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How to Decorate Floating Shelves

Ready to spruce up those new floating shelves and create a charming display? Whether you have floating shelves flanking a fireplace or inside a nook you transformed into a remote work-from-home office, there are countless decor items you can add to them. So many, in fact, that it can almost seem overwhelming, leaving you paralyzed with indecision.

If this sounds like you, staring at empty floating shelves and not knowing where to start, Van Dyke’s Restorers has the expert help you need. Styling and decorating floating shelves is rather easy and some might say enjoyable, once you hit the ground and build some momentum. So don’t just leave those floating shelves blank. Here are some tips and tricks on how to decorate floating shelves, from researching the latest home decor trends to tweaking to your heart’s delight. 

Research the Trends and Get Inspired

Before decorating your floating shelves, take some time to research. Discover some of the latest home trends and find a theme. A theme can be practically anything, from seasonal decor to a color palette, tying each floating shelf together in one unified look. 

Do some research

Not sure what kind of theme you want or how to even begin researching? Find inspiration within design magazines, online blogs or Pinterest Home Decor. Pinterest is an excellent way to gather decor ideas and items, allowing you to see everything together on one board. If you like the idea of changing out your floating shelves from time to time, start by searching keywords for the upcoming season, such as “fall decor” or “winter decor.” Then, pin and save what you find. 

Another excellent way to find inspiration is to simply visit a home decor store. Many stores will create their own window or shelving displays, giving you some ideas and maybe a few objects to take home to get the ball rolling. 

Discover All Types of Floating Shelves

Use Existing Decor and Shop Your Home

If you want to walk away with a can’t-live-without piece of decor from the home goods store, then, by all means, take the inspiration home. However, try to limit yourself first. Then, once you have a theme in mind, take a little stroll around your home, looking at all your existing decor through a new lens. You might be surprised to find objects that you can incorporate into the overall look of your floating shelves. Hint: This is especially true if the shelves are seasonally themed and you have holiday decorations stored away. 

Find a few existing decor items in your home that might work? Great! Gather them all together and lay them out on the kitchen table or coffee table, ideally the room where you chose to hang the floating shelves. With everything all in one place, sort through the items and determine what should stay. To decide what should stay, edit the pieces down to a few categories:

Metallics and Textures — Textures can be anything from florals to rustic wood grains to textiles. A polished shiny metallic here and there adds a sleek texture, too. 

Artwork — Framed printed art, photography or “leaners” are perfect for casually leaning against the wall behind a floating shelf. If the art offers some dimension, such as a sculpture, be sure to give it center stage. 

Vessels — Whether it’s a vase, bowl, tray or box, add a few vessels to add a practical touch and display other decor items.

Three decorative wooden, floating, hexagon wall shelves

Flowers and Greenery — Don’t forget to add some greenery to those vases or add a potted plant or two. Bonus points if the flowers add texture or visual interest as they drape over the floating shelf.

Candle Holders — Add a few candle holders. Tapered cables work well for adding height to your floating shelves. Pillar candles are perfect for adding visual weight. Plus, a lit candle adds a lovely scent and glow.

Books — A well-placed book or two makes a great accent piece for floating shelves. But make sure the subject matter matches the theme, too. For example, are your floating shelves in the kitchen? Make it a cookbook. Do the floating shelves have an autumn theme? Bring in a book with a fall-colored spine.

If you have a few outdated decor pieces that could use a refresh, don’t disregard them. Instead, search online for ways you can upcycle them. You might be able to find an easy DIY project that will make them look on-trend and good as new, whether it’s spray painting it to match your color palette or repurposing it into something else entirely.  

After you pick your favorites and piecemill the decor items you already own, then you can go out and buy a few extra things to fill in any negative spaces and gaps. Consider what you are missing, too. For example, if the collection could use a metallic accent and some greenery, then look for a plant in a shiny brass pot. 

Another consideration to make? Decide if you want your shelves to have a more minimal look. For instance, modern farmhouse country shelves might be a bit more sparse, so you want to avoid too many decor items that make it look cluttered. 

Add Visually Grounding Objects First

Now that you have your collection ready to go, what items do you add first? We recommend starting with the more substantial objects, creating your centerpieces and focal points first. For example, artwork is usually relatively large. If you have an 8”x10” framed photo, you will want to lean it against the wall behind other objects. The same concept goes for large potted plants and vases or books and trays you intend to use as a base for stacking other things. 

If you find you have objects taller than the space allows between your floating shelves, just add them to the top shelf for extra visual height. If you aim to add visual height to the top floating shelf, consider incorporating home decor items such as vertical mirrors, ornamental wreaths or even feel free to hang artwork instead of leaning it. 

