The Essential Guide to Styling Floating Shelves

When you have a blank wall staring you in the face, a great choice to fill it is a floating shelf or two (or more!). But once you have them up, it can feel daunting to know exactly how to fill them. I get it, I’ve been there. But after years of styling and restyling all those shelves, I’ve gotten pretty good at it.

In this post, I’m going to give you ideas on how to style your floating shelves, as well as specific guidelines and advice on where to start.

Just looking for the shelf styling formulas? Here’s the free cheatsheet to download. 

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Learn how to style all the floating shelves in your home. Get ideas for the shelves in your living room, kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom. Plus 6 done-for-you shelf styling formulas you can steal for instant gratification! Decorate your floating shelves the easy way – learn more at Bloom in the Black.

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How to style a floating shelf

It can be tempting to think that styling shelves is the same no matter which kind you’re approaching. And when you’re working with a single shelf, yes, the same principles apply. However, floating shelves have two primary differences from bookshelves:

  1. A focus on balance. When it comes to sets of floating shelves, you need to focus on an even balance of “stuff” on each shelf. With a bookcase, variety can be welcome to break up a vast expanse of decoration. But with floating shelves, you generally want to keep the amount of “stuff” you use fairly consistent to keep everything balanced.
  2. A focus on function. Styling a floating shelf in a bathroom is very different from styling a floating shelf in a bedroom, which is wildly different than styling a floating shelf in a kitchen.

Working with a built-in? Here’s my ultimate guide to decorating a bookshelf.

Ideas for styling a floating shelf

Shelf styling basics

  1. On each shelf, use something vertical, something horizontal, and something with an organic shape. This creates a visual triangle to lead your eye around. The exception to this might be in the kitchen if you’re stacking plates or lining up spices. In that case, use repetition en masse to create visual interest.
  2. Use an odd number of objects in each visual group — the eye likes odd numbers. Keep in mind that a united group counts as one object, like a plant on top of a small tray or a stack of books.
  3. Use a variety of sizes, especially when it comes to height. If you put a candle and a pot next to each other that are the same height, it won’t look good (unless you’re using the repetition technique in point 1).

Feeling stuck? I made a free cheatsheet of shelf styling formulas for you to copy!

Where can you hang a floating shelf?

A better question might be, where CAN’T you hang a floating shelf? A few things to consider when deciding whether you SHOULD:

  • Are you looking for loads of storage or simply a pretty spot to display things?
    While a deeper shelf with a high load-bearing weight can get you some storage, if your primary needs call for a lot of things to be stored, especially less attractive things, opt for closed storage instead of a floating shelf. If you want to display or store a small number of items that are useful and/or pretty, go for a floating shelf.
  • Do you want to make a statement or do you want something that blends in?
    Typically, a floating shelf is a place to make a statement. It’s a way to fill a large area of a wall, but even a small shelf calls attention to anything that’s on it. Think about how you want this piece to play with the rest of the room and whether a statement is what you want.
Styled floating corner shelves in the kitchen.

Ideas for styling a floating shelf in a kitchen

If you’re using a floating shelf in the kitchen, you’ll first need to decide what you want it to hold. The kitchen is the most commonplace to use floating shelves for more functional objects, and therefore you want to have an idea of what you need it to hold. Heavy, wide items like plates and bowls will require deeper shelves that can carry more weight than a shallow display shelf for spices or decor.

Other things to consider are the placement. You can — and maybe should — place a set of shelves by the stove, but you’ll want to keep in mind that the objects on the shelves will need frequent cleaning from the inevitable grease that accumulates from cooking spatter. In our old kitchen, we kept frequently used dishes on ours so it wasn’t a big deal since they were washed daily.

Style a floating shelf with some greenery to add life

Ideas for styling a floating shelf in a living room or bedroom

Floating shelves in your living room and bedroom are going to be decorative in 9 out of 10 cases. I’d go so far as to say it should be 10 out of 10 cases. Cased storage is lovely in these spaces so there’s no need to store important stuff on an open shelf here.

Use floating shelves in your living room and bedroom to display:

  • art
  • cherished photos
  • decorative objects
  • a few books
  • candles

Ideas for styling a floating shelf in a bathroom

Similar to the kitchen, you may want to consider using bathroom floating shelves for some practical storage. Because what bathroom ever seems to have enough storage?

Weirdly, toilet paper looks fantastic on a bathroom shelf. When stacked in sets, those pristine white rolls become decor! Try these ideas for styling floating shelves in the bathroom:

  • plants
  • rolled up towels and washcloths
  • bars of soap in glass jars
  • a pretty air freshener
  • candles

How much weight can a floating shelf hold?

The average floating shelf can hold between 30 and 75 pounds if secured into wall studs. Small decorative shelves hold a bit less — in the 11 – 20 pound range — but work with wall anchors if you can’t hit a stud. And if you need serious weight support, heavy-duty brackets can be purchased very affordably from Amazon to hang shelves that will support up to 150 pounds!

Determine what you want to put on your shelves and decide from there how much weight you’ll need them to hold.

Where to buy a floating shelf

Hands down, my favorite place to buy floating shelves is Etsy. Most sellers can customize to the exact dimensions you need and the finish you want. Plus? You’re supporting a small business. I’ve also had luck at Target with these inexpensive low weight-bearing shelves.

Here are a few more of my favorites:

There you have it! How to style your floating shelves and ideas to get started. I hope you grabbed my free cheatsheet of grab-and-go shelf styling formulas.

Want more? Here’s the full collection of Bloom in the Black decorating posts. If you’re interested in having me cover a particular topic, shoot me an email and I’ll add it to the list!