As winter weather encroaches on this year’s unseasonably warm autumn air, I’ve found myself fiddling with our home decor even more than usual.
Perhaps it’s a way of trying to come to terms with the upcoming months of snow. Maybe it’s some form of hibernation. Whatever it is, it’s motivating me to make our house as homey, cozy and inviting as possible.
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Part of that has included spending quite a bit of time honing my shelf styling skills. I never thought styling was a strength of mine, but with some practice, I’ve seen significant improvement.
If you, too, struggle with figuring out just what to put where, here are five tips that have helped me take my skills to the next level.
1. Play with texture
You can incorporate just about anything your heart desires onto shelves — art, candles, plants (live or dried), pottery, knickknacks, stuffed animals, a smaller set of shelves that sits on top of the larger shelf — need I say more?
Something that helps me determine where to put what is texture. Choose one anchor item you want on each shelf, and then style around that by keeping a set color palette while playing with texture. Figuring out what textures look good together takes some experimentation, but try working with contrasts: for example, smooth and porous; shiny and matte; organic and polished.
Something else to keep in mind: If you have a collection of similar items (such as decorative plates) that you’d like to display on shelving, this is one of the only times I’d say varying texture isn’t necessary — these look best grouped together to make the greatest impact.
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2. Use varying heights
Another way to add interest to shelves is through height. Some things, like lamps, have a natural height to them, while others need some more help. Try using a stack of books or a decorative box to elevate items and add different heights across your shelf.
3. Mix old and new
As I’ve been playing around more with styling, I’ve realized I can quickly identify every item I’ve ever bought from Target. And hey, Target has great stuff. But new, mass-produced items have a noticeably different look — and, in turn, feel — than older or handmade items that are oftentimes higher quality.
To avoid making my home look like a Target warehouse, I try to limit the number of big-box items I have on each shelf and mix them in with antiques or handmade goods from local artists.
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4. Balance form and function
I’ve always found it difficult to buy items with a solely decorative purpose and envied those who could. Every time I find something I like, I think to myself: “Where will this go? And what purpose does it serve?” I usually end up leaving it at the store.
I do think decorative items serve more of a purpose than meets the eye: They display your personality and interests and, if curated well enough, evoke certain emotions. On the flip side of that, a shelf full of knickknacks can quickly start to look like clutter.
To balance this — especially in my home with limited space — I aim to keep things mostly functional with some purely decorative accents. Keep in mind that I use the term “functional” loosely. An item’s function can be as simple as holding another item, such as a vase or a candlestick.
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Another thing to keep in mind is that I have very little storage in my house, so filling up precious shelf space with decor is simply impractical for me. If you have room to spare, have at it with the decorative elements. It’s all about finding what works for you.
5. Don’t be afraid to move things around
Once you find a combination of things you like, it can be tempting to leave it that way forever. But for me, the beauty of shelves is that they are fluid and easy to switch up, whether with the seasons or when you find a new favorite item you want to display. Even a simple rearrangement can refresh a space when it starts to feel stale.
At the end of the day, styling is all about letting your personality shine through your decor. If you start with items you love, you can’t go wrong.
Email your questions to Theresa “Tess” Bennett at homewith[email protected] and keep up with Tess on Instagram @homewithtess.