How to Decorate Display Shelves

How to Decorate Display Shelves

I hit a big milestone this week… I just hit over 10k reads on my blog for the year (10,103 today to be exact… I might be like 50 of those, since I always have to go back and proofread.. haha )! So thank you to all of you who stop by and read my blog yet never comment… *sarcasm *(thank god for the analytics part of this website builder because otherwise I’d think I was just writing to myself). In all seriousness though, I really do appreciate all of you who continue to support me!!

Anyways it’s October…. and the sun is finally (FINALLY) out today!!! I feel like it’s been raining for 5 months straight and I can’t remember the last time we had a full day of sun without it drizzling at some point during the day. The crappy and unpredictable weather has really put a damper (no pun intended) on a lot of our plans for the last few months.

This terrible weather also hasn’t made for great lighting for decor pictures. But thanks to the sunlight today, some great lighting has poured into our home and I was able to take some quality pictures without having to turn on all the lights.

This post will be dedicated to open shelving units- which have seriously made a great comeback since the whole Ikea/MDF/canvas drawer shelving units that were popular in like 1997. I’ve seen some beautiful open shelving units as of late while I’ve been out shopping- and it reminded me of how much I’m asked as to what exactly to put on these shelves. Many people purchase these shelves and then get overwhelmed or can’t figure out the right configuration to fill and decorate them. Therefore this post will focus on just that.

Here are some shelving units in other people’s homes that I’ve helped decorate:


And here are some in my own home:


So what do I normally use to decorate these shelves?

The simple formula for decorating open shelving units is:

Matching/Complimenting picture frames+ books + baskets + fake plants or flowers + decorative spheres + a sign or saying + decorative objects

***All arranged on alternative shelves and levels of the shelves in different alignments***

If you take a look at my picture below you’ll notice that most of the items on these shelves are the same or complimenting items, and all I do is repeat different patterns or alignments on opposite shelves/levels:

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Here is another example:

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The Items:

  1. Matching/Complimenting Frames: My rule of thumb for shelves is that you should have at least 2 shelves (opposite sides) of photos. If you have more than 3 shelves on each side or 6 total, I usually do 3-4 shelves of pictures alternating. I mix the orientation of the frames- for example above, you’ll see that on the left shelf my frames are aligned to the right, and on the shelf across the way, they are the opposite. On shelves 2 and 3, I matched it by doing three picture frames each.

    Tips: Mix and match sizes with one another: (1) 5x7 and (1) 4x6 on a shelf of either the same or complimenting frames. What do I mean by complimenting? If you take a look at my bedroom photo above, the frames on the top shelves match one another, and then on shelves 2 and 3 they aren’t the same frames, but they are in the same washed wood tone. You can also mix metal frames with wood frames. The best place to find reasonably priced and matching frames is Homegoods, Tjmaxx or Marshall’s. Frames there range in price from $4.99- $7.99.

  2. Books: On most shelving units I include books of some sort (with the exception of my bedroom shelves above). You’ll notice on my basement entertainment center I included a mix of my husband’s books and magazines. Alternate shelves of books and orientation (meaning on one shelf one all the books aligned to the left side and on an opposite shelf the right side).

    Tips: If all of your books don’t match in color tones and that bothers you, turn them around so that you only see the pages rather than the book binding. I always put something on top of the books, whether it be a decorative sphere or object such as my husband’s metal motorcycle above. Don’t have enough books? Check the bargain section of Barnes and Noble- a lot of books are available for under $5, or check out companies like, which allow you to purchase books in specific colors.

  3. Baskets: Baskets I usually use as an anchor at the bottom of a shelving unit and I finish it off with a blanket or pillow and blanket on the inside. You can use smaller baskets on upper shelves to hide papers too. Can you mix different baskets? You can, but I’m really not a fan. Baskets and crates are always easy to find at HomeGoods, TJmaxx or Marshall’s for $20 and under.

  4. Fake Plants or Flowers: I usually alternate either flowers or greenery on opposite shelves as well. TJmaxx and Marshalls always have great small fake plants for under $10. I’ve also purchased flower stems from places like Michaels and Hobby Lobby and stuck them in jars for under $5.

  5. Decorative Spheres: Decorative spheres can include objects like metal jacks or cotton/greenery balls as well. The best place to find them is Hobby Lobby- wait for a 50% sale and you can get them in varying sizes for under $6. I use them alone to fill space next to photos or I place them on top of stacks of books.

  6. A sign or saying: Signs or sayings that compliment one another and are on alternating shelves is a great way to fill up space for very little money. The best place I find signs (like the Blessed one above) is from Hobby Lobby. They always have 50% sales making these signs under $15.

  7. Decorative Objects: This is an overarching term that can apply to just about anything that is not listed in numbers 1-6. Candlesticks, lanterns, vases, a baseball glove, a globe, or any other item that usually can be found in the checkout line at HomeGoods will do. In my examples above it would be objects like the signed baseball, globe, decorative tray to collect my husband’s random objects, or the metal motorcycles. Most of our decorative objects shown on the entertainment center in the basement are items my husband had randomly that we stuck down in the basement and I just tried to make them work so I wouldn’t have to buy anything else when we did our reno. Anything that is appealing to the eye and draws it in can count as a decorative object. I’ve found the best and most reasonably priced decorative objects at Marshall’s.

Other Tips:

1) The key to balancing them out is to alternate all of these items on different shelves.

2) Draw out a plan of these shelves on paper first before going out to purchase what you need.

3) Look around your house first and see if any of these items can be taken from other areas in the house. You’d be surprised how many times you’ll find books and random decor pieces you thought you’d no longer use, that’s tucked away in a closet somewhere.

4) Make sure you measure the shelves prior to going to the store. That way you can figure out the maximum height of items like baskets and candlesticks.

5) Bring your tape measure to the store with you and a picture of the shelving unit on your phone for reference.

5) It helps to bring home more than you actually need from the store so that you can play around with these items to get them just right. Make sure you don’t lose your receipt so you can return any item you don’t need.

And voila.. you’ll be on your way to having perfectly planned out display shelves!

Thanks for stopping by and reading! If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to share my blog with a friend or comment below!

:) Barbra

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