Easy and Colorful DIY Shelf Decor Ideas for Your Bookcase

Learn how to decorate a bookshelf with easy steps for DIY shelf decor ideas that you can’t get wrong. Use the no-fail formula for all styles.

Hey there!  I’m so glad you stopped by today.  One of the most common questions I get is how to decorate a shelf or style a bookcase.

I love the home design process so much and DIY shelf decor happens to be a favorite. I can’t wait to share with you a super easy three-step method to achieve a well-designed display of your personal items and accessories on your shelves to maximize your home decor.

I have to say with today’s technology, ease of e-books, and other online resources it feels like more people are likely to have fewer books to fill a bookcase.  Of course, there are still those of us who still love displaying and purchasing books and have them everywhere!  But if you like a good mix of items on your shelves this is how to do it.

DIY Shelf Decorating Ideas for Bookcase, Wall Shelves, or Built-Ins

bookcase DIY shelf decorating ideas, colorful green and blue decor on brown bookcase
Blue and green shelf decorating ideas

Creating a space you love is more than having a pretty house. It’s about having an organized and functional home that you and your family and friends enjoy being in. It lets you focus on other important aspects of your life. It’s a place that can inspire you to be creative, to relax, to spend time doing the things you love.

Kathy Baugher, owner

A fun project for me is rearranging our bookshelf in our living room. Especially for my favorite holidays and seasons.

Each time I use the same principle three steps that make it easy and fun.  Let’s get to it shall we?

shelf decorating ideas in three simples steps. Shelving ideas with lots of color.
Dressing a bookcase with colorful and layered decor

Prepare your space/bookcase for decorating.

  • Clear your bookshelf and make category piles of your bookcase, small art pieces, and decorative accessories or mementos.
  • If your bookcase is already empty don’t worry about pulling out a bunch of items at once as you can shop your house for each step to avoid a bunch of clutter!
  • Use a rule of thirds when you think of quantity for each category.  We are going to fill about a third of each shelf visually with each type of item.

How to find inspiration for decorating your book shelves.

If you are happy with the items you already have and want to start decorating then you are ready for the three-step method so skip to the next part.

Before we actually start to decorate your bookshelf you might be overwhelmed with too many too few choices. So let’s do a quick run down on how to find inspiration with other interiors.

readers favorites love your space finding inspiration with shelf decor ideas
Finding inspiration for shelf decor ideas

Find images of interiors that speak to you but don’t put too much thought into it.

If you are immediately drawn to it, put it aside (pin, clip, save…). After you have a nice little collection, (10 – 50 pics), look for similar elements by asking yourself these questions:

  1. Are you drawn to certain colors?
  2. Did you save pictures with a mix of styles or did you have a tendency to chose one particular style?
  3. Are there organic shapes or clean-modern lines in your inspiration?

The answer to these questions will help you have a vision for your decor. If you like a little bit of everything you have an eclectic taste!

The Three Main Bookshelf Decor Items

  • Books
  • Framed Art, Photos
  • Decorating Accessories

Decorate your bookcase in three easy steps!

  • Step 1:  Start with your books.

I want to have a homey, pretty house using the least amount of stuff to get the style I love.

The Nester, Nesting Place
  • Place some books standing up next to the side of a shelf and some laying on their side.  The ones on the side work great as a bookend.
  • Move to the next shelf and put together a similar grouping of books at the opposite end of the shelf.
  • Repeat this process on the remaining shelves to create a zig-zag pattern that helps the eye to move around.
  • You can try variations on the standing and laying books with bookends or decorative objects to hold books in pace.  Also, try stacks of just standing upright or only stacked books.
  • Color coordinating your book bindings creates a lovely aesthetic.  Use white, black, creams, and grays books if you prefer neutrals.
  • I prefer an eclectic curated mix inspired by one of my favorite interior stylists, Emily Henderson.
  • You can also check your saved pins on Pinterest or favorite magazines to see what kind of style you lean towards.

If the reason you don’t completely love your space is that you are unsure of what direction you should take, finding inspiration is a great starting point.

Kathy Baugher, owner
easy step by step styling for dressing a bookcase
Dressing a bookcase with color coated books
  • Step 2:  Add in pictures and art work to fill about 1/3 of the space.
  • The next step is to fill some of the back of the bookcase space with pictures and small pieces of art.  If you can lean it, it will probably work!
  • The larger pictures should fill almost all of the space between the bottom and top of the shelf.
  • Layer in one or two smaller photos or art to fill the space horizontally.  Remember you are taking up about a third of the space visually with this step!

Do you recognize the waterlogue pictures I added? These are great diy projects to add personal decor to your bookshelf.  I had fun transforming phone pictures of my kids with this easy app.  In this article you can read about turning your pictures into watercolors.

how to use artwork for shelf decorating ideas
Using artwork for shelf decor ideas

Design note:  Keep your frames light or compositions lighter to keep a dark wood bookshelf from getting too heavy.

