How to style open shelves

One of the biggest ‘myths’ in interior design is how to style open shelves. It can be difficult to get it right because even though not everyone can put their finger on what it is exactly, most people are able to say that something feels ‘wrong’ or ‘off’.
Luckily there are a few tips and tricks to get it right, but let me also be honest with you: it’ll take practice.
But once you know the basic rules and secrets of styling open shelves, and you follow my simple step-by-step guide, you’ll be able to style open shelves like a pro.
So let’s get into it!

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How to style open shelves

Hi, I’m Nadine

Interior design expert, globetrotter and the creative mind behind this blog and NH.DESIGN.

I’m originally from Germany but have been living abroad for over 10 years, from Canada and the UK to Sweden.

So I ask myself the question what “home” means every day.
I have made it my mission to help as many people as possible to find their own answer to this.

Join my creative world on Instagram @nhdotdesign or find out more about me

First things first: your colour palette

Colour is one of the most important elements in interior design. A good colour palette creates a cohesive look and ties a room together. 
But what makes a good colour palette? Again, there’s a little trick, called the 60:30:10 rule. It refers to using a main colour for 60% of the space, a secondary colour for 30% and an accent colour for 10% of the room. To create depth you can play with those 3 colours and choose nuances and shades of them.

This rule also applies to styling open shelves. Your room most likely already has a colour palette so you can draw from that for inspiration.

Read more about how to create a cohesive colour palette in my guide here.

The 3 basic rules to styling open shelves

There are 7 basic rules to successful interior design, 3 of which will help you when styling open shelves. You can also apply these principles when you style any other surface which is really helpful.

When styling open shelves it’s all about proportion, balance and negative space.
More often than not fewer larger pieces can make a bigger impact and elevate the look rather than a lot of smaller ones. Consider the size of the actual shelves as well as the sizes of the different pieces you want to use to style those shelves.
Balance larger pieces with a group of smaller pieces to create interest and help guide the eye along the shelves. 
And don’t forget about negative space. You might feel like you want to fill every little bit of space when styling open shelves but leaving some gaps actually emphasises the pieces you do use.

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    Secrets of styling shelves like a pro

    The secrets to styling open shelves are grouping, uneven numbers and the triangle.
    This means that you should group smaller items together, ideally in groups of uneven numbers (the magic number here is 3), and work with objects of different sizes and heights. That creates a triangular shape which is more aesthetically pleasing to the eye.

    Mixing textures and materials when styling open shelves

    To create depths and make your shelf styling look cohesive, it’s one thing to choose a colour palette. But it’s also important to mix textures and materials within that palette to avoid things looking flat and boring. It creates a nice contrast, not only in colour but also in style and texture. For example mixing organic elements like wood with metals such as brass can create an interesting contrast.

    Styling Secrets guide by NH.DESIGN

    Styling Secrets

    Learn how to style any room in your home like a pro with my Styling Secrets guide.

    Step-by-step guide to styling open shelves

    Step 1 - Choose a colour scheme

    Take inspiration for a colour palette to style open shelves from the surrounding room. It’ll help to make the space look more cohesive.
    For a balanced and harmonious colour palette you should stick to 3 colours and follow the 60:30:10 rule. You can choose different nuances and shades of your 3 colours to create more depth, too.

    Step 2 - Start with big pieces

    When styling open shelves it’s best to start with larger pieces and evenly spread them out. Always take a step back and consider your styling as a whole.

    Step 3 - Add ‘anchors’ to ground smaller pieces

    Now fill in some of the empty space with pieces that act as an anchor for smaller items. This could be books laid down, trays or bowls. Always take a step back and consider your styling as a whole.

    Step 4 - Accent pieces & negative space

    It’s time for your small accent pieces. Group them together or place them on top of books or trays. Don’t be afraid of negative space, it can make your other pieces stand out more.
    Always take a step back and consider your styling as a whole.

    Step 5 - Edit your work

    The last and final step is to edit your styling work. Take a step back and consider the whole shelf, does it look balanced? It also helps to take a photo of your shelf styling and look at that because sometimes looking at a creation through a lens shows us what’s working and what isn’t.

    With these design tips it’s easy to style your open shelves.

    Thanks for reading!
    If you enjoyed this post, follow along for more interior design tips and inspiration on my Instagram @nhdotdesign and sign up for my Welcome Home Letter.

    Take care, Nadine

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