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How to Style Your Bookshelf Like a Designer

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When it comes to how to decorate bookshelves, there’s a lot to consider. First, you should assess what you’re planning to put on display. Are you a bookworm with an impressive anthology of novels and first-edition classics? Or maybe you’re more of a Kindle person, but have an incredible collection of decorative objects? Then, consider the room where your bookcase will go, and the other furniture and decor in that space. Your bookcase doesn’t have to look like a showroom in order to look designer, but it will look more intentionally styled if you display items together that complement one another.

Whether you have beautiful built-in shelves in your living room or a ladder bookcase in your studio apartment, a styled bookshelf can bring the whole room together. That’s because when open storage is styled purposefully, it’ll draw your eye in and create an interesting vignette. It’s just like anything in your home—the right combination of materials will always make your space look more chic. So if you’re looking to get inspired and make your bookcase look like it was effortlessly put together by a designer, we have the tips to make it happen.


Layer It In

modern styled bookshelves with accessories

Layers make for dynamic vignettes inside your shelving. It sounds simple, but it’s true! Working in some dimension, no matter how large your shelves are, adds that much more visual interest. But it also brings some life to the shelving, making the bookcase look effortless, rather than staged.

How to Layer: When layering books and decorative items, you’re welcome to get creative! For example, instead of lining your books perfectly straight, lay some on their side, or mix up the sizes of the books that are next to one another. Or let’s say you’re layering in some vases, picture frames, or paperweights—move items in front of the other, and vary their spacing. We don’t want every single item to stand alone.

What to Layer: Consider layering different types of items and materials. This could mean grouping vases and photos, books and candles, or  bowls and figurines. Place different shapes, colors, and materials together for a styled look.


Vary Your Materials

Pick a couple materials that you love or ones that you find yourself gravitating toward frequently. For example, do you have a beautiful collection of Mexican stoneware, passed-down porcelain momentos, or ceramic vases? Include some of these in your design. But be sure to vary the materials to create interest and avoid the bookcase looking sterile.

Avoid Too Many Different Materials: Of course, mixed materials look fabulous, and you don’t want too much of one thing (be it glass, ceramic, wood, wicker, mirror, etc.). But don’t vary your materials too much, either. Nobody wants their shelves to look like a hodge-podge of clutter. So pick two or three materials that you love and try to get creative crafting new ways to place them together.

What Materials Look Best Together: First, assess the types of materials you already have and love. From there, mix in elements that contrast, either in texture or color. Then, group those together or near one another. This could look like a white slender ceramic vase next to a dark textured wicker bowl, or a rattan tray holding a porcelain figurine.


Break Up the Bulk

chic styling bookshelves

Have you ever looked at a bookcase and thought that something was just off? That’s likely due to uneven weight distribution, or bulkiness in one area. That can look like too many books stacked together next to a bare space on your shelf, or grouping too many things together without giving your items any breathing room. You don’t want your beautiful shelves looking lopsided just because of one sore spot, so it’s important to break up the bulk.

Work in Sections: Styling a large bookcase can be a tall order, so don’t overwhelm yourself! Work slowly and in sections, and then assess the shelving unit as a whole and tweak from there. It’ll make the task less daunting.

Don’t Overthink It: Don’t trip yourself up on the details—having two large pieces next to each other isn’t going to ruin the look of your shelves. Just be intentional with the placement of your items, and try to vary where you place bulkier pieces so that they aren’t crowding one another.


Add Dimensional Lighting

colorful room with built-in shelves

Lighting is everything, especially when it comes to standout pieces in your room, like bookshelves. You worked hard to style them, so don’t let that be lost to bad lighting! It’s the simplest but most influential part of making your bookcase look complete.

What Lighting Works Best for Bookshelves: Picture lighting, puck lights, traditional table lamps, or portable lamps will best complement your bookcase because they will highlight the items rather than steal the show. However, if you have the space for it, you might also consider installing a chandelier in the room right in front of the bookcase to make your shelving stand out.

What Type of Light to Use: Warm-toned bulbs will best suit a bookcase because it directs the eye to the items without being harsh or unpleasant. Think soft white bulbs, color-changing bulbs, or even dimmable lighting.


Highlight Your Favorite Pieces

If you have space to spotlight a favorite item—be it a striking coffee table book, a gorgeous plant, or a piece of memorabilia—this is the perfect way to do so. Bookshelves stand out in a room, and what you decide to display on them will definitely make an impact on your space as a whole. It not only calls out your interests, but also your style and personality.

How to Choose Items to Spotlight: Think of those standout pieces that really speak to you. This could be a model sailboat, or an intricate candelabra; a first-edition book or a beautiful piece of ceramic art. What’s most important is that your standalone item is something significant, eye-catching, and speaks to your unique style.

Make It Creative: There isn’t one specific way to highlight an item. Of course, you can do so with lighting, but you can also make it pop by making it stand alone. You can do this by placing the piece either on a display stand or even placing it on its own shelf.


Include Items You Love

Just because we’re styling our shelves doesn’t mean they have to look lifeless! Your individuality should always shine through, especially in your home. Whether that means incorporating collected artifacts from travel, or styling your bookshelves by color, it’s important that they look and feel like yours.

Where to Look for Inspiration: Collector of novels? Look to your favorite bookish influencer’s shelves. Love ceramics and architectural items? Instead, browse magazines for new ideas. Inspiration can live anywhere, from Pinterest to Instagram and other social media apps, to magazines and periodicals and designer websites.

What to Avoid Putting On Display?: Trick question—nothing is off limits! If it speaks to you and brings joy to your space, then that’s what matters. Your style is your own, so embrace it.

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