The Art of Arranging: 6 Tips on Creating Stylish Shelf Displays

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By Kate Reggev
Aimlessly arrange no more—we're breaking down the basics on how to organize your shelves in a way that highlights and exhibits your favorite items.

It sounds so simple and self-explanatory: a bookshelf is, ostensibly, a shelf for books. Yet, arranging objects on a shelf so that each item is both seen and appreciated can be trickier than expected. That is, until now. Below, we're sharing six tips on how to arrange books, photos, tchotchkes, and any other keepsakes you might wish to display.

1) Organize Items in Groups. 

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Organizing objects in small groups is a great way to signify a transition between certain subjects on a shelf, as pictured above.

Organizing objects in small groups is a great way to signify a transition between certain subjects on a shelf, as pictured above.

Organizing objects into small groups is a great way to break down the long, repetitive lengths of shelves into more easily digestible displays. 

For example, consider laying a small stack of books on its side to create a barrier between groupings. This not only will visually distinguish between two arrangements, but it also can signify a transition between certain subjects on a shelf. 

2) Think Beyond the Books. 

Your shelves should be another reflection of your interests and hobbies, so don't feel constrained to display solely books.

Your shelves should be another reflection of your interests and hobbies, so don't feel constrained to display solely books.

From vases and candles, to plants, artwork, and photographs, there are so many different objects you can showcase on a shelf—beyond books—to create a compelling, dynamic display. Your shelves should be a reflection of your design preferences, so don't be afraid to go bold and let your interests shine. 

3) Aim High With Height.

Whether it's a tall book, vase, or frame, it is important to include larger items so that they can act as the anchor to a specific grouping. 

Whether it's a tall book, vase, or frame, it is important to include larger items so that they can act as the anchor to a specific grouping. 

Once you’re ready to start arranging objects, begin your vignette with the tallest item. Remember, this can be anything from a tall vase to a stack of large books; the choices are endless. This item will ultimately act as the anchor to a specific grouping, and will also establish a contrast for additional elements to work against. 

4) Embrace Texture and Tones. 

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After your tallest item is in place, look for other objects that will balance it in terms of color or shape. Whether it's organizing books in a similar shade, or adding in a sculptural picture frame or paperweight, it is important to incorporate a variety of textures and tones to any display.

5) Play With Odd Numbers.

To make a display feel more balanced, divide items around a central piece and opt for odd numbers, instead of even.

To make a display feel more balanced, divide items around a central piece and opt for odd numbers, instead of even.

Because of the way our eyes tend to wander towards the center of a group of items, arrangements of objects in odd numbers work better than even numbers. It’s a trick many photographers use, as a composition feels more balanced if items can be divided around a central piece. That said, consider a group of three trinket boxes or a single frame, rather than two or four. 

6) Don't Nix Negative Space.

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The final step is to evaluate the amount of negative space you want on your shelves, and then fill in accordingly. Oftentimes, the more smaller items on a shelf, the more cluttered the display can appear. Yet, in the right space, this can bring a sense of warmth and familiarity. 

On the contrary, in modern, minimalist spaces, fewer items are emphasized by more negative space. You can also go one step further by using a monochrome color palette for all images, books, and other items.