Styling Bookshelves Revisited

I was helping a friend rearrange her bookshelves in her family room and I was going through my step by step process with her. How to style a bookshelf is something people genuinely struggle with, asking themselves. “Oh God and open bookshelf, what do I put there that actually looks good?” Bookshelf styling is a little bit science and a little bit art.

The science part is achieving balance through scale and calculated use of negative space. The artistic part is what objects you choose, and they are completely subjective. The decorative objects should be a combination of the the things you love and the books you can’t part with. Incorporate the textures that speak to you, the small works of art you’ve collected, that little antique vessel you picked up on vacation, etc.  My favorite way to style open bookshelves follows this process:

1. Start with the Bulky Items. Heavy or large scale objects work well on lower shelves to provide visual weight. Consider using a series of matching baskets or bins across the bottom shelf.


If the open shelving has closed hutch storage below, lucky you, you can store those bulkier or unsightly items behind the closed cabinets.


dalliance design

2) Use Books as Filler. Stack your favorite books in groups both horizontally and vertically, varying the stacks shelf to shelf. Use bookends or heavy objects to flank vertical books. Stack a small sculptural object on top of the horizontal stack of books.


amber interiors 

3.) Include Artwork. Use just a few pieces or multiples. Framed artwork fills the vertical space above and between shelves adding balance to the display.



4) Layer with Decorative Objects. This is always the fun part, playing with decor. Pick objects with varied shapes, sizes, and textures. Incorporate round cylinders, stacked boxes, shapely vases. Group objects with similar finishes together to form mini collections.


studio mcgee

5.) Allow for Negative Space. Leave room in between the books and objects to give the eye a place to rest. This helps the display feel less cramped so the individual pieces don’t compete for attention.


bethany nauert

6.) Add the Organic. Botanicals help a display feel less sterile, so do natural objects like shells or branches. Succulents in pots or terrariums work well on shelves since they don’t need frequent watering. You can always add a good fake so you don’t need to worry so much about watering, just dust the leaves from time to time.


curated interior

That’s my basic approach to bookshelf styling. Got any other great styling tips to share?



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