23 shelving ideas – for wonderful looking walls you can DIY

The best shelving ideas will add heaps of personality to your space. Decorate the bedroom, lounge, kitchen or garage with DIY shelf looks...

Shelving ideas
(Image credit: Jemma Watts)

The best shelving ideas will make displaying and storing items – be that in the garage, kitchen or living room – a breeze. Ideal to add color and personality, whether you're #shelfie(ing) or not, these looks don't all need brackets (or a drill for that matter) so are easy and inexpensive to recreate at home.

Annica Wallin, Executive Creative Director at Desenio says 'A great way to make a shelf feel professionally styled is to create a vignette – an arrangement of favourite things such as vases and sculptures. This is a perfect way to elevate your art picks. I suggest layering your art pieces in pairs, choosing two different sizes, and grouping them with your favourite home accessories. It’s so easy, but creates a beautiful result!'

1. Bookcase shelves 

styling shelves: living room with styled shelves adorned with books, ornaments and trailing houseplants as well as an olive green armchair and coffee table by sofa.com

(Image credit: Sofa.com)

Transform standard bookcase shelving into an indoor garden by interspersing long, trailing house plants – a hanging fern or spider plant are great options – amongst books, ornaments and other belongings. The contrast of somewhat unruly plants with a shelving unit that's well organized is what's most effective, so don't be afraid to let your greenery get a little out of hand.

2. Shiplap wall shelf

styling shelves: mantle piece styled with yellow toned accessories, a great example of how to design a shelf

(Image credit: George Home)

With shelving ideas, a good place to start is by deciding on a color scheme for your accessories to tie the look together. Warm shades, like yellow and orange, are an on-trend option guaranteed to add depth and interest to a light colored room.

The accessories used to style this mantlepiece against the shiplap wall are quite eclectic, but the consistent use of warm, yellow tones ties the look together nicely. Take a look around your home and see if there are any items that you might be able to pair together to recreate a similar look. Then it'll be a free #shelfie, too.

3. Countertop shelf

Marble kitchen island/breakfast bar with cane backed bar stools, forest green cabinetry and copper accents

(Image credit: @houselust)

Functional and cute, even a narrow shelf fitted above your countertops will help tie your kitchen design together and provides a fine opportunity to show off your best dinnerware and hanging plants too. This look was create by Amanda Cotton @houselust.

4. Antique shelf ideas

styling shelves: antique distressed shelving with ornamental plates

(Image credit: Mark Scott)

If you're a renter who loves all gallery wall ideas – but doesn't love the idea of facing a landlord's wrath after you've drilled countless holes to hang said gallery wall – consider taking the principles of hanging one and applying them to your shelf styling, instead.

A great way to showcase collections – be that mirrors, antique tea cups, prints or, in this case, plates – opting for a mix of pieces from a similar time period or that are similar in size can be a great way to create a finish that's not overly-styled. This is particularly successful if you layer certain pieces and don't pay too much attention to the precision of your spacing.

5. Peg shelf

peg shelf with hanging wicker basket

(Image credit: IKEA)

Quite the classic and still a winner for a pared-back, Scandi-esque look. Complete your DIY shelf with trinkets and some easy reading material. 

6. Layered bracket shelving ideas

styling shelves: shelves styled in small kitchen with a white colour scheme, large window overlooking a garden

(Image credit: House of Fraser)

You might think this decorative shelving is accidental, but the the minimalist feel of this is quite purposeful. The limited, neutral color palette and natural materials create a contemporary feel that nods at period living, while interest is added through the use of complementary materials, metal white brackets, textures and different shapes placed haphazardly, but intentionally.

7. Macramé shelving

Afuly Macrame Wall Hanging Floating Shelves

(Image credit: Afuly)

Budget-friendly, cute and useful, sure these won't take a heavy load, but they will style a room.

8. Seamless mantlepiece shelf ideas

Terracotta walls with shelf over neutral colored bed

(Image credit: Ikea)

Painted in the same color as the rest of the wall, this terracotta mantlepiece shelving masterpiece feels built-in seamlessly, taking this space to a new level of artistic high design. Complete with black accents and natural textures for depth. 