You can definitely have more freedom with colors and materials when showcasing them in a white or lighter bookcase in a well-lit room.

  • Step 3:  Place smaller bookshelf decor accessories on the stacked books and a few more to fill in some of the negative space.

Now is the time to really have some fun!  Grab your favorite mementos, knick-knacks, and small decorating accessories.

My favorite decorating items to use on a bookshelf are brass animals, candle holders, small trays, and pretty containers like a silver bowl of seashells.

Place an item on the top of your stacked books and one or two in front of your pictures.   Step back often to see if your eye is drawn evenly around the bookcase.

Keep items because they make you happy.   Your space is for you and your family, not anyone else. If you love it, everyone else will love it too.

Kathy Baugher, owner

Make sure if you have similar items to spread them out evenly paying attention to colors and materials (lighter and darker accessories, silver, gold, brass) and their heights.  Don’t overdo it!

shelf decor ideas by rule of thirds
Decorate shelves with rule of thirds

If you are uncertain about something leave it for a couple of days and then tweak again.

DIY shelf decor
DIY shelf decor
easy self decorating ideas
Easy DIY Shelf Decor Ideas
colorful eclectic bookshelf
Eclectic bookshelf decorating tips

When you think about using thirds and follow these steps, shelf decorating can be a breeze!  Use this method for wall shelves too!

I recently updated my kitchen floating shelves and can’t wait to decorate them with cookbooks, art, and decorative kitchen accessories.

Do you have any favorite shelf decor ideas?

A curated home is so much more interesting than an out-of-the-box (store) home.  Tell stories with vignettes, collect interesting items in a similar shape or color, and purchase items from a variety of home stores and antique/resale shops that make you happy.

Kathy Baugher, owner

Other bookshelf ideas:

To go even deeper into styling bookcases and for more ways to decorate with books check out tips for bookcase styling in a rental. I followed the same rule of thirds; 1/3 books, 1/3 accessories, and 1/3 pictures and you’ll also find ideas for how to decorate the top of bookcases.

The outcome in our bright and colorful Okinawan rental home is a modern eclectic display of personal items.

colorful shelf decorating ideas for a rental
Colorful seaside inspired decorated bookshelf

In the same rental house, I decorated a thrifted eterge found in Okinawa with seaside-inspired decor and natural elements.  In this post, you’ll learn how to use a theme or source for inspiration and how to get the look with items in your house.

Top of bookcase decor tip: Use pretty bins and baskets for extra storage.

My favorite decorating tip from this bookcase is when decorating shelves, having something that trails or hangs, is a pretty way to make a connection between the open spaces.

seaside-inspired-bookcase-tall shelf decor
Using tall shelf decor

I used the same eterge in multiple settings and different homes. One of my favorites was a Wes Anderson inspired dining room and shelf decor with DIY art.

You’ll learn how to use a pull a color palette from an inspiration photo for shelf decorating ideas like these contrasting blues and peaches I used from Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

bookcase styling inspired by Wes Anderson Life Aquatic
Wes Anderson inspired decorated bookshelf

But I also love how I used the same setting with neutral shelf decorating ideas for a Sara Jessica Parker inspired dining room update.

This is more of a curated global-eclectic style that showcases not only decorative objects but practical items that are used in the space. For instance napkin holders displayed in a silver bowl and on the bottom shelf (not shown here) folded table linens.

bookcase close up with plants and eclectic and curated items
Adding plants and natural elements to bookshelf

I mentioned at the beginning of the post how I have books all over my house so I must share my post full of ideas on how to decorate with books that aren’t on your bookshelf!

Find ten creative ways to display your reading material as pretty storage and decor.

books on a white chair with a plant
A decorated flat surface

And finally, since all flat surfaces can be tricky to decorate here are ideas for all sorts of shelves, counters, and tabletops.

sofa table styling with global inspired pieces
Global inspired styled sofa table with DIY shelf decor

I guess you can probably tell by the plethora of shelf and surface decorating posts that I absolutely love this part of the decorating process! The more you style your shelves the easier it gets.

Start with the three-step method and then try different things! Rules are made to be broken. If you are looking for a more neutral bookcase styling inspiration or ideas, check out my friend’s article.

Until next time, have a great day.


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  1. I’m definitely headed to my local Goodwill to look for a few ornate pieces for my bookcase. Do you have any suggestions for dressing tables? Other than flowers, I can’t think of another way to beautify the space…

  2. I just used your tips to decorate our bookshelf (longish story, but I haven’t really been able to “decorate” for 4+ years). Other than couches, the bookcase was the first decor item we purchased for our finally ready to settle down for a bit home. I was paralyzed at first on how to decorate it, but was actually able to throw something together I loved with all items and books we already owned in about an hour. A few $10 baskets from Target, a plant, and it’s perfect. Thanks for your simple tutorial!

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