Home & Garden

7 Tips on How to Style Your Bookshelves

Contrary to the name, bookshelves are more than just a place to store your books, and done right they can add a lot of character and interest to your home.  But done wrong, they can just look like a cluttered, hot mess.  So how do you create interesting, stylish bookshelves without the cluttered, hot mess part?  By following my list of tips for styling bookshelves; aren’t you glad you asked?

1.  Be sure to leave room in between books and objects.  This is called visual relief and is a key component of good design.  The eye needs to experience visual relief in order to appreciate the different elements that makeup the overall design, in this case the items on the bookshelf.

2.  Create interesting vignettes by varying the size and shapes of the items, placing some books vertically and stacking some horizontally.  Varying the heights of the objects, as well as the height of the shelves, will create interest and be visually more pleasing.

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3.  Baskets and decorative boxes can provide storage for items that don’t need to be on display.

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4.  Looking for a bold pop of color?  Inexpensive shelving units, like these from Ikea, can be totally transformed with a little spray paint.  And speaking of color, notice how the books are arranged in blocks of color.

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5.  Add interest to the back of your bookshelves by covering them with fabric, wallpaper or even wrapping paper.

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6.  Bring life to your shelves with items from nature, such as plants, flowers, shells and rocks.

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7.  Think outside the box, or in this case your shelves.  Hang artwork on the front of your shelves for an unexpected twist on the norm.

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Need a few stylish things to go on your shelves?  Here are some of my favorite go-to, shelf styling items.

LanternBasketsBookends Zara Home Lantern, Ballard Designs Baskets, West Elm Agate Bookends

MetalLetterFramesVase Pottery Barn Metal Letter, Williams-Sonoma Ginger Jar, Anthropologie Pressed Glass Frames







63 thoughts on “7 Tips on How to Style Your Bookshelves

  1. Great post! I love rearranging my bookshelves. I think my favorite is to use books and baskets and I love wrapping my books in paper to keep them cohesive. Your photo inspiration is great!

  2. My bookshelves are a hot mess of books! I love these ideas, but I have smaller shelves, what would be a good way to style a small bookcase with too many books?

    1. Hi Scarlett! I try to just showcase a few books on each shelf, which means I have books stored in other secret areas around the house. Baskets, ottomans with storage, my nightstand, and so on. It’s all about multipurpose furniture 🙂

  3. These are great ideas! We have two bookshelves downstairs that pretty much just stack books all kinds of ways 😉 The baskets and other interesting objects make for shelves that are so much more aesthetically pleasing. We probably just need to get rid of some books to make room!

  4. Thanks for the tip about visual relief. I had no idea. I appreciate the ideas and fabulous photos that will certainly serve as a springboard to sprucing up my bookshelves.

  5. Thank you for sharing about visual relief. I have never thought of that and I could really see how important it is in your photos. The photos helped me to come up with some ideas of my own for things that I already have. I also really liked the idea of using baskets and boxes for storage. I am always looking for places to store things. My bookshelves are going to be looking different soon.

  6. The photos were great for helping me think outside the box. I have very traditional bookshelves, filled with books. Your ideas and pictures gave me some great ideas, I just need to get rid of some books.

  7. I really liked the ideas. Like one of the other persons who left a comment, I am going to need to read quite a few books and pass them on before I can change the look of my bookshelf. Thanks for the great ideas. The pictures were great inspiration! They gave me some fresh ideas.

  8. Oh my goodness, I am just terrible with bookshelves. I am such a book hoarder so although we have 8 bookshelves in our house, not one has room for anything other than books. lol. If we ever have room for an empty bookshelf, I will definitely refer to this post for the design element. Thanks for the tips!

  9. Thank you for sharing the different photos. I am a very visual person and need the colorful examples! In the past I’ve always just packed the bookshelves full of good books. Just recently I started trying a little styling with them. This post gives me a little shot of inspiration to look at them today, for some touch ups.

  10. WoW! Great pics! I have to admit my book shelves are just that, shelves with a whole bunch of books stacked on them in every direction you can imagine. You have such an eye for using your shelving as décor. I love the IKEA shelves with the bright yellow. Thank you for the great ideas! I am not sure what I would do with all my books….any ideas?

    1. I keep my nice looking books on the shelves and everything else in hiding places like baskets, ottomans, drawers, etc. I also try to edit my collection periodically if it gets out of control. I just donated quite a few to Goodwill. Thank you for your comments 🙂

  11. Unfortunately my bookshelves are just full of books! My husband and I love books…and have way too many. In addition, I homeschool which contributes to the # of books so there are loads of books in our house. One good thing is that all of that “hot mess” is in the finished basement, not in our everyday living area. I love the pictures that show me what my bookshelves may have the opportunity to look like when the kids are grown, but for now I will just look at yours and dream.

  12. Beautiful photos of bookshelves! I especially liked the idea of painting the shelves a bright color and organizing the books by color. I also liked the shelved backed with wallpaper. Very pretty. I don’t have any plans to do any extensive bookshelf work in my home, but I do have book shelves and can certainly use some of your tips for arranging stuff in a pleasing manner.

