How to Style Shelves in 7 Simple Steps (and My Fall Shelf Decor!)

If you've ever struggled with styling shelves, this post breaks it down step by step! Click through to the post and get ready to style your shelf decor beautifully!

I know I’ve confessed this before, but decorating is kind of hard for me. Yes, I realize I write a decorating blog. But sometimes having endless possibilities for a space makes me feel overwhelmed, and I don’t know where to start because I literally could do anything I wanted. Eeeek! Pressure! 🙂 When this happens, it helps me to make some “rules” for myself, a formula to follow to keep me on track.

Take my floating shelves, for example. I decorate them at least four times a year, and though I typically only show the final product on the blog, I end up going through a bunch of steps to go from empty shelves to something like this:

Styling Shelf Decor for Fall |

Since I’ve decorated these shelves so many times now, I’ve kind of worked out a little process that I go through each time I do it, and though I’m far from a styling “expert,” I thought I’d share my little process with you all in case shelf styling is kind of hard for you too! 🙂 Here we go!

1. Study.

Instead of just throwing random things onto the shelves, I try to figure out what I really like! Before I put my fall shelves together, for example, I did simple search for “fall decor” on Pinterest, and wrote down a list of things that consistently jumped out at me in photos that I loved. My list ended up looking something like this:

  • white pumpkins
  • hydrangeas
  • feathers
  • wheat
  • wood tones
  • white/gray/neutrals
  • aqua
  • lots of texture
Styling Shelf Decor for Fall |

Now just because my list didn’t include things like red and orange and tons of leaves doesn’t mean those things are “wrong”– not at all! In fact, they may be the absolute perfect things for your style! Take some time to look around at photos of other peoples’ spaces and see what you’re drawn to over and over. Doing this really helps clue me in to what I’ll truly like on my own shelves.

2. Shop the house.

Once I have a list of items I’m looking for, I start searching my house for things that fit that description. I usually bring everything I can find down to my living room so that I can see it all in one place and begin deciding which pieces will work together and what I’ll actually use. I am not awesome at visualizing what everything will look like in a space, so I like to physically put it up there and try it out before I make any decisions.

Styling Shelf Decor for Fall |

Sometimes I need to edit what I have to make it work for the space. I had all of the filler for this lantern, for example, but all of the pumpkins were brightly colored. I gave them a few quick coats of white spray paint, and they fit perfectly with the look I was going for.

If I’ve used everything that I have and there are still gaps in my shelf decor, then I’ll go out and buy a piece or two, but I’m cheap I change these up so often that I mostly try to stick with what I have.

3. Choose the “leaners.”

Now, steps 3-5 could be done in various orders and they sometimes happen simultaneously, but because my “leaners” tend to be larger objects, I usually start with those. “What in the world are ‘leaners’?” you may be asking. I’m sure that’s probably not an official term, but that’s what I call the objects that lean against the wall and typically fill in the back layer of my shelves.

Styling Shelf Decor for Fall |

On this top shelf, the large frame is my leaner. It helps give height to the whole grouping and really “grounds” everything. Along with large frames, I’ve also used wreaths, two frames side by side, mirrors, and bunting as my leaners. Plates hung on the wall, a tapestry, an old window– so many things could be great leaners!

4. Put tall stuff on the ends.

See all of my technical lingo? Tall stuff. So chic and professional. But really, that’s what I do. I really like when the ends of my shelves have height because it kind of frames in the whole look and gives it balance. Flowers, sticks, and other natural elements are wonderful for this.

Styling Shelf Decor for Fall |

I sometimes also will layer a vertical frame on the end to give some height or use a tall decor item like a lantern or a tchotchke set on a book to make it higher. There are occasions when I break this “rule,” but in general, I like tall stuff on the ends most of the time.

5. Layer, layer, layer.

After I have my leaners and my tall stuff, I begin to fill in the gaps and layer in other items. I know that is pretty much the least specific guideline ever, so here are some things I try to keep in mind when I’m layering:

  • I use “repeaters,” meaning I’ll use the same object in a few different places on the shelves to make the look more cohesive. For my fall shelves, I used feathers, white pumpkins, off-white candles, and twine in several different places as my repeaters.
Styling Shelf Decor for Fall |
  • I group things in 3s (or 5s). Don’t ask me to explain the science behind it, but for some reason our eyes like groupings of odd numbers. I also find myself tending to “cascade” the items downward– one of the items will be tall, one medium, and one short, so the eye follows them from top to bottom.
Styling Shelf Decor for Fall |
  • I put items at different depths. So rather than lining everything up in one row, I tend to place some items closer to the back of the shelves and some items closer to the front to get that layered look. One exception I’ve seen to this that can look beautiful is if you have several of the same item {like several vases of the same flowers} and line them up in one line. Otherwise, though, I try to vary the depths.
  • I layer frames on top of frames. This is one of the easiest ways to layer, and typically everyone has a few frames in various sizes laying around. I usually just put a simply patterned piece of paper, wrapping paper, gift bag, etc. in the back frame to give a little pop of interest, and then the front frame has a more detailed print or photograph.
Styling Shelf Decor for Fall |

{This fall arrows print is actually a freebie from the amazingly talented Bre at Rooms for Rent! You can snag it here.}

  • I love texture! From the feathers, to the different textures of the balls filling the lantern, to the twine, to the wheat, texture is another thing that will give your shelves more depth and make them seem polished.

