Inspiration for Decorating Your Built in Shelves

July 16, 2021 · by Hannah Graley

A little over a year ago, my husband and I had custom built-in shelves put in our home on either side of our fireplace. We not only needed the extra storage, but the space was also left empty, so it looked weird in our living room.

Built-ins add so much character and personalization to your home and the possibilities are endless! I 10/10 recommend them if you want to customize the look of your space.

They look amazing filled up with your book collection; which is why we originally wanted them, but when we pulled all of our books out we realized we had nowhere near enough books to fill the shelves. They also look great as a showcase for art. I decided to decorate them and put our books elsewhere.

Here is the only ‘before’ picture I could find.

This is during our move in process, before the shelves and before the fireplace transformation. Yikes!

I ended up painting the fireplace white because I didn’t like the dark brick with the shelves. I was going for a bright and neutral white look, and I love the way it turned out! Painting the fireplace made all the difference!

Now, FINALLY on to the fun part— DECORATING!

I take a minimalist approach when it comes to decorating. I don’t think every little space needs to be filled, but empty shelves just don’t make sense. Ha! 

I felt so lost when I started decorating the shelves, so I wanted to share the process that worked for me in hopes to inspire anyone looking for ideas.

The first thing I did was look at pictures online for inspiration.

I still felt lost after looking because I didn’t have a lot of decor to choose from.

After months of empty shelves, I decided on a color scheme and gathered what I had throughout my house in those colors to start out with.

I took things from the bathrooms, the kitchen, my bedroom and the attic. I also (very gradually) bought things from Marshalls, Hobby Lobby, At Home, Goodwill, and accepted hand-me-downs from my sister. Facebook marketplace is another good place to look.

Goodwill was a great place to go when it came to looking for books that matched my color scheme, and different sized vases.

The next thing I did was lay everything out on the couch I had gathered and made sure everything was clean.

I gathered books with white covers, book ends, vases, pottery, and pictures. I even used the cookie jar that our good friend and realtor gave us as a housewarming gift when we moved in. Ha! Playing around with texture is also key.

Next, I placed the biggest items on the shelf first so I could see where I would need to fill in. I didn’t have enough large items to use on each shelf, so I skipped the second shelf from the top and the bottom shelf.

After placing the largest items where I thought they looked best, I began to place the medium sized items next and worked my way down by size— Smallest items last.

I placed my items in groups of three, divided into two sections.

A well known rule of thumb when it comes to decorating is: odd numbers look best.

I used coasters to keep things at different heights on this tray.

Adding plants is always a great idea no matter your color scheme. Mine are all fake because I didn’t want to mess with watering plants on high shelves AND they don’t die.

Homegoods and Marshalls were my go-to stores for fake plants. They are very reasonably priced and they come with super cute ceramics that add to your decor— an all around win!

I also incorporated a few pictures and a letter board. I change the quote every few months just to keep things fresh.

See the last picture for how I decorated the left side of our two built-ins!

When I finished the right side of the built-ins, I did the left side and made sure I had coordinated the bigger pieces and my groups of three to match the right side so everything flowed together.

Here is how they look now. Complete with a baby gate to keep our little guy out of the fireplace.

I hope this leaves you feeling inspired!

Hannah Graley

About Hannah Graley

Hannah Graley is a young stay-at-home mom to two beautiful babies. She is married to her soulmate, Joel. She grew up in Indiana. She is active in her church and has been involved in both music ministry and children’s ministry. You can find Hannah on Instagram as @graleyhannah