and when I need inspiration at work for some particularly challenging task. Never thought to pray about creative decorating challenges though! You have certainly helped me to make improvements in my little home and it has been great fun. God Bless.

  21. You are such a talented lady! It does take talent, and good taste, to create what you did on the open shelving. You are truly gifted. I love open shelving, but I’m afraid, even with your great “tutorial” I would mess it up. I have no vision, whatsoever. I never thought of using God as a decorator, but it’s really a good idea since I talk to Him all day about everything else!
    I LOVE your site.

  22. I so needed this! I have book shelves that I don’t have a clue how to arrange

  23. Need help after Christmas taking the hutch apart and redecorating it .thank you for the help!

  24. Hi Yvonne,
    Love the open shelf tutorial!
    I have a yellow farmhouse hutch from Ethan Allen on which I display my blue and white sponge ware bowls, along with a few other complimentary pieces of blue and white stoneware. Your tutorial helped me see that I am on the right path, as far as arranging most of the items. It also helped me see that a little tweaking will be necessary in some areas.
    Thanks so much for your help and inspiration!

  25. Sharon Kyle says:

    Just listened to your shelf podcast and took a look around my house and immediately redid them, its great to have my creative juices flow after your podcasts. Thank you!!

  26. Thanks so much for this tutorial! I had a bookcase that looked like a junk shop, but I just didn’t have the knack of styling it! This post gave me some “rules” to use, and I have to say I really enjoyed redoing the shelves today. Once I zeroed in on a focal point, sectioned off for balance, then a bit of editing, it looks SO MUCH BETTER! I now find myself admiring a part of my house that used to make me cringe.