How to Style Bookshelves or Built-Ins – 10 Tips

This is a great example of styling bookshelves. Love this look!
SHOP: modern bronze etagere

First let me say that there really isn’t a “magic” formula when you’re styling bookshelves.  If you’re like me at least, it’s a very visual, evolving process.

There are some basic tips that will help you get it right, though.  Simple ideas that will help you while you’re creating your own unique look:

1. Start with a blank slate.

As with any decorating, it’s always best to start with a clean slate.

Place all of your accessory potentials in one spot so that they’re easily accessible and you can “shop” from them while you’re filling the bookshelves.

2. Add books.

If you have plenty of books (or even just a few) that’s a great place to start.

They can be upright, laid down, leaned, stacked, grouped, placed backward or forward, bundled, sorted by color, and with or without covers – so think outside the box (or book, in this case).

When styling bookshelves, vary the heights of accessories for a more interesting look
SHOP: urban gold bookcase

{I like the way Steph used accessories as “book ends” on the bottom shelf above, too. Creative!}

3. Layer, stack, and hang.

Layering and stacking items creates depth, dimension, and visual interest.

Hanging accessories, such as mirrors or art, can add even more depth and yet another layer.

Accessorizing bookshelves
Meagan Rae Interiors

4. Vary heights.

There are times when you’ll intentionally group “like” items on a shelf to make a statement (case in point, the bookshelf at the beginning of this post).

But, other than that scenario, you’ll always want to make sure you vary the heights of your accessories to keep the eye moving and keep things interesting.

5. Consider contrast.

Dark items can sometimes get lost against a dark background, as well as white against white, so keep that in mind when choosing your accessories.

Accessories can get lost against a dark background, so keep that in mind when styling bookshelves.

6. Make it meaningful.

Displaying collections, momentos, and photographs in your bookshelves is a great way to keep the things that mean the most to you visible on a daily basis.

7. Come up for air.

Really full shelves can be a “look” if done right, but don’t be afraid to leave breathing space between accessories and allow them to shine.


Homebunch

8. Rotate.

The image below is from BHG and I liked what they have to say on this topic:

… resist the urge to add “just one more” item. If you have a large collection, rotate objects in and out from time to time, rather than displaying everything all at once, to ensure the vignette strays from cluttered territory.”

"Look for objects that have commonalities, such as white finishes, to create a more unified display. And resist the urge to add "just one more" item. If you have a large collection, rotate objects in and out from time to time, rather than displaying everything all at once, to ensure the vignette strays from cluttered territory."

9. Think outside the shelf.

Do the unexpected by hanging art or a mirror on the outside of bookshelves.  This can be a great idea in rooms where wall space is limited, too.

"I like to put the pattern on the floor and solids on the furniture," Phoebe Howard says. Family room rug by Tai Ping.
House Beautiful

10. Smaller isn’t always better.

Resist the temptation to fill small shelves with tiny accessories. Use fewer, larger, well-placed items for a really great look.

Use fewer, larger items on small shelves to make a statement when styling bookshelves
SHOP: bookcase/room divider

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, styling bookshelves is a process, so continually step back and assess as you’re placing items.

I’ve found that snapping a picture or two while I’m decorating helps me to see things from a completely different perspective, and to quickly spot changes that need to be made.  This same idea can work when you’re styling bookshelves.

style your space - great page with design tips, decorating ideas, room inspiration and more!

Finding bookshelves.

If you don’t have bookshelves to style yet (or accessories to put on your bookshelves), of course we’re here for you!

Check out our great selection online and additional selections in our stores.

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