  13. Your photos I absolutely loved, great work there.

    You REALLY hit the nail on the head though with the concept of Visual Relief. That goes SO unnoticed anymore in our “busy” lives if you ask me. There is a lot to say about having the proper spacing of anything in a house (especially any type of shelving units) because what that creates in the end is, at least for me haha, a bit of piece of mind.

    That feeling of things nicely spaced out and not too crowded is OH so wonderful! 🙂

    Also the Ikea hacks, using spray paint (simple and cheap), is the BEST way to mod any piece of furniture into something brand new.

    Have you looked into Ikea hacks before? Really cool stuff!

    1. Thank you Alan! Yes, I love Ikea hacks!! Are you familiar with the blog Apartment Therapy? They feature a lot of Ikea hacks. I just purchased a shelving unit from Ikea that I am going to be painting and hoping to post about it in the near future. Stay tuned 😉

  14. This is great! We need to pick up a bookshelf as we currently just have our books stacked on our desks, etc. Not cute! I will keep these tips in mind when we ‘style’ it. I think bookshelves are one of those things that, if not done right, just look cluttered. Thanks for the ideas!

  15. Wow, I wish I had a bookshelf now! I love the really big almost wall-covering bookshelves in some of these pictures but we have a very small house and not much room to spare for extra decorative uses. As I’m thinking about it, I could probably do a smaller bookshelf in one of my rooms. When I get to that I’ll definitely use the tips about visual relief, varying sizes of items, and using boxes as a display to hold non-display items. I loved the color coded books but I don’t think I have enough to make that work.

  16. Visual relief. This is a concept I’m trying to get my husband and children to understand. Just because a space is empty doesn’t mean it has to be filled up. This is a great post, and I love the pictures.

  17. They’re all such pretty ideas! Unfortunately, I’ve given up until my kids are bigger (and less apt to climb my shelves… true story). I’m going to pin this to my DIY home board. Thanks!

  18. Great ideas! I am always changing around my bookshelf in our front flex room. Never quite satisfied! 🙂

  19. Great ideas. I have been looking for shelves or thinking of building my own. You have given me some good inspiration. And now I am going to have to check out that Ikea link!

  20. Good ideas! My problem (not a bad one, actually) is that I have too many books to find homes for. So my bookshelves contain books and not decorative art.

    But…I would LOVE those white shelving units at the top of the post!

  21. I could never see a bookcase like that in my home. Probably because none of the items are special or important to me. I see a lot of clutter that will need to be cleaned and dusted. However, I love the idea of breaking up the tons of books that grace our bookcases with things that have special meanings to our family.

  22. There are great ideas. I really love the wallpaper idea. I’d never heard that and it’s ingenuous! Thank you so much for sharing these ideas. I will be putting several of them together ASAP.

  23. I liked some of the ideas. My book shelves are currently full of books and then some. I need to work on organizing the space better for the books and get the other stuff elsewhere.

  24. I love these bookshelves! I am working on getting my hubby to put shelves above the door in our 20 foot foyer. He is resisting, but I may be able to break him soon. When I do, I would love to incorporate some color schemes and non-book stuff similar to what you did. Love it!

  25. Great ideas, but my bookshelves are all about the books. I do have a few keepsakes on the shelves, but this house is books, books and books.

  26. I love those yellow shelving units, incredibly lifting the space up! I think I’ve just found my next spring project, thank you for inspiration 🙂

  27. These are great ideas! My book shelves are the exact opposite; they are jam packed with books. I think I need to purchase a few more shelves. I love the picture with the design on the back of the shelf. I need to remember that one.

  28. These are great ideas. My shelves are so jammed pack full of books right now that they are far from the pictures above. I think I need to purchase some more. I love the picture with the design on the back of the shelves.

  29. I so needed this post! Our new house has a 12′ wide floor to ceiling book shelf. It is definitely a hot mess! I look forward to re-styling with your tips. Thanks!

  30. I absolutely love the look of baskets on a bookshelf; they’re almost like treasure chests of hidden goodies…and they look so tidy. The spray-painted IKEA shelving is awesome…I really like this concept and would do this for a home office. The yellow shown here really brightens the room! I also love the idea of incorporating patterns used as a backdrop for shelving.

  31. Thanks for making a helpful list. I particularly enjoyed the pop of color idea. It seems like all the shelves I have are boring brown or black. They work because they match. But after years of white walls and black shelves, sometimes you are ready for something exciting. I think you have given me a wonderful idea. Thanks!

  32. Beautiful ideas and suggestions! Mine are always crammed with books – but I’d love my shelves to look like these!

  33. thank you thank you thank you!!! I had created shelving last year for my office, and right now it just looks like junk storage… I’m going to follow your tips and transform my office!

  34. Lynne, beautiful photos and great instructions! This would work for me…except that my bookcases are full of books! I currently have more books than bookcase space (we moved and had to downsize). I miss having all of my books out and available to grab when I want to read one of them. I have done similar to your suggestions above (smaller scale) with the books and objects on the same shelves. It does break up and give eye relief. I will come back to this post when I am able to have more room for my books and objects on the shelf. ~Adrienne

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