I have a good friend (and newly-turned-client) who recently asked me to do a blog post about my advice on how to style awkward shelves. I used to think that it was old houses that were mostly to blame for having to deal with awkwardly placed/sized shelves but she lives in a beautiful newly built home and is struggling with a similar problem which made me realize that this is likely something many of us struggle with.
In her specific case, she has these tiny shelves that are attached to one side of her kitchen cabinets between her kitchen and eat-in kitchen/breakfast room area. They look cute but are actually tricky to style because they are too small to house cookbooks or items that one might think about putting in kitchens and because they are small, the little accessories you fill them with may tend to feel ticky-tacky and cluttered. Many people face similar challenges in bathrooms, hallways, corner shelves in living areas and in spaces that have unusual ceiling pitches. My general advice for how to tackle these awkward shelves is as follows however I'd like to caveat this that the images accompanying my recommendations aren't necessarily of awkward shelves. Turns out, it is surprisingly hard to find pictures of well done awkward shelves which I guess means that people do need help with this! :) But, the regular shelf images below will hopefully still give you inspo on how to address your own problem shelves.
First, in the case of awkward spaces that you don't necessarily want to draw attention to but at the same time want to address and make the space feel finished, less TRULY is more. If the shelves aren't big enough to hold much, then don't put much on there. Accessorize sparingly and thoughtfully. You don't have to fill up every square inch of space. In fact, when handled correctly, many times it is the intentional blank space that is actually more compelling than the objects on the shelves.
Along that same vein, if you aren't trying to draw attention to an area that you already don't love, go neutral. Keep things light and in the same color family. Natural colors and simple metallics are always in style, match nearly every design style and will feel elegant and classy without screaming for attention. Think of small objects d'art, small picture frames and stacks of books with neutral spines or turn them backwards to give the texture without the color.
As anyone who has worked with me before knows, my almost always go-to suggestion is to get a plant. Green, natural elements bring warmth to a space and you can find a cute planter to inject some color and pattern. Don't think you can keep a plant alive due to lack of sunlight in a particular space? Go with some cool paper ones for texture or get a cute bud vase and change out inexpensive grocery store flowers every couple of weeks for a similar feel on a very limited budget.
Lean some art. I can't tell you how many times I have gone to help friends and clients hang pictures and they have a bunch of smaller framed pieces that are too small to stand on their own on a wall space and may not flow with the rest in order to create a cohesive gallery wall. These misfit pieces are perfect for shelfies. Lean them and layer them behind and it will help you inject some color and personality to a bland space.
Make it pretty. If you have dainty little shelves, then dainty little accessories will work best. Think of small glass vases and vessels, trinket dishes and candles (although obviously don't light them if there are shelves above where you have them styled!). Just remember though - working with smaller accessories is like walking a fine line. You still have to have a mix of sizes and shapes so that it doesn't just feel like a bunch of little knick knacks lined up. This bathroom shelf is a good example: