Bookcase 101: Ten Designer Tricks for Styling

Holy Smokes, I’m not sure what it is, but boy people sure do struggle with accessorizing shelves. Too much, too little, too small too big – it can be overwhelming to try to balance the proportion, color and volume of a styled bookcase. It takes practice, but with a little study you can achieve a well-styled bookcase that finishes, rather than detracts from the room.

1. Remove everything from your shelves (and realize they need a good dusting…) Starting with a blank canvas will help you see the space anew and replace only what you love.

reclaimed wood bookcase

2. Edit your books. Relegate paperbacks to your nightstand. Organize your books into several stacks and sort by size.

Book stack cake. Looks so real!
3. Place your largest items – a grouping of books, storage baskets, vases, larger framed photos – on the bottom shelves to ground your bookcase.


4. Use the top shelf to visually “frame” the bookcase by running small books of similar heights across the top.

natural wood bookcase

5. There is more than one way to skin a cat – and stack a book. Stacking books in varying directions can add interest while cutting down the need for too many cluttering accessories.

6. Layer it – layering some objects of varying heights in front of and behind each other can turn a lackluster shelf into a great vignette.

bookcase styling

7. Group things in odd numbers. This balances the shelf visually and keeps it from falling flat.


8. Make it personal. Reserve a couple of shelves to just showcase things you truly enjoy –a family photo or a statuette. Finish off with small items, but use sparingly! (A pretty shell or a vintage clock, maybe.) And please. No stuffed animals.

Uttermost Blue Blue Elephants Decorative Object, Set Of Two...Bellacor $103.40 Sale PricePromotional Radiance Silver Plated Family Photo Frame | Customized Picture Frames | Promotional Picture Frames

9. Peruse the home decor aisles of Target, Crate & Barrel, and Ikea for inexpensive and seasonal items. Check out local budget bookstores for reasonably priced hardback coffee table books.

Why do I always want Target's decor?
10. Give your stuff some breathing room. Leave at least 10-15% of each shelf open.

bookcase - seashore

Step back and assess. Is there too much stuff on one side? Too many black things on that one shelf? Is it too symmetrical? Don’t worry if it doesn’t look perfect right away. None of these rules are hard and fast – you may prefer your shelves to have more books, less books, fuller, emptier, themed-by-color or jumbled up. Take a few days and play around with it!