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Tips and Tricks on How to Style a Bookshelf

Linda is a seasoned writer and bedroom authority. She loves sharing design trends, decor ideas, and useful tips with her readers.


How to Decorate a Bookshelf

Bookshelves provide not only library space and additional storage but are also an ideal place to display your favorite decorative treasures and heirlooms. A perfectly styled bookshelf is a thing of beauty. Nothing gives a room more character than a bookcase, wall shelves, or a built-in unit artfully accessorized with books and collectibles.

In addition, bookshelves give others a peek into your psyche and are a reflection of your personality and interests. Here are a few expert tips for creating magazine-worthy bookshelf arrangements you’ll be proud to share with the world.

Styling a bookshelf is not unlike putting together a stylish outfit. Carefully “dress” the shelf in layers instead of throwing everything at it one time. Before you begin, cull your objects to keep the shelves from becoming cluttered and chaotic.

Fabric, wallpaper or paint brings out the  personality of the bookshelves.

Fabric, wallpaper or paint brings out the personality of the bookshelves.

Have a Dramatic Background

If you’re so inclined, create a dramatic setting by covering the back wall of your bookshelves with a coat of paint, wallpaper, or fabric. If you are a serial decorator who likes to change things up constantly, consider using temporary wallpaper or apply fabric dipped in liquid starch for easy removal. If you prefer not to paint the bookcase, buy a sample of your new favorite color, paint a sheet of foam core, cut it to size and place it on the back of the bookcase with double-sided tape.

If you love color coding, arrange books in groups of similar colors.

If you love color coding, arrange books in groups of similar colors.

Purchase Lots of Books

If you're a voracious reader, you could fill your shelves with books-—but resist the urge. Choose your favorites, remove the dust jackets, and spread them out over several shelves, stacking the books horizontally and vertically to create visual interest. Don’t forget to leave room for other objects.

If you appreciate a sense of order, you can arrange your books by color or make dust jackets of a single color with wrapping paper or even butcher paper. If you are more of a maverick, lump all the rainbow colors together and arrange.

Objects that have different textures, shapes and sizes create visual interest.

Objects that have different textures, shapes and sizes create visual interest.

Mix Objects Together

Use a mix of objects to add scale, texture, and contrast. Mixing colors and textures make your styling appear effortless. Decorative objects like vases, bowls, or boxes create flow. Next, mix objects with personal meaning, such as exotic travels or family keepsakes. Plants and natural shapes like seashells, geodes, or rattan orbs give your curated collections an organic feel.

Adding artwork to a bookshelf gives it a fresh look.

Adding artwork to a bookshelf gives it a fresh look.

Purchase Artwork

Artwork is one thing most people forget when it comes to styling bookshelves. Insert small framed images and photos among the shelves, or you can hang large pieces of art from the edges of the shelves, giving your room the look of a cozy den. If you have many shelves, art takes up a great deal of space which makes your job of accessorizing a lot easier.

Groupings keep the eye moving around the space.

Groupings keep the eye moving around the space.

Group Items Together

As you move into decorative objects, remember this tip from interior designers. Groups of objects look best when placed in groups of three or odd numbers. It’s a bona fide design principle! Stick with three or five items—any more will make your bookshelves look more like store shelves.

If you have a few small cubbies, it’s quite fine to display a single object rather than trying to create a grouping in a tight space. You need to allow the eye to move smoothly and freely about the shelves by maintaining a sense of space around decorative objects in any arrangement. This will also keep your collections from looking messy.

Seven Quick Tips for Styling a Bookshelf

  1. Add color: Pick a color scheme so your bookshelf will look cohesive based on a color story that will run throughout the shelves.
  2. Don’t forget books: Although it seems obvious the shelves will look even more stylish by placing books on them.
  3. Display artistic forms: Make a statement with sculptural objects.
  4. Bring in texture: Create balance with smooth, rough, and shiny items on the shelves.
  5. Layer things: Make groupings by placing large items in the back and layer small pieces in front.
  6. Use unusual frames and art: Chrome, glass, and wood frames can feature travel photos, pretty wrapping paper, a foreign book page, or a cute cartoon.
  7. Store functional things: Place decorative bins on the bottom shelves to hold practical items that aren’t terribly attractive.

© 2019 Linda Chechar

Start a Conversation!

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on February 10, 2019:

Emmy ali, it's so much fun to style bookshelves. It is just like any kind of artistic creativity. Thanks for the nice comment.

Eman Abdallah Kamel from Egypt on February 10, 2019:

So beautiful ideas of bookshelves, and very important tips.

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on February 09, 2019:

Liz, bookshelves have become quite stylish and practical. It's fun to pull everything together and make it a focal point in the room

Liz Westwood from UK on February 09, 2019:

You have encouraged me to rethink my bookshelves. There often seems to be something missing when I visit homes with no bookshelves. Hotels are increasingly adopting the open plan lobby concept, using bookshelves with interesting books and òther objects on them to split up the areas.