How to Effortlessly Style a Bookshelf

Front view of a decorated bookshelf

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 30 mins - 1 hr, 30 mins
  • Total Time: 30 mins - 1 hr, 30 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $0-100

Books tell you a lot about a person and you can find a bookshelf in almost every home you visit. Bookshelves serve a function: they house our favorite books and keep them on display for all our visitors to see. However, they can be more than just a functional piece of furniture and learning how to style a bookshelf is the perfect way to take it from functional furniture to a stylish piece of decor.

Styling a bookshelf doesn't have to be as complicated as you may think—it could be done with decor pieces you already have lying around your home! The options are endless: you can add plants, candles, bowls, and more. Search around your home for items you want to display and follow these easy steps. With these simple tricks, you'll be sure to have a bookshelf worth showing off to guests every time.


One Thing Ep 89: A Simple Guide to Stylish Bookshelves

Before You Begin

The goal of a stylish bookshelf is to create an overall aesthetic and cohesive look while also not making it look like you threw the miscellaneous bits and pieces that had no designated spot within your home. Keep in mind that some items you come across may no longer serve you any purpose or fit your style anymore—that's okay! By keeping a donation bin or box handy, you can place those items in the bin as you go which will help you sustainably get rid of clutter in your home.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • A flat surface to lay out your decor
  • Step Stool (optional)
  • Donation Bin (optional)


  • Books
  • Vases
  • Plants
  • Picture Frames


Overhead view of materials needed to style bookshelves

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  1. Look Around Your Home

    While you can certainly buy decor specifically meant for this project, gathering decor doesn't need to be expensive! You can simply look around your home—feel free to grab any item that you might want to put on your bookshelf, even if you don't have a clear vision in mind yet.

    What might seem like clutter on a table could easily become a stylish layout in a matter of minutes. If you think you've grabbed too many things, don't worry—you can always cut down later. To make reaching higher shelves easier, grab a step stool.

    Gathering objects from around the house

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  2. Start With Your Anchor Items

    Get your largest items and start laying them on your bookshelf. These items will anchor your shelf and bring the finished look together. It's best if these items are ornate vases, bowls, or storage chests. Make sure to spread them out evenly across your shelves so it doesn't look overcrowded. Since this is the base, remember to leave some space for the other smaller items.

    Starting by placing the largest items

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  3. Add Your Books

    Books are a versatile way to make your bookshelf look fuller. If you're not sure how to place your books on the shelf, play around with different orientations and themes. Having a variety of vertical and horizontal book stacks scattered around your shelf is an easy and effective way to add some depth.

    You can group your books by your favorite genre or author, color, or size. If you're a stickler for the rules, you could also organize books alphabetically to your heart's desire.

    Another way to layer your books is to put your favorite books at eye level while scattering your less preferred books on lower shelves. If you don't like the varying colors and fonts on the spines of your books, flip them so the page side faces out for a more cohesive look.

    Placing books on the shelves

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  4. Bring in Picture Frames, Art, and Other Small Items

    Now that you've got your anchor items in place and have played around with the layout of your books, it's time to place your other decor pieces on your shelves. Small items like family photos, plants, funky candles, statues, and other pieces of art are perfect for adding character and texture to your bookshelf.

    Adding small items to the shelves

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald


Keep the "two to three group" rule in mind: keep your shelves from looking cluttered by only having two to three different kinds of style elements on each shelf. This way, your decor can have enough breathing room to really make your books or that one special decor piece stand out.