How To Style A Bookshelf


I’ve come to believe that what kind of books you read tells a story about you - and so do your bookshelves. They can reveal how organized a person is, as well as what their interests are, just by the way their shelves are arranged. It’s been my experience that every person’s set of bookshelves are unique. Some people choose different ways to display books, and others get creative with how they display pieces of art or collectibles. It’s important to remember that there is no right or wrong way to display your belongings. It’s really about the look you’re trying to achieve. Open shelving provides the perfect place for you to express your personality through your home or office aesthetic design.  It’s no different than adding accessories to the clothes we wear. In case you’re preparing to redecorate, or tackle some spring cleaning before the summer, these useful design tips will help you add some personality to all of the bookshelves in your home.

Show Off Your Collections - Group Like Pieces or Colors Together

Whether you collect white porcelain, blown glass or vintage rolling pins, any collection you love deserves a special place in your home. The different colors, shapes and sizes will look better when displayed as a collection. Displaying like pieces together highlights the importance of the collection as a whole and can become a stunning display. Grouping items together by color, theme, shape or texture of material give bookshelves the biggest bang. This method creates an eye-pleasing, curated feel for your special pieces.

A friend of mine has bookshelves along the walls of her breakfast room, and she fills them with books fit for a foodie. I actually want to get up from her table and see if her cookbook collection includes any of my favorites. Another dear friend of mine in Houston is a “picker” of vintage antiques and accessories, selling these items to individuals, interior designers and restaurants. She is brilliant at assembling like objects together. For example, she has traveled to flea markets around the country looking for all different kinds of rolling pins. She also has a framed collection of hand mixers and potato mashers which are perfect to display in a kitchen or dining room.

Choose a grouping method for your possessions that resonates the most with you, whether it be by color or category; arrange them in a way that is pleasing to your eye and helps highlight the narrative of the collection.

Grouping By Category

Grouping By Color

Arrange Books & Collectibles According To The Color Spectrum

For instant bookshelf pizzaz, try arranging your books according to the color spectrum. The rainbow display will look quite striking, especially if you have a large collection of books. Flea markets, estate sales and special sales at Costco or on Amazon are great ways to buy groups of color coordinated books at a great price. If you are up for displaying your books by color, try removing the dust jackets on your books and arrange them based on their spine or cover materials. You’ll be amazed at the visual effects. This color spectrum approach to displaying items also works well with collectibles. Arranging items based on the color wheel means that there will be varying tints, tones and shades of each hue which will add more visual depth to how the collection is displayed.

Try An Alternative To Symmetry

Having a streamlined book shelf can be very pleasing to the eye. However, sometimes switching it up and going for something that veers away from a “matchy-matchy” aesthetic can liven up a space by adding more dimension. Here are a few ideas to add a little asymmetry to your decor repertoire.

Vary Book and Accessory Height

  • Lining up items that are all the same height is a big no-no when it comes to decorating. Everything the same size will look dull and boring. When gathering pieces to decorate your shelves, look for books and objects of various heights to keep the eye wandering. Remember, a mix of short, medium and tall objects will always look artistic!

Stack Books

  • Books can be stacked on their sides and used as platforms, drawing attention to your most treasured items. Stacking books also allows you to vary the heights of different pieces or collectibles in your shelf composition. I love to mix some stacks horizontally and other stacks vertically, adding variety and whimsical imperfections to the shelves.

Be Odd And Forget Symmetry

  • Go for asymmetrical objects and odd numbers. Grouping items in odd numbers and placing them off center makes the display more interesting. If it looks too precise, it will feel impersonal and sterile. You want some whimsy and variation.  If you have a pair of like items, instead of placing them right next to one another, place them on the diagonal. You want the look to be perfectly imperfect with an element of surprise.

Change Shelf Height

  • Varying shelf heights makes for a much more interesting display. Customizing shelf heights also adds to your asymmetric aspirations. Arranging your shelves at all different heights also enables you to display larger pieces, with plenty of space to showcase their beauty.

Keep It Simple…Go Big And Bold

Rather than filling your shelves with a lot of little tchotchkes that can make shelves look like a jumbled mess, go for bigger, bolder items that will stand out. Large art books, substantial pieces of pottery or anything else you can see from across the room will add a noticeable punch to your bookshelf display.

Layering books and accessories works well with traditional, transitional and eclectic settings. Keeping this in mind, a streamlined, minimalistic approach works best for contemporary and modern spaces. If your decorating style leans toward being more minimalistic, it’s always best to follow the style of your home when accessorizing. Try to imagine three floating shelves coming out of a white wall with a carefully placed art object on each shelf - it’s simple yet special!


Add Wallpaper or Paint

Applying wallpaper or paint to the back of built-in bookshelves ups the ante of an ordinary look, creating a bold, personalized backdrop. Using subtle or dramatic effects on your shelving unit will add depth to the shelves while making books and objects pop.

The next time you’re in a friend or family member’s home, notice their bookshelves, their design tricks and the pieces they’ve picked to represent their personality. These are the special details that make a house a home!


xx Barbara