Our Step-By-Step Built-In Styling Guide
02/22 Design Tips

Our Step-By-Step Built-In Styling Guide

Our go-to guide for styling any built-in

Shelf styling is one of our team’s favorite decorating techniques, but it’s also one of the trickiest.

We get questions about the process all the time, and although we’ve been doing it for years, we know how daunting it can be!

If you’re thinking about updating your shelfie or creating a styled shelf for the first time, keep scrolling for some inspiration!

Here’s our go-to shelf styling process:

Our Step-By-Step Built-In Styling Guide
Our Step-By-Step Built-In Styling Guide

Step 1: Create a blank canvas

No matter what kind of shelves we’re styling, we always empty our shelves first and everything out. That way, we can start fresh and see the space we’re working with in a new light. A blank canvas is helpful when styling anything, but in our opinion, especially built-ins!

Our Step-By-Step Built-In Styling Guide
Our Step-By-Step Built-In Styling Guide

Take a mental inventory of what you’re working with. Start envisioning what pieces of decor you want to place next to each other and how you want to create groupings. What products do you want to be seen first? Is there anything missing? Anything you don’t want to include?

Pro tip: Take a photo of your before and after to see your progress. If you’re trying to build a design portfolio, don’t be afraid to share it on social media! Everyone loves a good before and after shot.

Our Step-By-Step Built-In Styling Guide

Dimensional storage pieces

Cordova Basket
Payne Basket - Set of 3
Burma Magazine Basket
Dothan Basket (Set of 3)

Step 2: Consider what you’re working with

Once you have cleared everything from your shelves, look at what you already have, and start grouping your objects by size. This process makes it easier once you start styling, and it helps you to see the common thread in your pieces and consider what you may want to add to your collection.

 

Our Step-By-Step Built-In Styling Guide
Our Step-By-Step Built-In Styling Guide
Our Step-By-Step Built-In Styling Guide
Our Step-By-Step Built-In Styling Guide
Our Step-By-Step Built-In Styling Guide

Step 3: Ground the look with substantial pieces.

Start by using your largest items first to create focal points to style around. Vases, baskets, bowls, art, or other large decor items are perfect for adding substance and visual weight to a built-in.

We typically like to stagger these items so that they don’t stack on top of each other and are not right next to each other, which helps create balance!

Stylist secret: It helps to place all of your similar objects at the same time. For example, style all of your vases, then your baskets, etc.

Our Step-By-Step Built-In Styling Guide
Our Step-By-Step Built-In Styling Guide
Our Step-By-Step Built-In Styling Guide
Our Step-By-Step Built-In Styling Guide
Our Step-By-Step Built-In Styling Guide

Substantial decor favorites

Metal Astericks
Brass Anchor Paperweight
Bronze Knot
Linked Wood Object

Step 4: Start to create groupings with your smaller items.

This next step can be the hardest part of the process, but also the most rewarding! We love to create groupings with our medium and small objects to fill in the spaces that our large pieces don’t occupy.

Stacking books, adding in boxes, and pairing two similar elements together are some of our favorite go-to’s. This is also the perfect time to add personal touches like family photos or collected objects to make it your own!

Our Step-By-Step Built-In Styling Guide
Our Step-By-Step Built-In Styling Guide
Our Step-By-Step Built-In Styling Guide
Our Step-By-Step Built-In Styling Guide

Accent styling pieces

Cement Head Sculpture
Decorative Wood Sphere
India Clay Pot
Marble Pyramid Bookends

Step 5: Step back and evaluate, add and subtract

Once you’re happy with the general idea of what you have created, step back, and evaluate! Don’t be afraid to add, subtract, or start entirely from scratch if the final product isn’t speaking to you. Remember, sometimes pivots lend the best results!

 

Our Step-By-Step Built-In Styling Guide
Our Step-By-Step Built-In Styling Guide
Our Step-By-Step Built-In Styling Guide

More fool-proof decor

Quiet Shore
Rounded Stoneware Vase
Raw Edge Teak Bowl
Zia Round Basket
Show Comments
9 Comments
Studio McGee
  1. Thanks for the awesome tips! Any chance you will share the color white? I’m in the process of building and love the white of the built-ins you are styling. Thanks

  2. Love these tips! When prepping for your install, do you moodboard and preplan particular pieces on the computer, or just pull and brings lots of options to play with?

    1. Hi Claire! It depends, but usually a mix of both! We like to have a general idea of the mood we’re going for but stay flexible and play with things as we go.

  3. I’d like to paint the back of my shelves. What kind (flat, satin, semi-gloss, etc.) and color is the white paint on your shelves?

  4. What if you have one big open space? We have 2 niches on either side of our fireplace. Bellow the space are 2 cabinets. The niches are about 3’ wide by 2’ tall and about 2’ deep??

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