#shelfie: 15 decorative shelves to inspire Instagram likes

Forget the selfie, it's all about the #shelfie when it comes to taking snaps of your decorative shelves. Our styling tips and tricks will get yours Insta-ready

#shelfie: 15 decorative shelves to inspire Instagram likes - decorative cupboard

The #shelfie is something of a social media phenomenon, right up there (as far as we're concerned) with the #selfie. For the uninitiated, it's a snap of beautifully styled decorative shelves. 

Sounds simple? Taking the photos is easy, but styling shelves actually requires a bit of an eye – it's all about the balance of the arrangement, both in terms of the objects' sizes and shapes but also their colours, too. Why bother? Well arranged shelves will add character, individuality and, inevitably, a neat look to your home. Whether you take photos of them and upload them to Instagram or Pinterest is neither here nor there.

Here, we show you how to master the art of the #shelfie, from creating a living wall with house plants stacked on shelves to styling shelves with a particular colour scheme or interiors style in mind. For more ideas that will help you transform the look and feel of your home, take a look at our design hub page.

1. Style shelves to create a living wall #shelfie

If you're looking for inspiration when styling shelves, you really needn't look any further than the humble house plant. Not only do they look good when styled thoughtfully, but they can work wonders for your health and wellbeing, too. 

Recreate this look by regularly 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 organised is what's most effective, so don't be afraid to let your greenery get a little out of hand.

If you're looking for more ways to incorporate plant life into your decorative shelves, browse our pick of the best indoor plants and start building your own living wall. And don't miss our house plant display ideas, too, for more green-fingered inspiration.

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

Betty Armchair in Olive pure cotton matt velvet, £330, available from Sofa.com 

(Image: © Sofa.com)

2. Pick a colour scheme for your #shelfie

When styling shelves, start by deciding on a colour 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 scheme.

The accessories used to style this mantlepiece 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.

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

(Image: © George Home)

If you're a renter who loves to idea of a gallery wall – 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.

For more tips on how to hang a gallery wall, take a look at our specialist guide. Then, find more inspiration with our gallery wall ideas.

styling shelves: antique distressed shelving with ornamental plates

(Image: © Mark Scott)

4. Opt for a neutral, Scandi-inspired #shelfie

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

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


(Image: © House of Fraser)

5. Group similar items together

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

Grouping minimal accessories of similar bulk– for example a small stack of books with similar spine colours, 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.

Loving the trend for velvet sofas like this one as much as us? Browse our pick of the best statement velvet sofas for more inspiration.

styling shelves: living room with shite scheme and pink sofa and styled shelves by cuckooland

Recreate this look with Cuckooland 

(Image: © Cuckooland)

6. Make a feature of a #shelfie with bunting

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 colour.

styling shelves: kitchen cabinet decorated with tea cups and bunting

(Image: © Laura Ashley)

7. Create a #shelfie to create privacy

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 colourful glassware. 

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

Recreate this look with Ikea

(Image: © Ikea)

8. Shape your #shelfie around one particular item

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.

styling shelves: living room in period property with shelves of books and magazines and a gold monogram

(Image: © colin Poole)

9. Go for irregular shelf styling for a laid back feel

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.

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

(Image: © Ikea)

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 randomly, just like this one – or pick a regular shelving unit and create a display that's non-uniform. 

Decorate with plants in on-trend, pastel-toned ceramic pots for a millennial-inspired addition to your home. Loving the colourways featured in this room set up? You'll love our pretty pastel decorating and design ideas.

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: © Cubit)

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

If yours is a busy space, picking a #shelfie colour scheme 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.

styling shelves: living room with red or terracotta coloured walls and shelves styled with cacti by cuckooland

Find this Suri Teak Dining Table, Dutchbone Kubu Rattan Dining Chair and other accessories at Cuckooland

(Image: © Cuckooland)

11. Use styled open shelving to zone a space

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, like this Fons Black Shelving Unit from Cuckooland, 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 #shelfie. Browse our guide for more tips on styling and zoning a large room.

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

Recreate this look with Cuckooland

(Image: © Cuckooland)

12. Balance out a #shelfie with shapes and textures

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.

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


(Image: © Malcolm Menzies)

13. Colour-match wall-to-wall shelves for a formal feel

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

Ideally, don't fill every nook with books – interspersing them with curvier objects in similar colours will make them less imposing. Remember to step away from your shelves every once in a while to get a better perspective on the overall look. For more book storage buys, see our guide; and don't miss our pick of inspiring reading spots for book lovers – tons more book shelf styling ideas there.

styling shelves: Surrey House Love Interiors

Shop similar lamps at DelightFULL

(Image: © Love Interiors. Photographer Rachel Smith)

14. Provide a pretty backdrop to your #shelfie

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 coloured 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.

For more easy and inexpensive weekend projects, head over to our hub page.

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

(Image: © Mark Scott)

15. Go modern with eclectic shelf styling

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..? Loving this look? Check out more of our dark and atmospheric decorating ideas.

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

(Image: © Rachael Smith )

Looking for more design inspiration?