Home Design Hotline Learn with Spacejoy: How to Decor Built-in Shelves

Learn with Spacejoy: How to Decor Built-in Shelves

by Geraldine Orentas
Decor Built-in Shelves

Everyone would love to walk into a home with built-ins. They instantly add this layer of elegance, sophistication, and practicality that no other furniture piece can give you. They’re an excellent element to infuse your home with unique decorative elements that only your house can showcase. Built-ins don’t have a specific style. You turn them into whatever you want them to become. Whether you’re all for bohemian-eclectic pieces or minimalist-modern accents, you can transform your built-ins however you wish to.

Dear Spacejoy

We just moved into a new house and are lucky (or unlucky) enough to have lots of built-ins. While we love how much versatility they offer, we can’t seem to get the formula right. After hours on Pinterest, we’ve tried to style this part of our home, but nothing we come up with seems quite right. How do I add interest to our built-ins?

Dear Reader

We hear you. Built-ins are a fabulous thing to have available in your home decor. But at the same time, figuring out the perfect “formula” to decorate these shelves can instantly become a nightmare. At Spacejoy, we know that sometimes having extra shelving or decor solutions can be more of a curse than a blessing. But, worry not, in this rendition of Learn with Spacejoy, we’ll walk you through the rules (if you will) of decorating built-in shelves like a professional. 

Decor Built-in Shelves

Start Fresh and Take Your Time

Odds are your shelves are already filled with your missed attempts to make them look fabulous. To start, you want to take off everything on the shelves and get a fresh view of their layout. When you do this, you can also focus on one shelf at a time while also considering the bigger picture. 

Once you have all your shelves emptied out, you should categorize the items you already have in there. Look at objects with the same color, style, or fall under the same category (i.e., books, vases, decorative accents). This step can help you visualize what items would go together on each of the different shelves. 

You’ll want to take your time to do this, don’t rush it. Try to see all your accessories together and start combining them into sets of threes or fives. Give yourself enough time to play with different combinations until you find the ones you love. Taking pictures throughout the process can also help you decide on the final pick if you’re in between two options. 

Trust the Power of Decorative Accessories

When you’re decorating your house, it’s common to focus on the big things like furniture, kitchen items, and wall art. However, we all forget to dedicate a portion of our budget to decorative objects. That’s one quick way to tell when someone has worked with an online interior designer because you’ll notice the tiniest elements that make a space pop scattered throughout the house.

Built-ins are that one spot where you can showcase all of these cute accessories you’ve collected throughout the years. It gives you the space to display your travel memorabilia, family heirlooms, favorite books, and more. Once you have most of your shelves filled with your current items, take a picture, or step back. See if there are spaces that feel empty and then consider what’s missing. Sometimes a tiny jewelry box might be the thing missing from that shelf.

However, give yourself time. Built-ins will always be a work in progress. You should not feel the pressure to fill every inch of your built-in shelves immediately. Avoid a shopping frenzy and take it one step at a time. Over time, you’ll find the right pieces to complete your masterpiece.

Home Office with Built-in Library

When In Doubt — Add Books

It might seem silly, but books are meant to be on built-in shelves. While you don’t have to turn them into a library — although that’s a valid option as well — books can add texture, color, fill space, and add height to your smaller accessories. 

As you start filling your built-ins, books can help you take up a lot of real estate, so they don’t look or feel empty. You can turn to pick books of the same color palette or use vibrant colored books to infuse your home with a splash of color. There are no restrictions here. 

However, if you’re solely collecting these books for decorative purposes, please, don’t spend a fortune. Some of these designer books can be $300 or more. If you’re just using them for decor, it’s not necessary. Instead, consider looking at garage sales, thrift stores, or local libraries to get a couple of books that will help you fill in the space in your built-in unit. Nowadays, you might also find fake books that are meant to be used for decorative purposes alone. 

Built-in Shelf with Plants

Don’t Forget Greenery

A touch of greenery, fake or real, can genuinely make a difference. Don’t be afraid to incorporate greenery into your built-ins. You can always mix and match faux and real plants. This is a quick trick to make all your plants look natural. If you prefer fresh-cut flowers, you can always add them to your built-ins and change them every other week for a fresh look. 

Remember that greenery comes in different shapes, textures, and shades as well. Play with different styles to add more depth and create more excitement. When you bring greenery to your built-in, you can also change it by the season. It’s an easy way to keep your decor continuously updated. 

Built-in Shelf Decor

Play with Height, Texture, Styles & Objects

The last thing you want is to have a built-in flat decor. To make it truly stand out, you want to play with different textures, heights, and objects. Don’t be afraid to mix books with vases, frames, accessories, or plants. Layering your shelves is the perfect way to add interest. Ideally, you should have two, three, or four different items per shelf.

As you’re thinking about the different items to mix and match, keep in mind their heights and textures. As you group your items, make sure they’re all in varying sizes. Remember our books? If you happen to have things in a similar height, prop them on the books to add some height and create that contrast you’re looking for. 

Finally, don’t be afraid of creating contrast here. When choosing the groups of items per shelves, don’t be scared to combine things with opposite styles, finishes, or purposes. For example, a vintage wood box paired with a modern and sleek metal wired basket can look fabulous. Rustic, coastal-inspired frames with smooth ceramic vases are another unexpected combination that magically works. Remember, you can play as much as you want here. 

How to Decor Built-Ins

Pick a Number

Last but not least, here’s our super-secret tip for you: pick a number. Depending on your built-in shelves’ size, you will have more or less space to play around. Traditionally, interior designers love to decor using odd numbers, meaning three or five elements per space. To the eye, this makes a much more interesting look; thus, your decor will look more engaging.

When you’re working with your shelves, you want to think about how you want to use them. If you have extended, horizontal shelves, consider adding three or four groups of items per shelf. That would look like one vase, a group of books, a jewelry box, and a plant. However, if you have a shelf with a cube-style layout, you can work with one or two groups of items. For example, the cube on the left will have a group of books and a vase, while the cube on the right will only have one basket. 

By doing so, you don’t stuff the shelves with everything you can find around the house. Besides, it gives you a structure to follow, making the whole process a lot easier. 

We’re Here to Help

If your head is still spinning and you feel that the items you have right now are not enough to fill out your built-in, we can help you. Start a project today and work with our online interior designers to figure out how you can use the items you already have, and incorporate new decorative objects to transform your built-ins from a puzzle nightmare into a blissful masterpiece. By the end of our consultation, you’ll receive a real-life rendering of how your built-ins will look, paired with a shopping list to help you transform your home into a space that sparks pure joy. 

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