How to Style a Bookcase


Lauren Zillinger for Laura Metzler Photo

A well styled bookshelf can really make any room pop. If you're unsure how to take your existing, overstuffed shelves and transform them into works of art, we're here to help. With a few designer approved tips, your shelves will be absolutely stunning in no time. Just keep the four following pieces of guidance in mind as you begin the styling process.


How to Style a Bookcase

1. Don't Clutter It Up

A bookshelf should not become a dumping ground for items that belong in other rooms of your home. For example, trays filled with loose change, baskets holding receipts, and piles of junk mail do not belong on the bookshelf. Attend to these items as you accumulate them so that they do not pile up or tuck them away in a desk drawer so that they are out of site.


LA Designer Affair

Additionally, even items that do belong on the bookshelf—books, decorative trinkets, bookends, and the like—should only be placed there if they are useful to you. Keep an eye out for books that you do not anticipate reading within the next year (or that have remained untouched for many years), trinkets that do not reflect your current interests or design aesthetic, or picture frames that have seen better days... these items can all be placed in a donation bin. You'll feel better when you part with belongings that have no real use within your home. Doing so will allow you to focus on the items that you are excited about, such as that new mystery series you picked up from the bookstore or the graduate school diploma that you finally placed inside a frame.

2. Don't Worry Too Much About Rules


Studio Peake

When it comes to displaying books, don't feel as though there is one right or wrong way to do so. You should focus on a layout that is functional for your household and overall appears orderly, but there isn't much to keep in mind beyond that. Some people enjoy looking at rows of color coordinated books, while other people are easily irritated by this styling approach. Others enjoy alternating vertical and horizontal stacks on their shelves or sorting books by height. Perhaps you have always grouped books by genre or author. When it comes to books, do what makes the most sense to you in terms of organization. You will be the one reading them, after all—who cares if your guests would have taken a different approach in their homes!

3. Use Decor to Fill Empty Space


Ashley Montgomery Design

Maybe your bookshelf will be covered with novels from top to bottom, or perhaps you're using it as a place to display a few key reads but will mostly be showcasing small objects. Note that if you opt for the latter approach, you'll want to avoid leaving too much empty white space on your bookshelves, or their styling will appear incomplete.

However, before rushing out to pick up even more decorative objects, consider shopping your cupboards first. Small vases, candle holders, and storage boxes, for example, can look excellent when styled beside or on top of a stack of books. Plus, taking these items out from behind closed doors will allow you to appreciate their beauty on a daily basis. That beautiful vase that you only use once or twice a year deserves having a moment to shine! The thrift store can also be a great place to go to shop for small trinkets. For just $10 or $20, you may be able to score a basket full of styling objects that will take those empty shelves from so-so to chic.

4. Ensure Your Bookshelf Complements Your Existing Decor


Britt Design Studio

Your bookshelf should reflect your general design aesthetic—if your space leans grandmillennial, try incorporating some blue and white pottery on your shelves. If you love boho style, add a few terracotta pieces and some succulents. You will want your bookshelf to seamlessly blend with the rest of your home. You can always consider painting or wallpapering the actual shelves to achieve your desired look. Leaning pieces of artwork and adding in some coffee table books will also add personality to any shelf.

Don't be afraid to play to a specific theme here, too. For example, if your living room contains mostly art deco pieces, display a few books on art deco interiors on your shelves. Trust us, little details like these will go a long way in making your space appear intentional and cohesive.