Styling kitchen shelves: 15 top tips for getting it right 

From floating to fixed bracket and everything in between

Styling your kitchen shelves is one of those wonderful leisurely Sunday afternoon jobs. It’s a labour of love for the demonstratively house proud – a task for the homeowner who sees every inch of their abode as an opportunity for self-expression.  

Well, that is the feeling when starting the task, anyway. 

Any seasoned interior designer will tell you that creating a perfect shelving display can be difficult This is particularly true if you want to tell your own story and not just create something, well, off-the-shelf. Plus, there are those secret shelf styling rules that only designers seem to know – but which we’ll share with you. 

Rodenhurst, Roundhouse kitchenCredit: Roundhouse

Emma Victoria Hancox, director of Studio EVH, says: “Shelf styling is definitely one of the more challenging décor jobs a designer undertakes and I can say this from personal experience.  

“The perfectly curated and balanced shelves you see in professional photos might represent quite a lot of work to get absolutely right. This is doubly true for kitchen shelves, where the instinct can be to stick exclusively to food, when there are so many other ideas to try.” 

The most important advice for styling your kitchen shelves? Have fun. We say, lure a friend over for tea, ply them with chocolate Hobnobs and co-opt them into helping to get those shelves just right. 

Start by gathering all of the beautiful objects that you have stashed in cupboards and boxes, and let’s get styling. 


1. Gather your collections

See what you have to work with

Vases and glassesCredit: Shutterstock / page frederique

Before you get started, it pays to assess what you have available to display. There’s no point deciding out of the blue that your kitchen shelves will be an ode to Japanese minimalism when your collection of bits and bobs leans towards French vintage maximalism. 

Have a good rummage through your kitchen cabinets and other rooms in your home. There is a good chance that you have some nice display items stashed away in drawers and cupboards that you have forgotten about. 

Then, there is the fancy crockery. 

CrockeryCredit: Shutterstock / gpointstudio

Do you have a stash of plates and bowls that you are really proud of? Now may be your chance to bring them into the light. As long as little hands can’t reach them easily, it might be time for your ‘best’ china to be un-boxed to take up residence on your kitchen shelves. 

Other popular items to display in the kitchen range from candlesticks to cookbooks; sculpture to framed art; potted plants to fine pottery – the list goes on. Leave no proverbial décor rock unturned. 

2. Edit your objects

Identify any gaps you have to fill

After your whole house scavenger hunt is complete you should have quite the collection. 

Spread everything out on your dining table and check what passes muster. You’ll either be chuffed that everything you own has a connecting theme or you’ll be scratching your head wondering how you’ll be able to put the random pieces together. 

Hint: you will, eventually. 

If you find that your options fall short, make a shopping list of bits you would like to add, and consider what needs to go back into the cupboard for another day.

Measure up first

Shelves are often shallower than kitchen cabinets and drawers, so check any dimensions to make sure anything you buy online for your shelves will fit. 

3. Take inspiration from gourmet food stores

Take direction from how food emporiums style their own shelves

Tea displayCredit: Postcard Tea

We’ve all walked into a luxury food hall or store and been blown away by the pretty shelving displays. Why not incorporate some of what you love from that experience when styling your own kitchen shelves? 

Are you into tea? Dedicate a whole section of your kitchen’s open shelving to displaying this brew just as high-end tea shops do. Grab some apothecary jars, antique teacups or, the sleekest tea tins you can get your hands on. Display them in abundance to dramatic effect. 

This tip applies to absolutely any other type of unrefrigerated food stuff you like. If you love it, there is a brand out there displaying it beautifully on shelves.  

This maximalist look works because a collection of anything, packaged and displayed thoughtfully, always looks smart, no matter how ‘ordinary’ the item. 

And the best part? Your kitchen shelves won’t just be attractive, they will serve as easy-to-reach micro-pantries for your favourite things to eat or drink. You’ll never run out, as you will easily be able to keep an eye on your stash. 


4. Be selective

Not every item is worthy of kitchen shelf display

Bespoke kitchen by HUX LondonCredit: HUX London

Some kitchens will only have a small run of shelves to dress up. In this case, it is perfectly OK to use that limited area for showing off some great décor bits, just as a talking point. 

If, though, shelving forms a major part of the storage in your kitchen design, you will have to think that much harder about styling your kitchen shelves for both aesthetics and practicality.  

Except in the most rustic of kitchen settings, if you choose to display items you use regularly, they should look nice and new. 

Put it this way. How inspired would you be if you visited a kitchen where battered chopping boards and stained wooden spoons made the kitchen shelf display cut? 

Bashes spoonsCredit: Shutterstock / milart

That’s not to say useful, everyday items can’t be added to your shelves. For one thing, you do not want a museum in your kitchen – and a ‘display-only’ zone is liable to become a dust trap. If you display items that you use often, the shelves are more likely to get a regular and thorough cleaning. 

