Styling Bookshelves - 5 Simple Steps

Updated: Oct 27, 2019

I've always felt a little anxious about styling bookshelves. It wasn't until I spent a bunch of time looking at them and really paying attention to what I thought worked and didn't work that I began to understand and figure out my own style. The fun thing about bookshelves is that there are really no rules, you can use all sorts of objects, books, frames, art, boxes and more to create a look that reflects your style. Here are 5 simple steps to help you get started.

1) Create visual "space"

Start by emptying the shelves. Pay attention to how many shelves you have in a given section. Each of these sections originally had 5 shelves and there are 5 sections so that is whole lot of shelves on one wall! Since my intention isn't to create a library feel with wall to wall books, I removed 1 or 2 of them in each section to create more space. Check out the before! Removing 1 shelf from each section and then spacing them out evenly allows the overall look to be less cluttered because there is more "space" around each grouping.

Before - The dark wood, arches and fluted millwork was so formal andI had WAY too many books!

2) Create an overall pattern

If you have quite a few sections, consider alternating the layout of the shelves. Because there are 5 sections, I mirrored the 1st and 5th sections and the 2nd and 4th sections with the middle section being different because of the computer having to fit under the first shelf. Creating a pattern makes your overall design more interesting and appealing to look at.

3) Choose your color scheme

I have whites, ivory, pale greens and blues, golds and a couple of wooden items as well. There isn't any rule about how many colors to use, I just like to make sure the tone of all the colors feels cohesive or that they work together. Since I painted the walls a medium grey color, I wanted to keep the books and objects fairly neutral, so I had to turn all the books backwards so the spine would show instead of the colorful hardcovers that wouldn't have worked in my color scheme. I know that sounds very dysfunctional, but since I know where I put my important books I want to read and know that the rest are really not used very often, it's more important for me to simplify the color scheme. The leather bound books I have on the top shelves have lovely gold spines that pair well with the few gold frames I have as well. Since I have a large very brown desk in the center of the room I wanted to add at least 2 other brown items on the shelves to balance out that color.

4) Mix Materials and heights

I used books, framed photos, artificial plants, vases and objects. I started by creating a large pile of everything I had available so I could see them all together. On each shelf there would be a "grouping" of items and it's important to use items that have varying heights and textures and colors. I played around with laying books on their sides to create height for shorter objects by placing those items on top of the books. This also makes each grouping a little more interesting.

I created overall balance by weaving the colors shapes and textures throughout.

5) Strive for Balance

When a room is properly balanced it will just "feel" right. Even if you aren't aware of that, you will probably notice when something is not in balance because it will feel "off" and you may not know why. Every item has visual weight and the weight comes from its height, color and texture. For example the weight of the desk in the center of the room feels heavier than the light colored sofa even though the sofa is larger. If I were to put the desk on the side of the room and not have anything heavy in color or substance on the opposite side it would feel off balance and just not look right. So when styling shelves it's important to think about ways you can create an overall balanced look.

Just Get Started

Once you have an idea of colors and several items with different heights start by thinking about how you will use the room. Are there items that will need to be in certain areas because of how you use the space? For example my work binders, desktop and printer I placed on the bottom level for easy access. I then grouped my favorite things I wanted to have close to me, (the larger photo of my kids and the one of my husband and I along with the small clock) and decided to put those on the shelf just above my computer so I could see them easily. I added the little box to the left and since every item was rectangle or round it needed something "softer" and taller so the little plant was a perfect fit to balance that little space. Circles, curves and asymmetrical objects and plants add softness to an otherwise very rectangular landscape. So try experimenting with different shapes to achieve the overall look you prefer.

While you want each "grouping" to be balanced, it's also important for the whole space to feel balanced. You can achieve this by having similar colors, shapes and textures in pairs or in groups of three and spreading them across the room. See the above patterns I have that draw the eye around the room. The finished look is well balanced and pleasing to the eye.

I sincerely hope this has helped inspire you to start doing some styling of your own! Happy decorating! And if you need more inspiration, check out my other blog posts, my Instagram feed or my NEW Podcast: Blooming! A Healthy Home by Design