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CW Design 101 | Lesson 5: Bookshelf Styling

CW Design 101 | Lesson 5: Bookshelf Styling

We get it. Styling your bookcases and shelves has been on your to-do list for months now and, you just aren’t quite sure how to do it. You think you’ve created the perfect visual masterpiece, but then something is missing. Take heart. We’ve all been there. 

To help you out, we’ve created a simple system to help you style the perfect bookshelf while still capturing your personality in the design. So, without further ado, here is Caitlin Wilson’s how-to guide for the perfectly styled bookshelf.

What is Bookshelf Styling?

Adding books, pictures, décor, and accents to your shelves in an artful, cohesive way is bookshelf styling. Whether you’re styling floating shelves, bookcases, or built-ins, you’ll want to use the space to showcase your goods in a stylish way that offers a chic vibe to your space while displaying your favorite items. It can also be a fun & simple way to show your style!

Bookshelf Styling Guide:

  • Step 1: Place books
  • Step 2: Add large accessories
  • Step 3: Add frames
  • Step 4. Place small accessories


Bookshelf Styling Step 1: Place Your Books on the Shelf

Begin with the books, as they’re the base layer of your bookshelf styling. As you add your books to the shelf, make sure you mix up the book placement and orientation from shelf to shelf for visual interest.

You’ll want to use a mix of vertical and horizontal arrangements and adjust the lengths and heights of the stacks, the sides you start on, and the amounts of books per shelf. Bookshelf styling should be done this way because it adds visual interest. This can also be a fun way to showcase your style. Whether you use decorative books to add a pop of color or pattern or dip into your real-life collection of books to express your interests.

Bookshelf Styling Step 2: Add Large Accessories to Your Bookcase

After you’ve got the books just right, it's time to add larger pottery, accessories, and accents. Place bigger items on the shelves first, this will help you to know what type of space you need to fill vs. leave open. Large accessories can include vases, baskets, sculptures, potted plants, and more. Baskets on your shelves are great for storage and hiding cords or clutter from electronics.

A good rule of thumb is to place heavier objects on lower shelves and put the lighter objects on the top. This helps with the flow of the shelves (and as a bonus, it’s a little safer too).

    Bookshelf Styling Step 3: Add Picture Frames and Artwork

    Next up is adding your framed photos and artwork. Prop small frames on the shelves and hang larger pieces. Don’t be afraid of mixing framed artwork and framed photographs throughout your shelves. And you can make things a little more personal by adding family photos.

      Bookshelf Styling Step 4: Add Small Accessories to Complete Your Look

      For the finishing touches, add your small accessories and accents to the shelves. Choose decorative objects that can be used as if they are artwork, like small sculptures, bowls, plates, baskets, candles, and more.

      For added appeal, use unexpected items such as antiques, small statues, clocks, or keepsakes from your travels. These make great conversation starters when you’re hosting a party and help you keep your fondest travel memories fresh.

        Extra Tips for Expert Bookshelf Styling

        Keep your shelves relatable. Choose objects that have meaning to you so that you won’t get tired of looking at them.

        Everything doesn’t have to match for bookshelf styling, but make sure things are alike in essence.

        Add something natural, like a succulent or small house plant. It adds a pop of color and gives added dimension.

        Intersperse short items and tall items. And try thinking in layers and use different heights and different textures.

        Think oddly. Objects look better when gathered in odd numbers.

        Try to color-coordinate your books. It’s not necessary, but it can add an interesting design effect and make your bookshelf look purposeful

        Paint the wall behind the shelves an accent color or use wallpaper to add a pattern.

        Don’t over-crowd your shelves - leave open spaces to allow for negative space. This will help your shelves look more visually appealing. 

        Once you’ve got all your stuff set out, arrange and rearrange your shelves until you are happy with how they look. It may take a couple of tries to get the look you want, but the look that’s perfect for your design style will come. Take a step back and see if you like the way your bookshelf styling turned out. If not, don’t worry; sometimes it just takes fresh eyes to get it right. The goal is to help the eye travel seamlessly across the shelves. 

        Styling your bookshelves can liven up a room and draw your home décor aesthetic together. Once you’ve got your perfect placement, enjoy it! But know that you can always update and change as you find items that speak to you or as your style evolves. That’s part of the beauty of bookshelf styling – it’s a “home reno” project that’s easy to change up at a whim but makes a big impact. Happy decorating!