6. Move things around until it finally looks right.

Truly, this is the name of the game. I typically style shelves over a period of a few days because I like to let them sit for a while. Then when I walk by, something will catch my eye as being out of place and I’ll switch some things around. When things have sat for a day or two and I haven’t touched them, then I know I’m done. 🙂

7. Recruit a second set of eyes.

I don’t always do this, but a lot of times I’ll ask Donnie or my mom and sister if anything looks “off” before I officially deem my shelves finished. Sometimes they’ll catch something I’ve missed because I’ve been staring at it for so long. A lot of times they’ll have an idea I hadn’t thought of. Two heads are often better than one!

Styling Shelf Decor for Fall |

I realize that shelf styling is more “art” than an exact science, so it is hard to say “every shelf should have this and not this.” There will always be exceptions to every rule. I find that if I go through this process, though, I almost always come out with styled shelves that I love in the end!

Have a wonderful day!

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  1. Noemi @ Wealthy in Health says:

    You read my mind again :)))) In October, I will ‘move into’ my new office, I will clean up a corner of a room and create a home office environment there but I don’t want to go full office style, I’d like some girlish, homeish feeling there, too 🙂 It’s a great inspiration 🙂

    1. justagirlabby says:

      Sounds beautiful! Have fun with your new office!

      ~Abby =)

  2. Melissa @ Cozy House Creations says:

    I know exactly what you mean with #6 Abby!! My biggest challenge in any kind of ‘layout’ is making myself realize that everything doesn’t have to be exactly symmetrical and to just see the art in it. Great job on this one – I’m always partial to wreaths and love the look of the one you have here, especially the clean sharp bow!

  3. Rosa @ Cat Lady Confidential says:

    Love your shelf decor and your tips. This year was the first time I decided to to a themed shelf decor – I did a Summer decor with sea shells. Now it’s time to change to an Autumn decor and your tips will help me a lot!

  4. christy @ Confessions of a Serial Do-it-Yourselfer says:

    Your styling is perfection, Abby! XO

  5. Kathryn Griffin @TheDedicatedHouse says:

    Very pretty, Abby! The layers and varying heights add such depth. Thank you for sharing. Have a lovely weekend. Toodles, Kathryn @TheDedicatedHouse

  6. Megan @ Straight From The Jar says:

    AH! Fall decor is my fav. I always stress so much about decorating each season but I can’t wait to use some of these tips! What’s great about them is they don’t have to apply only to shelves 🙂 Thanks for sharing Abby!

  7. Hi, Abby ~ Your technical lingo was cracking me up! Thanks for the LOL! I needed it. :0) I loved getting a “behind the scenes” look at how you create your vignettes. I always go through a million tweaks, so I’m glad to know I’m not alone. Your shelves look gorgeous! I’m SO excited for fall! I’m getting ready to get a bunch of my fall decor out, so this post came at a great time. Thanks for sharing! Hope you have a fabulous weekend!

    1. I know right – it’s the real language that makes it work 🙂

  8. Sarah@TheOrthodoxMama says:

    I’ve never considered myself a crafty person. We tend to have the same decorations up all year long. So, thanks for the detailed look at how you manage to create such beautiful displays! Maybe I can do it 🙂

  9. Rebecca Lowe says:

    Great inspiration! I’m totally going to do some fall items on my shelves. I love your look!

  10. Krista @ the happy housie says:

    Great tips and process explained Abby – I do mine so intuitively but I follow those same basic principles. It was interesting to read how you’ve broken it down and clearly articulated it so well! Oh, and of course your shelves look lovely!

  11. Abby, great post! I am certainly pinning this to my Pinterest page for future reference.

  12. Gorgeous!

    I love your fall decor, and thank you for explaining what you do in real-life language!

    Have a lovely Fall – we are entering Spring and loving it!


  13. Lauren Baxter says:

    LOVE IT! Such a great styled shelf and I really like your advice. I do most of the same things when I am re styling a shelf or top of something. I do #6 ALOT to until it is just right and even then a couple months later who knows I may move it around again.

    P.s your lingo rocks, who says you have to use the “proper” lingo anyways.

    Lauren Baxter | Lovely Decor

  14. I love how “un-technical” your steps are explained. It makes me feel like even I can make my shelf look gorgeous and professional. I especially like steps 1 & 2. I think I will use it in another craft project that I am working on. 🙂

  15. I love these tips! I tend to decorate once and forget to change with the seasons. It’s time to get out some fall accessories!

  16. How deep were the shelves that you used?

  17. Roberta McFadden says:

    Love your ideas! I would probably add a pine cone or two since I like pine cones fall and winter. Thanks!

  18. I really love this! I just bought a new home and have a lot more space than I’m used to. I’ve been looking for inspiration to fill up my walls with Wall Decorative Shelves, and this just might be one idea I use!

    1. justagirlabby says:

      So glad it was helpful for you, Anny! Have a wonderful week!

      ~Abby =)

  19. notatrophywife says:

    HI Abby I found you when I did a search on hutches. Now I am obsessed with decorating my hutches and shelves. Your process is similar to mine (shop the house) and then I get stuck. I will be posting about hutches and will link to your post on decorating. I have two boys (the E’s) and a daughter and I can tell you it only gets better and funnier (mine are teenagers now). laura {not a trophy wife}

    1. justagirlabby says:

      Aw, thanks so much, Laura! Glad it was helpful for you!

      ~Abby =)

  20. Hi Abby, this is my first time reading your blog. Thanks so much for the helpful advice. My floating shelves are full of family photos at the minute, but need to take them down and do something different for selling the house. I’m excited to try something new!

    1. justagirlabby says:

      So glad it was helpful for you, Brittany! Have a great weekend! <3

      ~Abby =)

  21. a 4 year old post – but still chock full of info! Thank you!

    1. Abby Lawson says:

      Thank you so much! <3

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