Learn how to decorate a bookshelf with three easy steps for shelf decor ideas that you can’t get wrong. Use the no-fail formula for all of your shelves in your home!
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.
Post has been updated since April 24th, 2014.
I love the home design process so much and shelf decorating happens to be my favorite one. So 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 decor on your shelves.
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 inspired you to be creative, to relax, to spend time doing the things you love.Kathy Baugher, owner
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 use 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.
Tips for Styling a Bookcase
I enjoy rearranging our bookshelf in our living room so much that I do it often. 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?
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 little choices. So let’s do a quick run down on how to find inspiration with other interiors.
|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:
- Are you drawn to certain colors?
- Did you save pictures with a mix of styles or did you have tendency to chose one particular style?
- 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!
Want to dive deeper into the decorating process? I’ll show you how to find inspiration, design tips and tricks, and more in my free email decorating course. Worksheets included to help you through!
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 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 which 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 stylist, 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
- 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? I had fun transforming phone pictures of my kids with this easy app. You can read how it works here.
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 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 over do it!
If you are uncertain about something leave it for a couple of days and then tweak again.
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.
The outcome in our bright and colorful Okinawan rental home is a modern eclectic display of personal items.
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.
My favorite decorating tip from this bookcase is when decorating shelves, having something that trails or hangs, is a pretty way to make to make a connection between the open spaces.
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.
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.
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 isn’t your bookshelf!
Find ten creative ways to display your reading material as pretty storage and decor.
And finally since all flat surfaces can be tricky to decorate here are ideas for all sorts of shelfs, counters, and table tops.
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.
Until next time, have a great day.
You might also enjoy these posts:
8 Decorating Tips for Renters (that won’t break the bank!)