6 Ways To Decorate Living Room Shelves

decorated living room shelves with plants and tropical bird pictures

Last Updated on October 5, 2021 by Plantiful Interiors

Living room shelving can be a beautiful focal point to a room, but shelves often end up looking cluttered and disorganized.

When decorating your living room shelves, it is essential to start with a plan and curate the pieces carefully.

There are so many ways to make a series of living room shelves pop, and the right theme can tie the whole room together.

Shelves, and the items they hold, contribute to the overall ambiance of the room and you can easily rotate decorations to keep things fresh.

But, if you’ve got a couple of shelves in your living room and you’re not sure what to do with them, this article will give you just the inspiration you need.  

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Before You Start Decorating Your Living Room Shelves

Decorating shelves is one facet of decorating your home. If you don’t already know your preferred style or color palette, we suggest looking through a few basic interior decorating books or spending some time on Pinterest to get a sense of what you like and dislike. Having a clear theme for the living room and your whole home will make the process of decorating your shelves a lot easier.

6 Creative Ways to Decorate Living Room Shelves

Empty shelves provide a blank canvas for you to express your style and creativity. Think of each shelf as a mini vignette that should stand alone and be in harmony with its surroundings.

To jumpstart your decorating, the following are half a dozen broad categories of decorations that you can consider for living room shelves: 

  1. Houseplants
  2. Photos and art
  3. Souvenirs and special finds
  4. Books and bookends
  5. Color theme 
  6. Seasonal decorations

Within these broad categories, there are several possibilities for you to explore and pieces of decor to acquire.

These themes can be applied no matter what type of shelf you’re trying to decorate: a bookshelf, a general-purpose shelf, a floating wall shelf, or a corner shelf.


A few beautiful potted plants provide mental health benefits while lending a natural look to your room. Two or three plants among your other decor infuse life, color, and texture to your space. 

Here are a few recommended plants for living room shelves; these are mainly low-light tolerant plants since shelving tends to be located away from windows. 

PothosLow maintenance; vines create visual interest. 
ZZ Plant Structural appearance; thrives on neglect. 
Peace LilyGraceful appearance with glossy, deep-green leaves. Periodically produces flowers.
Staghorn FernNeeds more light than other plants on this list, but can be mounted on wood for a unique
shelving display.

As with any furniture, be careful not to damage your shelving when watering your plants. Use a cachepot or a saucer under the plant to catch any excess water. 

For those who lack a green thumb, high-quality artificial plants give you the same look and don’t require any care!

Photos and Art

Nicely framed family photos are an obvious choice for living room shelving, but art also adds visual interest to any group of objects. You can find reasonably-priced art prints to suit any style, size, and color scheme.  

Varying the shape and texture of photo frames can also add visual interest to your shelf display. This prism frame on Amazon, for example, adds an unusual geometric shape to your shelves. Shelves are about drawing the eye to a particular place, and adding an odd shape to the mix can help draw attention to the items around it.

And when it comes to art, don’t forget about ceramics and metalwork! Sculptures and figurines add more shapes, finishes, and textures – which add dimension and interest to the ensemble.

Souvenirs and Special Finds

If you’ve been fortunate enough to be able to travel in your life, some souvenirs from your journeys will be a perfect accent piece to your living room shelves. 

Treasured souvenirs are not limited to typical tourist purchases; they could be any special find that has a personal meaning to you, like a unique soda bottle or the menu from a memorable takeout meal. Something from a tour abroad or a trip to the local thrift shop!

Souvenirs and small treasures are often conversation starters, and they can help remind you of your fabulous trips. Remember to keep a balance between eye-catching focal points and more neutral filler items.

Books and Bookends

What would shelves be without a few good books on them anyway? You probably already have some attractive books in your collection, but if not, you can hit up thrift stores or local used bookstores for inexpensive vintage books. 

Books are especially good to stack up, and then place one or more of your other items on top. That gives your objects added height where you need it. Coffee table and art books with beautiful covers can be displayed face out, like works of art.

When you’re looking for books to add to a shelf, keep in mind the color scheme you’re going for, or at least your theme. If you have a bunch of modern-looking pieces of decor on your shelves, a worn old copy of a Mark Twain novel will probably look out of place.

Bookends can be as visually appealing and interesting as some of the books themselves and can introduce different materials and finishes to your shelves. From metallic figurines to bright geodes and just about anything in between, the right bookends can make shelves pop.

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Color Theme

Your living room probably has a color scheme that you’re following, so it stands to reason that your shelves should match that color scheme. By using color, the concern shifts from what objects you choose to whether the items go with the rest of your living room furniture and decor.

You don’t want to have too many colors; one to three complementary colors will do nicely. 

When you’re decorating by color scheme, make sure to pick out items with varying shapes and textures to help break up the surface and provide interesting things to see in your home. That’s how you create a beautiful living room shelf display!

Seasonal Decor

It’s easy to go overboard on seasonal decor, and you have undoubtedly seen examples of that. However, adding a few items to mark upcoming holidays and seasons can be a subtle and charming addition to your living room shelves. 

A shelf with some summery pastels or a beach theme can quickly become a fall lover’s dream with just a few changes. You could have a small bin for each season, so all you have to do is pull it out and make the swaps.

Here’s just a few of the seasons and holidays you could consider having a dedicated set of decorations for. The key to keeping this from being overwhelming or tacky is to mix-and-match with your standard decorating items.

  • Summer
  • Winter
  • Fall
  • Spring
  • Winter holidays
  • Easter
  • Halloween
  • Thanksgiving
  • Independence Day

Seasonal and holiday decorations are available to fit any type of interior design and theme. No need to overpower the rest of the shelf; only a few tasteful Christmas or Fourth of July decorations can be enough to get you in the festive spirit!

Final Decorating Tips

There are also several general guidelines espoused by interior decorators that will help keep your shelves looking elegant and intentional. These guidelines include, but are not limited to:

  • Less is more
  • Group like items
  • Group by color
  • Group in odd numbers
  • Leave negative space between objects
  • Vary shapes, textures, and sizes of objects

While you are arranging items on your shelves, step back and reassess periodically to see where your eyes naturally land. Does it make you feel interested, calm, or stressed? Are these items creating the atmosphere you want in your home? 

Visitors should notice and appreciate the shelves without being distracted by them, so try to observe each decorated shelf as if you’re seeing it for the first time. Taking photos of your décor can allow you to see it from a different perspective and determine looks right and what doesn’t. 

One of the best things about decorating shelves is that you can update them as often as you like. If you get tired of your display or think it doesn’t quite look right, changing up the appearance is easy. So use the tips here as a starting point, but then go off and experiment until you love the result! 

Closing Thoughts

If you decorate living room shelves with items that spark your interest, your display will complement the rest of the room’s decoration.

By choosing which items to put on your shelves and how to arrange them, you can highlight favorite pieces without it looking too busy.

Ultimately, living room shelving is the place to show your personality, style, and interests. 

A living room shelf is a blank canvas of opportunity and possibilities. There is no right or wrong way to decorate them, and the stakes are low if you make a mistake.

The suggestions offered above are a starting point, but we encourage you to take chances and experiment until you find exactly what you like best. You are sure to end up with a shelf display you love!

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white living room shelving unit decorated with plants and bird pictures