June 2, 2022

Styling your shelves: How to decorate an entertainment center

Discover the do’s and don’ts for how to decorate an entertainment center. Take advantage of all those shelves and show your personality while avoiding clutter.

Discover the do’s and don’ts for how to decorate an entertainment center. Take advantage of all those shelves and show your personality while avoiding clutter.

Whether you have an expansive great room or just a really great living room, your space will have two main focal points — that stylish sectional and the entertainment unit.

One part TV cabinet, one part bookcase, your entertainment center provides plenty of functional storage space in a stylish design. But all those built-in bookshelves mean you’ve got shelves to fill.

While a well-curated shelving unit can make your home decor cohesive and more visually interesting, you have to strike the right balance. Too-empty shelves make your living space feel cold. Too-crowded shelves, on the other hand, make the place feel chaotic.

But with a few simple styling tips, you can master your wall unit makeover. Here’s how to decorate an entertainment center.

How to decorate an entertainment center: The do’s and don’ts

How to decorate an entertainment center: 3-compartment Bridge Black Titanium and Silver

The rules for decorating an entertainment center are similar to the rules for styling a bookcase. All you need are a few tips for functional design, and you can start styling your shelves with items you already have around your house. This is how to decorate an entertainment center — and how not to.

Do: Consider the space

Entertainment centers are a common piece of furniture for living rooms and great rooms, but these pieces also fit beautifully in master bedrooms where they can take the place of an armoire, in dining rooms where they can step in as servers, and in game rooms and family rooms where extra entertainment is always welcome.

But, you’ll want to tailor the items you store and display to fit the functionality of your space. In the dining room, your favorite barware or serve ware will make a functional and stylish display. In the bedroom, you might fill the shelves with your favorite hats and jewelry. And in a game room, you can show off your vintage board games or your video game collection.

Don’t: Crowd your shelves

You don’t need to fill your shelves from end to end. Instead, leave a little breathing room so that each item has the space to shine. Aim to fill 50-75% of the space on each shelf.

If you prefer minimalist interior design, you can leave even more open space — try to fill around 30-50% of the shelf space and look for neutral-colored decorative items or tone-on-tone items (aka items that are the same color as the wall space behind the shelf). Neutral colors are gentler on the eyes. Instead of demanding attention, they wait patiently to be discovered. And a tone-on-tone design adds depth to your space.

Do: Include variety

While an entertainment center looks a lot like a bookcase, you shouldn’t restrict yourself to just books on your shelves. Mix books with other decorative objects to create visual variety — and don’t hesitate to combine different items on the same shelves.

Instead of having one shelf for your books and one shelf for your knickknacks, try including a small cluster of books beside a favorite figurine, a potted plant, or some dramatic bookends (a must for units with open shelves). Break your book collection up into small groups based on the theme of the books or the color of their spines. You can also add variety to your book display by arranging some volumes upright and some sideways.

Don’t: Be strict about symmetry

Too much symmetry can actually make your decor less visually interesting. Instead, try a mixture of symmetry and asymmetry.

For example, you might put two matching storage baskets on the bottom shelf on both sides of the unit to create symmetry. Then, to add asymmetry, display books lined up vertically on the top shelf on the left side of your wall unit. On the top shelf of the right side, you might stack some books on their side and pair them with a tall vase.

Do: Embrace a theme

A theme will create cohesion so that your entertainment unit looks like it holds a curated collection of treasures instead of a hodgepodge of random junk. But your theme doesn’t have to be overt.

Sure, you might want a bold theme, like retro video games in a game room, but you can also choose a subtle color scheme like soothing neutrals, or a broad interior design theme like organic modern decor.

Your theme can guide you to a number of decorating ideas. For example, if you choose an organic modern theme, you might want to display your books with the pages facing out to add a neutral, natural color to your shelves. You might also choose nature-inspired decorative items, like a piece of driftwood, a few river rocks, or a geode. Let your theme be your inspiration.

Don’t: Forget your focal point

In an entertainment center, the TV stand and your flat-screen TV automatically become a focal point. They’re at the center of your entertainment unit, which is in the center of your living space. If you leave the top of the TV stand bare aside from your TV, it can end up looking like a TV wall got dropped in the middle of your home decor instead of your TV being part of the decor.

Remember that you’ll still want to watch TV at some point, so any styling shouldn’t block the screen or compete with the images on the screen. (This is not a place for picture frames! Save those for the regular shelves on your entertainment center.)

Try placing a couple of potted plants — or a faux plant if you have a black thumb — in front of one side of your TV screen. You could also try a bud vase with dried flowers or a couple of small figurines. A short basket that can store remotes or movie theater snacks also makes a functional decorative item.

And, don’t forget that there are options for your TV screen. When you’re entertaining, the screen can serve as a piece of moving artwork. Display your family photos or a beautiful screen saver so there’s not a black void staring back at you.

Do: Think in layers

When it comes to the shelves on your entertainment center, they don’t just take up space from side to side — they also take up space from front to back. So should your decor.

Push some items toward the back of the shelf. Picture frames along the back of your shelves can create the look of a gallery wall without you having to hang a single photo. Then place shorter items in front of the taller items. You might put tea light candle holders or a short succulent in front of your photo frames.

This layered look works with other kinds of displays as well. If you’re arranging barware, place a decanter and ice bucket toward the back of the shelf. Slightly farther forward, display your rocks glasses, and out in front, place your jigger, bar spoon, and strainer.

If you’re displaying your jewelry collection, place a jewelry stand toward the back of the shelf and an accessories tray and ring holder toward the front. 

And if you’re planning for a simple shelf that displays only two figurines, place one figurine slightly farther back to create visual interest with depth

Don’t: Take it too seriously

Ultimately, your home decor and your entertainment center should be a reflection of who you are. Display your favorite items, add your personality, and have fun with it! Wander around your home (or your favorite home goods store), collecting all the knickknacks you love. Then arrange and rearrange them on your entertainment center shelves.

Each time you style a shelf, take a big step back. Think about what you like and don’t like, then play a little more. You’ll find the display that’s right for you.

The center of style

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Add an entertainment center to any room, and it will quickly become the centerpiece of your interior design, so you need to know how to decorate an entertainment center. Make it shine by mastering the do’s and don’ts of good visual composition. Then, make it your own by adding decorative items and accessories that are unique to you.

If you need more knickknacks to fill your shelves (or if you still need to pick out an entertainment unit you love), head to a local furniture store. Not only will you be able to support a local business, you can also see examples of styled shelves and browse home decor accessories in person — adding a little extra entertainment to your entertainment center makeover.

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