5 Open Shelving Styling Tips

Reading Time: 2 minutes
open shelving living room

(image: Phil Manker)

Open shelving is not only a storage solution. It’s also a home decor strategy. Here’s a list of tips on rocking open shelving right.


Open shelving is a great storage option that can be stylish at the same time. If you don’t take the time to give the shelving a purposeful direction, though, you’ll end up with an eyesore. Not sure how to get started? Try these tips for styling open shelving.

1. Combine visually appealing objects

Organizing books for quick access is important in a public library but less so in your home library. Instead of reserving an entire shelf for books organized alphabetically, consider mixing it up.

Combine select stacks of books with vases and flowers, and create vignettes with books and artifacts. Consider laying books flat instead of keeping them upright, and intersperse them with small framed works of art for added visual appeal.

2. Highlight color

You can easily use open shelving to your advantage by considering it an extension of your decorating scheme. Love the deep red tones in the room’s area rug? Create dense areas of deep red throughout the shelving, with stacks of color-coordinated books and ceramics.

Want to highlight the bright yellows in the curtains? Place fresh or dried flowers and bright yellow mementos strategically. Neutral shelving best allows you to highlight unique colors from your belongings, so lean toward white or gray shelving.

3. Strike a balance

Shelves that focus too much on organization can quickly look too busy, while those concerned with carefully crafted artistic displays might look sparse. For a cohesive shelving look, the key is to strike a balance between busyness and emptiness.

You can do this by consistently filling the space on each shelf and maintaining a balance among objects of various colors and sizes. When no single shelf jumps out more than the others, you’ve successfully found the kind of balance that works well for open shelving.

4. Don’t forget the containers

open shelving kitchen

(image: shizzi)

Not every item deserves a place of honor on your shelves, but that doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate most items into the design all the same. For example, consider hiding small or unsightly items away in attractive containers.

By doing this, you’ll have what you need at your disposal without risking a disorganized look. This technique works particularly well for kitchen storage, where storing bulk ingredients looks great with a variety of glass or metal containers.

5. Establish themes

Open shelving is a great place to display visual collections ranging from books to ceramics to artwork. If you haven’t purchased most of your belongings with the intention of building collections, though, there’s no reason you can’t start to create them now.

Establish themes by grouping items thoughtfully, whether they have similar looks, topics, textures, or sizes. If you’re not sure which objects to include and which to leave out, always favor the best, most dynamic, and visually stunning highlights from your collections.

Practical and eye-catching

Whether you’re working with built-ins or installed shelving, an open display presents unique and exciting opportunities for incorporating great design into your living space. Follow these tips to develop an open shelving design that offers both practical storage and an eye-catching look.









1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)

Cate Morgan-Harlow

Cate Morgan-Harlow is an all arounder, writing about how-to, DIY, and design with gusto. She is a shadowy figure with a mysterious past.