Cap the Ends with Tall Objects

Once you have your larger objects in place, cap the ends of your floating shelves with taller objects. By adding taller objects to each end, you essentially frame the space. So whether it’s a trio of books or potted plants that dangle over the edge, giving your floating shelves some well-balanced ends will help encapsulate the area and draw the eye. 

be bold

It doesn’t necessarily have to be tall objects, either. It just needs to be substantial enough to create boundaries. For example, you could also accentuate the ends with antique hardware mounted along the sides of each shelf. 

Add Antique Hardware to Your Shelving Unit

Layer in the Fillers

With the more prominent and taller decor items in their designated spaces, it’s time to add all the little tchotchkes and fillers. Again, if you want a clean, minimal look, all you’ll need to do is fill in a few gaps here and there. 

Think of decorating floating shelves like gathering people together for a photo. To capture everything in one frame, you need to layer. Place taller objects in the back where they can hover over the smaller items in front where they can be seen. When creating this last visual layer of smaller, upfront items, keep these few general guidelines in mind:

Repeat Elements

Have a few different cookbooks to display or a collection of candles? Scatter them about your floating shelves to add some repetition and cohesiveness throughout.

decorate in threes

Use the Rule of Threes

While repetition is a good thing, so is gathering items in groups of three. The Rule of Threes is a fundamental design principle used in everything from photography to interior design and staging. Visually appealing to our senses, use this design rule when adding your fillers, clustering and staggering tall, medium and short items in front of the other so the eye follows.

Tweak and Move Items Until It Looks Intentional

The trick to decorating floating shelves — or any tablescape or space for that matter — is to make it look intentional. You don’t want your floating shelves to appear like you just collected a bunch of items and dropped them on the shelf willy-nilly. Thoughtful placement is what matters here, and the best way to achieve that is to tweak and play around with each floating shelf. Arrange the decor in a manner that makes it appear natural, not haphazard. 

Each time you rearrange, walk away. Give yourself some space from the floating shelves, and after anywhere from an hour to a few days, see how it feels. Maybe the next time you pass the floating shelves, you’ll notice something that sticks out or seems out of place. Tweak until it feels right and looks refined yet organically placed.

Once you walk past your decorated floating shelves without something distracting you, you are finished. Styling any area takes patience and practice. But, once you get the hang of it, you’ll understand what does and does not belong and how to adjust it to your liking. 

Still, there is one last step you can take when it comes to decorating floating shelves. 

Get a Second Pair of Eyes

Do your decorated floating shelves look slightly off? Get a second pair of eyes. Ask your family and friends for suggestions on what can be improved. You never know. They might catch something you missed or offer a way to improve the arrangement. Working and staring at any kind of project too long can cause you to forget something obvious or make a pretty glaring mistake, not that it can’t be easily fixed and remedied. 

So don’t forget: When you are done decorating your floating shelves, two heads are far better than one. In fact, you could even make this a team project right from the beginning, shopping and decorating with someone who gets your style and tastes. 

Extra Tips on How to Decorate Floating Shelves

Like the idea of decorating floating shelves, but don’t have any in your home? If you plan to hang a few floating shelves, here are a few extra considerations you might want to make.

Stacked vs. Staggered

Should you stack or stagger your floating shelves? Stacked shelves offer a more uniform, classic look. However, if you prefer a more eclectic or bohemian style, staggered floating shelves are a perfect choice. A trio of juxtaposed floating shelves makes a wonderful addition to a bathroom or small wall space. 

stay organized

Minimalist vs. Maximalist

As we mentioned briefly, you have two options when it comes to decorating floating shelves. You can go clean and minimal or complete maximalist, showcasing everything you own. Each style has its pros and cons, obviously. A maximalist shelf might be a great option if you have lots of mementos to display and little storage space within the home. However, if your floating shelves are more practical, such as for storing kitchen appliances and server ware, it helps to keep them clean and organized.  

Lighting Fixtures

Consider how lighting will play a role in your floating shelves. Of course, candles are a great decor accessory to add to your shelves, but there are other options. For example, you could add backlit lighting tucked behind each shelf or mount picture sconces above the top shelf’s leaning artwork. You could even flank each side of the floating shelves with an accent sconce. 

Show Off Statement Pieces

Don’t feel like a floating shelf has to be a bridge between spaces or be long enough to decorate in layers. A floating shelf can be hung to simply showcase a single piece of art or sculpture. Stack them in a uniform pattern, whether it’s vertical or horizontal, or even stagger a collection along a focal wall, cleverly playing with the negative space behind it.

Create the floating shelves of your dreams with antique hardware, shelf brackets and more. Discover everything Van Dyke’s Restorers has to offer for your period-style or modern home. 

Image Credits
Brett Taylor Photography/
Dina Galal/
David Berlekamp/
Andreas Gruvhammar/