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7 Tips for Styling Vintage Decorations on Shelves Like A Pro

If you are looking for shelf styling tips, you are in the right place. Learn how to create interesting vignettes with vintage decorations on shelves. I love collecting vintage decor and displaying it around my farmhouse. If you have several collections that you are hiding behind closed doors, let’s bring them out on the shelves and let them shine. I’ll share tips on how to style shelves for cabinets, cupboards, and the kitchen hutch.

Have you ever scrolled through Instagram or flipped through a magazine and wondered how the designers styled those bookcases or open shelves so perfectly? Today’s tips on how to style shelves with vintage decor will work equally well with new decorations. Most of my collections are inexpensive thrift store finds, but when displayed properly, they look much more valuable.

Kitchen Cabinet Shelf styling with Vintage Ironstone Dishes and pig breadboards.

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Thrifting with the Gals

Today’s post is part of our monthly series, Thrifting with the Gals.

If you are new to our series, we are friends who share a love for vintage and thrifted decorating.

We all live in different parts of the country, but we come together once a month to share thrift store shopping ideas and tips on decorating with your treasures.

Here are the Gals:

  • Ann from Dabbling and Decorating finds her treasures as she travels between Vermont and Maine. She decorates both homes with so many vintage treasures.
  • Robyn from Robyn’s French Nest loves to travel and bring her vintage treasure to her lovely Florida Home.
  • Lora from Lora Bloomquist Create and Ponder is joining us as a permanent addition to Thrifting with the Gals. We are so happy to have another vintage lover among us.
  • I am from North Carolina, and I love filling my farmhouse and beach cottage with thrift store finds. I focus on budget-friendly decorating and DIY projects.
  • This month, our guest host is the talented Cindy at County Road 407. Cindy is the host of the monthly Pinterest Challenge and bi-monthly Lifestyle of Love series.

Before: Antique Cabinet

This primitive cabinet’s character really shines with a new coat of paint. I decided to leave the inside of the original stain. I love the contrast, but it makes styling the shelves challenging. Items disappear inside the cabinet. The cabinet is located in our bedroom, and I’ll share how to style shelves in this dark cupboard.

Antique cupboard filled with dark decorations on shelves that needs an update.

Pro Tips For Shelf Styling


I love adding small boxwood wreaths when I throw the doors open.

Pro Tip No. 1 – Gather Similar Items Together

First, determine what decorations you want to add to your shelves. You can group by color or collections.

Collections make such an impression when grouped together. If you spread your collections around the house, they don’t add a lot of impact. But group them together and style them strategically, and they will look like a high-end curated collection.

I didn’t have enough of the blue transferware yet, so I added a few pieces of ironstone. I knew the white would really pop inside the dark cupboard.

The large pitcher was the first piece I found that began this blue transferware collection. Isn’t she lovely!

Pro Tip 2: Begin Styling With The Largest Decor Pieces

Begin styling by placing the larger pieces of any collection on the shelves. Remember to balance the weight of the pieces as you place them. You don’t want all the larger, heavier pieces next to one another.

In addition, I like to place the larger pieces on the lower shelves and work up with the smaller pieces. However, there are always exceptions to the rule. If you have a tall bookcase with several shelves, you may want both the bottom and tops shelves to hold the more substantial pieces. This will allow the smaller pieces of your collection to nestle into the center shelves and not become lost from view.

How To style shelves with vintage blue and white transferware collections from Thrift Store Finds

Insider Tip

You can use empty picture frames behind smaller pieces to draw attention to them. Just lean the frame against the back of the cabinet and place smaller items in front to hold it in place.

Pro Tip No. 3 – Let There Be Light

I collect small mirrors from thrift stores. I particularly like small mirrors that can be used to layer inside shelves. By placing mirrors at the back of the cabinet, light is reflected around the decorations on shelves. I stand mirrors against the back of the cabinets and on frame stands, and I lay them flat on the shelf with decor on top.

You can also consider adding LED lamps that don’t require an electrical outlet. These help to brighten those dark corners and enhance your shelf styling. They can be easily moved from place to place when additional lighting is needed.

You can find more tips at Shopping at Thrift Stores.

add led light that is cordless to brighten dark shelves

Pro Tip No. 4 – Inexpensive Risers and Books for Decorating Shelves

Use thrifted plates, books, and mirrors as risers for small decor pieces.

Books are just natural for shelf styling! I love old books, but if you have any in your home, gather them and place them on your shelves. If you are not a book person but want to add books to your shelves, thrift stores sell used books really cheaply. You can also deconstruct your books by removing the covers for a rustic appeal or painting book covers for a uniform aesthetic. It really creates an interesting shelf when all the books are a matching color.

Books add so many options, and you know, they don’t call them bookshelves for nothing! LOL!

Insider Tip

If your cabinet is dark inside, you can turn the books with dark covers and face the pages outward. This will lighten the shelf. Likewise, a white interior will look best with darker books.

Pro Tip No. 5 – Layer Decorations on Shelves

To create interesting vignettes, layer the vintage decorations on shelves. Layering includes putting mirrors behind seasonal pieces to make them shine, stacking books, and setting decorative decor on the books.

