How To Style A Bookshelf

Well hello there everybody!! I hope you all have been having a wonderful spring break! I have been struggling for weeks trying to figure out how I was going to style my bookshelves. I don’t know about you, but I don’t exactly have a knack for interior design. I’m one of those people who can tell when something looks good, but doesn’t exactly know why. So, I did some research of my own and began trying to pinpoint just exactly what it is that gives the look of a well dressed bookshelf. By the way, you want to see what this entertainment center looked like only last week? You can check it out here.

Interior design is tough because there really aren’t any hard and fast rules to go by to achieve the look you’re going for. You kind of just have to follow a few basic guidelines and then arrange and rearrange each shelf until you find something you like. There are a few things that I learned through my own experience, however, that I am hoping will be helpful to you. So I’ve created a step-by-step process to make it a little easier.

1. Start with the books. You can use as many or as few books as you would like. Some bookcases have a lot, some bookcases don’t have any. My biggest problem is that I don’t have enough books that are shelf-worthy so I made do with what I had. (Most of these books I got at a thrift store for really cheap and yes, I did buy them solely based on their appearance) I like to arrange them so that some are standing vertically, some are horizontal, some are spine facing out and some are spine facing in. If I don’t have books that really go with the color scheme I’m trying to achieve then I like to either face the spine in or cover the books with a pretty paper that matches my color scheme. Like I said, there aren’t really any hard and fast rules as to how you should arrange them, but I try to avoid placing a stack of books that are facing the same direction directly above or below other books that are facing the same direction. I like them to be a bit staggered to add interest. So in the photo below, I put some vertical books on the left side of each shelf, and two shelves below I put a stack of horizontal books on the left side of each shelf. Also, if you’re decorating a bookshelf like mine where you’ve got two full sized bookcases, the sides do not need to be identical. That’s just how mine ended up after playing around with  placement.

white bookshelf

2. Add the plants. I just so happen to have shelf plants that all look like they match each other, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. In fact, I think it adds interest to have different kinds of plants and vases as long as the colors match your color scheme. P.S. I got boxwood spheres at hobby lobby for 50% off and all I did was stick them on top of a vase! How’s that for an easy topiary?

white tv shelf

3. Add the frames. You’re going to want to add frames of different sizes, again for more interest. If you’re a linear thinker like me it might make it easier to place your large frames first and then your smaller frames after so you can create the visual balance you want. Again, the frames don’t have to match each other, just so long as they match your color scheme. At first, I had a couple of black frames but after stepping back and looking at it I decided that the black frames were a little too dark for the look I was going for, so I changed them out. You’ll notice I also added my large baskets below. This would be a good time to add any large items to your shelves.

styled white bookshelf

4. Add your accessories. First, start with your larger accessories and then finish with your smaller ones. A variety of sizes and textures will add more interest in your design. I also like to add items that tell a story. Gifts you were given or souvenirs you’ve collected from your travels are a great way to personalize your shelves and are excellent conversation starters. I also believe that less is more. I don’t love overcrowding my shelves, so I make sure that there is space between my objects, but that is definitely one that I’ll leave up to your personal preference. There are some shelves that are absolutely beautiful that are very full.

styled white tv shelf

Once you’re finished, be sure to take a step back and play around with your placement. At times I would look at my placement and see a few shelves that I wasn’t exactly in love with, and I couldn’t necessarily pinpoint why. Here are a few things to pay attention to when you’re analyzing your shelves.

Overall balance. If your shelves were a scale, would one side visually outweigh the other because of either the size of the items or the number of items?

Color. Are there any items that don’t necessarily fit your color scheme? Are you going for a lighter color scheme? Are you going for a neutral color scheme? Pastels with a few neutral items? Dark, rich colors? You decide. I like a variety of colors but I’ve also seen beautiful shelves that are mostly white and one other color, for example.

Texture. Do you have a variety of textures on your shelves? Metal, paper, glass, plastic, wicker, fur, wood, greenery and fabric are all examples of different textures. These all add interesting variety to the overall look.

Grouping of items. Interest is added when different shelves have differing numbers of items or groups of items. On these shelves I did groupings of 1 or 2, but that was based on the size of my shelves and the size of the items I had on hand. Depending on your shelves, you can do groupings of 3 or 5 which also looks nice and can add balance. You also want to pay attention to the height of the various groupings and items. A variety in height is always a good idea.

Personalize. Most importantly, you’re going to want to tailor your shelves to meet your needs. Some people want their shelves to be more functional for a better use of their space, and others want theirs to be purely aesthetic. I, for example, have a 1 year old who is just beginning the phase of pulling everything off the shelves that are within reach. So I wanted to make sure that there wasn’t anything within reach that would break or be hazardous when she were to do so. Also, in the baskets below is where I keep all of her books and toys so that she can have access to them whenever she wants, and they’re also easy to clean up.

So there you have it! Those are the guidelines I use while decorating my bookcases, but I’m not going to consider you a rule breaker if you do something different. Any search on Pinterest or google will show you a variety of ways to decorate that look fabulous, and they definitely don’t always follow these guidelines. So experiment away!

I’d love to hear back from you. Let me know if you’ve got any other suggestions for beautiful bookshelves or if you’ve put my guidelines to the test and how they turned out!



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