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Wondering how to get your home as polished and inviting as those in the pages of House Beautiful? It’s all about the styling! One you have your foundational pieces in place, you need to add the decorative touches that make a room look finished. Here are some tips to help you style any surface.

General Rules

Mix both personal and decorative pieces on each shelf. You want to strike the right balance between generic and TMI. Personal items are anything that you have for sentimental reasons: a rock you found on your honeymoon, a picture of your family skiing. Place those next to accent pieces from your favorite stores, like a decorative candle or that hot pink pelican you couldn’t resist. It makes the space fun, visually interesting, and individualized without being overwhelming. 

Keep accessories between 5” and 14” tall. Anything under 5” isn’t really an accessory; it’s a dust collector. People won’t be able to tell what it is from any distance. But anything taller than 14” has too strong a visual presence and can take over the look and feel of the room. 

Abide by the rule of odd numbers. An even-numbered group of items can feel contrived and less interesting than one made up of odd numbers. So if you’re going to stack some books on a coffee table, go for 3 or 5, rather than 2 or 4. The same goes for the number of picture frames on a mantel, decorative vases on the window sill, tapered candles on the table. You get the picture.



Start with the books. This may sound obvious, but people can get so wrapped up in the form, they forget the function. I’m a big believer in practicality over style. Furniture has to serve the purpose for which you bought it, and a bookcase needs to store your books. So start there.

Organize with style in mind. You can arrange books by height. You can lay some of them horizontally for contrast. If you have colorful books, you can arrange them by color. However you choose to sort them, I am big fan of removing dust covers – i.e., the paper that covers the book. Dust covers tend to get ratty, and the metallic name on the spine has a much sharper look than the paper does.

Mix in the tchotchkes. You know those trinkets and decorative items that don’t necessarily serve a specific function? This is where they go! I’m talking about the snow globes, the framed tickets, the copper baby shoes. Aside from revealing a little bit of who you are, they break up the monotony of all that paper. If you have a ton of books and no room to weave in the tchotchkes, push the books toward the back of the shelf and style in front of them. 

Add bookends. Form and function all wrapped into one! Bookends help make everything look more contained. You can find great options at Pottery Barn, West Elm, and CB2.

Choose bookcases with cabinets on the bottom. Have a penchant for video games? Like to read up on Kama Sutra techniques? That’s your business. Cabinets on the bottom of a bookcase give you a place to store the books and other items you don’t necessarily want all your guests to see. If you already have a bookcase that didn’t come with cabinets, you can achieve a similar effect by getting some baskets for the bottom shelves. Pier1 Imports, World Market, and Pottery Barn have loads of choices. And for the record, mine are filled with toys that the kids can pull out in living room.   

Fireplace Mantels

Don’t add fire to fire. When it comes to decorating a fireplace mantel, let Feng Shui guide your decision. If you have a fully-functioning fireplace, then you’ve got the fire element covered, and what you need is a contrasting, cooler element, like metal or glass. Some vases or picture frames would fit the bill perfectly. But if your fireplace is purely decorative, you want to bring the fire in, and what better way than with candles? Ikea is my favorite place to stock up on candles at a great price. For a beautiful touch, cluster cream-colored pillar candles in varying heights on a thin tray.  

Mind the depth of the mantel. Make sure whatever you want to put on the shelf or mantel is not as deep as the mantel itself, or it will hang over the edge – a major no no. Also, if your mantel is shallow, keep the décor as cohesive as possible – or even consider keeping it completely uniform – so it looks decorated, not cluttered.


Store your jewelry. Storing your jewelry on a dresser top is both practical and pretty. Choose a decorative box or a jewelry tree where you can hang your necklaces. You could even add a tray and style it like a vanity table with your favorite makeup and perfumes. And, if you hang a mirror above the dresser, it could actually serve as a vanity!

Add a lamp. If you’re a regular blog reader, you know my rule of having 3 eye-level sources of light per room. This can be tricky in the bedroom, where there are less surfaces. But if you have a lamp on each night table (because you know you should have a pair), you can put the third lamp on your dresser. Just make sure they contrast in both texture and color. A light-colored, ceramic lamp would look beautiful on a dark dresser.

Frame your photos. A dresser is also a great place for framed photos, but remember the rules of Feng Shui, and only keep pictures of your significant other in the bedroom. Otherwise, stick with images that are calming or moving but that don’t have people in them.

Floating shelves

Floating shelves are for decoration only. The benefits of floating shelves are obvious: they’re affordable, don’t take up valuable floor space, and can help fill up a large wall. But they’re really meant for display only. If you overload them, they’ll look precarious, which is never pleasing to the eye. So use a light touch and only tchotchkes and personal items, not functional ones. 

Entry Console Tables

Have a place for keys and mail. The first thing we tend to do after walking in the door is drop the things we have in our hands. Having a place to catch them right by the entryway just makes good sense. A tray to hold your keys and mail looks contained and will help ensure you don’t lose them in your haste.

Add chunky décor to keep it neat. When styling an entryway console table, I like to add something decorative, so it doesn’t become a landing station for everyone’s clutter. A grouping of ceramic vases or large picture frames is ideal: they take up a lot of space, they’re hard to move, and they look great when people come in.

Good styling is all about the proportions, so play around with different layouts until each surface feels just right. With these tips in mind, you’ll be able to style your entire home just like the professionals.  

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