French Country | How to Style Shelves

Antique French armoires, bookshelves, open cupboards or bookshelves, displayed with dishes, your French Country collection, or books.

It doesn’t matter where you make a display of things you love, when they are displayed in a pleasing way that expresses your own personal style, it makes a huge statement. Creating a home surrounded by things you love is the best way to express yourself, to create a home that is an authentic reflection of you and your family.


Too many display pieces end up looking like a mess  cluttered, but not enough pieces is not interesting enough. So how do you style your shelves like a pro? While still creating rich, seamless arrangements of one-of-a-kind objects? Follow my tips {I’m not an expert by any means, but this always works for me.}

1. Start from empty. In order to style shelves, or a cabinet, it’s easier if you start from “clean.” Take everything out of the cabinet, give it a good dusting…and really think about what you want to display. When magazine stylists work on an armoire, they usually remove everything, then add things in slowly. The one tip I will share with you that I’ve learned from the photoshoots we’ve had here at our house is that less is often more.

2. Choose a color theme. You want to have a connection between your display to the room. Painting the backs of shelves with an accent color really makes your collection stand out. Select objects that are pleasing with the other objects, they should color coordinate.


My collection of antique French majolica asparagus plates for the shop are all unified in color. I painted the back of the armoire a soothing greige color, but a pop of red would be stunning for another group of items, as would any other color that appeals to you and mixes well with your collections.

3. Vary shapes and sizes. Different shapes, sizes, as well as textures will give your styled shelves depth and achieve a curated look.


I styled my armoire for a shoot I did at home for Victoria Magazine. Notice that the pieces tie together with a common black and white theme, but the textures go from rough {burlap} to shiny {ironstone} to metal and leather. A variety of textures is what will take any display from so-so to perfection!


4. Use what you love. You know what you love. Beyond quality, it has to have a lot of personality, a story, maybe have a sense of humor, or be a souvenir from a trip you took with your family.  A gathering of things that you love should include only those things that you consider a.} beautiful. b.} useful or c.} sentimental, if they don’t fit any of these three categories, consider donating them!

5. Stack, elevate, use different levels. Especially if you are using books in a bookshelf, stack volumes both vertically and horizontally. Try to evenly disburse the books by color on your shelves so that you don’t have a “dark” corner and a “light” one somewhere else. This will give your display a pulled together and collected look. Top stacks with smaller objects for interest. If you are displaying a collection of pottery, stack smaller pieces on little stacks of plates, add in a stack of antique books for fun. {see the photo above with an antique French tureen balanced on a stack of dark leather books.}


6. Add some green. A living green plant or bowl of green clipped from your garden adds texture, and a fresh element that shelves often lack. Flowers {even one} or succulents add life to your collection of books and antiques!  In this French antique ironstone souptierre, I placed clippings from a hedge in our garden in water, it lasts about as long as a bouquet of flowers will.

A living plant is the best, of course. I have used ivy which stays fresh and bright green for months! The preserved boxwood wreaths are a good option for shelves and armoires, I have hung them inside, or propped the miniature boxwood wreaths  in bowls and tureens, like the one below. They last almost forever.


7. Add art.  Incorporating your art into your shelves adds lots of personality, it will use up visual space that is otherwise difficult to fill with small pieces, and it draws the eye to the back of the shelves, making it look bigger and creating a layered look. In the shot below, I used an antique Tole Tray and a large antique ironstone platter instead of a painting or print as my art pieces. Notice how it does layer and draw your eye to the back? It really makes the antique French toleware footed bowl stand out, too.


You can style your bookshelves and French armoires to come together to look like the best version of your personality possible. Place your pieces where you like them, step back and look at what you have created, if needed, adjust, and repeat the process. The best part of styling your shelves? Nothing is permanent. If next month, or next season, you want to change it up, you can.

If you acquire a new French antique {hopefully from} you can add it in, or make it the focal point of a whole new display. Each time I change my armoires and bookshelves, the entire room changes. Styling makes a world of difference!

Shop for the best in French Antiques, furniture with the patina of age, vintage accessories to delight you and your family & friends, and French Country utilitarian pieces. Treasures that make your home fresh, beautiful, inspirational and uniquely yours. Visit our shop

8 thoughts on “French Country | How to Style Shelves”

    1. Thank you! Yes, apples or other fruit are a great way to add a pop of color, green, red, whatever suits your decor, mood, or the season.

  1. Hi Lidy, first of all I have to tell you how much I enjoyed your article on silver in Romantic Homes this month. I always like it when you bring out the history that you are highlighting.
    Even though I have been to school to be a Interior Designer and have created many vignettes in my lifetime I enjoy learning different ways in styling. One thing that I have really learned is that there is really no rule.
    Thank you for inspiring me today! xx Jo

    1. Jo, thank you! I agree, there are no real rules! These are guidelines for help, but ultimately, if YOU love it, it works!!

  2. It all looks beautiful, Lidy and thank you for the great tips! Adore your asparagus plates! Happy Thursday ~

  3. I love how you did the black and white shelving. I haven’t considered mixing ironstone ware with tole but I like it. Thanks for the tips. T

  4. Irene G Peterson

    Beautifully done! I wish that I could add your suggestions to my Pintrest holdings. Thanks for a breath of fresh air.

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