Design

5 Tips for Styling Bookshelves

June 5, 2023

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The addition of the bookshelves in the study was born out of a necessity for office-like storage, but I’ll admit, I’ve been daydreaming of styling them with decor pieces since we planned for them. With the completion of the study, I had a shelf-styling party, and since it’s one of the frequently asked questions I get, I thought I would share with you my five tips for styling bookshelves!

Shop our study

1. Let your shelves breathe

Equally important to what you put on the shelves is what you leave out. An overfilled shelf can feel cluttered and heavy, so give the objects on your shelves space to breathe. Allowing some negative space between and above objects will lend to everything looking intentional yet relaxed. Our shelves have adjustable heights, and as of right now, we have them equidistant, but I can see myself playing with the heights if I ever decided to display any larger items or vases with greenery.

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You’ll also notice that I’m taking advantage of bookends rather than filling an entire shelf with books from left to right. While I think this can be done, sometimes it can feel like too much.

2. Stack books vertically and horizontally

Speaking of books, be sure to vary how you display them. Books are essentially repeated lines and shapes, and if your shelves are only full of vertically placed rows of books, this can feel overcrowded, redundant, and, well… boring! Instead, switch up how you stack them. I like to make vertical and horizontal groupings, and I think it keeps things dynamic.

Coffee table books are great for stacking horizontally since they would otherwise take up a lot of vertical space, and you can mix and match them by stacking other objects on top.

Shop books for shelf styling

3. Vary sizes, shapes, and more

Bookshelves aren’t just for books. There are avid readers out there who use their shelves to display all of their “trophies,” and while I find this admirable, I have a different range of “trophies” I like to display–fixtures, art, sculptures, sentimental pieces, oh, and books too! By varying the objects in size, shape, texture, color, and more, your shelves are going to be more visually interesting and balanced.

Pro tip: boxes and trays can double as functional decor! I like using them for storing handwritten cards and keepsakes.

4. Display items in groupings

Shop this shelf

Groupings are your friend. DO NOT display little items all on their lonesome. If the object is big enough to stand on its own, that’s fine, but smaller pieces need a friend or a few. With groupings, your eye doesn’t process a bunch of different objects separately but instead sees one group as one item. For example, in the image above, I have two groupings per shelf, which is really simplified and pleasing to the eye. We’re trying to avoid busyness and achieve cohesiveness!

5. It’s all about balance

Shop this shelf

Above everything, it’s important that your bookshelves feel balanced. Since these shelves are narrower and taller, I kept only two groupings per shelf (besides the very top). I really wanted to honor the symmetry of the room and the two bookshelves on either side of the opening, and I think any more than three would have been too crowded. When styling bookshelves, I always perform a diagonal check. For example, diagonal to the vertically stacked vintage books are horizontally stacked storage boxes. And diagonal to those is a group of stacked books with a canister on top. Your eyes like to play connect-the-dots, so give them a place to travel!

More important than any of these tips is don’t be afraid to play around and tweak. I love shopping from my house for decor pieces I already have, but if you’re looking to add a few extra pieces to your bookshelves, here’s a round-up of some goodies for you to get started!

1. Earthenware Low Vase $25
2. Natural Link Wooden Object $150 (set of two)
3. Faux Basil Drop-In $24
4. Marble Decorative Bowl $38
5. Brass Metal Photo Frame $22
6. Victoria Black Terracotta Vase $49
7. Wood Ball Object $16-$21 (variety of sizes)
8. Grecian Bust Bookends $58
9. Golden Vintage Glass Lidded Box $24
10. White Ball Footed Bowl $38

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What do you think?

  1. Erin Marchlewski says:

    I spy a George and Ginger! The bubble chandelier has now moved to second place as my favorite thing in this room!

  2. Alex S says:

    Super cool blog! I never thought about stacking books horizontally as well as vertically but it looks very nice to look at!

  3. Tarynkay says:

    That’s an interesting way to think about it- books in shelves as trophies. We have a lot of books, but I hadn’t considered them trophies. We keep books that we read again and again and we like them on the shelves so that they are easily accessible. I know some people do not re-read books though or only read ebooks.

    Do you keep books somewhere else, or read them once and get rid of them, or something else?

  4. MC says:

    Looks super lovely! Question out of curiousity, why are you leaving the bottom shelf open?

  5. Love this! Your study shelves are just a dream simply put. I have open bookshelves in my entry way as you walk into my rented apartment with no backing and while they are a beautiful part of my space, I struggle with designing them because they are see through into my living room and don’t have that backing. Would love to know if your design approach would still be the same Julia for shelves like mine!

  6. Sam Sapru says:

    Hello !

    This home is so beautiful , what color green did you use for the book shelves ?!

    We want to do our kitchen cabinets this color !

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