How to Style Your Shelves & Surfaces

Books on a blue dresser.

When arranging items on your shelves, end tables, dressers and other areas, it’s often hard to know where to start. What makes one arrangement of books and pottery more attractive than another? And, what is it exactly that makes a bookshelf in a magazine look so put together?

Styling items in your home really isn’t as difficult as it seems. It just takes a bit of planning, and some trial and error, too. But, it’s well worth it. To me, the “little things” are what make a home special. Like the bowl my sister brought me back from a trip to Mexico and the travel books I picked up at my local library’s book sale.

The items in your home mean something to you and they deserve to be put on show. Use these tips to inspire you to arrange your shelves, tables and any other spot where you display items in ways that you’ll love.

I’ll show you how I styled the top of this dresser in my living room…

Lamp on blue dresser.

Start with bigger items

Whether you’re arranging a bookshelf or an end table, place the larger items that you know you’ll want to use first. That way you can style around those big pieces. (Don’t worry. You can always change it up later if you want.) Go ahead and position your lamps, vases, plants or anything else that’s “big” in the spots where you think you’ll like them. I started with this big round lamp.

Books and lamp on blue dresser.

Grab the books

Maybe it’s because I’m a book collector (hoarder), but I use books to decorate nearly every surface of my home. The trick to decorating with books is to assemble them in interesting ways. Think like you’d format text and right or left justify the books. (See how the books are right justified above?) Doing so creates a clean look. You can alternate the way you justify books between shelves if you’re decorating a bookcase. You can also stack books vertically and center them to create “columns”. Then, use these columns to display smaller items, like the bowl above.


Now, the fun part. Add in all of those little knickknacks that make your home special to you. It took me a lot of switching around, stepping back, adding a picture frame, removing a book, and doing it all again to get the look I wanted.

Lamp on blue dresser.Succulent on blue dresser.Plants and books on blue dresser.

Some tips for arranging the small things:

Keep it clutter-free. You probably don’t need as many knickknacks as you think.

Use different heights. Placing the picture frame on top of just one book (see above) added dimension. Also notice that nothing is quite at the same level. It makes the whole look visually interesting.

Don’t forget your colors. Consider a color scheme when decorating your shelves, tables and other areas. I choose warm-colored accessories that didn’t clash with the “Tiffany’s box” blue of the dresser. Deep reds or greens, which for some reason were the colors of a lot of my books’ covers, would have clashed. Choose all of your items with color combinations that work together. That doesn’t mean they have to match; they just need to complement one another.

What do you find difficult when styling your home? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments…

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Follow Red Leaf Style author Kirsten Hudson on Twitter @kirsten_hudson, Google+ and Pinterest.

1 Comment

  1. […] ← The Secret to Making Your Bed Every Day How to Style Your Shelves & Surfaces → […]


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