In Focus

How to style open shelving

Teleisha Thomas

Teleisha Thomas

June 2023

Interior designer Zoe Murphy from Zoe Murphy Creative Office is a force for colour, art and unique design. Some of the most outstanding homes that we see at Jellis Craig are often those anchored deeply in individuality, and in no home is this more apparent than Interior Designer Zoe Murphy’s stunning (and recently sold by Jellis Craig Armadale) heritage Toorak home.

We visited Zoe in her home to discuss her tips on how to style open shelving. 


The tried and tested rule of odd numbers resounds when styling open shelving. This has something to do with the fact that things arranged in odd numbers are more appealing, memorable and effective than even-number things. Most of the time I don’t even realise I’ve used 3, 5 or 7 objects until I’ve taken a step back and taken it all in! Objects grouped in 3 seems to be the magic number, they really do flow and appeal visually.

Begin by placing three items on each shelf, then stand back and decide what, if anything needs adjusting – standing back and reviewing the vignette after each movement you make is essential. Layering two items melds them together and they become one item – such as a book and a candle.

Objects are pleasing to the eye when they are arranged in triangles.


A group of objects with a variation of heights is also important for filling your space and adding interest. Trays and books are my go-to grounders and the point at which I always start. When you have a group of small items – say a candle, ceramic bowl and object – they can look lost on a big shelf so using a big tray or a stack of books as the basis for this arrangement can be a wonderful way to start. This can also add one more point of interest to your self and can really help to pull everything together. Ensure you also vary the height of the items displayed on yourself – don’t feel limited by the size of an object you want to display, instead try setting it on a riser to achieve your desired height.

Whilst height and size variation in your decorative objects is key, it is important to maintain some consistency. I achieve consistency through colours. A steady rhythm of colour spread throughout your shelving will look cohesive. I like to colour group shelves in their tonal value, sometimes adding a contrast colour for impact.

Zoe Murphy 2

Zoe Murphy Creative Office offers interior design and styling for residential and commercial projects. If you would like to speak to Zoe about your next design project, visit her website to book a consult.

Zoe Murphy Creative Office

Stiple pattern image