Design · Design Dilemma · Inspiration · Interiors · Styling

Design Dilemma: Étagère Styling

A friend recently purchased an étagère for her living room and asked if I could give her some tips for styling it.  An étagère is a piece of furniture made up of open shelves.  It is similar to a bookshelf, but is lighter, more open, and used primarily for displaying decorative items rather than books.  Here is an example of a gold étagère from Ballard Designs:

Screen Shot 2018-03-03 at 2.26.43 PM.png

Étagères tend to be elegant and feminine-looking, often are in gold, and are a great way to bring graceful refinement to a room.

Here are some tips for styling an étagère:

Keep it light and airy:

Étagères are not bookshelves and are more decorative than functional.  They are meant for displaying pretty and interesting objects.  If too much is placed on their shelves, they look cluttered.  Keep things simple–only a few objects are needed on each shelf.



Add a few stacks of books:

Even though étagères are not bookshelves, they look best when styled with a few stacks of books.  The books look nicest when they are similar in size, hardcover, and have their jackets removed. I prefer book covers that coordinate with a room’s colors.  If you stand books upright on one shelf, try stacking books horizontally on the next shelf.  You can top off the stack of books with a decorative item such as a large shell, a pretty box, a gold urchin, a small plant, or a piece of pottery.

Ballard Designs


Vary heights:

Choose a few tall pieces—such as a a vase, candlesticks, a plant, or a ginger jar—to go on a couple of the shelves.

Ballard Designs
Caitlin Wilson


Leave open space:

Don’t fill the shelves with too many objects. The shelves are most appealing when there is some empty space.  Stay away from items that are very small–they are visually distracting.

Phoebe Howard via Pinterest

My daughter created this graphic with some styling tips:

Screen Shot 2018-03-03 at 5.45.19 PM.png

Here are a few other examples of étagères that are styled nicely:

Elizabeth Krueger Design
My Domaine
Pink Peonies



Nicole Gibbons Style

I hope these tips provide some help and inspiration!

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12 thoughts on “Design Dilemma: Étagère Styling

  1. A HUGE thank you!!!! You are too kind. I saw this post this morning at 6am when I woke up but wouldn’t allow myself to open it until I got home this evening and could take it all in. So many good ideas. I took a stab at decorating some of the shelves this past weekend and suprised myself with how nice they look. With that said, I didn’t like the top shelf and when I look at the second picture you posted it makes sense. I think I need more balance on the top shelf. I love that Caroline chimed in with her diagram. Thank you for considering my request.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a great lessen…. the tips you posted for styling a coffee table go hand in hand with this. Maybe Catherine can create a diagram for that lessen as well!

    Liked by 1 person

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