Design

Styling the Perfect Bookshelf

how-to-style-a-bookshelf

January 24, 2024

I’ll be the first one to admit it: styling the perfect bookshelf is a lot harder than it looks. Flip through any magazine or take a scroll through Instagram, and the shelfies will look almost effortlessly designed. I can promise you that is not the case whatsoever and each shelf you aspire to create was meticulously planned.

click-to-learn-how-to-style-bookshelves

After some trial and error over the past couple years (especially in the cozy tv room), I’ve found implementing a handful of design rules can be the saving grace for styling the perfect bookshelf. Follow along below as I share my design learnings.

Phase 1: Develop a plan

A perfectly styled bookshelf requires a little upfront planning. Two of the most important things to think about are your color palette and the style of the room the bookshelf is in.

Color palette: When deciding on a color palette, you want to take inventory of the rest of the room and tie in colors from your existing decor to keep a cohesive flow. If you want to play it safe, plan to use a white as your base color, one metal finish, one wood finish and 1-2 accent colors.

Style: Similar rule of them when considering the style of the bookshelf. If your living room leans more traditional, then your shelf décor should have traditional elements rather than sleek ultra modern pieces.

As an example you can see my living room, which is where one of my bookshelves lives (on the opposite wall). This is a traditional space, but has modern elements such as the couch, chair, table and lamp. My primary accent color is a rust / orange / brass, so I’ll look to that color family first when thinking about decorative accents for my bookshelf.

Bookshelf Décor

Whether you’re shopping your house, a thrift store or online, you’ll stay organized and on track by keeping the bulk of your items to a handful of categories.

  • Books: the most obvious item on the list is books! As you gather books, consider various sizes. We’ll be stacking these, standing these and more later on. If you’re able to stick to hardcover books that will make things easier (more on that below).
  • Picture frames: I love a larger picture frame with a wide matte. Consider frames of various sizes and options for both leaning against the back of the shelf as well as standing. If you’re able to add black and white photos to the frames, this will help keep things cohesive in your design.
  • Vases: vases are a great way to add some variety into your shelves. With their various finishes you can implement glass, metal, and ceramic, bringing both texture and color into your shelf design.
  • Plants: Whether they’re real or artificial, adding some plants onto your bookshelves will truly bring them to life. Consider how much natural sunlight your shelf gets and plan accordingly.
  • Sculptural items: plan to add a couple fun sculptural items into the mix. This could be a bust (traditional style), marble links (modern), coral (coastal), etc. As you can see, let the style of your room and shelves guide these decisions to keep things cohesive.  
  • Candles: candles are great fillers and can add some varying height to your shelves. Depending on the distance between shelves this may be more of a decorative decision and not necessarily a candle that you’ll be lighting regularly.
  • Decorative boxes: decorative boxes are wonderful because they can be stacked which allows us to create some height variation. They can also provide an opportunity to bring different color and texture into the space.

Sources:

  1. Brass Easel Picture Frame
  2. Decorative Fashion Books
  3. Marble Bookends
  4. Brass Clawfoot Tray
  5. Threshold Large Matte Picture Frame
  6. Marble Decorative Box
  7. Voluspa 3 Wick Candle
  8. Antique Brass Mantel Clock

Sources:

  1. Black & gold gallery fame by Threshold
  2. Marble Tray
  3. Modern Brass Bookends
  4. Decorative Wooden Knot
  5. Faux Stackable Books
  6. Modern Vase by Leanne Ford
  7. Chevron Decorative Box

Styling the Bookshelves

Once you have a handful of items gathered, it’s time to style your bookshelves! Be patient and have fun. You’re going to move things around and that’s okay. Below are some key design rules to help you style your perfect bookshelf.

 Start Big

Place your largest item(s) first and work backwards from there. This can be a large picture frame, or sculptural item. This is going to ground the shelves and we’ll work around them in the next steps.

The triangle method

Create triangles across your shelves using similar items. This method guides the viewers eye across the shelves and creates cohesiveness without us even realizing it. Look for triangles amongst your like items and shift them around if they’re not achieving a triangle.

Be Odd

A standard in all design is to cluster items in odds, as it’s more aesthetically pleasing. Place things in groups of three’s or five’s. We’re also going to use the triangle method above to create a variation in height while we’re doing this. Too many big items together look too uniform and too many small items can look cluttered.

Mix textures and colors

Too much of the same looks unnatural, while mixed pairings create more visual interest for the eye. Specifically when you’re adding books onto your shelves, consider removing the jackets of your hardcover books. This will allow for a more cohesive look vs having all the colors of the rainbow. Outside of books, aim to pair brass alongside a warm wood. If you’re working on a white background, add something black to create some contrast.

Your Perfect Bookshelf

A perfectly styled bookshelf is in the eye of the beholder and for many of us, happens over time. Don’t be afraid to step away for a moment and then come back to your bookshelf and rearrange items. As you add new books to your collection, or discover some new vintage treasures, your bookshelf may need to shift and that’s okay. These “rules” are not rules at all and are truly meant as a wireframe to help you plan and design your perfect space. Happy styling!

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