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ikea kallax shelf styling cube shelves in blue

Styling Cube Shelves Made Easy: Our Top 9 Rules Revealed

You’ve been asking me for advice on styling cube shelves for ages now. And so today, your wish is my command.

If you’ve got a popular black or white shelf on your hands, like the IKEA Kallax, filling each of the squares so they look good can be a challenge. I find the shelves often look under-stuffed or absolutely heaving. There’s rarely anything in-between.

Not only are they empty or too-full, they often just don’t look stylish overall. I feel your pain, and I’m here to remedy it. Below I want to share my top 9 rules for styling cube shelves with you. I’ll get onto styling longer floating shelves soon, as I know they’re also giving you grief. But I thought square shelving was a good place to start.

Drop me a comment at the end of this post if you have any shelf styling questions for me. Otherwise, read on and become a shelf styling ninja in a matter of minutes!

ikea white cube shelf with cab bed

1. Establish a Colour Palette

This is a rule I apply to rooms as a whole, but it also applies to styling cube shelves. This style of shelving, especially in a black or white colour, is going to look rather messy and visually chaotic if you don’t have a considered colour palette going on.

It’s best to choose up to four colours and have those repeated throughout the squares in the shelf. I know, this might not be easy if you’re working with books, but try your best to curate the spines. Also, I’d not advise you fill an entire cube shelf with books anyway. It’s too much of one thing and doesn’t allow for any negative space or breathing room.

white cube shelf styling with black white and gold colours

2. Mix a Variety of Shapes

A major mistake I see time and time again when people style cube shelves is shape repetition. All too often there are loads and loads of vases or vessels of the same circular shape popped into the squares. And it just doesn’t give the confined space you’re working with any interest.

To remedy this, pop one round vase in by all means, but ensure you also have objects with cleaner lines (squares or rectangles) and then also include something with a more fluid edge. The image above via Domayne showcases this rule perfectly, even if the cubes themselves need to be filled a little more.

ikea black cube shelf styled with jugs and urns

3. Have a Medley of Textures

Variation of textures is also key. It’s another mistake I see a lot when people make when they’re styling cube shelves. I find they put loads of gloss ceramics, for example, into the square of a white cubed shelf. It ends up looking like a store display. You don’t want your home to feel visually merchandised. You want it to feel curated, stylish, and a reflection of you.

So keep an eye on those textures. You want your vignettes within each cube to feature decor items that are hard and soft, smooth and rough, matt and shiny. You get where I’m going with this.

Related: Sure-fire texture cheats to make every room at home feel amazing.

ikea kallax shelf styling with books

4. Lay Books Vertically and Horizontally

Books are a fave of mine when it comes to styling cube shelving. I’ve already pointed out that you can’t stuff every square on the shelf with books. But it’s also important I point out that you should avoid having them run all the one way.

Instead, have some stacked horizontally, while other cubes will feature them vertically. Doing this makes the overall shelving look feel more character-filled, instead of pointing the eye in an up-and-down or side-to-side motion.

Also don’t have cubes with just books in them horizontally. Pop a decor item on a stack of books in a cube instead. You can see this in the IKEA image above and it looks gorgeous.

white ikea shelf in bathroom with styled towels in wire basket

5. Fill Right to the Back

You shouldn’t have your objects inside each cube to stand in a row, perfectly side by side. Not only does it look a bit odd, but you’re not making full use of all the space you have in each cube.

The best approach is to remember depth of field. Have some shorter items at the front of the cube, and some taller items at the back. You want to be able to stand far away from the shelf and not see masses of dead space at the back of the shelf.

You also want to be able to move closer to the shelf and discover hidden moments within the cube. So don’t push everything to the front. Enjoy a little mystery!

styling a cube shelf black shelf with gold and pink styling

6. Go Up, Not Just Out

This relates directly to what I was saying above about ensuring you fill right to the back of the cube. While it’s important to have some items at the front of the cube and some at the back to fill the space, it’s equally important to remember height.

If you’re stuck for tall objects to put at the back of your cube, consider placing certain items on their side. In the image above, for example, we have a gorgeous gold tray on its side which takes up a rather large section of the cube. And you’ll also notice bowls and cups are also stacked to ensure there is height at play as well.

Photo frames are a great way to get height at the back of your cubes too.

ikea kallax shelf with storage boxes and plant styling

7. Break Outside of the Cube

I prefer the styling of a cube shelf to feel less ordered and contained. It doesn’t have to be so rigid and so clean-looking. With that in mind, consider having items work their way out of a few of the cubes.

Plants are a great idea here. I love a draping plant on a taller cube of the shelf that can hang down in front of some of the other cubes. It just makes the whole scene feel rather interesting and a little more relaxed. You could even have a folded throw with tassels hanging out of the cube a little, so everything feels less orderly.

ikea kallax shelf styling cube shelves in blue

8. Do Storage within Storage

I know that the squares in your cube shelf can be hard to fill. You also don’t want it to feel super cluttered. The ideal solution here is to find storage boxes and containers to pop in a few of the cubes to take up space.

This approach not only fills up some of the cubes, but it makes for a more organised shelf and it also allows you to hide some of the smaller items you don’t want out on display.

When styling cube shelves, try and refrain from the obvious square wicker baskets. I love the felt ones above from IKEA. So soft, so soothing, and not predictable. Also fill holes randomly, rather than having too many boxes sitting side-by-side.

black ikea shelf styling a cube shelf

9. Personalise the Cubes

While you know I adore a decor trend and love to shop for them, it’s important your shelf reflects you. This is the perfect time to look in all those old boxes at photos you could put in a frame. You might find a travel memento you can display in a vignette. And you could even discover something that’s been passed down to you that you totally forgot you owned.

Going inside your own collection of decor goodies means the styling of your cube shelf will truly reflect you, not a retail store.

How do you go with Styling Cube Shelves?

I hope this post has helped you become a pro at styling cube shelving. And by all means don’t be backward in coming forward in the comments below. If you’ve done something amazing with your cube shelves drop me a word or two below and share your secrets!


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Chris Carroll

Outside of writing this blog, Chris is an interior designer, presenter and author. He’s also spent time on TV, on Channel 10’s Changing Rooms, as well presenting segments on Channel 7’s Sunrise and The Morning Show. If you’d like to book a design consult with Chris, you can find out more here

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One Response

  1. Love this! Thank you Chris. I have a smaller shelf space as a part of my entertainment unit. How would you recommend to style this if it’s a small space? How would you group the items?


I’m interior designer Chris Carroll, and at TLC Interiors we’re all about helping you create an amazing home without breaking the bank. It’s affordable designer style at its best, and we make the whole process easy and fun for clients & readers alike!

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