One day I had a friend over and they saw my statue of Buddha in my home shrine. They told me that they heard Buddhist’s worship “false idols.” I explained to them that unlike other religions Buddhists do not have images of Buddha as a figure of worship but as a mentor and teacher.
When a Buddhist stands before a shrine, the objects he sees on it help him to recall the qualities that are found in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. This inspires him to work towards cultivating these qualities in himself. A shrine makes it easier to develop a habit of contemplative practice as it gives the practitioner a defined place to practice. The shrine also, as in my case, gives visitors a chance to become acquainted with Buddhist practices and the serenity that a shrine can bring.
A simple Buddhist shrine, common to nearly all Buddhist traditions, has a Buddha statue or picture, and perhaps a candle, incense, and flowers. Ideally, Buddhist altars should be facing east as the Buddha was facing east where he saw the morning star, Venus, and experienced enlightenment. But is you do not have the room for an altar you can just put up a picture or even just a simple Buddhist saying on a piece of paper to help center your practice and mind. I suggest the following from section from morning prayers write it down and read it each day.
May the Buddha be at my head, the Dhamma in my heart and the Sangha at my side to protect and guide me always. May all living beings including my enemies find peace.
The following website has some great pictures that you could also print out for your shrine. Buddhist Images
I wish you the best in your practice.
Update: A friend of mine, Lhamo Rinpoche, sent me a link that had a Dharma talk on “Are Buddhist’s Idol Worshipers?” Well worth the time listening to.