8 Worst Decorating Kitchen Shelves Mistakes You Can Make

white kitchen with decorated kitchen shelves

8 Most Common Decorating Kitchen Shelf Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Some of the worst mistakes you can make when decorating kitchen shelves include creating a cluttered and disorganized look that lacks balance, functionality, and personal style. 

How many of these are you guilty of making? I’m totally guilty of falling into the trap of mistake #5!

Here’s what you should be doing instead:


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Just a friendly reminder: This tutorial and any opinions or recommendations are genuinely mine, but this is not a substitute for consulting a professional. I also use affiliate links to earn a commission.


#1 Overcrowding

Stuffing your kitchen shelves with too many items, not only looks cluttered but also makes it difficult to find what you need. 

Do this instead: Less is more when it comes to decorating kitchen shelves. On my shelves, I had glasses and large containers. That’s it! It was shocking how quickly these shelves filled up.

If your shelf feels cluttered, try removing a few things to simplify the display and improve balance. Aim for a balance between functionality and aesthetics.

Also, empty space on the shelf is a good thing! You don’t have to pack every inch. Negative space makes the shelf feel less cluttered and more balanced.

#2 Ignoring Balance

Shelves should be balanced in terms of both weight and visual appeal. Don’t stack all the heavy items on one side. 

It’s not just about distributing heavy items evenly; it’s also about ensuring that an item doesn’t overpower visually.

Regardless of if it is physically or visually heavy, keep items balanced.

Do this instead: Use a mix of different-sized items throughout the shelves. To create a sense of visual balanced, arrange items symmetrically by placing similar or identical items on each side of the shelf.

On my shelves I used this tip by having my smaller glasses flank the taller ones. 

Another tip is to arrange items by size or color, starting with the largest or darkest items on the bottom shelf and gradually getting smaller or lighter as you move up. This creates a visually pleasing gradient.

>>Are you also wondering how to install these over a tile backsplash? Find out how to easily install floating shelves by drilling through wall tile in this post!

#3 Inadequate Organization

two light wood floating shelves hanging on a white subway tile kitchen backsplash decorated with oversized container on the top shelf and mason jar glasses on the bottom

Failing to organize your shelves leads to a messy appearance. 

Do this instead: Consider using containers or baskets to keep non-decorative items in order. 

Also, group similar items together to create a more cohesive look. For example, place a cluster of glasses together or a collection of bowls. Grouping items creates order and cohesion.

Decorating Floating Shelves Example from My Kitchen: Dishes

Dinner plates, glassware, and favorite mugs are perfect as floating shelf decor as long as these coordinate with your color palette. 

I used white plates, clear mason jar glasses, and black and white mugs and arranged all of these on the lower shelf.

For my drinking glasses, I collected mason and Kerr glasses in various sizes. I then grouped these by their size, leaving a bit of room between each grouping. 

#4 Neglecting Color Coordination

Lots of colors makes your shelves look like a scary mess.

Do this instead: Consider a color scheme that complements your kitchen’s design. This doesn’t mean everything has to be matchy-matchy but have to coordinate and complement each other. 

Also, stick to 3-ish colors for your shelf decor. 

The color palette in my home is neutral, black, white, light wood tones, and a touch of green, so I stuck with this theme when decorating the floating shelves in my own kitchen. 

If you are looking for a way to add a pop of color to your kitchen, then select one to incorporate as an accent.

#5 Forgetting About Functionality

While aesthetics is important, your kitchen shelves do serve a practical purpose. Don’t sacrifice function for the sake of decoration! 

Do this instead: Don’t compromise functionality for the sake of a perfect display. Remember that balance is not solely about looks but also function. 

Easy access to your most frequently used items should remain the priority!

Decorating Floating Shelves Example from My Kitchen: Dry Goods

Dry goods, such as oats, rice, flour, pasta, and so on, are a perfect example of mixing looks with functionality when decorating floating shelves. 

For my kitchen, I found two larger clear containers to store sugar and oats, and I found one unique white ceramic container to place between these two. 

This arrangement works because the white ceramic container is visually heavier, so placing the clear containers on either side balances things. 

The other nice thing about the ceramic container is I could put something inside that didn’t match my color palette because the container hid it!

And quite possibly the greatest thing about using containers as functional decor is that you can easily find these for little money. Check out these tips on finding thrift store decor to learn more about what to look for and how much to pay for specific items.

#6 Inconsistent Style

white kitchen with white subway tile backsplash with white countertops and a butcher block countertop on the island. There are light wood floating shelves instead of upper cabinets

Maintaining a consistent style or theme for your kitchen shelves is important. Mixing too many different styles or themes will make your kitchen look chaotic.

