Friday, 03 May 2013 10:09

Tips, Tricks, & Techniques for Styling a Bookcase

By Jenna Burger | Home & Garden

Challenged with what to showcase on your shelves? Mastering a well-styled bookcase is a hurdle many homeowners get stuck on. Ditch the thought that bookcases are only for books. Beautiful styled shelves can be achieved with the right balance of books, as well as space for accessories, keepsakes, and collectibles. Most importantly though, your shelves should showcase what you love and what’s most meaningful to you.

Whether built-in or freestanding, a bookshelf is the ideal spot of the home to add warmth and personality. Instead of a bare or overstuffed eye sore, beautiful shelves can be the focal point of a room filled with things that evoke your story—where you’ve been, what you love and what makes you happy.

Let’s Begin:

To start, remove everything from your shelves. Whether they’re filled with 20 pictures or a few books, taking everything off the shelves will help you see the space with a fresh eye; a clean palette is always best to start with. It’s not only easy to add elements and move them around, but also to see the space in a new and different way.

Once your shelves are free and clear, start gathering the books, collectibles, accessories, photos and personal mementos that are most meaningful to you. Group them by type and then you’re ready to begin filling those shelves with your treasures.

Dress it Up:

Before placing a single object on the shelf, think about how to add in color and/or texture by starting at the back. Whether bright and bold or subtle and neutral, paint, wallpaper, or even a fun fabric will bring life to the shelves, accentuate the depth, and create a backdrop for all your books and décor.


The key to a well-balanced bookshelf is to create layers. From top to bottom, from front to back, all surfaces of the bookshelf can be “dressed”. If you’ve got a bunch of books, those are easiest to start with. Group them by subject, size, or style. Mix it up by arranging and positioning groups of books vertically, as well as horizontally. Placing books both ways will give the perfect balance of storage and style. The shelves will not only be functional for the books that sit on them, but they will add color to your composition. Books are beautiful. From their color to their typography, books are truly art, so let them tell a story.

Once the process of arranging your books has begun, start adding in accessories and collectibles—pictures from your travels, a simple vase, a beautiful bowl, or small, meaningful collectibles. Horizontally placed books provide the perfect pedestals to display your favorite keepsakes. No book stacks have to be the same—in fact, stacked books varying in size are better and the height can be determined by what you want to display. Behind or between the horizontal stacked books, use the open backdrop to lean a picture, painting, or even a colorful book cover. This will draw the eye in and add more depth and interest to your overall composition. Layering front to back and top to bottom will not only give your shelves character, but will create a beautiful focal point for a room.

Varying Heights and Sizes:

Incorporate accessories and elements of varying heights and sizes. Play with the idea of introducing objects where some are smaller, some are large, some are thin and tall, and some are short and stout. Add smaller accessories in front and graduate to taller, larger pieces behind.

Depending on your bookshelf arrangement and size, it might be best to vary the heights of the shelves to allow height for taller objects like a vase or picture. Having a few anchor pieces, which can be larger in size, will also help to draw the eye in and bring height to the overall display.

Don’t Overcrowd:

Often, less is more, so it’s key not to overstuff your shelves. Leave breathing room around each element or grouped vignette so it can be seen and appreciated. Elements can overlap and layer each other, but having too much stuff will create for a bookshelf mish-mosh.


Creating a well-styled bookcase doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. Before hitting the stores, “shop your home.” Moving objects from one room to another always makes them look new and fresh when in a different setting. If you’re in need of new pieces, don’t just buy something for the sake of buying. Only introduce elements with meaning or that you truly love and have a purpose in your home.

Before executing, gather inspiration. Look at magazines, books, and the internet for bookshelves that appeal to you. Ask yourself why you like them. Is it the colors that are used? Is it the style of the bookcase and/or what’s displayed on the shelves? Find a space that is similar to yours or be inspired by something that really catches your eye, and try to emulate it. With a little studying and concentration, a well-styled bookcase can be achieved.

Edit and Enjoy:

The last step is probably the most important: take a moment to reflect and edit. Once your styling composition is done, take a step back, leave the room, and then come back. How does it look? Move and rearrange things until it feels and looks just right. It can take a few times, but trust yourself in knowing what you like. Styling a bookcase is a daunting thought for many, but with concentration and focus, mixed in with some good inspiration, a beautiful display can be achieved—a little practice and patience helps, too. In need of inspiration now? Visit me on:

Jenna Burger is a local Interior Designer, Home Decor Blogger, bargain hunter, and avid DIY-er.  She delivers smart, stylish, and sophisticated design solutions tailored to fit the needs and vision for each client’s space. Additionally, her daily design blog is filled with do-it-yourself projects and simple-to-implement decorating tips. To get your dose of design inspiration, visit Jenna at 


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