How to Make the Most of Awkward Empty Shelves in Your Living Room

Doing something about the awkward, empty shelves in your living room is one of those nagging unfinished tasks that never seems to make it to the top of your to-do list. But conquering cluttered, disorganized shelves can make a huge visual difference in your space. With some thoughtful styling, those awkward shelves can become a decorative focal point that shows off your style.

The key is taking a methodical approach to assess, edit, and style your shelves purposefully. Follow these tips to transform lackluster shelves into an intentional, artful display.

Assess Your Shelves and Style Goals

Before restyling your shelves, take time to evaluate your existing shelf space. Measure the dimensions and layout to understand what you’re working with. Do an audit of current contents to decide what stays and goes.

Also think about the primary purpose and function of the shelves. Are they mainly for decorative appeal? For housing books? For displaying cherished items? Define your vision to guide the overall shelving style.

Edit Down Clutter Before Styling Shelves

Editing and reducing shelf contents is an essential first step. Take everything off and sort through items ruthlessly. Be honest about what you really need and love to display.

how to style open shelves living room

Group all decorative accent pieces together and assess what complements your home’s style. Remove unused items and clutter to create a clean foundation.

Aim to only keep your favorite, meaningful pieces to work into your shelf display. This editing process gives you a blank slate to then style intentionally.

Balance the Shelves with Height Variation

When styling shelves, aiming for variation in heights and sizes helps the shelving look balanced and visually compelling. Incorporate some taller items like large statement vases, tall planters and pots, stacked books, or decorative towers.

Placing plants on the shelves instantly brings in welcoming height variation and life. For additional height, use risers to prop up decor pieces in the back row. Floating shelves can also add staggered height interest.

Varying Heights Example

  • Back row: large blue vase, framed art print
  • Middle row: stack of decorative boxes, smaller potted plant
  • Front row: trio of short candles, mini planter

Arranging items from larger to smaller sizes helps lead the eye progressively across shelves. The varying heights add needed dimension to prevent awkward empty shelves.

Repeat Elements for a Cohesive Look

Using repetition in your shelf display is an easy trick to make it look polished and pulled together. Choose a color scheme or material to echo throughout the shelves.

For example, use all white and natural wood tones or shades of blue glassware. Or introduce the same material such as rattan, ceramic, or metal in different shapes and sizes.

Keeping decor within the same color family or repeating key textures provides harmony even when mixing various decorative pieces.

Examples of Repeating

  • Collections of white vases
  • Books with leather spines
  • Woven baskets
  • Gold metal accents

Subtle repetition helps tie everything together into a cohesive shelf display.

Style in Groupings of Three

Arranging items in groupings of three is an easy styling technique to instantly make a shelf look more visually appealing. The rule of three brings rhythm and balance.

Style vignettes by placing three matching objects together or coordinating three different pieces. Apply the rule across all the shelves for consistency.

Some examples include creating a trio of framed photos, stacking three hardcover books, or combining three short candles. Repeat groupings of three for an orderly, eye-pleasing look.

Rule of Three Examples

  • Three matching blue glass vases
  • A large seashell, starfish, and sand dollar
  • Three differently-patterned boxes

Thoughtfully grouping complementary pieces in threes delivers an instant boost of style.

Layer Decor Pieces for Dimension

Simply setting items next to each other risks a flat, boring shelf display. But strategically layering decor pieces adds the illusion of depth.

Stack decor items like books, boxes, baskets, or trays. Overlap vases and bowls so items are not all lined up at the front edge.

Arranging items from larger pieces in the back to smaller ones in the front also creates dynamic dimension. Try layering pieces both vertically and horizontally for depth.

Layering Examples

  • Stack of vintage books, ceramic planter overlapping on top
  • Woven tray with candle and plant overlapping in front
  • Horizontal row of small, medium, large frames

Thoughtful layering draws the eye in and makes simple shelves feel abundant and full.

