We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Learn more about cookies here.

Search the Blog

Designer Andrew Pike shares some of his best tips for putting your prized possessions on display.

Once banished behind closed doors as nothing more than an organizational necessity, shelving has since taken the design world by storm and propelled its way into the common areas of our home. And it isn’t surprising to see why: open shelving is a simple, cost-conscious way to fill a blank expanse of wall or increase storage space, and they’re well-suited to almost every room of the home. More than that, these adaptable home accents also offer an opportunity to mix function with form and create beautiful displays. Whether you’re looking to introduce open shelving into your home or breathe new life into existing ones, here’s what you need to know to style like a pro.

Start with Your Must-Haves

Open shelving presents a great opportunity to create a memorable design moment, but it’s important to begin by filling them with the pieces you need the extra storage space for the most. In the kitchen, this means starting with items like plates, bowls and cups before working in a few fun elements like a favourite cookbook or a stylish appliance you can’t bear to stash away. “Try to curate your collection of objects with some obvious connection, like colour, texture or style,” says Pike.

The model home at our Hidden Lakes community in League City, Texas.

Consider Your Theme

The best home designs are the ones that have been planned right down to the details, and the same principle applies for open shelving, so be sure to give thought to your theme and colour scheme ahead of time. If you’re unsure of where to start, opt for grouping similar objects using a primarily neutral palette, working in a few small pops of colour to keep the look from feeling stale. Or, go the other way and display your collection of bright and colourful objects with a few neutral pieces mixed in to keep the look from feeling too overbearing.

Balance Form & Function

A beautifully-styled open shelf adds interest and intrigue to a space, and it can also serve as an additional opportunity for decor. When it comes to achieving that perfect balance between good design and function, incorporate things like lidded boxes and decorative baskets to keep clutter out of view and still look nice when displayed. “Combined with artful objects, the whole shelf will look more styled and appealing, instead of just another opportunity for storage,” says Pike.

The Honeysuckle model at our Avalon community in Caledonia, Ontario.

Be Mindful of How Much Space You Have

To ensure that you make the most of your open shelving space without overly cluttering it, work in small groupings and try not to fill the entire shelf. “Creating individual moments will help your shelf from becoming overwhelming and cluttered,” says Pike. “Work within the parameters you have to achieve balance. If the shelves are short, don’t overcrowd them; if they’re long, spread things out. A little air and space between groupings looks artful and chic.

Use Repetition to Your Advantage

Pike encourages using one or two objects in repetition to give your shelves some consistency. “A set of simple white vases can help unify a colourful or eclectic collection. A mass of hardcover books with their spines turned inward can provide a lovely neutral base and create levels and interest. Multiple small green plants help tie looks together and add a touch of freshness and life.”

The model home at our Halcyon community in Alpharetta, Georgia. 

Vary Height & Size for Visual Interest

For greater visual impact and to create a look that feels full and finished, include objects that vary in height and size. For a layered look, start with larger staple items and accessorize with smaller pieces like photos, candles or bud vases. “If the shelves overlap, don’t style everything in the same location so the look feels more varied,” adds Pike.

Don’t Forget the Technicalities

Floating shelves are contemporary, but make sure they’re securely mounted before placing anything on them,” says Pike. “Without brackets or end support they need to be secured really well so they can take the weight. If they’re not properly fastened they can sag, and that looks awful”.

Visit Andrew’s Instagram page for more great tips on how to style open shelving.


Get inspiration delivered straight to your inbox. Be the first to read the latest stories, receive exclusive content, and stay in the loop on all things Empire.