Bookshelves breathe life and color into a space—they’re a cue to your personality and aesthetic, a place to show off your #shelfie skills, and a fantastic way to blend storage with style. These elegant pieces pull double duty as storage for novels and also a display space for accessories.
We get it; shelf styling can feel extremely overwhelming, whether you have a small collection of books and accessories or are the proud owner of boxes and boxes of trinkets. These bookshelf styling ideas will help you turn an empty set of shelves into a carefully curated arrangement.
So whether you are a book hoarder, or you possess a few sculptural pieces that need to be showcased, you can find out how to artfully display them below, and take your shelfie game from average to amazing!
Although it may seem like a huge task, styling Instagram-worthy shelves for your home doesn’t need to consume your entire weekend. To make the process easier, we’ve provided some tips to keep in mind as you work to make your bookshelves and bookcases look better than they've ever looked.
Discover how to decorate bookshelves so they are both functional and appealing to the eye. Read on for some exciting simple DIY on bookshelves styling ideas.
MAKE YOUR BOOKSHELF DESIGN CAPTIVATING
If you are designing bookshelves from scratch, it's important to plan the layout with the bookcase's design in mind. Consider the placement of your bookshelves themselves - and the scale of them for your room.
This works particularly well in a space where the bookshelf is the most interesting element and perhaps the focal point, such as at the end of a hallway.
TIPS: Setting two identical bookshelves side by side will help mimic the look of built-ins and feel grander. Or constructing them on either side of a TV or fireplace also serves as a focal point.
HAVE THIS NOTION IN MIND 'LESS IS MORE' WHEN STYLING A BOOKCASE
A common bookshelf styling mistake most people make is jamming all the books and ornaments together – as many as can fit on each shelf. Even if you have lots of books and/or special trinkets to display, try to weed out only the ones you truly love or find another spot for some.
The adage ‘less is more’ is important here, and we’re sure you’ll want the things on your bookcase to be seen and appreciated (by you and by others), not ignored.
DISPLAY YOUR BOOKS CREATIVELY
We all agree variety is the spice of life! You don’t need to store all your books horizontally – in fact, a mixture of the two makes for a much more interesting and stylish bookshelf. And we don’t mean stuffed up close either – a couple of books gently leaning in on each other add a more relaxed feel than a formal look and it alters the heights.
Horizontal books can have an ornament placed on them – a scented candle or a bud vase for example. Skip the tattered textbooks and paperbacks and keep just your best volumes.
TIP: Remove any dust jackets that look worn or too distracting; uncovered books often look more classic.
DISPLAY BOOKS STACKED NEATLY IN PILES
You can style a bookshelf by grouping your favorite books in piles – odd numbers always work best visually. 'If you do this, be sure to leave some space around each pile so that they look deliberate and neat rather than accidental and messy.
You could theme them depending on the subject matter or team similar colors together, but try to keep to one pile of books and no more than two ornaments per shelf to retain a spacious and styled look.'
TIP: Place smaller objects atop these stacks of books, or fill in where needed. This can be anything from a paperweight or framed photo to miniature art.
CONSIDER ITEM WEIGHT
To create a balanced look when styling a bookcase, it is always best to put the heaviest items on the bottom shelves and the smaller items on the top. Place your dainty pieces higher up and save that stack of thick coffee table books for the bottom part of your bookcase.
TIPS: If you’re placing larger storage bins on your bookshelves, you’ll also want to keep those toward the bottom of the shelf.
LAYER IN ARTWORK AND/OR FRAMED PHOTOS
Artwork looks wonderful on built-ins, and small sculptural pieces placed toward the back of shelves add depth and pattern. Whether you DIY your artwork or support local makers, you can’t go wrong!
Alternately, you can hang art directly on the bookshelf frame or put a few pieces next to a stack of books. You wouldn't want to incorporate artwork on each shelf, or your setup could easily look cluttered, but adding prints to approximately one-third of your shelves won't be a bad idea.
TIP: Consider placing artwork towards the back of the shelf and layer smaller decorative items in front — using the depth of the shelf will create interest.
ADD SOME TOUCH OF NATURE
Indoor plants add a pop of life and have a stack of health benefits too (such as improving air quality and even reducing blood pressure). Also, depending on the amount of natural light a room receives, adding living plants to bookshelves can instantly make the entire room seem more alive.
