A bookshelf or two can add so much dimension and personality to a room. They can also be quite daunting to style. You’ll often want to fit a lot of items (like decor, family heirlooms, photos and of course, books) into one place. And how do you make sure it looks balanced and cohesive? Today I’ll be sharing my tips for just that, how to style bookshelves!
We’ll start with some overall tips when gathering the items you want to display and then dive into the order in which to decorate!
Choose a Color Palette
If you feel overwhelmed by how to pull a bookshelf together, or perhaps have more items than you can fit in one space, it can be helpful to start with a color palette. That doesn’t mean just using one or two colors, but instead a range of hues that you want to pull together in a room.
This will allow you to focus as you curate or purchase items to use, including books, decor and art.
As you can see in these photos, I used shades of blues, greens, pinks, mustards & golds and neutrals in my shelves in my dining room.
My Favorite Bookshelves
I love these simple white CB2 bookshelves (They also come in black!). They were easy to install and are open, so you can add a fun pop of color or wallpaper behind them if you’d like! They come in multiple sizes to fit your space and are a great versatile shelf for any room.
Now, let’s begin! Here’s the order I recommend styling in.
No surprise that bookshelf styling is best begun with the most important item to store on them, books! First, gather the books you want to display.
You can group your books however you find it easiest to find them! I organize mine by color because I find the color of the cover is what I remember most. But you can organize by type, author’s name, title or any which way you so choose!
Here’s a few ways to style books on a shelf:
- Fill an entire shelf, end to end with books
- Fill an entire shelf or partial shelf with books in-between book ends
- Stack books in piles of two or three (You can add something on top later!)
To add interest, try a combination of all of the above. Vary your placement. If you have one shelf full of books, try adding a pile of just a few on the shelf just above or adjacent to it.
If you’re filling most shelves with books, stack some vertically and some in piles to change it up on a few shelves.
Large Trays Baskets & Bowl
Another great anchor item for your bookshelf styling are large trays and bowls. These can be used to fill up a whole shelf or partial shelf.
Baskets are a great addition too, as they can conceal items you need nearby like cords, instructional manuals or kids toys depending on the room.
Later you can fill them with plants or smaller decor items that we’ll talk about below!
Photos & Art
Leaning larger art and photos along the back of a bookshelf is a great way to take up visual space, and it leaves room for adding personal items in front.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind when curating your art:
- Mix the orientation of your pieces, including some vertical and some horizontal
- Mix sizes and layer them in front of one another
- Place a small photo or art piece on top of a pile of books.
- Use matching frames or mix frame styles, depending on your preference. I have a guide on how to frame art and where to buy frames if you are looking for more guidance!
You can add the art next to a pile of books or a large bowl, and/or add it to a shelf that has not been filled with a larger item you.
Depending on how much light your bookshelves get, you can add plants! Don’t get much light? Consider adding a faux plant or two. Greenery adds a lot of dimension to a shelf.
Fill a large bowl or tray with a plant, or add them on their own in a beautiful vessel. Space them out sporadically throughout your shelf.
Small Decor & Personal Items
This is the fun part! Gather small decor items and personal items that fit within your color palette.
Here is a list of items I love styling with:
- Bottles and small vessels
- Vases, even if empty!
- Dishes, coin dishes and small bowls
- Family heirlooms, like bells, decorative sculptures and more
- Vintage decor finds like old cameras and pottery
- Memorabilia from trips like shells, rocks or crystals
- Watering can
- Plush dolls or animals (great for low shelves with little ones around!)
Here are a few ideas for adding them in to finish styling your bookshelves:
- Add a small vase or decorative sculpture on top of a pile of books
- Group three items together in front of a piece of art
- Set a plush item next to a stack of books
Change it up!
Now that you have everything styled on your shelves, step back and take a look. Does something feel off balance? Is there too much of one color in one area?
Don’t be afraid to move a few things around at the end until you’re happy with the final product!
And of course, with shelves it’s easy and fun to change up your styling as you add items to your collection or as different holidays and seasons cycle through the year.
Photos by Jeff Mindell
I hope these tips on how to style bookshelves have helped as you embark your next decorating adventure!
Thank you for this! I wish I had it when I was styling my new bookshelves last year LOL. I actually did have your help though–I studied your dining room bookshelves as they appeared on the Room & Board site. I think they were a bit sparer there but I loooove how they are now too. I have shelves similar to the Crate and Barrel ones and I emulated a lot of what you did. I love how they turned out! Honestly, they give me joy every time I pass by (multiple times a day) because they are bright, cheery, and full of things that are special to me. And lots of plants!
Thank you, so happy to hear that!! Ours make me happy too every time I pass them. It’s so fun to have a spot to display little trinkets and treasures and things we love!!