Bookshelf Styling Basics | How to Decorate Your Bookshelves
Let's style your bookshelves like a pro. In today's post, you'll learn the basics of bookshelf styling, as well as some tips and tricks for arranging your books and decorative items. You'll also learn about some of the best decorating items to use on your bookshelves.
If you're like most people, your bookshelves are crammed full of books, knick-knacks, and other assorted items.
And while it's great to have so much stuff on display, sometimes it can be hard to know how to arrange everything so that it looks good.
You know you want to add some personality to your bookshelves, but you're not sure where to start.
Do you go with a theme? Should everything match? How do you make sure that your shelves are both pretty and functional?
In this post, you'll learn how to style your bookshelves in a way that is both beautiful and practical as well as tips on how to choose the right accessories, how to arrange your books and decorative items, and how to use color and texture effectively.
Let's get started on how to style your bookshelves like a pro.
Table of contents
- Basic Bookshelf Styling Tips
- How to Style Your Bookshelves
- 1. Clear off the bookshelves completely.
- 2. Dust and clean the bookshelves.
- 3. Gather, measure, and go shopping.
- 4. Start with books and heavier objects.
- 5. Add in the taller items.
- 6. Create a base layer on certain shelves.
- 7. Add in your greenery and smaller, ornate items.
- 8. Step back, assess, and rearrange using the tips listed above.
- The Best Decorating Items to Style Bookshelves
- Bookshelf Styling Troubleshooting
Disclaimer: This post does include affiliate links for your convenience. This is at NO additional cost to you but earns me a small commission. To read more, check out our disclosure policy. As an
Basic Bookshelf Styling Tips
Assess your items.
The first step to styling your bookshelves is to take everything off the shelves and start with a clean slate, so you can better assess your items and the space you have to use and help you start fresh with your design.
Once you've cleared your shelves, it's time to take a closer look at the items you want to put back on them.
What is the purpose of each item? Is it strictly decorative, or is it functional as well? Does it bring you joy? Use items that tell a story and/or are meaningful to you.
Things to consider when assessing:
- Various objects create interest and depth.
- When in doubt, ask yourself, “Do I love it?” Your bookshelves are a reflection of your personal style, so make sure they reflect the things you love and make you happy.
- Always include some kind of greenery or natural element. This is one of the easiest ways to add life to your bookshelves.
- Incorporate texture, such as wood, metal, glass, or fabric, to add interest and depth.
- Can you create a theme (i.e. color or style) with the items?
Choose a color scheme.
When deciding how to style your bookshelves, it's important to choose a color scheme.
Using a color story in the big picture will help make it more visually appealing.
This will also help you determine which items to keep and which to get rid of as you assess your items.
And, it will make it easier to find new items that fit in with your overall design.
You usually can choose a neutral or two, one pop of color, and an additional subtle color.
If you have books that are the wrong color, consider wrapping them in paper or fabric that fits your color scheme.
Less is more.
When it comes to styling a bookshelf, the sky's the limit.
However, the first thing to keep in mind is that less is more.
When it comes to bookshelves, it's easy to go overboard and try to cram in too much stuff.
But resist the temptation!
A few well-chosen items will make a much bigger impact than a bunch of clutter.
Make use of negative space.
That leads me to the idea of negative space. This is just as important as the items on your shelves.
Always leave room for the eye to rest to help create balance.
Distribute visual weight and create visual triangles.
To distribute visual weight, the heaviest items should be at the bottom of the bookshelf and lighter as you move toward the top.
This will help to create a sense of stability.
When creating visual triangles, they can be symmetrical or asymmetrical – think about the triangles in math class (i.e. right triangle, equilateral triangle, obtuse triangle, etc.)
Remember you can do this with the position of the items you are grouping together or with color as a whole.
Here are some examples of different visual triangles:
- (in the big picture of the bookshelf with color – show a right triangle, equilateral triangle, and another triangle)
- (within one shelf of the bookshelf with items – show a right triangle, equilateral triangle, and another triangle)
Use the rule of threes and odd number groupings.
When you are working within a particular shelf or section of a shelf, group items in threes or odd numbers.
This will create a more visually pleasing arrangement.
The rule of threes is a basic principle of interior design that states that objects in a grouping of three are more aesthetically pleasing to the eye than groups of two or four.
This is often used when decorating with accessories, such as paintings, sculptures, or books.
When using the rule of threes, it's important to consider how the items are similar and how they differ.
For example, you might group three books together that have similar colors or subjects.
Or, you might pair two larger items with a smaller one to create a sense of balance.
Odd number groupings are also more visually appealing than even number groupings.
This is because the human brain tends to see things in threes, so odd number groupings are more pleasing to the eye.
Also, remember to stagger your items by layering your items from the front to back.
Don't be afraid to layer artwork in your bookshelves, too.
Consider each shelf its own vignette.
One of the easiest ways to style your shelves is to create small vignettes or collections of items.
To do this, choose a few items that go well together, such as books, frames, plants, or candles, and group them together.
This will make your shelves look more intentional.
For longer shelves, consider breaking it up into a grid with three sections and style each section as its own vignette.
Don't forget to make use of height.
When arranging items on your shelves, be sure to make use of height.
Taller items should be placed in the back, while shorter items can be placed in the front or on the sides.
This will help create a sense of depth and dimension.
Play, play, and play.
Step back and make sure the overall look is cohesive. Don't forget to have fun.
Now that you know the basics of how to style your bookshelves, let's take a closer look at the exact steps you should take to begin styling your bookshelves.
