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How to Style a Display Cabinet

Display cabinets are back! Or maybe they've never left? Either way, they have become sexy again as a means to store our most precious items for the world to see. You'll find display cabinets in all types of interiors, from sleek modern to modern farmhouse, from eclectic maximalism to Wabi-Sabi. Display cabinets are more versatile and no longer just conjure up the image of your grandmother's antique kitchen hutch, displaying the fanciest tableware, that's not to be used.

Living room with display cabinet

There will be few households where you cannot find some form of open storage cabinets or shelving. I am using the word 'storage' in jest because, frankly, if you are really in need of storage space, I suggest you do NOT use open or glass shelving. This is where most people go wrong; their display cabinets are stuffed to the brim and an eyesore. It achieves the exact opposite of what display cabinets are supposed to do: attracting the eye to a carefully curated selection of items. Instead, it shows the viewer your lack of organisation and storage space and draws the eye exactly to what you actually wanted to get rid of; the mess.

Style a display cabinet with intent.

I’m going to show you how to style a cabinet in a balanced and artful manner, but most of all, with intent. Styling is not about buying new things, but about how to purposely arrange them. With careful consideration, you can repurpose and rearrange the items you already have in your home and make them shine. Of course, it's always fun to shop for something new. Or, if you're like me, change things up all the time. That's the beauty of a display cabinet; you decide what to display and when it's time for a new collection. You are your own stylist. I consider my display cabinet a constantly moving art form, changing it with the seasons, festive holidays or simply when I fancy a new look.

Below I am giving you tips on how to style your display cabinets. Obviously, all these tips are also valid for bookcases or open shelving and any type of items, you wish to display. The world is your oyster and creativity knows no boundaries; I am merely giving you suggestions. Have fun with it. Yes, styling is a skill, but it is also an art form. When you style a display cabinet, you decide what is pleasing.

First things first: Where do You Place Your Display Cabinet?

The perfect way to position your cabinet is opposite a window, in an alcove (those awkward spaces you never know what to do with) or on a back wall. If you’d like to look at your precious items often, make sure it’s in your line of sight. If it contains items you need to use on a regular basis, ensure it’s easily accessible.

Glass-fronted cabinets often work well in small spaces as they don't make the room feel overcrowded.

Decide How You Want Your Display Cabinet to Function

Display cabinets are relatively easy to style. But they definitely need a function and purpose. What would you like to display? What would you like your guests to be drawn to? You could for example style your display cabinet with a certain collection in mind. Perhaps you collect certain vintage items, books, trophies, art, baskets or other curiosities. Perhaps you like items in a certain colour. Perhaps you like to match the old with the new and refer to a certain specific interest. I recently saw a display cabinet with the most fantastic collection of vintage Disney figures. One of those figures alone would have seemed odd in an adult home, as part of a large collection it was an amazing artwork display.

Display cabinets provide you with a chance to get creative and experiment with the art of display.

Don’t be afraid to use your display cabinet in a more practical way too though. You can easily display decorating books or magazines, linen storage, craft and sewing supplies or home office supplies. As long as they are carefully arranged, and with intent. Display cabinets provide you with a chance to get creative and experiment with the art of display.

Approach your Display Styling with an Open Mind

Consider each shelf like an incomplete sketch that requires you to combine artistic pieces, books, and different aesthetic objects you love to complete the picture. Make sure to develop a focal point in every compartment and coordinate colours for harmony. The charm of a display cabinet is that you can be as flexible as you want in your approach. Display books with photos, or set artwork next to decorative plants. They don't all need to conform. What truly matters is creativity, individuality, versatility and style. If you change your mind, you can always change the arrangement.

Keep a Consistent Colour Palette

When you style a glass display cabinet, consider the existing colour palette you have in your home. It will visually help to ensure a seamless transition from one space to the next. You can also do the opposite, choose one accent colour to work throughout the scheme of your interior and make your collection pop. A benefit of glass-fronted or open storage is that you can make the internal shelves a focal point within a room.

Organise by Odd Numbers

You might have heard it one million times before, but things really do look better in odd numbers – and three is the magic number! The number three is a number with a powerful aesthetic. Grouping things in threes, fives, and sevens tend to stand out.

Play around with Scale and Height

To prevent your composition from feeling flat, you will want to include items of different heights and varying scale. Displaying objects of varying heights helps to create movement and will prevent your styling from appearing one-dimensional. If you use items of the same size, stagger them so they feel layered. You can for example create height with picture frames, tall pitchers or vases, or objects that stack well together - such as bowls, plates, and platters or books.


Creating layers adds depth and interest to your styling. Think of layering in two ways; horizontally and vertically. You can simply pile things on top of each other (horizontal layering). Think of a stack of bowls or platters, a pile of linen napkins on top of each other, or by setting objects on a book, tray or in a basket.

Vertical layering is by placing an item partially in front of another. By overlapping pieces, your styling will appear more visually appealing than having them displayed side by side.

The goal of layering is creating dimension.

Balance your Display Items

To create the right level of harmony, ideally you should incorporate a larger item on every shelf for balance. Play around with the positioning of big items around each shelf at the centre and the sides, so your collection does not seem disproportionate.

There is a very thin line between collected and cluttered.

There is a very thin line between collected and cluttered. Leaving a little bit of breathing room between objects is a good thing. Placing too many things on a single shelf will make it look chaotic, messy and untidy. Make sure to create a focal point in each shelving compartment, experimenting with different heights and colours for the best arrangement.

Add Greenery

My motto always is, when in doubt, add a plant. It add life to any space. Using greenery is a great way to freshen up any space including in display cabinets and open shelving. It also adds a quick pop of colour.

Open kitchen shelving.

Create a Fabulous Backdrop

If you wish to give a colourful effect to your display cabinet, consider adding a wallpaper or painting the back of the unit, behind the shelves. This will entice the eyes and add an interesting dimension.

Do you want your glass cabinet to look especially elegant? Get one that has a mirror on its back. Mirrors can play tricks on your mind. The mirror adds a certain sense of majesty to the glass cabinet. It will also make your room look more spacious. Whatever you put into a display cabinet a mirror will make it look as though it's multiplied. This makes your display cabinet look more full. The mirror will also allow you to see the back of your items (this is not always a good thing so be mindful!). It will also reflect light into the room.

Consider Integrated Lighting for your Display Cabinet

There are a couple of reasons as to why you want to consider having built-in lighting for your display cabinet. First of all, it makes your items shine. It literally puts them in the spotlight. The other reason is to simply add extra artificial light to your living space. This was particularly important to me as this particular corner in my living room was quite dark at night. You can set them to come on automatically to highlight the display items in the evening.

Final Thoughts

The beauty of decorating is that you have the right to change your mind, any time you want. After all, you never know when you’re going to strike the right balance of perfectly imperfect until you try.

A display cabinet is like an empty canvas.

Treat a display cabinet as an empty canvas; you are the artist. You can style them with different items, contrast their colours, and create an artistic combination to your heart’s content. You can use the tips and tricks outlined in this blog to ensure balance and harmony, but remember, when you style a display cabinet, it’s all about you and your taste.

I hope this blog has given you inspiration to style your display cabinet or open shelving in a way that's just perfect in your eyes. Enjoy!


Would you like to learn more about Interior Design? Or perhaps become an interior designer yourself? Follow my footsteps and study Interior Design with The Interior Design Institute where I could be your personal tutor. Click here to read more and receive a discount.


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Hi! Thanks for stopping by.

I am Marieke, a Dutch Australian interior designer, business executive, tutor, content creator and social media influencer.


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