9. Wire shelving

small wire rack storage shelf with plant pots and baskets

(Image credit: Not on the Highstreet)

Perfect garage storage ideas and cute in a simple hallway design scheme too, metal wired shelving units are inexpensive and give a great industrial feel to a space also.

10. Layered and multicolored shelving

Coloreful hallway with retro side table and layered shelving

(Image credit: @candycoloredhome)

Katie Mack of @candycoloredhome shows the world how to take color everywhere. Orange and yellow shelf ideas like these will energize any and every space, providing a great view also if built in your WFH desk sightline. 

11. Woven suspended shelf 

Shelf with woven hanger and yellow plant pot against yellow wall

(Image credit: Micheile henderson on unsplash)

Got some woven fibres or rope hanging around? Use it to DIY a modern suspended shelf for a cool pop of natural materials that will provide a great contrast against bright and eclectic interiors. Combine with MDF for an easy and functional finish.

12. Classic wooden shelves

Kitchen shelf with hanging house plants and vintage print

(Image credit: Katie Lee)

The power of effective shelving ideas is often in its simplicity, particularly if you're working with a room that already has a lot going on, color and texture-wise. 

Grouping minimal accessories of similar bulk– for example a small stack of books with similar spine colors, ceramics or vases – regularly across the entirety of a unit successfully strikes the balance between adding interest and preventing your shelving unit from looking too sparse or too crowded, without any one thing becoming a focal point.

13. Make a feature of shelving with bunting

styling shelves: kitchen cabinet decorated with tea cups and bunting

(Image credit: Laura Ashley)

Styling a solid bookshelf or shelving enclosed by a cabinet can be a little more tricky as these spaces tend to be a little darker, plus they're naturally less dramatic than an open shelving unit. That doesn't mean they should go without a little #shelfie love, though.

Use bunting – or fairy lights – to draw attention to your shelf styling and make it more of a feature. Ditsy florals or polka dots make the perfect addition to a home with a cute, country cottage feel, while more contemporary homes could benefit from neutral linens, or even pops of bright color.

14. DIY wall shelf

styling shelves: living room with dark green colour scheme and filled with houseplants displayed on styled shelves by Ikea

(Image credit: Ikea)

In a room that's overlooked, an open shelving unit, styled with see-through or semi-transparent items is a good way to create privacy – without going for bulky window treatments.

House plants are an easy and effective option that will (quite literally) inject life into an otherwise plain room, but you could just as easily replace house plants with a display of colorful glassware. 

15. Built-in shelving

White bookshelf filled with books and trinkets behind purple sofa with blue embroidered cushions

(Image credit: Colin Poole)

Much like when you're composing a gallery wall, you might find that you have one particular item – be that a piece of artwork, a stand-out ornament, or in this case, a monogram – that means something to you and can form the focal point for the rest of your decorative shelving. 

The trick to ensuring attention is drawn to your desired point is spacing. The contrast of quite densely packed shelving surrounding a more spacious centre point draws the eye and gives the display room to breathe.

16. Go for irregular shelf styling

styling shelves: laid back Ikea shelving decorated with a variety of ornaments in neutral tones

(Image credit: Ikea)

So you want to create that styled, but not obviously styled #shelfie look? Well, believe it or not, irregularity is key. Rather than grouping similar items together, as we've suggested in previous points, try dispersing them, seemingly randomly, across a larger shelf space, as it's this mix of shapes, patterns and textures that will create the laid back feel you're looking for. 

Try thinking a little outside the box when it comes to positioning, could stacks of books, or even individual items, be positioned horizontally, vertically? In clusters, on top of each other, or all on their own? 

A great starting point may, actually, be just to put all your belongings on your shelves, randomly, to see how they fall. After that, you can tweak bits, here and there, until you achieve an outcome you're happy with.