Rather than displaying houseplants in traditional pots, try a more innovative approach by placing them in unexpected, repurposed vessels, like planters/plantstands. We love the fact that there’s a bigger range than ever before of stylish and affordable plant stands that you can place your plants in for a more organized look.
TIP: If you don’t have a green thumb (natural plants), you can use artificial plants for the same visual impact. This is an easy way to bring the outdoors in!
LET THE COLORS COME OUT TO PLAY
'You can use your color scheme to create interest and draw attention to your bookcase styling. Relatedly, you’ll want to spread out accessories and books of the same color, which is more appealing to the eye than tons of colors randomly. Or you might want to go with a very neutral, non-color scheme for a minimalistic look.
TIP: Simply display colorful books against a dark background color so that they stand out.
SHOWCASE ACCESSORIES ALONGSIDE BOOKS
Shelves are the perfect platform to showcase favorite decorative items and styling them can be an art in itself. Have a least one or two objects that are meaningful to you mixed in.
These accessories could be a small piece of art or a few framed pictures of family or friends. Or maybe it’s a special memento from a trip or period of your life that you loved. These are the things that your eye will be drawn to - so you want them to make you smile!
TIP: Don’t be afraid to play around with items. Sometimes it’s the pieces you don’t think will work that look great when you step back and look at the shelf as a whole.
STAND BACK, ASSESS, AND EDIT
Now stop, and take a step back with a critical eye. Look at your shelf and ask yourself — is it too busy or bland? Do you need to inject some color or balance things out? You’ll no doubt see that you need to modify things down once or even multiple times!
Your bookshelf doesn't have to be perfect on your first trial as your style will naturally evolve, you’ll likely bring home new pieces that you wish to display, and may need to move items around accordingly.
Bookshelves Styling FAQs
To decorate a shelf without cluttering, you'll need to balance smaller pieces with larger accents. If you use too many smaller decor pieces, it ends up looking junky and cluttered. By using larger pieces, you fill the space without things looking too cluttered. Balancing decorative pieces of various sizes is good.
Also, creating little vignettes and groupings of three is just an easy way to make your eyes happy.
Start by choosing a color scheme and modifying or painting your shelves. Then pick out what you'd like to go on your shelves and take time to arrange them so the display looks intentional.
Display personal collections and artistic creations on your bookshelves. Your bookshelves are a great place to keep things you're proud of, and you can also showcase your favorite family photos; Pick interesting frames in different shapes to create interest.
If you don't have quite enough items to fill the shelves, start scouring your local scene for fun items. Choose things that fit your overall theme and that are funky and unique.
Generally speaking, each shelf should contain one-third books, one-third accessories, and one-third empty space. Create a neat display by stacking some books on their ends and others on their sides. Display books by the colors of the spines, and paint the back of the bookcase a darker color, too, so that your bookcase styling is highlighted.
Leave room for accessories to be displayed alongside your books, too. If you're short on storage, fill the bottom shelf with identical boxes or baskets, and voilà! You've created an aesthetically pleasing bookshelf!
Bookshelves come in a variety of sizes and can even be custom-built to suit your space. For ease of shelf access, bookcases are generally no higher than 84 inches. Small bookcases usually have between 3-5 shelves and are 27-36 inches tall, while large bookcases have 5-7 shelves and are 60-84 inches tall.
The highest shelf in a bookcase should be as high as an average-sized person can comfortably reach - about 72 to 78 inches.
The easiest way to style your lower shelves is with storage containers, like bins, baskets, crates, or lidded boxes. Using storage containers on the bottom shelf gives you hidden storage and creates visual weight on that bottom shelf to anchor your bookcase.
Put larger items like boxes or baskets or a stack of large coffee-table books at the bottom. The heaviest things (both physically and visually) should go on the bottom shelves.
Styling is an ongoing process and if it’s something you enjoy, you’ll appreciate how easy it is to give your space a whole new look on a whim simply by rearranging your bookshelves. Display what makes you smile, and evolve your displays over time. And keep working on them. You’ll get them to a place where you’re happy.
Visit our bookshelf collection to cop a stunning bookshelf and kickstart your styling dream!
What other bookshelf styling tips can you add? Share them in the comments below.