It can be tricky to get bookcase styling just right! I like to make sure my bookcases look pretty and aren’t cluttered, but I also don’t want them to feel impersonal. I think sometimes when shelves are styled too perfectly with purchased objects it can look beautiful, but also sterile. Here is how to style a bookcase in 3 easy steps to create a beautiful and functional display.
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
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Table of Contents
When I display something it has to fit into one of the following three categories:
The globe on the top shelf is brought out whenever we travel or talk about the world! It has #2 purpose!
The piece of coral on the middle shelf is a souvenir from Hawaii! It has #1 meaning! I think of warm beaches and splashing in the waves every time I see it!
The little faux fern on the middle shelf does not have meaning or purpose, but it does #3 spark joy! There’s something about having greenery around the house that makes everything feel fresh and bright. And let’s face it… there’s no way I’m keeping a real plant alive in there!
I suggest you collect things from around the house that fall into these three categories for you! Find travel mementos, photographs or trophies. Even old letters look lovely in a frame! Don’t overthink it and worry about how everything will work together at first. Just collect the items you love.
Next, find your prettiest books. I like to collect books about design, but you do you! If travel is your thing find beautiful travel books. If you love fashion collect those etc… And if you love fiction, or you find that the jackets of your books aren’t visually cohesive you can always cover them. I like to use linen or kraft paper. And you can always hand letter or add pretty labels so you still know which book is which!
Once you’ve created a collection of objects and books that you’d like to display it’s time to start arranging. I like to place larger pieces like framed art, oversize objects or stacks of books first and then fill in with smaller pieces around them.
I am mindful of 3 guiding principles when arranging my shelves:
Go through the items you’ve gathered and assess which ones work well together. Is there a colour palette or style that really stands out to you when you look at what you’ve chosen? Maybe everything is very neutral so you choose to put aside one or two colorful items. Or maybe everything is colorful and eclectic so you put aside a few more rustic items. It’s an exercise that can help you narrow down what your preferred style really is! Bonus!
Make sure your shelves are balanced by grouping objects in a purposeful manner. For example, in the bookcase below there is a large white pitcher on the bottom left
Remember to leave empty space to allow the eye to rest. You don’t want to create clutter. You want to create visual interest. Resist the urge to keep adding more items to your shelves, especially smaller pieces. You can quickly turn curated into crowded! Less is more!
Tip: This is one time that I would say the rule of 3 or the rule of odd numbers does not apply! I actually like to add books horizontally in stacks of 2 or 4, or vertically just a couple at a time.
Even on the kitchen window ledge, I like to lean a couple of pretty cookbooks against the wall to add some interest to the space.
One last thing I like to add to any shelf or bookcase that I style is light! I usually have either battery-operated tea lights placed on top of books or strings of fairy lights tucked inside cloches. The little bit of twinkle adds ambiance in the evenings year-round. For bookcases specifically, library or built-in lighting can highlight your chosen display items beautifully!
It doesn’t need to be an overwhelming task to style your shelves. Just follow the simple principles I’ve laid out and remember it doesn’t have to be perfect! You are styling your home, not a store display. Make it personal and make it something you love to see!
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