Open Shelving can be both a blessing and a curse. If you have ’em, you know.

When we moved into our home, we had this slightly awkward cut-out area we decided was the perfect spot for built-in cabinets to store books and toys. (We have two little kids but I was not about to have my house looking like a daycare. Gotta hide that shiz.)

To fill the wall space, open shelving seemed like the perfect solution but after they were installed, I was so overwhelmed with how to fill them without looking cluttered.

Over time, I’ve learned with a few great pieces and a simple formula, open shelving can be a great focal point to display your favorite treasures…without spending your life’s saving to do so.

The Formula

Easy peasy. Grab the items below and get to work. Multiple shelving areas? Rinse and repeat by buying multiple items in the category but switch up the exact pieces so it’s not too matchy-matchy. Don’t forget to shop your own house. You may be surprised what you already have. (I may receive commissions for purchases made through links in this post.)



Start here. Books are substantial and lay a great foundation. Place books in a couple different areas, depending on the size of your shelves and how many there are. I like to incorporate different sizes and arrange them both horizontally and vertically. Three other tips here.

One. You most likely already have books in your house. Use hardcover books only, and take off the book jackets.

Two. Book spines the wrong colors? Turn them with the pages facing out.

Three. If you absolutely must buy books, I highly recommend scavenging local thrift stores and resale shops. These are purely for decoration and there’s no reason to spend a bunch of money here.



With your books in place, layer in frames. Different sizes and finishes, but keep it to two or three finish families so it’s still cohesive. Lean some and set one or two on top of books.

As for the art. If you are occupying your home, feel free to use your favorite family photos, and mix in other art. Selling? Nix the personal photos for now.

Art doesn’t have to be crazy pricey if you don’t want it to be. I love buying etsy printables and sending to print at Walgreens or FedEx Office. Here are a few of my favorites under $10:

  1. Abstract art by Jennifer Rizzo. This one is F R E E!
  2. Woman line art by Nataletado.
  3.  Eucalyptus art by BugambiliaArtPrints.
  4. Abstract loops by ChaosandWonderDesign.
  5. Printable abstract by ZeroPlusArt.
  6. Neutral Landscape by Nuuillustrations.



Vases are great for groupings. Leave them empty. Fill them with artichokes, plants or lemons for color. No real rules here. Buy vases you like and layer them in front of frames and around books. Here are a few I like.

  1. Modern Black Stoneware Vases, set of 3
  2. Gold + Clear Vase
  3. Face Planter – So cute and perfect for adding a little funky character.
  4. Ceramic face vase. I guess I have a thing for faces on vases?
  5. Concrete planter
  6. Textured line art vase
  7. Square concrete planter. Simple and classic.



If you are a seasoned plant lady (or guy), fill some of your planters with real greenery. There’s no substitute for the real thing.

However, if you are like me and can’t seem to keep them alive, go faux. I’ve found the best luck for affordable options at Home Goods. This set works too. Tip: buy faux plants in pots you don’t love or aren’t substantial enough and drop them into a new one to dress it up a bit.



Candlesticks do a good job of adding height and dimension. I personally have this matte black set of three and love them. This white ceramic set has a very Anthro vibe and could go with a lot of different styles.


knick knacks

This is where your own treasures come in to play. Place these items on books, around the frames and vases to fill in the space. For me, this includes an antique clock from my husband’s grandparents collection, a piggy bank, wishbone and a wooden hand mannequin I had to have. For you, it will be a different collection. If you love it, it belongs.



This is bonus. I’m not one for too much seasonal decor but if you are, swap the lemon vase filler with velvet pumpkins for fall and ornaments at Christmas. Add mini frosted trees in the winter or a small wreath. A lot of options here.

Long story short, buy things you like, use what you have and make it fun.