17. Leaning shelving

styling shelves: cat sat on a sofa in blush toned space with an abundance of houseplants styled on wire rack shelves by cubit

Design your own modular sofa with Cubit

(Image credit: Cubit)

If your style is a little more relaxed or you like an unfitted look, opt for a wire rack shelving unit that can be propped up against a wall, and styled at random, just like this one. Or, pick a regular shelving unit and create a display that's non-uniform. This is a great way to get in some shelving if you are renting and therefor can't hang shelves on your walls. 

18. Go for a neat shelf display for a streamlined space

Kitchen with terracotta pots on shelves

(Image credit: George & James Architects)

If yours is a busy space, picking a color scheme for your shelving is one trick to help the room feel tidier; another clever way, as here, is to create a shelf display that's regularly spaced, with items of the same size on show. We've already mentioned them more than once, but house plants really are one of the easiest additions to a well styled shelf.

This gorgeous kitchen extension was designed by George & James Architects .

19. Use styled open shelving to zone a space

styling shelves: living room with black toned shelves styled with houseplants by cuckooland

(Image credit: Cuckooland)

Decorative shelves can also be used to effectively zone an open-plan space, without compromising the spacious feel that many of us crave. Opt for an open shelving unit which creates a subtle divide between zones, without restricting light or flow within the space. Decorate with houseplants, books or ornaments made from natural materials for the perfect shelf decor. 

20. Balance out a #shelfie with shapes and textures

styling shelves: wooden shelves holding vintage ornaments, house plants and chopping boards with herringbone tiling and marble surfaces

(Image credit: Malcolm Menzies)

To style a shelf effectively, you'll need to think about how to create balance with the accessories you're working with. While pairing lots of the same thing together – as we've seen in previous examples – can create a standout look, striking the balance with lots of different objects can create a desirable outcome, too.

Most successfully styled shelves are comprised of a combination of books, glassware, ceramics, house plants and other ornaments, so take a look around your home for items that might work together, or keep this combination in mind when shopping.

21. Color-match wall-to-wall shelves for a formal feel

styling shelves: Surrey House Love Interiors

(Image credit: Love Interiors. Photographer Rachel Smith)

Floor to ceiling bookshelves make something of an impact in a space with high ceilings; particularly when styled with books organiszd by color. Start by splitting books into categories determined by cover color; then experiment with stacking them vertically or horizontally to create an interesting look, overall.

22. Upcycled medicine cabinet shelf

styling shelves: cupboard with pretty patterned wallpaper as backdrop styled with teacups

(Image credit: Mark Scott)

The perfect weekend project for the DIYers amongst us, adding a pretty backdrop – which could be made from something as simple as wrapping paper – to your decorative shelving is one of the easiest ways to make your display stand out. 

Light colored papers can be particularly effective if you're working with a shelving unit that feels a little dark and dingy. Or, if you're a renter who loves the idea of using wallpaper to inject personality into your space, but know that your landlord would be less enthusiastic.

23. Floating and eclectic

styling shelves: floating shelves with dark grey walls and monochrome cushions on sofa

(Image credit: Rachael Smith)

In a modern home, you can get away with styling shelves with an eclectic mix of prints, home accessories and other bits and bobs. In fact, the more random the selection, the better, in many instances. 

Here, having shelves in the same dark tone as the walls ensures all attention is drawn to the shelves' accessories. Anyone else spot the troll doll..? It's a love or hate look.

How can I make a shelf look good, inexpensively?

'When filling a shelf it’s easier to start with a focal point, like the EVEDAL lamp, and then build up a display around it using objects and artwork of varying heights and textures. By sticking to one colour palette you’ll find that the display comes together more fluidly. Choose a neutral base like the BESTÅ shelves, this way you can mix things up by incorporating different materials and different sized accessories. One important tip is to display objects in odd numbers – it’s said to be more pleasing to the eye!' Says Clotilde Passalacqua, Interior designer manager Uk&IE at IKEA.

Emily Shaw

Emily first (temporarily) joined the Real Homes team while interning on her summer break from university. After graduating, she worked on several publications before joining Real Homes as Staff Writer full time in mid-2018. She left the brand in 2020 to pursue another career, but still loves a second-hand bargain and sourcing unique finds to make her rented flat reflect her personality.