The science behind putting together a proper shelf can leave some feeling frustrated. I have been there. Too many or not so many objects, books, and pictures that can be overwhelming. I am not lying when I say I have studied the art of styling a shelf. I constantly look at photos for inspiration. My conclusion is this, there is really no right or wrong way to properly style a shelf. You can go the "less is more approach" or fill the shelves to the brim. You can have pictures on the outside of the shelf or inside. For me, during an install, if I feel like I am not getting anywhere, I walk away.
For one thing, I always have an anchor piece or pieces at the top and bottom. Something large like a jar or baskets at the bottom, that blends in, so it doesn't overwhelm the entire design. I try to find the focal point of the shelf, which is normally eye level and put more of the dominate objects, or objects that I want to show off. I typically will fill a shelf with books and art that reflect the room. Another option is to group various objects together. In one of our client's home, the sun room put off a more feminine feel, so naturally we mixed gold objects, and lighter blue tones of books to fill the shelf. You can see more about that project here: Hello Sunshine
For the same client, they had a massive shelf in their living area, so we filled the shelves with more earthy tones and masculine objects to reflect the overall space. If you don't have pretty books to show off, you can turn the books, so that the pages are facing out. You can also group the books together by colors, giving off a rainbow effect. Art is my favorite thing to use in a shelf it can bring bold colors and fill up blank space. The best part of a shelf, is nothing is permanent and normally there are no worries about putting holes in the wall. You can change your shelf style anytime. My favorite are clients who travel frequently and bring home various items purchased abroad. I love adding the element of a unique art or objects that can be a conversation starter. So, have fun with it. Don't stress and in the end you will end up something you really love.