Secondly, let’s not forget that in most kitchens, storage is at a premium. Carefully selecting practical items for your kitchen that look great and which you also like having close at hand will make your kitchen more useful than not. 

Examples of items that work on both a display and practical level include storage tins, copper pans, cookbooks and nesting measuring cups.  

deVOL kitchenCredit: deVOL

5. Stick to objects in one material or colour

The simplest shelf displays often have the biggest impact

Clark Roundhouse kitchenCredit: Roundhouse

In this vibrant and energetic kitchen designed by Roundhouse, do you notice how every single object on the kitchen shelf is exactly the same colour? But is it boring? Anything but. It feels curated, each piece lovingly handselected. 

You can try this ‘gallery’ kitchen shelf display look with any material or colour you particularly like and the effect will be the same.  

Our top tip? Keep the look to a single shelf in your kitchen so that it feels novel, rather than overdone. 

We like the way the colour of the island chimes with the items on display. Someone put a lot of thought into how the kitchen shelf display works with the overall room, and it shows. 

6. Display pulses, grains or spices

Food can be decorative in its own right

deVOLCredit: deVOL

Displaying food in the kitchen is a win-win – not only do pulses, grain and spices look lovely decanted into matching glass jars, but having your basic food stuff visible means you won’t so easily run out of key ingredients. 

The one thing to be mindful of is that some foods, like cooking oils, don’t like direct sunlight and some spices will suffer flavour loss faster than if stored in a darker part of your kitchen. But pasta, lentils, rice and beans will live happily in airtight jars, and will be easier to manage than in their original plastic packaging, which is susceptible to splits and spills. 

In this kitchen by deVOL, visual interest is added by playing with a variety of glass container heights. The designer made the food display extra handy by providing labels on each glass jar – a great kindness when cookery-happy guests come to stay and someone decides to help with the food jar stocking.  

7. Bring greenery indoors

Festoon your kitchen shelves with plants

deVOLCredit: deVOL

Greenery makes us happy. In fact, the folks at the RHS tell us that proximity to house plants does us all sorts of good, such as: 

  • Improving our mood 
  • Reducing stress 
  • Increasing our pain tolerance 
  • Purifying our air 
  • Reducing blood pressure 

So, who wouldn’t want to introduce the power of plants into their kitchen – let’s face it, some meal making occasions really pile on the stress. 

You can dot one or two plants between other items on displays and they will look lovely. But, if you’ve got the space, and green fingers, why not dedicate an entire shelf to showing off your plant growing skills? 

Best house plants for a kitchen display

Some house plants are more likely to thrive in steamy kitchen environments than others. Some practical options include: 

  • Basil – Snip off leaves to elevate a pasta dish 
  • English ivy – Purifies the air, with a long, flowing structure that’s great for draping over shelves to add visual interest 
  • Aloe vera – Can be blended into soups, salads and smoothies, and small plants always looks bold and architectural sitting on top of a trio of books or on trays. Keep next to the cooker, as this plant can also be used to treat minor burns 
  • Cast iron plant – With long, slender leaves, these plants – also known as aspidistra – are great for emphasising height and for layering with shorter elements on a shelf for variation  
  • Spider plant – With its quirky leaves, this plant is great for adding cheeky charm to create a playful shelving display 


8. Consider new ways to display books

Take inspiration from luxury bookshops and display with flair

Harvey JonesCredit: Harvey Jones

For some reason, everyone is hot on displaying the spines of their magazines and books on shelves, but, isn’t the cover where the action is? 

This shelving display from Harvey Jones turns the kitchen book display trend on its head, celebrating cookery book covers like the works of art that they are. 

And yes, you do end up with fewer books on display than you would with the typical bookshelf, but few book displays are as boldly attractive as this.  

It’s a highbrow and engaging kitchen shelf design look. 

9. Display your appliances

Some gadgets are too good to be hidden away

Adderley in Bone, Kitchen MakersCredit: Kitchen Makers

Much as shelves are wonderful and convenient in a kitchen, they are no place for an ungainly, chaotic overspill. Most bulky kitchen appliances should be stashed behind closed doors, but others are made for showing off.  

A great example of an appliances worth showing off on your kitchen shelves is the coffee machines. 

The cleverest kitchens, though, are the ones where coffee machines and shelves heaving with coffee lover accessories are proudly displayed and hidden away behind doors at will. If you happen to open the doors to discover a slick coffee machine incorporated in the shelves like this example from Kitchen Makers, then, it is difficult not to be impressed. 

Ben Burbidge, MD at Kitchen Makers says, “Creating an at-home coffee station is a baristas dream, but it can look messy and take up space when placed on a countertops. A dedicated built-in solution has become a popular addition to the latest kitchen designs.  

“It creates a streamlined finish and in busy family homes can incorporate a larger breakfast station, which allows you to hide away small appliances, such as kettles and toasters, keeping your kitchen worktops tidy.” 

