Hitting the “Wow” Factor: Decorating a Shelf

I’ll let you in on a little decorating secret. The difference between a well-designed room and  a “WOW!” designed room lies in the details. After you’ve picked out the right wall color and cozied up to your new favorite furniture, it’s time to pull together the finishing touches, like decorating a set of shelves. Go for the “wow!” by following these five tips.


Even voracious readers need bookshelves with more than just books. If books are a component of your shelving plans, create pockets of reading material balanced between decorative items such as framed photos, small sculptures and other collectibles. Intersperse your favorite reads with your decorative elements. The same applies to the functional shelving dedicated to your crafting supplies, your bathroom, kitchen and more!

Group sets of like items with other functional or decorative elements between them. In a bathroom, place a basket with your make-up between two different sets of towels. In the craft room, organize your fabric in complimentary tones, for example, and pepper baskets of sewing supplies, favorite photos and other trinkets in between the stacks. Try out different combinations! 

Embrace Empty Space

A shelf stuffed full can crowd and overwhelm your space. Leave some wiggle room and blank spots. This isn’t about gaping holes. It can be more subtle than that. For example, try stacking taller books on their sides instead of placing them in the shelf upright. Leave space between the top of the stack and the shelf above it. Don’t wedge your items in tightly together. Leave small gaps to give a little breathing room and a peek at the back of your shelf unit or wall. 

Jazz Up The Background

The oft ignored back panel of a book case is a canvas waiting to bring your space to life! Paint the inside of a bookcase a few shades darker than your wall color. Alternatively, go for a complementary paint color, decorative patterned paper or mirrors. Get creative. If you’re really up for something different, try alternating two complementary colors or a solid and a simple pattern behind every other shelf. 

Get Eye Level

Grab a seat in the room and take a good look at which shelf falls at eye level. This should be your focal point. Use that shelf to feature your photos, artwork or other favorite elements. Then sit back and enjoy the view.

Layer It Up

You can create the illusion of deeper shelves by layering items. Push a grouping of books toward the back and place a small piece of art in front of them. Use natural items like coral and stones in front of framed and matted prints. The one-two (or three!) punch of elements will trick the eye into seeing a space with more depth than the shelf really has.

by Anjie Cho