Shelves give you a chance to display what you love. Here are 7 tips for beautiful displays.

By Courtney Browning
August 15, 2015
Styling Shelves-Courtney Browning

Our home has four sets of built-in shelves. Luckily, bookshelves are one of my favorite things to decorate because they offer a chance to display what you love in a way that adds character and depth to a space. I've picked up a few tricks along the way as I've carefully filled each nook and cranny with items that are beautiful, meaningful and functional.

Styling Shelves-Courtney Browning

1. Pick a color palette. Your shelves will look most cohesive when a color story runs throughout. Not everything has to be matchy-matchy, but choosing two or three shades and repeating them will give your displays an intentional, pulled-together look. These built-ins in our living room are done in a neutral palette with silver, black and gray running throughout, but any color combination would be beautiful.

2. Use books. It might seem obvious, but bookshelves look great with books on them. This doesn't mean they need to be packed to the brim with all your reading material, but using books makes it feel natural. My favorite thing is to use books as little risers or platforms for interesting objects. If you have lots of books, alternate stacking them horizontally and vertically to break things up.

3. Display sculptural objects. Make a statement with unusually shaped objects. I used a Moravian star, metallic orbs and small trophies, which all have unique silhouettes. Think about how an object's shape will look on its own or grouped with like items. Is it eye-catching and sculptural? These will pack a punch.

4. Add texture. Balance smooth or flat items with plenty of texture to give depth. Even though there are many shiny or mirrored objects on my shelves, I also display things like a wooden dough bowl and wicker baskets for textural interest.

5. Layer up. Items make more of an impact in a group. Place something large at the back of the bookcase-trays, mirrors and frames with large mats work well to anchor a vignette. Then layer and group smaller items.

6. Frame unusual items. I love using picture frames to decorate because the options of what can be framed are endless. Though a few family photos sit on our shelves, I also framed a piece of gold ikat wrapping paper, a French book page, a silhouette and a linen coaster with the No. 2 on it! (Hint: Frame pieces of fabric or paper in your color scheme to carry it through your shelves.)

7. Make it functional. The lower shelves hold plenty of baskets for storing necessities. It's so handy to tuck smaller or unsightly items away where they can be accessed when needed. And baskets, boxes and other containers are great for creating repetition on shelves for visual impact.

Armed with these simple tips, I believe you can style shelves like a pro. Happy decorating!

Courtney Browning is a decorator and antiques dealer in Wichita, Kansas. She blogs at