These shelves are no place for mismatched chipped crockery. Instead, elevate the experience of your first brew of the day with artisanal handmade ceramics in the palette you find most soothing. 

And of course, this is no place to skimp on the biscotti either. Matching glass storage vessels are a must for your favourite coffee break treats. 

Tempted to try designing your very own at-home barista experience? Here are some coffee station ideas for the perfect brew.

10. Don’t forget the wall behind

Back your kitchen shelves to add drama

Magnet – Pebble KitchenCredit: Magnet

Are your kitchen shelves spanning a wide expanse and you are worried that you may have to overfill the shelves to cover the yawning chasm? 

One of the best tips for styling kitchen shelves it to make good décor use of the surface behind them. The options available as a backdrop for your shelves include wallpaper, tiles, mirror, timber or a dramatic composite stone.

We like the idea of using a bold wallpaper, just as the designers have done in this Magnet ‘Wardley’ kitchen. For a tiny fraction of the price of real stone, a wallpaper can capture the spirit of the surface – or you can take a complete departure and play with geometrics or whatever motif you like. 

Just be sure to opt for a vinyl wallpaper, which is more robust against the wear and tear expected in a kitchen. 

EbayCredit: Ebay

12. Let there be light

If you can, add lighting to your shelf design

Magnet – Wardley KitchenCredit: Magnet

You have your shelving and lots of great objects set up just right and feeling a pang of regret that you don’t have lighting for your shelves? 

There is a solution for that. 

Rechargeable and battery-operated lights do away with the need for wiring and gives you maximum flexibility. Pop them on your shelving, and angle them on your favourite items or hang them from hooks from the wall above shelves and enjoy a light wash over your display. 

Not only do cordless lighting options get away from the fiddly wires of their plug-in cousins, but the best versions will feature LED bulbs, which means they give off very little heat even if they have been left on for a long period of time. 

Pooky lightsCredit: Pooky
Shop this Pixii rechargeable picture light, £93 at Pooky 

Strapped for shelf space? Choose a rechargeable light that clips on to the edge of your shelf with a flexible light head. Wayfair and Pooky offer a wide range of USB lighting options from decorative lamps to clip-on reading lights. 

If you are opting to have lights wired in, one point of consideration is to ensure your selected kitchen lights are suitable fittings for moist areas. Look out for IP20 ratings as a minimum to protect against moisture from steam. If the lights are going to be mounted in a particularly steamy part of your kitchen, a rating of IP44 and above is advisable. 

13. Create a visual feast

Use a range of textures to create visual interest

White shelves with glasses and crockeryCredit: Demkat/Shutterstock

Variety, they say, is the spice of life. Given the wide range of materials that the kitchen’s accents and accessories come in, this room is the perfect place to put this mantra to the test. 

While a single material can look great on shelves, a mixture can feel characterful and playful. Not least since this look is usually achieved by throwing together a smattering of decorative accents – think candle sticks, layers of vintage books, ceramics and decorative placements. 

Rough textures mixed with smooth – like rattan mixed with ceramics – offers a contrast of textures that can be very compelling in the kitchen. Even if you only own the simplest white ceramic crockery, this contrast trick is a quick and easy way to elevate its look 

14. Harness the power of three

Take direction from home stylists in the know

Jars grouped in threes on kitchen shelfCredit: Natacha Comar/Shutterstock

Having a challenge getting your shelves to look balanced? Try grouping some of your items into lots of threes. Why? Because interior designers have known for years that we can’t resist picking up on odd numbers. 

Three is an easy number to try. Start with a grouping of matching items – vases, jars or even books. Stack this collection on the ends of shelves as they will create a visual anchor for the other items on the shelf.  

Most products we buy come in even numbers – we tend to buy glasses in sets of 4 or 6, for example. This is where playing with a grouping of fives comes in handy. Try stacking four plates and put a small plant on top – the plant makes the fifth item, creating the odd number.

15. Trick the eyes

Use layers to create depth

Kitchen shelves with chopping boards and crockeryCredit: Stock Studio/Shutterstock

Shelves can be short on depth, which may feel like an impediment when approaching how to style them. This is where layering – playing with heights and clever positioning of elements on your shelves – can make all the difference between a flat, uninspiring cluster of items or a décor treat. 

And best of all? Even the most simple kitchen objects can look impressive when layering is done well.  

To compensate for the shallow depth of the shelves, you’ll want to pinpoint some thin objects that can go against your wall, with varying heights. Think plates, platters and chopping boards. Dot these around your shelves and these will act as a ‘frame’ for the mix of small and medium height elements that will go in front of them.  

It will take a little time to get the balance just right but by having some flat items against the wall you will already be halfway to creating a magazine-worthy kitchen shelf display. 

This idea works well whether you choose to use a range of textures or stick to a single material and colour palette.  


Written by Joy Archer she/her