How to Style Your Bookshelves
1. Clear off the bookshelves completely.
One of the most important steps in decorating your bookshelves is to start with a clean slate.
This means clearing off all of the books, magazines, knick-knacks, and other items from the shelves.
Giving you a blank canvas on which to work.
It's also important to take into account the size of the items you'll be adding to the shelves.
If you have larger items, such as vases or picture frames, you'll want to make sure there's enough space on the shelves.
2. Dust and clean the bookshelves.
After you've cleared off the shelves, it's time to give them a good dusting.
This will help remove any dirt or dust that has accumulated over time.
If your shelves are made of wood, you may also want to give them a light sanding to smooth out any rough edges.
3. Gather, measure, and go shopping.
Gather the items you plan to use that you already own.
It's best to group these items either by type or color to help you create the visual triangles when we put them back on the shelves.
Also, you'll want to make a list of what other items you need to shop for.
Use the list in the next section to help you decide which items you still need to make your bookshelves look their very best.
And before you head out, don't forget to take the measurements of the height of each of your shelves as well as make a note of your chosen color scheme.
4. Start with books and heavier objects.
Once you have all your items, start by adding your baskets and heavier objects, like books and/or large pieces.
Try to make sure they are evenly spaced out throughout the whole bookshelf.
Remember to ground your bookshelf with heavier-looking baskets or books at the bottom.
If you don't have baskets as a part of your bookshelf decor consider adding some.
They are a great way to organize and keep your bookshelves looking clean.
Also, try to vary the book arrangements.
Use different ideas, such as stacking books on their sides or alternating between horizontal and vertical rows.
You can also play with mixing up the sizes and shapes of the books.
5. Add in the taller items.
Adding in taller items next, such as picture frames, vases, and other decorative objects, will help make sure you have created varying focal points throughout the bookshelf.
Just be sure to leave enough space between each item so that they don't compete for attention.
6. Create a base layer on certain shelves.
Before adding in your smaller items, consider your book stacks, decorative boxes, and trays as ways to give horizontal movement to the eye and give a place for the smaller decorative items to feel like they have a home or space of their own intentionally.
7. Add in your greenery and smaller, ornate items.
It's important to make sure you have items that are more ornate intertwined within the shelves.
When I say ornate, I mean items that are not just items that are square, rectangular, or circular.
For instance, wood beads, an X-shaped paperweight type item, or figurines.
These items go well on top of a stack of books or in a tray.
Don't forget to use the idea of the visual triangles in placement and in color to make sure you keep the shelves cohesive-looking.
8. Step back, assess, and rearrange using the tips listed above.
This step isn't necessarily only at the end because I find myself doing this throughout the process, but it is important to continually step back, assess, and identify what needs to be rearranged a bit.
More often than not, it'll take you a few tries to get the shelves to look just right.
It's also helpful to have a second set of eyes while you're doing this, too.
That way, you can have someone tell you if something is off in a certain area or if they really like the way it appeals to them visually.
The Best Decorating Items to Style Bookshelves
Disclaimer: This post does include affiliate links for your convenience. This is at NO additional cost to you but earns me a small commission. To read more, check out our disclosure policy.
There are a few key items that you need to style your bookshelves like a pro.
Let's take a look at some of the best, and my favorite, decorating items to use when decorating your bookshelves.
You can scroll through the clickable photos of some of my favorites for each category below to go directly to where I bought it.
- Books, Baskets, Trays
- Artwork, Picture Frames, Picture Frame Stands (to elevate smaller frames)
- Vases, Decorative Boxes, Dough Bowls
- Knick-knacks, Ornate Items, and/or Collections of Meaningful Objects
- Plants, Stems, Greenery
- Candles, Candlestick Holders, Antique Items
Want help finding home decor pieces for your bookshelf or any where else? Join my Home Decor Finds Facebook group!
So many finds, inspiration, sales, and dupes to save you time and money.
Bookshelf Styling Troubleshooting
Not all bookshelves are created equal, so here are a few frequently asked questions and answers to help you troubleshoot your bookshelf styling.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you have too many small objects, try replacing some of them with taller items to help create a better visual triangle. You could also try clustering items together on top of a tray.
Another option would be to tier them on top of a set of books to give height to some of the objects. You won't always be able to get all the small objects to look right, so you may need to assess more on whether or not those items need a place on your shelves.
If your bookshelves look cluttered, try creating a grid out of your shelves and decorating each section of the grid separately. You could also try using taller items to help balance out the look of the shelf.
Consider organizing your books altogether for an entire shelf or placing a couple of books with an ornate, natural item on top or allowing a large item to live on the shelf alone. You are looking to vary each shelf as you go to avoid having the same setup on adjacent shelves.
Use the idea of visual triangles again with the different patterns of play on each shelf or vignette (i.e. one shelf has the tall item in the middle and tapers down left and right while the next shelf has a single item or perhaps the taller item off of center with item height descending on one side).
Bring bigger and/or taller items to disperse among the bookshelves. You still want some room to rest your eye, but most of the time you are missing varying height and varying shapes of decor.
Use the idea of visual triangles and rule of thirds from above to help get the right groupings.
Now that you know the basics of bookshelf styling, it's time to put your knowledge to use!
Try out some of the tips and tricks we shared, and see how they can help you create a beautiful and cohesive look for your home.
With just a little bit of effort, you can create a stunning display that will show off your personality and style.
So what are you waiting for? Start styling those shelves!