These shelves are small and don’t allow for as much layering as can be done on larger bookshelves. You can use plates, coffee table books, larger mirrors, vases of flowers, candlesticks, and much more to create several layers on the shelves. I begin by standing a plate, for example, at the back of the shelf, and then I might add a vase or candlesticks in front of the plate. Use larger books, such as coffee table books. These can stand at the back of the shelf with the cover facing out. This makes a great backdrop for a clear vase or slim candlesticks. Just be creative with this step.

Vintage Books and seasonal decor for decorations on shelves in antique cabinets.

Here are several examples of layering your shelves. The mini vases are reflected in the mirror layered behind them. They are layered on top of a small white plate, which is layered on top of a vintage book.

Vintage Books and seasonal decor for decorations on shelves in antique cabinets

Insider Tip

Consider adding touches of metal to the shelves. Especially if most of your collection is ceramic or pottery. Silver, brass, gold, and copper can be added in the shape of bowls, mirror frames, goblets, and candlesticks.

You can add vintage candlesticks to shelves to add a bright touch, even if you don’t add any candles. However, if you want to add candles, ensure they are battery-operated for safety. See Tips for Decorating with Vintage Candlestick for more ideas.

Add brass planter with lambs ear stems to brighten dark shelves
Vintage Brass Container adds extra light to the dark shelves.

Pro Tip No. 6: Group In Odd Numbers

When styling collections, always group in odd numbers. Grouping in uneven numbers will capture your attention and allow your eye to move around the shelves to take in all the decor.

Add a collection of old alarm clocks in and around the transferware pieces.

shelf styling with old clocks grouped in uneven numbers for visual appeal.

Pro Tip No. 7: Vary The Height of Decorations on Shelves

This cupboard is very old, and the shelving heights are limited. Regardless, you don’t want everything the same height. Use your books, plates, and candle sticks to create different heights across the shelves. When you step away from the shelves, you want your eye to travel around the decorations on the shelves. This is accomplished by having several points of interest. The mirrors help to draw attention to even the smallest of accessories.

Notice how the items within the cupboard really pop now. The bunny is sitting on a mirrored tray layered with a mirror behind it as well. These reflective elements really add to the cupboard’s shine. All these reflective pieces guarantee the items will not blend in with the shelves.

How To style shelves with vintage collections in an antique cupboard

Pro Tip Bonus: How To Style Shelves in a Kitchen Cupboard

If you are looking to style your kitchen or dining room cupboard shelves, here are some additional tips for adding decorations.

When styling the kitchen cupboard with vintage collections, I prefer to work with a color theme. However, I do mix at times. For spring, displaying blue and white dishes gives the cupboard a fresh new look. The warm honey pine adds warmth to the blue and white shelf styling.

Blue and white dishes in kitchen cupboard shelves with decor

My best tip for shelf-styling a kitchen cupboard is to use a variety of methods to display your dishes and serving pieces.

I like to stand platters and dishes at the back of the cabinet and layer smaller pieces in front. Some dishes and bowls are stacked, while others are added to a plate rack.

The kitchen cupboard is more symmetrical in style than my usual shelf styling choices.

Vintage Blue and White Decorations on Shelves in kitchen cabinet for farmhouse decorating.

I also enjoy using all-white with a heavy dose of vintage ironstone. Here, a few interesting vintage pig cutting boards complement the all-white theme. When displaying ironstone collections, group similar items together on the shelves, such as the small cream pitcher collection.

Decorating shelves with vintage ironstone dishes.

I hope you enjoyed these 7 Pro Tips For Styling Shelves. Have fun refreshing your shelves this Spring, and please let me know if you have any questions!

More Thrifting Ideas

Cindy – Mixing Old Finds With New Decor / Robyn – How To Use Vintage Art In Your Home Decor

Lora – Thrifting for Craft Supplies / Ann – Vintage Silverware Decorating Ideas

I really appreciate you for stopping by and your comments are important to me..

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7 Pro Tips for Styling Vintage Decorations on Shelves with thrift store collectibles.


Wednesday 22nd of May 2024

These are all such great tips, Rachel and I love that they feel totally doable too. Your blue and white collection as well as your ironstone collection is just gorgeous and feels like the perfect way to celebrate farmhouse style. Big hugs, CoCo


Thursday 23rd of May 2024

CoCo, I really appreciate your sweet comments.

Mary from Life at Bella Terra

Sunday 19th of May 2024

Rachel, you have such pretty items to put on your shelves. All great tips!


Monday 20th of May 2024

Mary, I really appreciate this.

Lora Bloomquist

Thursday 16th of May 2024

You are an expert stylist, Rachel, and these are great tips! I've started tucking mirrors in my hutch, too. Great way to reflect light around. Your pine hutch is such a find. I'm sure you love switching it up for the seasons.


Friday 17th of May 2024

Lora, Thank you for your sweet compliments. It's always fun on TWTG day.


Thursday 23rd of February 2023

I adore your aged pots. I will be doing these this summer. At least I plan to do this. Yours turned out all so gorgeous.


Monday 27th of February 2023

Ivory, I'm so glad you like this and thanks for stopping by.


Tuesday 24th of March 2020

So many wonderful ‘new to me’ ideas! I love the suggestion to use the mirrors and frames behind small objects. That had never occurred to me. Thank you so much!

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Tuesday 24th of March 2020

Carol, Thanks so much for stopping by my blog. I appreciate your comments and I'm so glad you were able to learn a new trick or two. Please come back often. Rachel