Do this instead: Decide on a theme or style that you want to achieve before you do anything else. 

Whether it’s minimalist, rustic, coastal, or eclectic, having a clear vision will guide your decorating choices.

It’s easy to get distracted by pretty things, but when you have a clear vision, then you should have an easier time selecting the right items to put on your shelves.

#7 Using Too Many Small Items

Small decorative items can get lost on kitchen shelves. 

Do this instead: Mix and match items of different heights. Taller items can be balanced with shorter ones to create a visually pleasing rhythm.

#8 Ignoring Personal Taste

Your kitchen shelves should reflect your personal style and preferences. Don’t decorate based on trends or what others think looks good if it doesn’t resonate with you!

Do this instead: Incorporate personal items or items with sentimental value to make your display unique and meaningful. Check out decor idea #17 below for one genius way to personalize your kitchen shelf decor!

20 Kitchen Shelf Decor Ideas

To help get your decorating juices flowing, here’s a list of things that work really well as kitchen shelf decor:

1. Cookbooks: Pick your favorites and put these on display.

2. Glass Jars: Fill clear glass jars with spices, grains, pasta, or decorative ingredients like dried beans and lentils.

3. Ceramic Canisters: Use decorative ceramic or stoneware canisters to store sugar, flour, coffee, or tea.

4. Dishware: Display every day or special occasion plates, bowls, or mugs on the shelves.

5. Kitchen Tools: Tools like wooden spoons, ladles, or tongs are good options.

6. Cutting Boards: Lean these against the wall or place them on the shelves for a rustic touch. Add extra depth by having these in various wood tones.

7. Herb Garden: Bring fresh herbs into your cooking space. Bonus points if you also plant these in a decorative container!

8. Cooking Oils and Vinegars: Arrange a collection of bottles of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and other condiments.

9. Artwork: Yes, even in the kitchen! Hang kitchen-themed artwork or food-related prints to add visual interest.

10. Plants: Place potted plants on the shelves to add a touch of nature to your kitchen. It’s also ok to use faux plants if your shelf doesn’t get enough natural light.

11. Antique Items: Such as scales, or vintage kitchenware for a nostalgic touch. Using these sparingly unless your theme is vintage.

12. Baskets: Use decorative baskets to store items like fruits, vegetables, or kitchen linens. They add texture and help with organization.

13. Cooking Utensils: Display stylish cooking utensils, such as wooden or stainless steel utensils, in a container on the shelf.

14. Teapots and Coffee Pots: Show off decorative teapots, coffee pots, or French presses to add a touch of elegance.

15. Kitchen Clock: Place a small clock on the shelf to make it functional and stylish.

16. Recipe Cards: Frame favorite family recipes to personalize your kitchen decor.

17. Cake Stands: Use cake stands to display desserts, fruits, or other food items for an elegant touch.

18. Vintage Tins: Antique or vintage tins can be used for storing tea bags, coffee, or cookies, adding a retro vibe.

19. Old Books: Select smaller vintage books that have a textured cover or naturally aged pages.

Tips to Decorating Kitchen Shelves Like a Designer

close up image from the side of a floating shelf with a white antique container on a book and a plant inside the container. There is also a stainless steel range hood and 2 other floating shelves on the back subway tiled wall

Follow these tips to create the perfect decorative arrangement using a small plant. I selected a plant because I absolutely love the texture and natural pop of color it adds to the kitchen. 

  1. Starting with a book; place it with the pages turned out.
  2. Next place your plant (which is planted inside a decorative glass jar) on top of the book. You don’t want to plant’s container to overpower or overhang off the book. Keep scale in mind!
  3. Lastly, since odd-numbered groupings (i.e., 3 or 5 items) are most visually appealing, add in one additional item to this arrangement. Some examples are a vintage tin, ceramic container, clock, or framed recipe card. This last item should be a different size than the plant, so either larger or smaller, just not the same height or width.
  4. After arranging your items, step back and assess the overall look. Make adjustments as needed to achieve balance and style.
  5. Trust your instincts and experiment with different arrangements until you find a display that you feel is visually appealing.

Maybe you started out guilty of the most common decorating kitchen shelves mistakes, but you most certainly know how to do it right after reading this post! 

Before you run off, have you considered thrifting? Because if I’m being completely honest, 100% of my kitchen shelf decor is from a thrift store! Find out where to shop, what to look for, and how much to expect to pay in this post where I share all my thrift store shopping secrets


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