Allow Breathing Room Between Groupings

Although you want shelves to look artfully abundant, it’s still key to allow some breathing room. Prevent a cluttered look by providing negative space between books, objects, and grouped vignettes.

Leave a few inches of open shelf space as a gap between styled collections. Resist cramming every last inch of surface area.

Balancing filled and empty areas gives the eye places to rest. Don’t overcrowd the shelves so items can shine.

Negative Space Tips

  • Leave gaps between stacked books
  • Don’t pack in objects too densely
  • Let decor groupings stand alone

Strategic use of negative space prevents shelves from appearing cluttered or overwhelming.

Incorporate Greenery for Freshness

Nothing brings shelves to life like living greenery. Incorporating plants is an instant way to make empty shelves more fresh and inviting.

Use a mix of potted herbs, trailing vines, succulents, and leafy flower stems to green up your space. Place small plants on shelves interspersed among decor pieces.

Arranging grouped plump succulents or a row of matching pots filled with herbs makes a big visual impact. Even a few stems placed in bud vases boost vibrancy.

Greenery Decor Ideas

  • Succulents or cacti
  • Air plants mounted on driftwood
  • Potted herbs like rosemary, thyme, or basil
  • Snipped stems of leafy greens in vases

Introducing living greenery transforms lifeless shelves into an eye-catching focal point.

Display Meaningful Photos and Art

Personalize your shelves by decorating with sentimental photos and cherished art pieces. Frame special pictures from vacations, family memories, weddings or holidays.

Lean larger pieces of wall art against the wall atop a shelf to act as an anchor. Prop up rows of framed photos with decorative book stacks.

Injecting personal touches like travel souvenirs, postcards, or kids’ artwork adds heart to any shelf display.

Photo and Art Display Tips

  • Oversize black and white photo leaning on shelf
  • Gallery wall with mix of frame sizes
  • Meaningful souvenirs scattered throughout

Let your shelves tell your unique story through displayed mementos and art.

Finish with Fun Accessories as Needed

Put the final polish on styled shelves by accessorizing with decorative objects as needed. Leaving some shelves more bare and others fully styled creates visual interest.

Weave in sculptural baskets to hide clutter or place an weathered urn, geometric wood tray, or glass cloche on an empty shelf as a final touch.

Carve out designated spaces for practical objects like cookbooks, drugstore reading glasses, or remote controls using lidded boxes. Top with artful boxes or trays to conceal.

Accessory Ideas

  • Metal and wood geometric catchall tray
  • White macrame plant hanger
  • Rustic lantern with pillar candle

Let artistic baskets, trays, and boxes put the finishing touch on styling lacksuster shelves.

The Benefits of Styling Awkward Shelves

Putting in the effort to style and organize awkward empty shelves offers many benefits beyond just decluttering your space.

Thoughtfully styled shelves become a decorative focal point that elevates the room’s aesthetic. The shelving area transforms into an intentional, curated display expressing your taste and personality.

You’ll also get satisfaction from maximizing previously underutilized space. The shelves become a place to showcase your favorite collected items in an orderly, artistic way.

Most importantly, conquering a long-neglected organizational project gives a sense of accomplishment. No longer will you feel annoyed looking at those awkward empty shelves begging for attention.

Turning awkward, cluttered shelves into an artful display just takes some methodical editing and styling:

  • Edit down to just your favorite decorative items
  • Create height variation with tall items
  • Repeat colors or textures for a cohesive look
  • Group items in eye-pleasing threes
  • Layer pieces for dimension and depth
  • Allow breathing room between groupings
  • Bring in plants and fresh greenery
  • Personalize with meaningful photos and art
  • Accessories like baskets and boxes finish the look

Follow these tips and transform the awkward empty shelves in your living room into a design feature you’ll love.

What once felt like an unfinished chore becomes an accomplishment displaying your unique style. Dare to take the time now to appreciate and thoughtfully style those shelves waiting for your attention.

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